It's been a down couple years for the Toledo Mud Hens with last year's squad finishing 61-83, but things appear on the rise.
The Tigers’ Double A Team, the Erie Seawolves, made the playoffs and several of the organizations top prospects have graduated to the Hens.
Hitting and starting pitching were poor for the Hens but those days are over with the additions of Mike Hessman, Bruce Fields, Robby Ray, Drew Verhagen, and Ezequiel Carrera.
Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski made a controversial trade in the offseason sending solid big league pitcher Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for top pitching prospect Robby Ray who will start the year with the Hens. The 22-year-old left-handed starter is ranked as the top prospect in the farm system. Ray led all of Washington’s minor leaguers with 160 strikeouts while pitching at two levels and was 11-5 with a 3.36 ERA.
|Pitcher Casey Crosby (Press photo by Scott Grau)|
Catcher James McCann is the organizations ninth best prospect and was promoted from Erie. He hit .277 with eight home runs and 54 RBIs and is known for his strong defense and leadership skills with the pitching staff.
Six-foot-6 Drew VerHagen is a right-handed starter that also came from Erie and is ranked as the Tigers 13th best prospect. He was 7-8 with a 2.90 ERA between two levels and has flown through the Tigers farm system since being drafted in the fourth round in 2012 out of Vanderbilt.
Another Erie import, center fielder Daniel Fields, is the Tigers 18th best prospect. Fields is the son of Tigers' Roving Hitting Instructor Bruce Fields and was signed out of high school for $1.6 million in 2009. He hit .284 with 10 HR, 58 RBIs and 24 stolen bases.
Welcome back long time Mud Hen and fan favorite Hessman. A major contributor on the Hens during their playoff hey days, Hessman was the IL MVP in 2007 hitting 31 HR and 101 RBIs for the Hens. He is 36 years old, but the 6-5 power hitting veteran still hit 35 homers in 2012 and 25 homers in 2013.
Mud Hens first baseman Jordan Lennerton, along with two other players in the Detroit Tigers’ organization — Wade Gaynor and Jason Krizan, eas among the nine Minor League Baseball players who were chosen as recipients of a 2013 Rawlings Gold Glove Award for defensive excellence at their position.
Last year marked Lennerton’s first season with the Hens and his sixth professional season after being selected by the Tigers in the 33rd round of the 2009 draft. Last season he represented the Tigers at the MLB Futures Game and participated in the 2013 Triple-A All-Star Game.
Here are my grades by position—
Infield — the addition of McCann and Hessman help the offense tremendously. Paired with Lennerton, who hit .278 with 17 HR and 57 RBIs with the Hens, the offense is greatly improved. Former Tigers Hernan Perez and Danny Worth along with Chet Lemon's kid, Marcus Lemon, will man the middle infield. Grade B+
Outfield — Carrera stole 43 bases last year and paired with Fields gives the Tigers much needed speed. J.D. Martinez, who's had some solid big league seasons with the Rangers has hit well in the minors in the past with numerous seasons over .300. Ben Guez and his 18 homers returns. There's also the chance power hitting prospect Tyler Collins, currently with the Tigers, sees some time here once Andy Dirks returns from injury. Grade B
Starting pitching — the staff is headlined by prospects Ray and VerHagen, but looks deep top to bottom. Kyle Lobstein, Blaine Hardy, Derek Hankins and Duane Below all return. Lobstein was 6-3 with 3.48 ERA. Blaine Hardy was 6-1 with a 1.69 ERA. Below was 6-7 with a 2.44 ERA. Hankins was 4-4 with a 3.03 ERA. There's depth and some low ERA's here. Solid group. Grade A
Relief Pitching — Melvin Mercedes is the Tigers 16th ranked prospect. He can throw up to 99 miles-per-hour and was 2-1 with 12 saves and a 1.44 ERA. He and Jose Ortega may get some chances to close. Ortega is another hard thrower who struck out 56 in 48.1 innings and had a 1.86 ERA for the Hens. He pitched 11.2 innings with the Tigers and had a 3.86 ERA.
Jhan Martinez, a free agent singing, is a strikeout pitcher that routinely averages more than a strikeout an inning and has put up some impressive minor league numbers. Long time Tiger starter Nate Robertson has changed his delivery and is converting himself into a situational lefty. Casey Crosby, Justin Miller, Eduardo Sanchez, and Kenny Faulk will also contribute. Grade A-
On paper, this is an impressive looking squad. There's a lot of talent on the pitching staff and they have significantly upgraded their offense. Let those weekend fireworks fly, Toledo, the Hens are back and will contend this season. They'll get above .500 and be in the race for the division title.