2012 MUD HENS SEASON PREVIEW

First 10 years loaded with great Hens

Hessman, Granderson among best of best who played at park

4/4/2012
BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Mike Hessman, the 2007 IL MVP, is the Mud Hens’ career leader in home runs (140) and RBIs (373).
Mike Hessman, the 2007 IL MVP, is the Mud Hens’ career leader in home runs (140) and RBIs (373).

The Mud Hens have called Fifth Third Field home for 10 years, and some terrific players have donned Toledo uniforms in that time.

But who are the best of the best?

It isn't easy to pick an all-star Hens team from the first 10 seasons at the ballpark, because there is such strong competition at nearly every position.

Yes, there were a few easy choices -- how long would it take to come up with Mike Hessman as the team's third baseman? -- but putting together a full team that covers all eight defensive positions on the field as well as a designated hitter, starting pitcher and relief pitcher, isn't as simple as it sounds.

2012 MUD HENS SEASON PREVIEW

But pick we must, so here are the selections for the best of the first decade at Fifth Third Field:

FIRST BASEMAN: Eric Munson (2002). Munson played in the first season of the new ballpark, and he was a key cog in the offense of the team that claimed Toledo's first playoff berth since 1984. Munson led that team in home runs (24) and RBIs (84) and had a .262 batting average.

Other top candidates: Andy Barkett (2004), Jeff Larish (2008-10) and Chris Shelton (2004-07).

Curtis Granderson hit .290 with 15 home runs, 65 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in the 2005 title season.
Curtis Granderson hit .290 with 15 home runs, 65 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in the 2005 title season.

SECOND BASEMAN: Kevin Hooper (2005-07). Hooper was a valuable player in the lineup for three seasons, and it's probably no coincidence those teams all made the playoffs -- with the 2005 and 2006 teams winning the Governors' Cup. Hooper hit .271 in his three seasons and had 51 stolen bases and 153 runs scored in 266 games, but is best-known for playing all nine positions in the final game of the 2005 season.

Other top candidates: Warren Morris (2003-04), Will Rhymes (2008-11) and Scott Sizemore (2009-11).

SHORTSTOP: Brent Dlugach (2006, 2009-10). An emergency call-up in 2006, Dlugach played a solid shortstop as that club claimed the Governors' Cup title. He came back from injury in 2009 to bat .294 with nine homers and 59 RBIs and was a midseason and postseason International League All-Star.

Other top candidates: Gookie Dawkins (2005), Omar Infante (2002-03, 2007) and Danny Klassen (2003-04).

THIRD BASEMAN: Mike Hessman (2005-09). In five seasons Hessman rewrote the Toledo record books, becoming the club's career leader in home runs (140), RBIs (373) and several other categories. He was a two-time IL All-Star who was voted IL MVP in 2007 after leading the league with 31 homers and 101 RBIs.

Other top candidates: Jack Hannahan (2005-07), Greg Norton (2004) and Jarrod Patterson (2002).


LEFT FIELDER: Marcus Thames (2004-05, 2007, 2009). He burst onto the scene in 2004 and belted 24 home runs in just 64 games to earn a promotion to Detroit. He followed that up with 22 in just 73 games the next season, paving the way for a job with the Tigers. In his 151 career games he hit .327 -- the second-best career average in the Hens modern era -- with 49 home runs and 123 RBIs.

Other top candidates: Jeff Frazier (2008-10), Freddie Guzman (2008) and Craig Monroe (2002-04).

CENTER FIELDER: Curtis Granderson (2005, 2008). A key player in the 2005 team that won Toledo's first Governors' Cup since 1967, Granderson posted a .290 batting average with 15 home runs, 65 RBIs and 22 stolen bases. He also had 13 triples to set club's single-season record for the modern era, earning a berth on the IL All-Star squad.

Other top candidates: Ryan Raburn (2005-10), Clete Thomas (2008-11) and Andres Torres (2002-03, 2007).

RIGHT FIELDER: Ryan Ludwick (2006). Ludwick was a key contributor to "Larry's Wallbangers" -- a nickname for manager Larry Parrish's team in 2006 -- leading the Hens in home runs with 28 and adding 80 RBIs and a .266 batting average. He was a midseason IL All-Star and finished second in the Home Run Derby at Fifth Third Field to Buffalo's Andy Marteal.

Other top candidates: Brent Clevlen (2007-09), Alexis Gomez (2005-06) and Cody Ross (2003).

Kevin Hooper makes a play to throw a runner out at first base. Primarily a second baseman, Hooper could play anywhere and one game did just that by playing all nine positions
Kevin Hooper makes a play to throw a runner out at first base. Primarily a second baseman, Hooper could play anywhere and one game did just that by playing all nine positions

DESIGNATED HITTER: Timo Perez (2007-08, 2011). Perez provided a solid bat, finishing with a .305 batting average for his Toledo career, ninth-best in the modern era. He slammed 32 home runs, 182 RBIs and 185 runs scored and 48 stolen bases here. Perez was a midseason IL All-Star in 2007, and was named MVP of 2007 Triple-A All-Star Game.

Other top candidates: Josh Phelps (2006), Joe Vitiello (2004) and Kevin Witt (2003).

CATCHER: Mike Rivera (2002). Despite splitting time behind the plate with several other players, Rivera was a productive part of the 2002 squad that advanced to the playoffs. In just 74 games Rivera finished second on the team with 20 home runs and was third in RBIs with 53, while scoring 43 times and posting a .249 batting average.

Other top candidates: Sandy Martinez (2005), Dane Sardinha (2007-09) and Max St-Pierre (2002, 2006, 2008-11).

STARTING PITCHER: Virgil Vasquez (2007-08). Vasquez was promoted to Toledo in 2007 and helped that squad reach the playoffs with a strong 12-5 record and 3.48 ERA as well as 127 strikeouts in 155 innings. The next season Vasquez was 12-12 and had a 4.81 ERA. His 24 wins are tied for 10th-most in Toledo's modern era. He also had 242 strikeouts in 304 innings.

Other top candidates: Chad Durbin (2006), Chris Lambert (2007-09) and Shane Loux (2002-04).

Starting pitcher Virgil Vasquez was 12-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 2007, helping the Hens reach the playoffs.
Starting pitcher Virgil Vasquez was 12-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 2007, helping the Hens reach the playoffs.

RELIEF PITCHER: Jason Karnuth (2004-07). Karnuth's role in the bullpen may have changed from season to season, but his effectiveness did not. For his four-year Mud Hen career -- which included 163 career appearances, sixth-most all-time -- Karnuth was 16-6 with a 3.15 ERA and 33 saves. He ranks third in career saves. Karnuth's best season was in 2005, when he was 7-2 with 23 saves and 2.13 ERA for the Governors' Cup champions.

Other top candidates: Lee Gardner (2006), Franklyn German (2002-04) and Fernando Rodney (2002-03, 2005, 2007-08).

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.