Even though the start of the season is less than two weeks away, it’s not easy to piece together the opening-day roster for the Mud Hens.
Why? Many of the roster decisions involve players fighting for jobs with the parent Detroit Tigers.
A perfect example is Matt Tuiasosopo, a player many thought was signed to provide depth in the organization — and the Mud Hens. But after a strong spring-training performance, many project Tuiasosopo will make Detroit’s roster.
“Even when you have a club that is established and deep, you sign players to minor-league contracts who can help you at the major-league level,” said Al Avila, the Tigers’ vice president and assistant general manager. “We sign players we feel have a chance to make the major-league club.
“The truth of the matter is, we have a history of signing guys and giving them an opportunity, including guys like Quintin Berry and Darin Downs last season.”
The Tigers are expected to make their final roster decisions before the end of this week. In anticipation of those final choices, here’s a sneak peak at how the Mud Hens’ roster may come together for the season opener at Louisville on April 4.
Toledo’s pitching staff looks to have a variety of candidates for both the rotation and the bullpen. Among the potential starters are LHPs Casey Crosby, who was 7-9 with a 4.01 ERA last season, and Duane Below, who split time between Detroit (3.88 ERA in 27 appearances) and the Hens (1-2, 6.23 ERA in four starts).
“Casey Crosby is one of our top pitching prospects, and he has experience at the big-league level,” Avila said. “Duane Below is in a similar situation. He has pitched at the big-league level, and we like his experience."
Several six-year free-agent signees also will battle for spots in the Hens’ rotation. Among the candidates are Shawn Hill, a right-hander who has spent time with Montreal/Washington, San Diego, and Toronto; Pat Misch, another righty who has pitched for San Francisco and the New York Mets, and lefty Jose Alvarez, who is 23 but has not pitched above Double-A.
Another potential starter is RHP Luke Putkonen, who spent most of last year in the Mud Hens bullpen and went 3-3 with a 4.92 ERA.
“He has started and he has relieved in his career,” Avila said. “Even though he may project more as a reliever, as a starter he would get more reps and develop more consistency.”
There could be a number of familiar arms in the bullpen, including right-handers Jose Ortega (5-8, 5.74 ERA), Luis Marte (3-2, 3.70), and Rob Waite (2-3, 4.76), as well as lefty Matt Hoffman (1-2, 3.69).
Among the six-year free agents who may be a part of the bullpen are right-handers Trevor Bell, Jess Todd, Carlos Monasterios, and Derek Hankins.
Toledo’s catching duties should be in familiar hands as Bryan Holaday and Brad Davis both return. Last season, Holaday hit .240 with a pair of homers and 25 RBIs in 75 games, while Davis batted .327 in 15 games.
The infield also should have a familiar look. Among the choices at first base are John Lindsay, who hit .270 with 15 homers and 47 RBIs in 65 games last season as the team’s primary DH, and Danny Dorn, who batted .281 with seven homers and 25 RBIs in 47 games after signing as a midyear free agent.
Two possibilities at shortstop are Argenis Diaz (.253-0-32 in 111 games) and Cale Iorg (.157, 1-6 in 47 games), as well as Gustavo Nunez, who returned to Detroit in the off-season after the Pirates made him a Rule 5 pick a year ago.
Other infield possibilities include Danny Worth, who hit .264 with five homers and 24 RBIs while also spending time with the Tigers; Kevin Russo, a six-year free agent who has seen action with the Yankees and plays a variety of positions; and Tuiasosopo, provided he doesn’t stick with the Tigers.
Two of Detroit’s top prospects, outfielders Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia, are expected to start the season with the Hens.
Other outfield possibilities include Berry, who stole 19 bases in just 39 games for Toledo and added 21 steals for the Tigers.