Toledo Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish gives LF Ben Guez some batting tips before a game. BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
Ben Guez first became a Mud Hen in 2010, a relative youngster at 23 who had just been drafted two years earlier.
Five years later, Guez said he’s a different player.
“I have grown up a lot — I’ve been through a lot,” he said. “I’m a little more ‘weathered,’ I guess, because experience has changed me.”
“But I’m still as hungry as ever.”
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AT THE PLATE: Ben Guez
The Houston native was promoted directly from Hi-A Lakeland in 2010, where he had batted just .207 in 28 games.
“When he first came here, he was an unknown who was pushed here because we needed a body,” said his Toledo manager then and now, Larry Parrish. “Our people said he was athletic and could play the outfield.
“But he has put together a good offensive run here.”
Guez hit .251 with nine home runs in his first season with the Hens, then split time between Double-A Erie and Toledo (batting .278 with three homers) the following season. In 2012 he hit .284 in 82 games with the Hens, but his breakout offensive season came last year.
In 128 games with the Hens in 2013 Guez pounded 18 home runs, shattering his previous single-season best of 12.
“I really didn’t hit for much power before last season,” he said. “I thought I demonstrated I could.
“I think hitting is the most fun part of the game, but it’s the most humbling part, too.”
This season Guez started slowly, batting just .185 in 19 games in April. His bat has warmed up along with the weather, as a .269 mark in May has lifted his season’s batting average to .227 with three homers and 11 RBIs.
“He seems to be a slow starter, but once he gets it locked in he can get hot and stay hot,” Parrish said of Guez.
“Even when he first came up you could see that he could create a lot of torque.”
One thing Guez always has provided is top-notch defense, having already thrown out three runners from the outfield.
“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been able to play good defense,” he said.
“I’ve always had a strong arm, and I’ve loved taking hits away and throwing guys out.”
Guez amazed observers earlier this season with an impressive throw from the right-field corner in a game against Indianapolis. Guez was running hard towards the foul line, caught the ball and turned in one motion to throw to third.
The throw arrived at third base on the fly and easily retired the runner.
“That was an amazing throw,” Parrish said. “He was running the wrong way, and the guy running wasn’t slow.
“That was a highlight-reel throw to me. Just outstanding.”
When asked about his time with the Mud Hens, Guez fondly remembers a number of veteran players such as Will Rhymes, Mike Hessman, Mike Cervenak, and Nate Robertson who he said taught him a number of valuable lessons.
“Not only are those guys who played in the big leagues, but guys who were good enough to have played in the big leagues for a long time but never got a shot,” Guez said. “You can learn things from them about life and having grit.
“There’s a lot to be learned from guys who still show up at the park every day and give their all.”
What is the best lesson Guez learned from those veterans?
“To try to not let my mistakes define me — to try to learn from them,” he said. “One day you look up and you say, ‘Look how far I’ve come.’”
AT THE PLATE: Ben Guez
■ Name: Benjamin James Guez
■ Position: Outfielder
■ Ht./Wt.: 5-11/180
■ Hometown: Houston
■ Age: 27
■ Family: Wife, Brenna; daughter Grace (3); son due in October.
■ Nickname: Larry Parrish calls me “The Toy Cannon”
■ Favorite way to spend time away from the field: With my family. I love playing with my daughter; no matter how bad the day may be, she can light things up.
■ Baseball player you admired growing up: Craig Biggio was one of my favorites, but I liked other Astros like Jeff Bagwell and Brad Ausmus too.
■ Favorite sport other than baseball: I grew up playing a lot of sports, but I love golf now.
■ Favorite music: I don’t have a favorite. Right now I’m listening to old-school underground hip-hop, but I also listen to anything but heavy metal.
■ Favorite meal: My mom’s spaghetti.
■ Favorite beverage: Water
■ Favorite movie: I grew up loving Top Gun. I’ve probably seen it 100 times.
■ Favorite TV show: Seinfeld
■ Do you have a Twitter account? @bennyguez
■ Person you most admire: My mom, Jean, for now. But my wife has to put up with a lot, so I admire her too.
■ If you could meet any person, who would it be? Mark Twain. He’d be a great guy to have a drink with.
■ Top sports moment: I hit for the cycle once at West Michigan, but hopefully it hasn’t happened yet.
■ Baseball superstitions: No, but if I do things before a game and hit well, I’ll probably do them again.
■ Something nobody knows about you: The people who are closest to me know they are close to me, and I don’t like to share personal stuff in public.