It has been a long six years for the Toledo Mud Hens, and 2015 was no different. Coming off five consecutive losing seasons and eight years removed from their last division title, the Mud Hens struggled to another last place finish this season, skidding to a 61-83 record in the International League's West Division.
Between a farm system ravaged by trades and poor drafting and a major league club in win-now mode for the last decade, it's no wonder the Mud Hens have struggled. Nick Castellanos is the most recent blue chip prospect to wear a Toledo uniform, but the list thins out if you look past that.
This year's Mud Hens roster featured some solid players in Steven Moya, Daniel Fields, and Dixon Machado, but did not possess the kind of depth other International League teams had. This was especially true on the pitching staff, where the Mud Hens struggled to a league-worst 4.69 ERA in 1,277 innings. They walked a league-high 535 hitters and allowed 102 home runs, third-most in the league. Their 1.45 WHIP was the highest in the league as well.
Things were better on the other side of the ball. The Mud Hens hit .250 as a team, tied for the third-lowest average in the league. Their .322 on-base percentage was near the league average, and they hit enough home runs to rank eighth out of 14 teams with 578 runs scored. They also hit 272 doubles, the highest total in the International League, and their 110 stolen bases ranked sixth.
Pitcher of the Year: Guido Knudson
Before September rolled around, the name of Guido Knudson was hardly known, let alone pronounced correctly throughout the major league circuit. After entering the Tigers farm system as their 28th round selection in 2011, the righthander began a steady, methodical process of working his way up.
Knudson split the 2014 season between Advanced-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie, posting a season record of 3-7, finished with seven of 12 in save opportunities. As 2015 rolled around, it only took eight games with the Erie SeaWolves, before the organization began to see something special. Knudson settled in with the Mud Hens, tossing 42 1/3 innings, fanning 44 and concluding his campaign with a team-high 10 saves in 12 chances. Despite the incognito approach, Knudson grabbed the attention of Toledo manager Larry Parrish, causing the San Diego native to stand out from the rest.
"He's been a guy that's sort of under the radar," Parrish said. "He puts in the work and he's just gotten better and better."
Fast forward to August 23, where a call to the bullpen for the Detroit Tigers made one dream a reality as Knudson jogged out to the hill. Even sporting the Olde English D, don't expect anyone to pronounce his name correctly anytime soon.
Player of the Year: Dixon Machado
The Venezuelan connection has proven to work in the Tigers favor in numerous ways, and the discovery of then-17-year-old Dixon Machado was just one more reason for excitement. With a thin, wiry frame, power isn't the first thing that comes to mind in sight of the infielder, but quick hands and a fluid motion at the plate have solidified the 23-year-old as a face to watch. After bouncing around the lower levels of the Tigers farm system throughout his introductory years, the young shortstop broke into Double-A Erie in 2014 where he hit .305/.391/.442 with an .891 OPS, 23 doubles, five home runs and 32 RBI through 90 games.
In 2015, Machado was introduced to Triple-A Toledo and took the promotion in stride, finding that he and the Mud Hens were going to get along just fine. Machado concluded his Triple-A debut hitting .261/.313/.332, leading Toledo with a team-best 133 hits and adding 22 doubles and 15 stolen bases. To fill a void, the Tigers called on Machado to head to Comerica, where he posted 16 hits, including 3 doubles and five RBI in 24 games for Detroit.
Breakout Player: Jefry Marte
Since signing with the New York Mets as an amateur free agent in 2007, Jefry Marte and a baseball bat seem to agree with each other. In 2008, Marte kicked himself into gear, hitting .325/.398/.532, a .930 OPS and 50 hits in his first 44 games. So, there's that. The member of the 2011 Futures Game and Arizona Fall League invitee was traded from the Mets to Oakland in 2012. After a pair of seasons in the Texas League, the Tigers signed Marte to a minor league deal and assigned the infielder to Triple-A Toledo.
Standing at 6'1" and 220 pounds, Marte made quick work of showing he had the power to bolster a struggling Mud Hens program. Spending much of his time at third base, Marte concluded his Triple-A debut in the Tigers organization hitting .275/.341/.487 with a team-second 25 doubles, 15 home runs and 65 RBI. Like his infield counterpart, Machado, Marte was among several to receive a call to Detroit where he submitted 17 hits, including four doubles, four home runs and 11 RBI in 33 games.
Biggest Disappointment: Steven Moya
If you're looking for a good mixed bag of reaction from Tigers fans, toss the name of Steven Moya into conversation. The larger-than-life outfielder was first signed by Detroit out of the Dominican Republic in 2008. While some sources have listed him as tall as 6'7", we'll just settle on the fact that Moya is big. Very big. The ability to hit for power is an undeniable strength of the Puerto Rican outfielder, but a major concern seems to cycle back to lack of discipline at the plate and difficulties with pitch recognition.
Moya made his debut in the states in 2010, where he hit .190/.229/.299, finishing at 26-for-137 at the plate in the Gulf Coast League. Over the next several seasons, Moya continued maneuvering his way through the system. In 2014, the Double-A Erie SeaWolves got a taste of the infamous power when Moya punched 35 home runs, adding 33 doubles and 105 RBI, Moya's first 100-RBI season. As the 2014 major league season began to wrap up, Moya received a call to Detroit where he saw action in 11 games for the Tigers, posted three hits and striking out twice in eight plate appearances.
In 2015, Moya received his assignment to Triple-A Toledo, following a short rehab assignment at Advanced-A Lakeland. Moya hit .240/.283/.420, knocking 20 home runs, 30 doubles and adding 74 RBI. However, Moya's plate discipline woes continued, resulting in 162 strikeouts, marking the second straight year with a strikeout rate above 30 percent.
Moya's swing became a main focus with the Tigers, with the coaching staff urging him to open up his stance at the plate. The struggle to utilize his size created a noticeable decrease in Moya's consistency at the plate, resulting in a drop in both RBI and home runs from the previous year. The quizzical pattern carried over into his September call up with Detroit this season, where Moya hit .180, finishing just 4-for-22 at the plate for the Tigers.
At the age of 24, the debate remains, is there enough time to instill a few missing key tools for survival, or will the patience of the Tigers run thin?