The Mud Hens open the 2014 season at home against Louisville on Friday, April 4 at 4 p.m. Here are a few thoughts about the roster that will be introduced to Toledo fans before that game.
- The pitching staff has an interesting mix of youth and experience. There are three young prospects in the rotation in left-handers Robbie Ray and Kyle Lobstein as well as RHP Drew VerHagen. The other two pitchers in the rotation are experienced pitchers in lefty Duane Below and right-hander Derek Hankins.
It is especially interesting that Ray and VerHagen begin the season with the Hens. VerHagen is in just his second full pro season and had made just 12 starts about the Hi-A level in his career. In his defense, the 23-year-old VerHagen had a 3.00 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in those 12 starts for Double-A Erie last season.
Ray, who the Tigers received in trade from Washington for Doug Fister, has made just 11 starts above the Hi-A level in his career. In his defense, the 22-year-old Ray had a 3.72 ERA in those 11 starts with Double-A Harrisburg, as well as a 1.33 WHIP and average of 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
Lobstein spent part of last season with the Mud Hens and had a 3.48 ERA in 13 starts for Toledo.
- The Mud Hens bullpen has four lefties, a large numbers – especially when you consider there are three lefties in the rotation. And those lefties are an interesting combination that includes Blaine Hardy, who was one of the Tigers’ last cuts in spring training; Casey Crosby is a long-time Detroit prospect who moves from the rotation to the bullpen; and Nate Robertson, who was a part of the Tigers rotation in 2006 and has reinvented himself as a lefty relief specialist.
- The right-handers in the Toledo bullpen all bear watching. Just 23 years old, Melvin Mercedes is likely to begin the season as the Hens closer. Jhan Marinez bears watching as Detroit’s annual off-season “interesting” pitching signee (along the lines of Al Alburquerque two years and Jose Alvarez last season). And Justin Miller was signed as a free-agent minor-leaguer by the Tigers, then added to the 40-man roster. Also Jose Ortega is a candidate for a promotion to Detroit if he can consistently throw strikes.
- Look for James McCann to handle the bulk of the catching load for the Mud Hens. McCann was the Tigers’ top pick in the 2011 draft when he was selected in the second round out of Arkansas. Last season McCann posted strong offensive numbers for Erie, batting .277 with eight homers and 54 RBIs in 119 games. But McCann is better known for his work behind the plate, especially in the areas of framing pitches, calling a game and working with a pitching staff.
- It will be interesting to see how manager Larry Parrish uses Mike Hessman this season. While Mud Hens fans remember Hessman primarily as a third baseman, his work load at the hot corner has decreased in recent seasons. Last year he played just five games at third base and 103 at first base; in 2012 he played 105 games at first and none at third. The last season Hessman played more than 100 games at third base? That was in 2009, his last season in Toledo – and five seasons ago.
- It also will be interested to see how the Mud Hens use Danny Worth and Hernan Perez. It would be easy to slot both into their “natural” positions and have Worth play shortstop and Perez play second base. But if either is promoted to Detroit, it will be to fill a role as a utility player, meaning both will need to be ready to play second, short and third. Look for both to spend time at all of those positions to stay sharp.
- The Tigers made an interesting decision with their back-up infielders. Detroit released Kevin Russo, a versatile player who has extensive Triple-A experience, and kept two players with less experience at this level. Brandon Douglas has spent the majority of the last five seasons at Double-A Erie, while Marcus Lemon has never played above Double-A. It will be interesting to see how long this arrangement lasts.
- The Mud Hens have a glut of outfielders, and some decisions will need to be made on some of them. Most Triple-A teams carry no more than three outfielders, and Toledo has five – although one, Trevor Crowe, begins the season on the disabled list. Look for Daniel Fields to get most of the time in center, and look for J.D. Martinez to play most days in left. Speedy Ezequiel Carrera and Toledo veteran Ben Guez also are options in the outfield.
Click here to read the Mud Hens' 25-man Opening Day roster, which includes links to mini-bios on a number of players.