PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s no secret to Brayan Peña or anyone in the West Michigan Whitecaps clubhouse: With the changes made throughout the Detroit Tigers organization from top to bottom, there are greater expectations from everyone involved.

That starts with President of Baseball Operations Scott Harris, who took over in September of 2022 after Al Avila was fired earlier last season. Avila had held the position since 2015.

While Peña has been around since the Avila’s tenure, he’s excited to move forward with the new visions Harris has for the entire Detroit system.

“I live by this saying, ‘Don’t get caught up in the past that doesn’t have any future,’” Peña said. “We love and respect everyone we worked for in the past, but at the same time right now we understand the message. It’s very clear, every day we have to be better and strive for greatness. That’s the exact message we give to our players daily. We feel pretty good about our future.”

Whitecaps manager Brayan Peña. (Andrew McDonald/WOOD TV8)
Whitecaps manager Brayan Peña. (Andrew McDonald/WOOD TV8)

The Detroit fan base did not speak highly of Avila. He took over in 2014, the last time the Tigers made the postseason, and failed to get Detroit back to that level of play over the next seven seasons. 

There are some changes already being made within the Tigers organization — even with the Whitecaps — that haven’t been talked about as much.

When returning top-15 prospects Jace Jung and Izaac Pacheco were asked about the changes made in the organization, they both looked at each other and said at the same time, “food.”

“We have a nutritionist with us here in West Michigan that travels (with us) and gets us the right meals,” Jung said. “There is even protein we can just have that the team provides. There is so many nutritional values (Harris) has brought to the table for us that I think … (will) be valuable to play a full season with nutrition being given the right way.”

Pacheco, who just finished up his second spring training with the Tigers in Lakeland, said he has noticed a different feeling since the minute Harris took over.

“You can just tell there is a better environment from the major league level down to the minors,” Pacheco said. “Just the professionalism (Harris) brings to the table is felt already. It’s second to none, it’s exciting to play under a guy like that.”

Along with all the changes off the field, winning throughout the entire organization is something everyone involved wants to see more of. 

The 2022 Whitecaps team, which went 31-35 in the Midwest League, was so close to making the postseason and went on a 12-4 run to end the year. 

Jung and Pacheco both joined the team on Aug. 5 and were a big part of that push. This year, they feel they can provide more victories in West Michigan with a lot of core pieces returning.

“We’ve got a great team and a great environment here in West Michigan,” Pacheco said. “That was our first taste of a playoff push in professional baseball and it’s fun. Everyone here wants to compete and try to win.”

Peña, who is entering his fourth year with the Whitecaps and third season managing due to the COVID-19 year in 2020, knows this group is capable of being a playoff bunch. 

“We can learn from how close we were a season ago,” Peña said. “We all got better from (last season). The guys coming back understand that every single game matters. What we do out there puts us in a good position to be successful. This game can test you and this is a test for all of us. We want to continue to grow and get better.”