Tom Prince made his big league debut in Pittsburgh under former Tigers manager Jim Leyland and played his final season under current manager Ron Gardenhire in a 17-year catching career before getting into coaching. He’ll now be in charge of molding the most critical group of Detroit's prospects at Triple-A Toledo.
With the Tigers seeking experience for the Mud Hens' managerial opening, they turned to the 55-year-old Prince, who spent the last three seasons as Pirates' bench coach after managing 11 years in their farm system.
“I think it'll be a great fit,” said Leyland, now a Tigers special assistant. “He's a real sharp baseball guy, a good guy. He's all business. He's got a good personality, but all business. I think it's a good fit for us.”
Prince replaces Doug Mientkiewicz, who was dismissed Oct. 31 after two seasons at the helm of the Hens. Prince becomes Toledo’s sixth manager in eight years, and he will have likely the Mud Hens’ most talented team since they won International League titles in 2005 and ‘06.
“When the search for a Triple-A manager began, we prioritized finding someone with experience in developing high-level talent and creating a winning culture,” Tigers vice president of player development Dave Littlefield said in a statement. “It was clear from the beginning that Tom Prince fit that mold perfectly, and we’re thrilled to have him lead our staff in Toledo.”
The Tigers talked with various Major League coaches with experience in player development, but they waited out the process while big league teams filled out their staffs. Littlefield knew Prince from Pittsburgh, having hired him as a coach after his playing career ended.
Prince served as bench coach under Michigan native Clint Hurdle, who was dismissed by the Pirates after the season ended.
“His relationship with players is very similar to Jim's,” Prince told MLB.com in a phone interview Tuesday evening. “The door was always open. Players were very comfortable coming in to talk to him. And players have to trust you. They have to trust that you care about them and want to make them better.”
Before Prince joined Hurdle’s staff, he compiled a 434-407 record managing at five stops in the Pirates' system, topping out at Double-A Altoona in 2015. He won a title in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League with Bradenton in ‘12 after winning the league’s Manager of the Year honor in ‘08.
“His blend of Major and Minor League coaching experience is respected throughout baseball,” Littlefield said, “And he has proven that he’s ready to take on this challenge. Tom will be working with many of our top prospects with the Mud Hens, and we’re confident that his leadership both in the clubhouse and on the field will be impactful and will prepare them to excel at the Major League level.”
More important than wins, however, was player development, as the Pirates built their big league club largely with talent from within their system. Prince’s Gulf Coast League teams included All-Star outfielder Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. His Altoona roster in 2015 included All-Star slugger Josh Bell and current Rays stars Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, and his Class A Short-Season team in Williamsport in ‘05 included ‘13 National League Most Valuable Player Award winner Andrew McCutchen.
“It's not only those guys. It's the guys that got their name called one or two times,” Prince said. “I was that guy. I just happened to play a long time. But I remember all the guys who put in the time and helped me along the way.”
The 2020 Mud Hens could feature as many as 10 of the Tigers’ top 14 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline’s rankings. This includes top-ranked pitchers Casey Mize and Matt Manning and top infield prospect Isaac Paredes as they jump from Double-A Erie.
“The pitching is unbelievable with what they've got coming that’s on the doorstep,” Prince said.
At the same time, catcher Jake Rogers, outfielder Daz Cameron and shortstop Willi Castro could all return to Toledo for more seasoning, as will pitchers Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser.
“This is a tremendously exciting time to be in the Detroit Tigers organization, especially playing a role in what’s grown to be a top-tier player development system,” Prince said in a statement. “People across baseball have noticed the young core of talented players the Tigers have built over the last few years, and I’m looking forward to working with some of the club’s top prospects in Toledo during the 2020 season and beyond. We’ll have a focus on playing fundamentally sound and winning baseball, best preparing these men to contribute with the big league club in the near future.”
Prince is the Tigers’ latest hire out of the Pirates' organization. Detroit added former Pittsburgh hitting coach Jeff Branson as hitting coordinator a year ago.