Larry Parrish already has put a pencil to paper, fiddling with prospective lineups and batting orders for the 2005 Mud Hens.
So far the potential lineups are bringing a smile to the Toledo manager's face.
"We've got a lot of quality guys," Parrish said yesterday after the team worked out at Fifth Third Field for the first time this season. "When you look at it right now, you're trying to find ways to get all of those guys at-bats."
Today the Mud Hens fly to Durham to prepare for tomorrow's season-opener against the Bulls. When Parrish fills out his lineup card for that contest, he will begin with two of the parent Tigers' best young players in center fielder Curtis Granderson and second baseman Ryan Raburn.
Granderson is considered the top prospect in Detroit's organization, while Raburn is ranked eighth. But the pair have combined to play only 21 games above the Double-A level.
"We're asking a lot of those guys hitting at the top of the order," Parrish said. "A few years ago we hit Cody Ross seventh or eighth to let him get his feet underneath him a little bit, then moved him up in the order.
"With these two guys we're sort of throwing them out there."
The pair will be followed by two veteran sluggers in Marcus Thames and Mike Hessman. Another Tiger prospect, Chris Shelton, will be sandwiched between catcher Sandy Martinez and outfielder Alexis Gomez.
Shortstop Gookie Dawkins will bat eighth and third baseman Jack Hannahan will bat ninth.
"With Hannahan hitting ninth, you still have some thump," Parrish said. "At our level, [this lineup] is similar to what the Yankees had in the '90s when they had Scott Brosius batting ninth while hitting game-winning homers in the World Series."
Parrish's flexibility extends to the defense. Hessman can play first base, third base or left field; Shelton will catch once a week and play first base; and all four outfielders on the roster have played all three outfield spots.
"We've got three guys who can play center field," Parrish said. "Some big-league clubs have trouble getting that."
The five spots in the Mud Hen rotation are set, with Kenny Baugh starting tomorrow's opener. He will be followed by Sean Douglass, Nelson Cruz, Andrew Good and Jason Grilli.
The starters will see limited innings as they build up arm strength, but Parrish said a great concern is his unfamiliarity with some of them.
"Even though Kenny Baugh has been in the organization, we're not that familiar with him," Parrish said. "Good is a guy we haven't seen because he's been in [Arizona] pitching. We kind of know what we've got with Douglass and Grilli because we've seen them [in the International League]."
The biggest question mark is in the bullpen, where Parrish admitted he doesn't know who his closer will be.
"We could let the game dictate it," Parrish said. "We could choose guys who have thrown well against certain clubs. If the other team has a lot of lefties coming up, we may use a lefty.
"We have a lot of confidence in Jason Karnuth pitching then. And obviously John Ennis did a whale of a job pitching there, so when he's rested there may be times we have him pitch both the eighth and ninth to get his two innings."
Ennis had 10 saves in a brief time as Toledo's closer, but the Tigers want Ennis and Dingman to pitch multiple innings to prepare them for a role in the majors.
"This is a bullpen of guys who have started some or guys who have pitched everywhere," Parrish said. "We don't have that 'power pitcher' who is going to close games like we had in the past."
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