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Hens' roster taking shape

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Hens' roster taking shape

By JOHN WAGNERBLADE SPORTS WRITER

Even though it's the middle of winter, with snow on the ground and temperatures stuck in the frigid range, the roster for the Mud Hens is starting to take shape.

Nothing is official yet, cautioned Al Avila, the Tigers' vice president and assistant general manager. After all, the final form of Toledo's roster depends on what players make - or to be more precise, don't make - Detroit's opening day roster.

But there's a good chance many of the players who will trot onto Fifth Third Field April 8 for the Mud Hens' opener against Louisville already have been signed.

"Nothing has been cast in stone in terms of Toledo's roster," Avila said. "A lot of our younger players will be battling for jobs with the big-league club.

"And we're always open to the possibility of signing players right up to the start of spring training. We try to keep an open mind as to available players and how they might fit onto our roster."

As things stand now, the Tigers already have a number of players available to play in Toledo. For example, the outfield could be stacked with some of Detroit's better prospects, including Wilkin Ramirez, Ryan Strieby, Casper Wells, and Brennan Boesch.

Ramirez, who Baseball America tabbed as the Tigers' eighth-best prospect, hit .258 for the Hens with 17 homers and 33 stolen bases. Strieby, Wells, and Boesch combined for 62 home runs for Double-A Erie last year; Boesch led the Eastern League with 28, while Strieby had 19 and Wells 15 despite injuries.

"If you think about it, here in Detroit we have Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez, Austin Jackson, Ryan Raburn, and Clete Thomas," Avila said. "It doesn't mean guys like Wells, Ramirez, Strieby, and Boesch don't have a chance to play in Detroit, but the other guys all have experience in the big leagues.

"We feel we are deep in the outfield, and we like all of these guys."

There also is plenty of depth in the infield. Take the shortstop position, where Detroit re-signed Adam Everett and Ramon Santiago.

That means Brent Dlugach, who was named to the International League's post-season all-star team after hitting .294, probably will return to Toledo. He may be pushed by Cale Iorg, who once was considered one of Detroit's top prospects but hit just .222 for Erie last year, while young talents such as Audy Ciriaco and Gustavo Nunez continue to climb the ladder.

"We have a logjam at shortstop," Avila said.

The Tigers signed former Washington prospect Kory Casto as a potential third baseman for the Mud Hens. Last year Casto, who played with the Nationals in both 2007 and '08, hit .271 with eight homers and 51 RBIs with Syracuse.

At second base the options include Will Rhymes, who batted .260 with 20 stolen bases here last year, and Michael Hollimon, who hit .211 in 91 games for the Hens in 2008 and was injured much of last season.

Another player who had an injury-plagued season, Jeff Larish, and Ryan Roberson, who batted .227 with seven homers for Toledo a year ago, are among the options at first base.

The Mud Hens' catching chores will be determined by Tigers manager Jim Leyland. If Detroit decided to use Gerald Laird as a part-time catcher, he might split the position with Alex Avila. That would mean Robinzon Diaz, who saw action with the Pirates last season, will be in Toledo.

If Leyland decided that Laird will handle the catching duties full time, Avila - a top prospect who jumped from Erie directly to Detroit last year after being drafted in 2008 - will likely catch for the Mud Hens.

Barring some surprises with the Tigers' pitching staff, the Mud Hens starting rotation will have more of a veteran feel in 2010.

Members of last year's staff such as Eddie Bonine (4-5, 4.41 ERA), Ruddy Lugo (13-9, 4.07), and Ryan Ketchner (2-0, 0.56) are among the possibilities, as are six-year free agents Phil Dumatrait and Enrique Gonzalez as well as prospects Alfredo Figaro and Josh Rainwater. Ketchner and Dumatrait are the only left-handers in that group.

The make-up of Toledo's bullpen hinges on Detroit. If youngsters such as Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth don't crack Detroit's staff, they will assume relief roles with the Mud Hens.

Among the familiar faces with a chance to return to the Hens are Casey Fien (team-high 14 saves, 3.41 ERA), Zach Simons (3-0, one save, 2.45), Jay Sborz (1-0, 2.25), and Matt Rusch (2-4, one save, 4.86 ERA).

Among the other options for Toledo are some young right-handers who pitched well for Erie, including Cody Satterwhite (4-6, 12 saves, 3.47 ERA), Thad Weber (7-3, 4.06), Robbie Weinhardt (0-1, two saves, 2.30 ERA), and Luis Marte (5-8, 4.02).

Both Weber and Marte were in the SeaWolves' rotation last year.

"We feel we have a lot of possibilities for the staff at Toledo," Al Avila said. "We have a lot of young arms in the upper levels of the system, and a lot of them will be in Toledo this year."

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.comor 419-724-6481.

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