Hessman joins Minors coaching staff
DETROIT -- Minor League home run champion Mike Hessman is staying in the Tigers' farm system, but embarking on a new career as a hitting coach. The hiring of the former Mud Hens great was one of several coaching announcements by the Tigers, who finalized their Minors coaching and instructional staffs.
The moves come after an extensive review of the farm system by Dave Littlefield, who was named vice president of player development shortly after Al Avila was promoted to general manager in August.
Hessman, who capped his 20-year professional playing career by setting the Minor League home run record this past summer at Toledo, will start in Class A ball to begin his career, serving as the hitting coach for short-season Connecticut under former Mud Hens teammate Mike Rabelo.
Another former Tiger, Willie Blair, is returning to the organization as the pitching coach for Double-A Erie. A 16-game winner in Detroit in 1997, Blair will join two other ex-Tigers -- manager Lance Parrish and hitting coach Phil Clark -- on a revamped SeaWolves coaching staff behind Parrish, who returns for his third season. Clark had been the hitting coach at Class A West Michigan.
Blair spent the past three seasons as the Padres' bullpen coach under former San Diego managers Bud Black and Pat Murphy, and was among the candidates for the Tigers' pitching coach job after Jeff Jones retired in October. Blair spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons as a pitching coach in the Padres system at Class A Fort Wayne.
The Tigers went with Major League experience as well to replace a coach at Triple-A Toledo. Jeff Pico, Cincinnati's pitching coach for the last two years, takes over for the Mud Hens, filling the void left by Mike Maroth's departure. Leon "Bull" Durham returns for his 16th season as hitting coach. The two will work under new Hens manager Lloyd McClendon, whose hiring was announced last week.
The rest of the Minor League managers are returnees, including Dave Huppert at Class A Advanced Lakeland, Andrew Graham at West Michigan and Basilio Cabrera in the Gulf Coast League. Ace Adams joins the system as Connecticut pitching coach, and Nick Avila -- nephew of Al Avila and a Tigers amateur scout -- will serve as pitching coach for the GCL Tigers. Edgar Alfonzo, who split last season as hitting coach for both the Gulf Coast League and Erie, will shift to West Michigan.