In Lakeland, Andrew Graham takes over as the club’s manager after a very successful three-year stint in West Michigan, including winning the Midwest League championship in 2015. Prior to his three years in West Michigan, Graham led the Tigers’ short season-A club in Connecticut for three seasons.
“I’m excited to be coming back to Lakeland where I began my professional baseball career”, said Graham. “I look forward to working hard and bringing a Florida State League Championship back to the city of Lakeland.”
Graham replaces Dave Huppert, who has been the Flying Tigers manager since the 2011 season. He had a record just below .500 (378-426) in his time with Lakeland. According to the Lakeland Ledger, Huppert was notified during fall instructional league that he would not be returning in 2017.
Moving up with Graham will be Mark Johnson, who will serve as the team’s pitching coach – Johnson was Graham’s pitching coach the last two seasons in West Michigan, and has been with the Tigers organization for nearly a decade.
With Graham vacating the West Michigan post, they’ve followed the same path, promoting from within and naming another former catcher to the position – Mike Rabelo.
Like Graham, prior to taking over at West Michigan, Rabelo spent three years leading the short season-A club in Connecticut, where he was 118-107.
Dave Littlefield, Tigers VP of player development, had this to say about Rabelo; “Mike Rabelo brings a competitive and high energy managerial style to the ballpark every day. With three seasons as manager at Connecticut (Short Season Class A) under his belt, we know that he is prepared to take on the promotion to West Michigan. Being a former Whitecap, Mike knows what the expectations are and he is excited to get back to Fifth Third Ballpark.”
Like Graham, Rabelo won’t be making the jump alone. Mike Hessman, the all-time minor league home run king will join Rabelo in West Michigan as the club’s hitting coach, after serving in the same role in Connecticut.
Rounding out the staff is Jorge Cordova, who will take the pitching coach role that was opened up by Johnson’s promotion to Lakeland – Cordova was Lakeland’s pitching coach last year, and has also served as pitching coach in the Gulf Coast League in addition to manager in the Venezuelan Summer League.
The rest of the coaching staffs have yet to be announced, but there will be some additional movement given the promotions at the A-ball level, as well as the decision to add Toledo manager Lloyd McClendon to the big league coaching staff as the team’s hitting coach, opening up a prime managerial spot in the organization.