DETROIT -- For the first time since 2008, Mike Hessman is getting the call from Toledo to the big leagues.
After a playing career best known for hitting the most home runs in Minor League history, Hessman is getting a long-awaited chance to make an impact in the Majors -- as a coach. The Tigers have promoted him to serve as their assistant hitting coach for the rest of the season, working alongside hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh.
Hessman replaces José Cruz Jr., who was named head coach at Rice University earlier this week. Cruz’s final game on the Tigers staff was on Saturday. Hessman was allowed to join the Tigers in the dugout early because assistant pitching coach Juan Nieves was away.
While Cruz did a little bit of everything in his general title as a Major League coach, Hessman’s focus clearly is hitting. The slugging corner infielder played for 20 years as a pro, including parts of two seasons in Detroit and seven seasons in Toledo. He’s a legend in Toledo, where he had been a hitting coach since 2019 after climbing the Tigers farm system in an instructional role. He set the affiliated Minor League career home run record with the Mud Hens, and finished with 433 homers in the Minors.
The coaching role in Toledo has allowed him to work with many of the young Tigers currently on Detroit’s roster, including Eric Haase, Jake Rogers, Willi Castro, Harold Castro, Daz Cameron and Isaac Paredes. He also worked with most of the Tigers’ roster in Spring Training.
“I think that was a big separator for him from having to dig in any further [for candidates],” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He could have factored into the immediate staff when I first got hired here. He was mentioned here by our player development people as being somebody we should consider. I brought Cruz with me because of my long history with him and where I felt like he could add to this staff.
“Hess coming up here with the players, whether it’s the language, the history, [or] the experiences that he’s had in the Minor Leagues with these guys at multiple levels should pay dividends in the transition process and make it very seamless.”
While Hessman gets his chance in Detroit, Tigers Minor League hitting coordinator Jeff Branson will step in as hitting coach in Toledo.