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Naming next Hens manager not a snap judgment for Tigers

09/19/2017, 6:00pm EDT
By By JOHN WAGNER BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Three potential in-house replacements for Rojas


Former Toledo Mud Hens Manager Mike Rojas, left, waits with the team during a rain delay Wednesday, May 24, 2017, at Fifth Third Field in downtown Toledo. BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH

The Toledo Mud Hens will have a new manager in 2018, the fourth consecutive season the team will have a different skipper.

Who might that new manager be? The parent Detroit Tigers are not talking, and with good reason: They might not know who they want to replace Mike Rojas.

Dave Littlefield, Tigers vice president of player development, said the team will focus on finding a replacement for Rojas once the major-league season is finished.

“We will be having organizational meetings when the major-league season is over, and that’s when we will be making decisions on where people will be next season,” Littlefield said.

There are several reasons it is difficult to know who the Tigers will choose to guide the Mud Hens — beyond the fact that the people in Detroit who will make the choice have not decided.

One is the uncertain future of Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and his coaching staff. Should Ausmus be fired, his coaching staff might receive offers to coach for another organization, or might be asked to accept a different role in Detroit’s organization. Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon managed in Toledo in 2016, and assistant hitting coach Leon “Bull” Durham was the Hens’ hitting coach from 2001-16.

Another factor to consider is the possibility for potential Mud Hens managerial candidates to receive jobs in the majors. McClendon and former manager Larry Parrish left Toledo for big-league jobs in recent seasons.

Among the logical candidates for the position who are inside the Tigers organization are three former Hens catchers in Double-A Erie manager Lance Parrish, High Single-A Lakeland manager Andrew Graham and Low Single-A West Michigan manager Mike Rabelo.

Lance Parrish is the best known of the three after spending 19 seasons in the major leagues, including 10 seasons with the Tigers from 1977-86. He also played in the majors with Philadelphia, California, Seattle, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Toronto, and saw action in 15 games with the Hens in 1994 before his contract was purchased by the Pirates.

Lance Parrish has spent the past four seasons as the Erie manager, and his best record with the SeaWolves was in his first season, when the team went 71-71. He also spent three seasons as a manager in the Dodgers farm system, but never managed above the Double-A level.

Graham is a native of Australia who spent five seasons in Detroit’s minor-league system as a player. He played in 36 games with the Hens in 2007, and batted .208 with a home run and eight RBIs.

Graham became a manager in 2011 with Connecticut, the Tigers’ entry in the short season New York-Penn League. After three seasons with a 107-117 record, Graham was promoted to West Michigan and presided over three straight playoff teams that combined for a 228-188 record.

In 2015, the Whitecaps won the Midwest League title under Graham, who last season managed the Flying Tigers in the Florida State League to a 62-66 mark.

Rabelo spent three seasons in the majors as a player, but is best known as one of the six players the Tigers sent to the Marlins in the deal that brought Miguel Cabrera to Detroit. He played in 38 games for the Hens in 2006 and 10 more games in 2010, the final year of his playing career.

Rabelo replaced Graham as Connecticut manager in 2014, and spent three years there, posting a 118-107 record and a playoff berth in ’14. This past season, he was promoted to West Michigan and led the Whitecaps to the playoffs with a 91-45 record; the win total tying for the second-most in the minor leagues this year.

There also might be a potential Toledo manager among the Tigers’ roving instructors. Two of those instructors — hitting coach Bruce Fields and baserunning-outfield coach Gene Roof — have managed the Hens in the past.

A familiar name to Mud Hens fans is Mike Hessman, who was Rabelo’s hitting coach at West Michigan in 2016. The all-time leader in minor-league home runs, Hessman has yet to manage a team at the minor-league level and would best be considered a long-shot candidate.

NOTE: This will mark the first time the Mud Hens have had four different managers in four consecutive seasons since 1985-89, when Toledo had five different skippers in as many seasons. Cal Ermer finished his eight-year tenure in 1985, followed by Charlie Manuel (1986), Leon Roberts (1987), Pat Corrales (1988), and John Wockenfuss (1989).

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com419-724-6481, or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.

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