2009 Mud Hens to feature powerful lineupWritten by David Panian | | email@example.com
One of the Detroit Tigers’ top prospects highlights the 2009 Toledo Mud Hens’ Opening Day roster.
Wilkin Ramirez, 23, joins another slugger from Double-A Erie, first baseman Ryan Roberson, and returning third baseman Mike Hessman, outfielders Brent Clevlen and Ryan Raburn and catcher Dusty Ryan to give the Hens and manager Larry Parrish another powerful lineup.
The Hens pitching staff will be led by Chris Lambert, 26, who was 12-8 with a 3.50 ERA last year for the Hens, and Lucas French, 23, will take his first shot at Triple-A after going 9-11 at Erie last season.
The Hens will also give Toledoans a firsthand look at pitcher Fu-Te Ni, the first Taiwanese professional player to sign with a major league club, and the 1999 National League Rookie of the Year, Scott Williamson.
Toledo fans should recognize several names in the scorecard from the past few years.
At catcher, the Hens will again have Dane Sardinha and Ryan. Sardinha, 30, is the defensive specialist while Ryan, 24, broke out for 19 homers last year among Erie, Toledo and Detroit. He batted .253 at Erie, .315 at Toledo and .318 with the Tigers, establishing himself as a possible catcher of the future in Detroit.
Roberson, 25, also had a career year last year as he belted 25 homers, drove in 86 and posted a .289 batting average.
Will Rhymes is the likely second baseman. The 26-year-old hit .306 at Erie in 2008. He isn’t a power hitter, but he’s a good base runner.
Hessman, 31, had the best season of his career in 2008. At Toledo he hit .271, crushed 34 homers and drove in 72. At Detroit he hit five homers, and at the Summer Olympics he hit another homer and won a bronze medal with the U.S. team.
Perhaps the only reason Hessman is back in Toledo for a fifth season is he’s a right-handed batter and the Tigers needed some left-handers for the bench.
Parrish has some choices at shortstop. Slick-fielding Brent Dlugach, 26, is back after missing most of 2007 and 2008 while recovering from shoulder surgery.
Danny Worth, 23, started 2008 in Erie, hitting .254. He then played in one game for Toledo before a sore shoulder ended his season.
Don Kelly, 29, returns to Toledo after playing for Tucson in 2008 — where he batted .275 — and Pittsburgh and Indianapolis in 2007. He can play all four infield positions and the outfield.
Parrish will have four or five outfielders to choose from each game.
Clete Thomas, 25, is coming back from elbow ligament replacement — “Tommy John” — surgery last year. That was after he made his major league debut with the Tigers, batting .284 in 40 games. In Toledo, he hit .247, the worst mark of his four minor league seasons. He’s a .271 hitter in the minors.
Clevlen, 25, bounced back from a poor 2007 to hit .279 with 22 homers for the Hens last year.
Raburn, 27, played mostly for Detroit last year after playing primarily for the Hens from 2005 to 2007. He has been one of the Hens’ best hitters in that time, with 58 homers and a .271 batting average.
Then, there is Ramirez, who last year put his tools together to hit .303 with 19 homers, 73 RBIs and 26 steals. Ramirez is rated as one of the Tigers’ 10 best prospects by Baseball America magazine, as well as minor league analyst John Sickels and baseballprospectus.com.
Outfielder Timo Perez, 32, has been one of the Hens’ best players the past two years and was assigned to the Tigers’ minor league camp near the end of spring training. But as of recently, he has not been assigned to a team.
The starting rotation does not appear as solid as the lineup.
Ron Chiavacci and Ruddy Lugo should join Lambert and French, a left-hander, in the starting rotation. Parrish will have a choice of Ni, Macay McBride and Scot Drucker for the fourth and fifth spots.
Ni, a 26-year-old lefty, was a starter in Taiwan, but the Tigers see him as a reliever. McBride, also 26 and a lefty, has both starting and relieving experience. He made one start for the Hens last year before needing Tommy John surgery.
Drucker, 26, also has experience as both a starter and reliever. He began last year as a starter at independent Grand Prairie, Texas, before making nine relief appearances for Erie.
Chiavacci, 31, was 12-6 with the Hens in 2007 and spent last year with Philadelphia and Houston’s Triple-A teams, where he had a 6-11 record.
Lugo, 28, was 7-12 for New Orleans last year. He has major league experience with Oakland and Tampa Bay in 2007 and 2006.
The bullpen has some live arms that have shown they can shut down batters. Clay Rapada and Freddy Dolsi are back, and they’re joined by Williamson, Casey Fien, Matt Rusch and Nick Regilio. Lefty Rapada, 28, split 2008 between Detroit and Toledo. With the Hens, he struck out 45 in 35 innings with a 2.31 ERA.
Williamson, 33, has played in nine major league seasons with a 3.36 ERA and 510 strikeouts in 439 innings. However, since 2004 he has been trying to come back from injuries. He pitched for Atlanta and Seattle’s Triple-A teams last year.
Dolsi, 26, rose from Lakeland to the Tigers last year and also pitched for Toledo. He appeared in 42 games for the Tigers with a 3.97 ERA.
Fien, 25, had a 2.82 ERA between Erie and Toledo. Rusch, 25, also split 2008 between Erie and Toledo, where his ERAs of 5.45 and 4.24, respectively, were both above his career average of 3.21.
Regilio, 30, made a comeback from injuries with Houston’s Triple-A team last year, going 4-4 and striking out 59 in 60 innings. He pitched in 24 games for Texas in 2004 and 2005.
The roster reflects the same circumstances the Tigers faced last year: Many of their major league spots are taken by potential all-stars, so the better minor league free agents signed where they had better chances of making the bigs. The Tigers have also tended to promote their prospects quickly when their talent has fit the Tigers’ needs.
Still, Toledo’s roster is capable of contending for the Governors’ Cup, provided the offense helps the pitchers.