Parrish optimistic about this year’s crop of talentWritten by Jay Hathaway | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Toledo loves its Mud Hens, and the city is ready to welcome back the team and its veteran skipper, Larry Parrish.
Parrish has seen some ups and downs in his time in the Fifth Third Field dugout, but he is optimistic about this season despite some early question marks regarding his starting pitching rotation. The questions are especially relevant since Toledo’s big league affiliate, the Detroit Tigers, are beginning the season a man short.
“The starting pitching is a little up in the air right now, with the [Justin] Verlander injury,” Parrish said.
Additionally, Mud Hen pitcher and Tigers prospect Drew VerHagen will start the year on the disabled list.
Still, Parrish has seen enough from his team this spring to give him hope.
“The bullpen looks solid right now. It seems to be a much better bullpen than we had last year.”
For his position players, Parrish said he is looking forward to seeing some of them return for a second year in Toledo to hone their skills and move up to the next level.
“[Steven] Moya is dealing with plantar fasciitis with his ankle, but we’ve got [Dixon] Machado, [Jefry] Marte at third. For the outfield, we still had a lot of these guys last year, and hopefully they do well and improve in their second year.”
The Hens recently received some additional depth behind home plate when Detroit assigned Bryan Holaday to catching duties in Toledo following spring training. Holaday bore a heavy load as the Tigers’ backup catcher last season, especially during starting catcher Alex Avila’s injury troubles.
Former Mud Hen James McCann has moved up to take Holaday’s place in Detroit.
“We’re really happy with the catching,” Parrish said. “Our catching last year with McCann was very good, and now we have Holaday, who is a guy who is known to work with a pitching staff very well.”
Parrish said Hens catcher Manny Piña should not be overlooked, either.
“Piña is a guy who can throw — I mean, he can really throw — so for catching, we’re very strong. That’s a position we have some depth at right now.”
Parrish said he can foresee McCann contributing at the big league level, especially after getting a good glimpse of his abilities in Toledo last season.
“He was always highly regarded as a catch and throw guy, and his bat is getting better and better. He is a really hardworking kid. He’s knocking on the door to be a regular big league catcher.”
Parrish also spoke optimistically about Moya’s potential, once he returns from the disabled list.
“He had super numbers last year at AA,” Parrish said. “He’s a super strong kid, and when he hits it, it goes a long way.
“But he’s also a very big kid, and those long levers that give him big pop also create some holes for pitchers to throw at, so he may have to go through a little bit of a learning curve before he gets to the big league. … But then again, he might not — you just never know.”
Parrish said neither he nor longtime Mud Hens hitting coach Leon “Bull” Durham plan on trying to shorten Moya’s swing to possibly cut back on strikeouts while sacrificing power.
“That’s not his game,” Parrish said. “He’s going to be one of those guys that hits it out of the ballpark 30-plus times and drives you in runs.”
Parrish said he is happy with the mix of player types on his roster this year, on both sides of the ball.
“We’ve got a couple different type players,” he said. “[Infielder Dixon] Machado has always been able to play defense, but he started to put up some numbers last year.”
Rounding out the team this year is minor league veteran Mike Hessman. The big man has had several stints with the Hens during his extensive career, and many of his all-time minor league record 417 career home runs came in a Toledo uniform.
The 37-year-old Hessman has seen plenty of the ups and downs minor league players endure while trying to reach the big leagues, and his presence is enough to inspire younger players around him.
“That’s a guy who leads by example,” Parrish said of Hessman. “He shows up to work every day, plays hurt, and you know what he’s going to do. He’s going to hit the ball out of the ballpark.”
Parrish, a two-time major league All Star during his own playing career, also acknowledged the significance of Hessman’s home run record.
“That’s a lot of home runs, no matter where you’re playing.”
With the regular season kicking off, Parrish is ready to compete, though he has not noticed a clear favorite among International League teams so far.
“You have no way of knowing,” he said. “In spring training, we only see about three other clubs.”
Despite the uncertainty that looms in the air on every Opening Day, there is always something to focus on and anticipate, Parrish said.
“I think you look forward every year to guys getting better, and hopefully get into the playoff picture. We want to play some extra games at the end of the year.” O