2017 Toledo Mud Hens Preview

The Mud Hens season is underway with new manager Mike Rojas in command, after Lloyd McClendon was promoted to be the team’s hitting coach. This year’s team is loaded with experience, but somewhat light on prospects, except for Joe Jimenez, one of the top relief prospects in baseball. While lacking in prospects, they’ve got several players that should provide plenty of productivity in Toledo.

This Mud Hens team is light on prospects. In fact, only three members of the TigsTown Top 50 are starting the 2017 season in Toledo, and while a few key members of the SeaWolves might push for a roster spot sooner rather than later, to start, the ranked prospects are right-handed relievers Joe Jimenez (4th) and Angel Nesbitt (37th), and starting lefty Chad Bell (39th).


And while not officially prospects in the Tigers system, lefty reliever Daniel Stumpf (acquired in the Rule 5 draft and kept via free agency) is a younger arm with potential, and Steven Moya remains a player to watch given his power, if he can consistently figure out the other parts of his offensive game.


The rest of the roster is made up of those with plenty of experience, across the minor league and big league levels. With an average of 30 on the roster, this team has made a few trips around the block, which should help the team compete, even if it’s not by way of youngsters working their way up the ladder.


In the rotation, many of the pitchers can be branded as former prospects who have performed admirably at the big-league level, but didn’t quite make the cut in a crowded roster in Detroit. Joining Chad Bell are righties Buck Farmer, Drew VerHagen, Warwick Saupold, and minor league free agent William Cuevas. Farmer, Saupold and VerHagen all made appearances at the big-league level last season, and could be called upon if/when there’s a need for a starter. The lone prospect of the group, Bell doesn’t have overpowering stuff, with a fastball that maxes out in the upper-80’s, but mixes a lot of average pitches to find effectiveness.


Moving to the bullpen, where Jimenez will lead the pack, and there will likely be clamoring for the Tigers to promote Jimenez to the big leagues sooner rather than later. In fact, many fans were asking why Jimenez didn’t get a call-up last year when he was dominating minor league competition. He relied heavily on his mid-90’s fastball that he can dial up to 97-98, and occasionally mixes in a slider that can be impressive at times. However, Jimenez still has much to learn before the Tigers are comfortable with him taking on big league hitters, and watching him work late innings against more experienced hitters in Toledo should be beneficial to him.


The bullpen also features Nesbitt and Stumpf who figure to take on roles in the later innings, as well as a few veteran arms that have bounced back and forth between Triple-A and the big leagues for several years in Logan Kensing and Dustin Molleken. Stumpf showed off a low-90’s fastball this spring and could become a solid lefty middle reliever, while Nesbitt was once again hurling the mid-90’s that enabled him to earn a job on the Tigers roster back in 2015.


One new add to the organization has been Arcenio Leon, who impressed so much in spring training that he was briefly added to big league camp after he worked his way onto the Venezuelan WBC team.


Moving to the position player side of things, behind the dish will be a pair of familiar faces for Mud Hens fans in John Hicks and Bryan Holaday. Hicks returns after serving as Toledo’s catcher for much of last season, while Holaday spent years in-between Toledo and Detroit in the Tigers organization. Hicks provides pop at the plate, while Holaday is an experienced and skilled receiver that should help manage the staff well.


In the infield, former Tigers start Omar Infante accepted an assignment to Toledo after he was unable to find a big-league gig elsewhere in MLB. The 35-year old was released by the Royals last season after he hit just .239, and didn’t perform much better in Richmond for the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate. Nevertheless, he had a good spring and with little opportunity in Detroit, is likely to be a cog in the Hens lineup.


Elsewhere in the diamond will be a group of experienced players, with Brendan Ryan and Argenis Diaz getting the remainder of the playing time up the middle, Efren Navarro at first and Mike Almanzar at third base. Navarro doesn’t have the power of a prototypical first baseman, but is a good defender and his hit .309 for his career across the Triple-A level. Almanzar meanwhile shows good gap power and can play both corner infield spots. Ryan has been a utility infielder with a versatile glove over the last decade, but lost that spot to Dixon Machado in spring.


In the outfield, the Mud Hens have a pretty stacked outfield that will be battling for playing time. Moya will likely get the vast majority of time in right field as some in the organization still believe he has a big-league future, leaving Alex Presley, Juan Perez, Matt Murton, Jim Adduci and David Lough all competing for at-bats and playing time at three spots.


Presley, who had a very good spring in big league camp but lost out on the center field spot to JaCoby Jones (who many expected to start out the year in Toledo), will be one to watch closely, especially given the Tigers’ question marks in the outfield, his ability to play all three spots defensively and left-handed bat. Perez offers pop, having ripped 41 extra-base hits for Iowa in the PCL last year, while Murton brings plenty of experience, having returned to the states last year after an extended run in Japan, where he hit over .300 in six seasons. Adduci can also play all three outfield spots plus first base, and can steal base or two as well, having swiped 21 last year across a number of foreign leagues. Lough meanwhile has had backup MLB roles across Kansas City, Baltimore and Philadelphia over the last five years, with a respectable .671 OPS.


All in all, while it’s not a prospect-laden roster, there should be plenty of competitive baseball played this season for the Hens, and with players like Christin Stewart, Mike Gerber, Myles Jaye and more in Erie, a midseason prospect infusion is a distinct possibility for the Hens.

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