Mud Hens roll to victory on Triple-A Opening Day

Bless You Boys

Toledo Mud Hens 7, St. Paul Saints 4 (box)

International League play opened up on Friday evening, and the 2023 Toledo Mud Hens had control of this one from the beginning. They built a big lead and cruised to a 7-4 victory for an enthusiastic crowd on Opening Day at Fifth Third Field. The pitching was solid despite a little late innings dramatics, and what looks like a pretty good Triple-A lineup pounded out 13 hits on starter Bailey Ober and the Saints bullpen.

After Akil Baddoo lined out and Zack Short struck out to open the bottom of the first inning, Parker Meadows hammered a double to the wall in center field and Tyler Nevin followed with a triple to score him. 1-0 Hens.

Short redeemed himself by setting the table with a leadoff walk in the bottom of the third. A Nevin single and then a pair of errors gave the Hens a 3-0 lead.

Meanwhile right-hander Brenan Hanifee cruised through four innings of work with three strikeouts. The 24-year-old was drafted out of high school way back in 2016, in the fourth round of a draft that also produced Matt Manning and Joey Wentz as top prep pitchers selected that year. Hanifee was regarded as a decent prospect for years in the Orioles system, but was out of action in 2020 and 2021. The Tigers added him on one of the many minor league deals they extended this offseason.

Zack Logue, who ultimately got the win, Brendan White, and Miguel Del Pozo handled the middle innings without much incident. Twins’ prospect Edouard Julien did launch a solo shot off of Logue, but otherwise the Hens took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh and finally broke the game open. As it turned out, they needed the add-on runs.

The big blow came from infielder Andy Ibánez, who pinch hit for Nevin and took advantage of the opportunity, cranking a three-run homer with Jonathan Davis and Short aboard. Andre Lipcius followed with a single. Justyn-Henry Malloy walked, and catcher Donny Sands lined a single to right to score Lipcius. 7-1 Hens.

Will Vest had a rough outing trying to close this one out with a six-run lead. He gave up a leadoff home run in the top of the ninth, and the hits kept coming. Two more runs came across before manager Anthony Iapoce turned to Miguel Diaz instead. Diaz was fairly impressive in camp, and he did the job here, punching out Andrew Bechtold on three pitches to close it out.

Nevin: 3-3, R, RBI, 3B

Sands: 2-4, RBI, 2B, SO

Meadows: 2-5, R, 2B, SO

Hanifee: 4.0 IP, 0 ER, H, BB, 3 SO

Coming Up Next: RHP Reese Olson, the Tigers’ most major league ready pitching prospect, makes his debut at 4:05 p.m. ET on Saturday. RHP Aaron Sanchez, who you may remember from his early success with the Toronto Blue Jays, goes for the Saints. The lower levels are set to begin their 2023 seasons on Thursday, April 6.

The Opening Day lineup went like this.

Baddoo-LF

Short-SS

Meadows, P- CF

Nevin-1B

-Ibanez-1B

Lipcius-2B

Malloy-3B

Sands-C

Knapp-DH

Davis, Jo-RF

For the Triple-A level, that’s a pretty tough lineup to face. Everyone is either a prospect, or a post-prospect minor league veteran who has something to offer in a short term call-up to the major leagues. We’d certainly like another potentially good major league bat in there, but that lineup doesn’t have many weaknesses.

Meadows and Malloy are good prospects. Baddoo and Nevin are more experienced players who’ve seen significant major league time but haven’t been able to stick yet. They’re still only 24 and 25 years old respectively. Andre Lipcius is a solid utilityman prospect, and if the Tigers need Sands or Knapp to replace a catcher for a few weeks they should be fine. There isn’t much in the Mud Hens roster that you’d call just organizational depth. That a small victory for the thoroughness of the new Harris administration.

Colt Keith and Parker Meadows shined in spring camp

Top position prospects Colt Keith and Parker Meadows made pretty big impressions in spring camp this year. Keith will be at the Double-A level for the first time, but as he spent his 16 appearances in Grapefruit League play torching the baseball much as he left off in 2022, we’ll be very curious to see how long he’s there.

Keith had two home runs, two doubles, and a triple in 27 plate appearances, posted solid strikeout and walk rates, and notably led the Tigers with a 97.4 average exit velocity off the bat. There are still questions about his defense, but the bat is looking very dangerous. He’ll have a lot of eyes on him this spring. He’s still only 21, and the Tigers may want to take their time, but we wouldn’t be surprised if he mashed his way to a September call-up this season.

Parker Meadows has also managed a strong pace since everything clicked for him last June. He carried that through this spring as well, and was the Tigers’ most dangerous hitter in camp all through March. Meadows racked up five home runs and three doubles in 45 plate appearances and posted a 1.134 OPS.

Add in Justyn-Henry Malloy, acquired from the Atlanta Braves for Joe Jiménez, and you have the Tigers three best hitting prospects to watch in the upper minors right now. The Tigers came into the spring with a bottom third farm system, and Jackson Jobe’s injury put a further damper on things. But they do have some guys who could change that perception pretty quickly. Keith, Meadows the Younger, and Malloy have all been on breakout trajectories for quite a while now. Right now they’re the best bets to develop into impactful major league hitters in short order.

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