The Detroit Tigers have already started the 2021 season, but 60 miles south down I-75, the Toledo Mud Hens await the start to a much-anticipated season with fans in the stands and real baseball on the field since 2019. But before their May 4th home opener at Fifth Third Field, the Mud Hens and Tigers have some sorting to do as it pertains to their roster.
With the Detroit Tigers choosing who they want to take north, though, it makes the speculation for those who might be patrolling Toledo’s field a bit easier. Judging these assignments at face value, there appears to be a carrying theme: thump. The days of Dixon Machado and Pete Kozma are gone and the Mud Hens feel primed for the big fly–perhaps the most since the days of Mike Hessman.
The Toledo Mud Hens hit 155 home runs in 2019, third-worst in the International League. To improve upon those totals, these players figure to play into improvement in 2021:
Toledo Mud Hens 1B Renato Nunez
It has been beaten to death, but the power Renato Nunez’s bat possesses is real. For perspective, the Detroit Tigers have not had a hitter hit Nunez’s 31 home runs in 2019 since the 2016 campaign when Miguel Cabrera hit 38. But the lack of dingers the last half-decade does not seem to faze AJ Hinch and Company, as they designated Nunez for assignment–an assignment he would wind up accepting.
Perhaps Nunez doesn’t find himself on Toledo’s roster all season, but the first baseman should mash against lesser competition until the Detroit Tigers need his services. Nunez slashed .188/.212/.344 with 1 home run across 14 games in Spring Training for the Tigers this season.
Toledo Mud Hens 2B/SS/3B Isaac Paredes
Paredes isn’t a plus power guy, but to have an infielder that can approach 20 across a full season would be a fine addition. Paredes comes off of 2019 in which he would hit 13 home runs for the Erie Seawolves.
While it was sensible to give Paredes a look in 2020, a 21-year-old debut season rarely goes well results-wise unless they fall into the superstar bucket. In the short 2020 campaign, Paredes slashed .220/.278/.290 for the Detroit Tigers across 34 games. I expect Paredes to surpass those totals at the Triple-A level and possibly find himself in Detroit once again in 2021.
Toledo Mud Hens OF Derek Hill
Hold the snide comments–I do realize the contact issues associated with Hill and likewise understand the limited ceiling remaining for someone like Hill, but both of those issues might actually contribute to higher home run totals for him in Toledo in 2021.
First, Hill has taken a more power-emphasized approach and was able to club 14 home runs and 19 doubles for Erie in 2019. This has come at the expense of his ability to make contact, though, striking out a career-worst 147 times in 120 games.
Add to that the crowded outfield in Detroit and the fact that Hill will be 25, it makes an extended stay in Toledo more likely than his two teammates listed above. I expect more of the same from Hill–a big swing, lots of speed, and killer speed and defense all of 2021 for the Toledo crowds.
Christin Stewart remains an interesting case as an option for the Toledo Mud Hens as it was announced he did not make the Opening Day roster and was subsequently designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Julio Teheran.
Stewart hit 23 home runs for Toledo in 2018 and would likely maintain a similar pace in 2021, although his power never quite translated to the major leagues. It remains to be seen if Stewart clears waivers–if so, he could be an option for a corner outfield spot and a lot of pop in the middle of their order.
Likewise, outfielder and uber-prospect Riley Greene may find Toledo at some point in 2021, although I expect Double-A to be a great test for the prep standout. The reason Greene doesn’t make the official list is terribly difficult to project when someone like him gets a call-up to Triple-A. While most fans want him on the fast track to the major league club, spending a full season in Double-A wouldn’t be the worst thing for his development.
Regardless, expect the Toledo Mud Hens to improve upon their nasty long-ball numbers in their comeback campaign in 2021.