Just when it looked like the Tigers had their minor league coaching staffs filled, they have a big void to fill in Toledo. The Braves named Larry Parrish as their hitting coach on Friday, ending his seven-season stint as Mud Hens manager.
Parrish is the winningest manager in Hens history. Except for a 2007 season lost to ankle surgery, he’d been there since 2003, an amazing tenure for a minor-league skipper at any level. He led them to back-to-back International League titles in 2005 and ’06, and he was named Sporting News manager of the year for his efforts. They’ve been around a .500 team the last few years, due in no small part to a short-handed roster from injuries and call-ups, but he played his part in developing players.
“Larry has a great reputation in the game and came highly recommended,” new Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “His background truly speaks for itself.”
It’s great news for Parrish, whose last big-league stint was as Tigers manager in 1999. He moved his offseason home to Georgia a few years ago, so he’ll be close to home. It’s tougher news, of course, for the Tigers, who now have a big position to fill and no automatic conclusions to filling it.
Tigers vice president and assistant general manager Al Avila said Friday evening that it’s too early to tell which way they’ll go in filling the post. He added they will look at candidates outside the organization as well as internal options. Atlanta had to get permission to interview Parrish, so the Tigers have been kept up to speed on the move. They also gave a glowing recommendation for Parrish.
The internal options aren’t numerous. Phil Nevin just completed his first season at Double-A Erie, while Detroit just hired Ernie Young to manage at low Class A West Michigan. Nevin could be a candidate, but it’s far from an automatic promotion. Joe DePastino just went from Whitecaps manager to roving catching instructor and supposedly likes the idea of being home more often. Another internal possibility could be Andy Barkett, who has managed at Class A Lakeland for three years.
As for guys outside the system, an intriguing name is Matt Walbeck, let go by the Pirates in a bizarre move after leading Double-A Altoona to the Eastern League title this year. Walbeck is rumored to be seeking a job on a big-league coaching staff, but might be enticed to Triple-A as a potential springboard to the Majors. He knows the system, having managed at West Michigan and Erie before leaving to take a third-base coaching job in Texas after the 2007 season.
Another intriguing thought: Would a Bruce Fields return be out of the question? He managed the Hens in 2001 and ’02, spent three years on Alan Trammell’s coaching staff, then was out when Jim Leyland was hired as manager. He has been a roving instructor in the Indians farm system since. It would be retracing his steps, obviously, but would being close to home again with the possibility of managing his son in a couple years bring him back?
One thought raised by John Wagner at the Toledo Blade was Kevin Hooper, who reportedly turned down the West Michigan job earlier to stay with the independent team in Wichita. There’s a big difference on many levels between managing low Class A and managing at Triple-A, and the latter might have more appeal to him. Again, though, his managerial experience is limited to the past two years in Wichita.
The Tigers won’t just be looking for players at the upcoming winter meetings. They could well be looking for a Double-A manager as well.
Detroit’s search for a replacement for Tom Brookens has extended a little longer than many would’ve expected since Brookens was hired in October. No deal is close, and at this point, the Tigers appear willing to look at people from outside the organization.
It deserves mentioning that the Double-A coaching staff is vitually important. It’s a huge step in the developmental ladder for players coming through the farm system, and with the prospects on track to come through Erie in the next couple years, it’s vital. The Tigers have had good people in that regard with Brookens for the last couple years and Matt Walbeck before him.