To say that Toledo had a disappointing month of April would be an understatement. The Mud Hens accrued a 7-20 record in the month of April with a majority of the games being completed on the road. The Mud Hens were riddled with injuries and never really had a chance to run out an everyday lineup which is something that manager Phil Nevin is looking forward to.
Even though the record may be a disappointment, there are some exciting prospects that could very quickly become key pieces for the Tigers at the Major League level. Guys like Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos could very quickly find their way north on I-75 while other guys like Brayan Villareal and Bruce Rondon were sent to Toledo to iron out certain aspects of their game.
I had a chance to go to Toledo recently and had a chance to talk with manager Phil Nevin about the team as a whole as well as some of the higher profile prospects that are playing at the Tigers top affiliate.
TPR: I know the first month of the season probably didn’t turn out the way you would have liked it to record wise, but what were your impressions of the first month of the season?
PN: Well, you try to take the positives out of things and the negatives you learn from and teach from. The positive things that I thought we did very well were play fundamental defense, the pitching was good and the bullpen was good. Our offense, our situational offense and our base running was stuff that we have talked about and addressed. I feel like it’s getting better. When I say we’re getting healthy, we lose a couple of guys. It’s disappointing because you feel like your lineup is starting to shape up and they can get a feel for each other with (Ramon) Cabrera coming in. It will be a couple of days before we can get Berry and Garcia back in there. Hopefully Cabrera can get in a little bit of a flow in a couple of days when those guys come back and we’re all together.
TPR: I know Avisail Garcia hasn’t been here long and like you say, he is out of the line up again but how did he look in his time back here coming off the rehab in Lakeland?
PN: Well, he was only here two days, but he made some phenomenal plays in the outfield, which that is him. He’s a tremendous outfielder. Offensively, it looks like his timing is there. Normally that will take a little while, but he has driven some balls to right field and has been very aggressive at the plate which is nice to see. You typically don’t see it come that quick. He got a lot of at bats down in Florida, but for as little time as he has had at this level, to look this comfortable I think is a big step.
TPR: Bruce Rondon obviously was just returned from Detroit. He struggled a bit there as he did in spring training. Do you think he put added pressure on himself in the spring being tapped as the closer of a team coming off a World Series appearance?
PN: You would probably have to ask him that, but I think there is truth to that. One thing we have to realize about Bruce is that he is still really young. He just turned 22 years old and has only been a few months above A ball and he’s still learning how to make adjustments at higher levels. In A ball, you can get away with 100 mph and blow it by guys and really at this level and at the big league level you can. He doesn’t have to be as precise with his control. He does have to have his secondary pitches in order and that is what we’re working on and that’s part of just learning how to pitch. He is a guy that is obviously going to overpower guys, but there is a way to make those pitches overpower people. You can’t just go throw 100 and hope they don’t hit it at the big league level because they will.
TPR: Now that he has returned, have the Tigers talked to you about what they want him to work on? You mentioned secondary pitches, but is fastball command going to be a part of it as well?
PN: Yes, he is going to use all of his pitches here, but at the end of the day you want him to come down here and get a lot of save chances. I’d like that because that means we’re winning games. At the end of the day, he needs to finish games and save games at a higher level with more experience than what he’s had. Like I said, he’s only a few months over A ball and there aren’t too many guys that make those jumps without making some stops here and some stops in AA. It’s about perfecting your craft at every level. When Bruce goes back, he’s going to be ready to go back.
TPR: Castellanos is another young kid for this level and has had a couple of position changes. He’s new to left field. How has he looked out there?
PN: As of late, and I can honestly say this, as of late he has made tremendous strides in the outfield. I give a lot of credit to our roving outfield instructor that has been here. He’s done lots of things to make Nick more aggressive on the path that he takes on balls to his right and to his left. He’s looking better and better. He just needs the experience out there. He just needs to go out there every day and he needs to play. Once again, he’s just turned 21. I do know one thing. I have seen lots of guys come up and lots of hitters and he does things offensively that are pretty special that a lot of guys just can’t do.
TPR: Ortega was just called up to the Tigers. What were your impressions of him while he was here?
PN: The first word that I always use is maturity. His maturity has gone to another level, where he’s understood what he is capable of doing. There aren’t many guys with better stuff than him. We’ve said all along that when he understands what he’s got, he’s going to be a darn good pitcher at the back end of games. I’m not necessarily saying in a closing role, but he’s going to get a lot of important outs late in the game in pressure situations with that stuff when the maturity comes. Now he’s able to slow down his delivery and understand what his body does to make him effective. I’m not going to say he is a complete, finished product. Nobody is, but he’s made tremendous strides mentally, emotionally and maturity wise and that’s the thing I’m most proud of with him.