Toledo Mud Hens have a new manager

Detroit News

With developing hitters a full-throttle Tigers organizational goal, Triple-A Toledo’s new manager is a past MLB hitting coach — with no managerial experience

Anthony Iapoce is the newest Mud Hens skipper, replacing Lloyd McClendon after McClendon departed following the 2022 season. The Tigers have not yet announced Iapoce’s hiring, but confirmation came by way of a source familiar with the Tigers’ decision. The source did not wish to be named because of sensitivities to Detroit’s executives.

Iapoce, 49, was senior hitting coordinator for the Red Sox in 2022 after working the previous three seasons as Cubs hitting coach. He also was the Rangers’ chief hitting instructor from 2016-18.

Iapoce is a native of Astoria, New York, who was an outfielder at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. A right-handed hitter, he was a 33rd-round Brewers draft pick in 1994 but topped out with 110 games at Triple A, never cracking the big leagues. He also played in the Marlins’ minor-league chain before latching on with the Gary SouthShore Railcats of the independent Northern League.

Iapoce’s best full season in the minors was in 1998, at Double-A El Paso, when he batted .314, with a .362 on-base percentage, and .747 OPS. He played primarily center field during his farm days, but moved easily to left field and right field. With his size (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) more suited to outfield range rather than mid-order power, Iapoce hit only six home runs in 714 minor-league games.

But his ability to instruct hitters became, increasingly, a skill that three MLB teams found appealing. A fourth team, the Tigers, will now be placing him in charge of dress-rehearsing batters for MLB’s stage. Making hitters more conscious of strike-zone nuances, cutting down on strikeouts and improving on-base numbers, has been a center-piece objective for new Tigers front-office chief Scott Harris.

Iapoce will be inheriting a revived Mud Hens team that finished 87-63 in 2022 and remains a linchpin between Detroit’s big-league roster and a Triple A venue, 60 miles to the south.

The Tigers have been pumping more personnel from their Triple-A and Double-A rosters, befitting better drafts that have benefited, inversely, from the big-league club’s travails and bottom-rung finishes.

That in turn has brought to Toledo, for buffing ahead of promotion to Comerica Park, hitting prospects such as Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Kerry Carpenter, Ryan Kreidler, Kody Clemens, and others. Pitchers also have been migrating regularly to Detroit, sometimes in a bit of a Toledo-Detroit shuttle made more necessary and spontaneous in 2022 as the Tigers ran into a historic stream of injuries.

Seventeen different pitchers started games for the Tigers in 2022 — a monstrous number that, on some days and nights, made the Interstate 75 drive from Fifth Third Field to Comerica Park more like a two-way commute as pitchers motored back and forth, plugging holes, sometimes for only hours before returning to Toledo.

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The constancy of moving players and pitchers back and forth, from one roster to another, can be difficult for managers at all levels — and perhaps hazardous for a Triple-A skipper’s job health.

Iapoce will be the fifth Mud Hens manager in the past seven years. Three previous skippers — Doug Mintikiewicz, Tom Prince, and McClendon — lasted, at the most, two seasons.

All of Iapoce’s modern-day predecessors had managed at other stops before they arrived at Toledo.

Iapoce will be getting his initial taste of life in the manager’s office — and in dugouts — where his hitting tutelage is expected to help a Tigers team searching perpetually for more offense.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News sports reporter.

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