With no Tigers baseball to keep us entertained for the next few days, now is as good of a time as any to look to the farm system and see how the Tigers' minor league affiliates are doing. Today, we look at the Toledo Mud Hens, the Tigers' Triple-A affiliate in the International League.
Team Record: 47-51, 4th in International League West
The Mud Hens are once again in last place in their division, but have been much more competitive than their 2013 counterparts. They went 61-83 last year and finished a distant 19 games out of first place. This season, they sit just 5 1/2 games out of first place at the All-Star Break. Both their offense and defense have been in the middle of the pack compared to the rest of the league, except for a league-worst strikeout rate from the pitching staff. The Hens have scored nine more runs than they have allowed, and are within striking distance of their first winning record since 2009.
Top performer: Ezequiel Carrera
Carrera has been an on-base machine for the Mud Hens this year, drawing walks at a 12.3 percent clip. This is nearly double his career 6.2 percent walk rate in the big leagues, and the highest rate he has posted at any level since a monster 2009 season in Double A with the Seattle Mariners. His 37 stolen bases have many Tigers fans drooling, but baserunning stats in the minor leagues can be quite misleading. Carrera still has yet to translate some impressive minor league numbers into big league production, and with Andy Dirks on his way back, it may be an even longer wait for Carrera.
Top prospect: Robbie Ray
Undoubtedly the Tigers' top overall prospect, Ray had an up-and-down first half in his first full season in the high minors. He posted a 1.53 ERA and 4.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his first six starts before getting the call to the big leagues, but has struggled since his demotion. In his last eight starts, Ray is just 2-2 with a 5.56 ERA and 1.74 WHIP. He has just 31 strikeouts to 23 walks in 43 2/3 innings, and has only worked five innings or more in four starts. He got rocked by the Pawtucket Red Sox yesterday, allowing eight runs on 11 hits in just 4 1/3 innings. While he should be fine in the long term, his production is a short term concern if the Tigers choose to bring him up for a spot start on Saturday.
Player to watch: Daniel Fields
Fields got off to a slow start this year, but suffered a broken hand in mid-May. He has not appeared for the Hens since then, but was recently promoted to Double-A Erie while Steven Moya was away for the MLB Futures Game in Minnesota. A sixth round pick out of Detroit Jesuit High School in 2009, Fields made big strides last season by hitting .284/.356/.435 with 58 RBI and 43 extra base hits. He has regressed this season, walking just six times in 124 Triple-A plate appearances before his injury. His production in the second half of this season could go a long way in determining his future with the big league club.
Stock up: James McCann
Many believe that McCann will be a better catcher than current backup Bryan Holaday, but for now McCann is putting together a nice season in his first go-round at Triple A. His power is nothing special, but his 22 doubles are tied for ninth in the International League. He has been on a tear in the month of July, collecting 14 hits (including seven doubles) in just 40 at-bats. If he continues to produce, he could push his way onto a big league roster -- though not necessarily the Tigers' -- at some point later this summer.
Stock down: Melvin Mercedes
I hinted at this during our look at the top 30 prospects in the system, but Mercedes has been passed over for big league call-ups by multiple relievers who started the season in Erie. This includes closer heir-apparent Corey Knebel, who has more Triple A strikeouts than Mercedes does in less than half the innings. Mercedes' game is generating ground balls with his heavy two-seam fastball, but too many hitters have barreled him in 2014. At 23, Mercedes has plenty of time to work his way back into the Tigers' good graces, but development of a secondary pitch or two will likely need to occur before he sees any big league innings.