Veteran hitting coach Anthony Iapoce made a good impression with the Detroit Tigers organization in his first year as manager of the Toledo Mud Hens. Lynn Henning of the Detroit News reports that the veteran hitting coach, formerly major league hitting coach for both the Texas Rangers and the Chicago Cubs, will join AJ Hinch’s coaching staff in Detroit this season as their first base coach.
It was announced in October that Alfredo Amezaga wouldn’t be returning in 2024, so the hunt has been ongoing, but ultimately the Tigers decided to stay in house. Iapoce coached for the Cubs during Scott Harris and new GM Jeff Greenberg’s time as assistant GM’s there, so they have plenty of familiarity with him. Iapoce will join new third base coach Joey Cora as the fresh faces on the Tigers’ staff.
Assistant hitting coach James Rowson was poached by the New York Yankees to take over as their major league hitting coach next season, so the addition of Iapoce gives the Tigers another experienced hitting coach at the major league level. His exact responsibilities aren’t detailed yet, so perhaps he’ll be busy coaching something other than hitting on top of his work at first base during games, but one would assume that he could provide some veteran assistance to the Tigers pair of young hitting coaches, Michael Brdar and Keith Beauregard.
Big changes coming within the Tigers farm-system: Anthony Iapoce moving from Toledo manager to first-base coaching job in Detroit; Tim Federowicz, the Tigers catching coach, is new Toledo skipper; Brayan Pena leaving West Michigan to be a minor-league catching tutor.— Lynn G. Henning (@Lynn_Henning) December 1, 2023
In Iapoce’s place at Toledo will be Tim Federowicz, the Tigers catching coach in 2023. He’ll take over Iapoce’s job as manager of the Mud Hens. Federowicz retired from playing in 2021, and immediately became the manager of the Seattle Mariners Triple-A affiliate, the Tacoma Rainiers for the 2022 season before taking the catching coach position with the Tigers for the 2023 season, so he does have some management experience at that level already. Federowicz recently published a book called “The Modern Day Catcher” breaking down the modern arts of the game’s most grueling position with examples from his playing days.
This all follows a report by reporter Francys Romero back on November 28 that Brayan Peña, much beloved former Tiger and for the past three seasons the manager of the West Michigan Whitecaps, would leave the Whitecaps to become the Tigers minor league catching coordinator. Peña has drawn strong marks for his work with the Tigers young minor leaguers in West Michigan, so it’s a bit of a loss there, but he’ll now be tasked with travelling throughout the system to help the organization’s catchers improve at their craft.
The need to improve at the catcher position is substantial, as the farm system has little to offer in the catching department other than Dillon Dingler. Catching prospect Josue Briceno impressed with the bat in his first summer stateside as an 18-year-old in the Complex League, and at Low-A with the Lakeland Flying Tigers this season. However, his defensive abilities need a ton of work, as you’d expect at that age. He’ll presumably get a lot of Peña’s attention next season, as will 2023 draft picks Bennett Lee (6th round) and Brady Cerkownyk (15th round).
Tony Cappucilli will take over as the new Whitecaps manager for 2024. He was the bench coach for the Mud Hens under both Lloyd McClendon and Iapoce for the 2022 and 2023 seasons. Prior to those assignments, Cappucilli was a coach in the Los Angeles Dodgers system.
Finally, personnel isn’t the only area with a lot more changes coming within the organization. Back on November 20, the Lakeland, Florida City Commission unanimously approved a project to build a $33 million dormitory to replace Fetzer Hall at the Tigers Lakeland complex. The deal included an extension of the Tigers’ lease on the Lakeland complex that will keep them there through at least 2044.
Both the city of Lakeland and the Tigers will contribute $4 million each to the project. The city will finance the rest through bonds or other loans, with the Tigers responsible for repaying any debt shouldered by the city via increased rent payments. Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press quotes Lakeland city manager Shawn Sherrouse, who stated that the Tigers bring $55 million in economic benefits to the area.
The upgraded dormitory will feature a cafeteria and a recreation hall for the players, and continues the organization’s ongoing efforts to modernize facilities and accommodations at each of its minor league affiliates.
From the moment Al Avila took over from Dave Dombrowski as the Tigers general manager, modernizing their facilities at all levels of the farm system has been an organizational goal, as they’d fallen far behind the times as former owner Mike Ilitch poured all his resources into the major league club in pursuit of the World Series title that would ultimately elude him.
The Tigers unveiled the first major overhaul of the Lakeland complex back in spring of 2017, with upgrades to Joker Marchant Stadium. This included a new administration and clubhouse building, as well as a state of the art strength and conditioning facility. The playing field, dugouts, and scoreboard at the stadium were all updated as part of that project as well.
The Tigers’ affiliates were also pressured to upgrade their fields and facilities in concert with the modernization efforts in Lakeland and Detroit. In 2021, the Erie SeaWolves unveiled their completed $16 million renovation of UPMC Park, including field resurfacing, upgrades to the clubhouse and training facilities, a new entrance plaza, team store, offices, and concessions, as well as a revamped concourse, a new party deck and suites for fans in attendance. Similar work has already been completed in Toledo and West Michigan over the past decade.