Weekly throughout the 2017 season, The Blade will be posting “Coop Scoop” profiles and features to take you inside the Toledo Mud Hens.
BASEBALL STATS: Mud Hens no stranger to analytics revolution
It is mounted on the top of the press box at Fifth Third Field, facing the playing field. It’s a square black slab that looks somewhat like a solar panel, with each side about three feet in length.
Although many Toledo Mud Hens fans probably have not noticed it, this “black square” is proof baseball’s statistical revolution has come to Toledo — and minor league baseball in general.
The “black box” is a transmitter for a company called TrackMan Baseball.
This company works with all 30 teams in Major League Baseball, collecting the endless stream of data that has been poured out in recent seasons. That includes information such as pitch velocity and spin rate for pitches, as well as exit speed and launch angle of batted balls, just to name a few of the many data points.
That information used to be available to teams only at the major league level. But the past few years, that information is making its way to the minors — and affecting how the Mud Hens and other Triple-A teams play the game. FULL STORY
MATT den DEKKER: Outfielder chose Toledo for the weather
Hope you are seated for this one: One of the members of the Mud Hens chose to play in Toledo because of the weather.
“The weather here is a lot nicer than New Orleans. It’s really hot and humid there in the summertime,” Matt den Dekker said, then laughed.
The outfielder joined the Hens in late May in what was more of a business decision than a weather evaluation. The focus was on two areas: Getting playing time, and earning a spot in the major leagues. FULL STORY
BRYAN HOLADAY: Holaday has learned a lot in fourth season as Mud Hen
Bryan Holaday is in his fourth different season on the Mud Hens roster.
But the 29-year-old veteran is a different catcher this season from the time he first joined the team as a 24-year-old prospect in 2012.
“The easy answer would be to say I’m more mature, both on the field and off the field,” Holaday said when asked how he has changed. “I’ve learned to mentally cope with the day-to-day grind of baseball, which is way harder than anyone thinks it is — especially when things aren’t going well.” FULL STORY
It did not take long for Myles Jaye to learn the business of baseball.
The Mud Hens starter has been a pro for seven years, and in that time the 25-year-old right-hander has been traded three times.
“It’s unique, to see the least,” Jaye admitted. “When you’re an 18-year-old kid, you envision yourself playing for the team that drafted you.”
And that team was Toronto, which picked him in the 17th round of the 2010 draft. After pitching for the Blue Jays in the rookie-level Appalachian League, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox for Jason Frasor. FULL STORY
JIM ADDUCI: Have bat will travel, works for Hens outfielder
Baseball has certainly helped fill the passport of Mud Hens outfielder Jim Adduci.
Adduci has played in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Korea, as well as the United States in his 14-year pro career, including a brief stint in the majors with Texas in 2013-14 and with the Tigers this year.
All those years in the game have given the 32-year-old Chicago native the unique ability to play hard and have fun.
“He’s so focused all the time,” Toledo manager Mike Rojas said of Adduci. “He’s on a mission, every single pitch and every single inning. FULL STORY
JOE JIMENEZ: Reliever stands out among Tigers’ prospects
If you look at this year’s Toledo Mud Hens roster, Joe Jimenez is the player who stands out.
With a veteran Toledo team that includes four pitchers and six position players over the age of 30, the 22-year-old Jimenez is the youngest player on the Toledo roster — by almost three years.
With a Hens roster full of six-year free agents, Jimenez is one of only three players listed among Detroit’s top 30 prospects by MLB.com — and, with his ranking at No. 5, he stands highest among the three.
So there are plenty of eyes watching the hard-throwing right-hander from Puerto Rico as he looks to earn a permanent spot in the Tigers bullpen. FULL STORY
FIFTH THIRD FIELD: Batters, pitchers alike feel strikeout pressure
The moment the speakers at Fifth Third Field ring out the first notes from “The Entertainer,” Toledo Mud Hens fans know something big is about to happen.
Those strains from a calliope indicate the “Toft’s Ice Cream Strikeout Player of the Game” is stepping to the plate.
The premise of this long-time promotion is simple: If a Mud Hens pitcher can strike out the designated visiting player, a row of fans at the ballpark receive Toft’s Ice Cream. Strike him out twice? Two rows are rewarded, and so on.
While the premise is exciting for Hens fans, it does not resonate with the team’s pitchers. FULL STORY
ANTHONY VASQUEZ: Vasquez’s focus helps him succeed
The path Anthony Vasquez took to pitch in the major leagues was quick.
The left-hander was drafted by Seattle in the 18th round of the 2009 draft, and just two years later he found himself on a major-league mound.
The focus Vasquez used in that sudden rise through the Mariners organization has helped him deal with the bumps in the road he has encountered in the years that have followed. FULL STORY
JASON KRIZAN: Third call-up has been charm for Hens’ Krizan
Jason Krizan had spent parts of the previous two seasons with the Mud Hens.
Entering this season, he knew he was not guaranteed a third.
“I had an idea that, unless there were a lot of releases of free agents [the Tigers] signed in the winter, that there was a pretty decent chance I would begin the year in Double-A,” Krizan said.
“Obviously I was disappointed when I got the news, but I also knew there was a chance that would happen.” FULL STORY
ERIK IBSEN: Intern to GM: Ibsen has done it all for Mud Hens
The year was 1995, and Erik Ibsen was looking to enter the business world of sports.
“I had a marketing degree from the University of Arizona, and I wanted to tie that in with sports in some way,” Ibsen said. “I got in touch with the Mud Hens, and I interviewed with them at the Winter Meetings, then I started an internship with them in March.
“I tell people all the time: I had planned to be here three months. But here it is, 21 years later, and I’m still here.”
But Ibsen no longer is a lowly intern: he now serves as executive vice president and general manager of the Mud Hens. FULL STORY
EFREN NAVARRO: Mud Hens benefit from MLB veteran’s experience
The year was 2007, and Efren Navarro was about to see his dream come true. A senior at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Navarro was prepared to be drafted into professional baseball.
And the dream did come true — with a twist.
The Angels — one of the California native’s favorite teams growing up — drafted him. But he was drafted in the 50th round.
Make that the final round. FULL STORY
FIFTH THIRD FIELD: Hens’ home is more of a park for pitchers
Using data from the past three seasons, the final analysis shows Toledo’s home ballpark favors pitchers — at least slightly.
Considering a score of 1.000 is completely neutral, Fifth Third Field has a runs factor of 0.967 (relatively close to even) during the past three seasons, a home run factor of 0.758 (strongly favoring pitchers), and a hit factor of 0.990 (almost break-even).
“I think it’s a fair ballpark,” Mud Hens pitching coach Jeff Pico said of Fifth Third Field, summing up the consensus of the Toledo coaching staff. “The ball can be hit out of the ballpark, and there are big gaps [in the outfield], but I think it plays big enough for pitchers to have success as well.” FULL STORY
JEFF FERRELL: Mud Hens reliever working his way back
Jeff Ferrell will never forget that magical 2015 season.
“It was a complete roller coaster,” he said. “I was in Detroit, and just three days earlier I had been in Double-A.”
In short, 2015 was a dream come true for Ferrell as he reached a lifetime goal of pitching in the major leagues. But last year was a nightmare, which led the right-hander from Charlotte to slowly rebuild his career. FULL STORY
For the first time since before Fifth Third Field opened, there’s a new voice talking to Mud Hens hitters.
That voice belongs to Brian Harper, who has taken over as Toledo hitting coach for Leon “Bull” Durham after the latter was promoted to assistant hitting coach in Detroit for 2017.
Harper said his focus on working with Hens hitters is to sharpen their mental skills at the plate.
“Everyone these days seems to be trying to reinvent hitting,” he said. “At this level, I’m about the mental part of hitting, focusing on beating the pitcher rather than worrying about what you’re doing.” FULL STORY
LOGAN KENSING: Dependable reliever keeping positive attitude for Hens
Logan Kensing still remembers the first time he played Triple-A baseball.
“The first time I got to Triple-A I was 23, and most of my teammates were older,” he said. “A lot of them were bitter for a lot of different reasons, and I was just having fun playing baseball.”
It’s a situation the Mud Hens reliever never has forgotten — especially since he now is one of those Triple-A veterans, playing for his seventh team at this level.
The native of Boerne, Texas, who is in his second year with the Mud Hens, said his goal has become simply to bring the proper attitude to his team’s clubhouse. FULL STORY
BRENDAN RYAN: Shortstop’s defense fits Toledo like a glove
The groundball skipped quickly on the infield grass toward shortstop. Brendan Ryan was poised, ready to pounce.
But the Mud Hens shortstop did not simply grab the grounder and throw to first. Instead, he caught the groundball between his legs, then pirouetted before making the throw.
The play was made in batting practice, where hot dogging is viewed as a sport rather than a crime. But Ryan’s joy in turning practice groundballs into the baseball equivalent of an “And1” mixtape displays the joy with which he plays the game — a joy that has not been diminished by age (Ryan is 35) or experience (15 professional seasons).
“He’s awesome — his personality is out there, but it’s a good out there,” Toledo manager Mike Rojas said of Ryan. FULL STORY