Despite the West Michigan Whitecaps barely missing out on the playoffs the last two seasons, a good handful of players from last years team are celebrating a Florida State League championship as members of the Lakeland Flying Tigers. The Flying Tigers beat out the Jupiter Hammerheads in five games for the title, with every game being decided by two or fewer runs. The Lakeland fans packing Joker Marchand Stadium were treated to a classic game five, as both teams were held scoreless for seven innings. Starting pitcher Warick Saupold and former Whitecaps reliever Melvin Mercedes combined for a four-hit shutout with their team scoring the only runs of the game in the eighth inning. Former ‘Caps players combined for some offense, as second baseman Hernan Perez singled and was sacrificed to second by Michael Rockett. Marcus Lemon, who started the season in West Michigan, drew a walk to put runners on first and second. With Dixon Machado at the plate, the Flying Tigers executed a double steal, but a throwing error by Jupiter’s catcher allowed Perez to score the first, and winning, run. Lemon would score on a single by Tyler Collins to make the score 2-0. Mercedes then entered the game on the mound, and retired three out of the four batters faced to seal the win and the championship. It was a great moment for Mercedes, and for Perez, who led the FSL in fielding this season.
“I’ve had something of an up and down season”, Perez told The Ledger(Lakeland). “Especially hitting, so getting on and scoring a run when we really needed it made my whole season special.
“Of all the championship teams I have had the honor of managing, this one has been the most fun to work with because they’re disciplined, they play hard, they believe in each other, and they won and lost as a team not as a bunch of individuals looking out for themselves,” Hupport also told The Ledger.
In a strange twist of fate, the Flying Tigers were the only team not to have a playing on the Florida State League’s All-Star roster. I guess they’ll have to settle for a championship. This is one of the few bright spots for the Detroit Tigers farm system, as the Flying Tigers and the Whitecaps were the on two affiliates with winning records. We wish all these players luck next season, especially the ones who played in West Michigan also. I’m probably one of the few baseball fans already looking to 2013!
Last Monday the West Michigan Whitecaps’ season came to an end. Also coming to an end, was Ernie Young’s tenure as the ‘Caps manager, as he was notified after the game by the Detroit Tigers organization that his contract won’t be renewed. This news he handled with class, and kept to himself, until he was back home in Arizona the next day.
“They’re not going to renew my contract for next year,” Young stated to MLive.com over the phone. “I knew yesterday, I just didn’t tell anyone. They gave a reason (but Young did not state the reason). There are going to be some changes, but that’s the only one that I can tell you about. I can’t speak to or for anyone else.”
The ‘Caps went 72-68 this season, and 70-69 in 2011. Unfortunelty, they missed the playoffs both years even with winning records. At this point it’s unknown whether pitching coach Mark Johnson or hitting coach Scott Dwyer will be brought back, but both did their job well. Coaching in the minors is a tough gig, but I thought Young has done a pretty good job. Last season with top prospect Nick Castellanos struggling out of the gate, the coaching staff helped him turn his season around and lead the league in hits. West Michigan struggled at times this season more due to injuries than anything else. They lost power hitters Steven Moya and Dean Green to injuries, then a promotion to Green. They also lost catcher Curt Casali when he was promoted. Young is a former manager of the Class-A Kannapolis Intimidators in 2009-10. The 2009 team lead the South Atlantic League with a 82-57 record. He has also served as hitting coach for Great Falls in the Pioneer League in 2008 following his Major League career that included eight seasons with Oakland. His 142 wins is fifth all-time for the Whitecaps. He seems positive he’ll land with a new team, though.
“I’ll redo my resume’ tonight and tomorrow and get it out to the other teams and go from there”, Young said. “I’ll bounce back and I’ll be on my feet. I’ll tell you what, I enjoyed my time in West Michigan. The fans were great to me. I don’t have anything to be upset about because I know how hard I worked and what I gave to the organization.”
I wish Young all the best, as I think that he did well the last two seasons in West Michigan. Now, I guess, is the time to try to guess who the new manager will be, although we may not get an answer for several months. Back in February, I wrote that I thought that former Tigers infielder Brandon Inge would be a perfect fit in West Michigan. Some of my reasons included his 12 year stint with Detroit, and owner Mike Illitch’s reputation for taking care of his loyal players, and the fact that Inge still lives in Michigan and has his family here. His experience at various positions and the fact that his playing career may be coming to and are other factors. In fact, this season for Inge has already come to an end due to injury. Now, also playing for the Oakland A’s, Inge suffered a season ending shoulder injury on the first of the month. He originally dislocated it on August 11, and had just come off the DL when he injured it again.
“My damn shoulder came out again,” Inge told the Sporting News. “I gave it my best shot. I knew it was going to be rough coming into it. In a year like this, you don’t leave anything on the table. I literally gave everything I had to offer to this team. And I’m at peace with it.”
He also stated he was in pain before the re-injury, but wanted to help the A’s in their playoff push. In 74 games with Oakland, he hit .266 with 11 home runs and 52 RBI’s. Inge was brought in last April when fellow Whitecaps alumni Scott Sizemore went down with a season ending injury of his own. If Sizemore is good to go by next season, it will be unlikely that Inge’s contract will be picked back up, and courting a new time at this point in his career could prove difficult. Now, I like Brandon Inge, I really do. I love the fact that he wants to compete and contribute to his team, and I respect the hell out of that. At this point in his life, though, it may be time for a change. A job with the Whitecaps would put him very close to his family, and give him a stable environment. Inge is still very popular in West Michigan and has said nothing but good things about playing there. I’m sure if the Whitecaps themselves had a say in it, he might be a top candidate. It’s the Tigers organization, however, that will make that call. Honesty, I don’t see any other reason that Young would get the axe unless they really had someone else lined up to replace him. Hitting coach Scott Dwyer has head coaching experience, so he would be a solid candidate to get promoted also, with maybe Inge taking his job. If any of these bold predictions do come to pass, however, remember you read it here first: http://burrilltalksbaseball.mlblogs.com/2012/02/12/the-future-of-brandon-inge/
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Fifth-Third Ballpark–Comstock Park, MI: I’m not talking about the doomsday prophecy, but last weekend was the second-to-last game for the Whitecaps, and most likely our very last game of the 2012 season. It’s always bitter-sweet to see a season come to an end, but we have a lot of great memories to look back on. This was another memorable game for the kids and I, as we were able to get onto the field again and see some of the players and coaches. Brian really wanted to see Crash the river rascal one last time, so that was our priority! We didn’t have much of a chance after that for playing catch or getting many other pics with the players, but I did get one with the kids in front of the dugout. Brian was able to play on the playground and jump around on the ‘bouncy house’, which burns up some of his energy (Lily and Trevor are too big for the playground…where does the time go???). The kids Papa and Nana were able to join us, too, so it was a great day spent with family at the ballpark. I’m really going to miss the sunshine and the green grass, as fall, and soon winter, will be blasting us with the reality that we live up north. I was really glad we were able to make this trip, though, with school starting and two birthdays within ten days of each other, this was definitely a ‘no frills’ trip. Don’t worry…I still fed them and even got them their ice cream!
The game itself was a fun one, as the ‘Caps built and early 5-run lead on the Dragons. That was no easy task, either, considering that Robert Stephenson was on the mound for Dayton, who was the Cincinnati Reds first round draft pick last year and the organizations top pitching prospect. For West Michigan, Zach Maggard hit a two-run double in the second inning, to put the ‘Caps up 3-0. In the third inning, Jason King and Patrick Leyland each had RBI singles to put them up 5-0. Eugenio Suarez gave West Michigan some insurance, with an RBI triple in the sixth inning. The Dragons came back to score a few runs off starter Jeff Ferrell, but he held on for the win. Ferrell is now 4-1 in his last six games. Michael Torrealba pitched a scoreless ninth inning to earn the save. In all, the Whitecaps ended up with 15 hits in the game, with five doubles and one triple. It’s good to see them playing hard, even though they won’t be making the playoffs. I still can’t believe that it will be another six months at least until another baseball game. This was an end to and extremely busy week for us, that saw Trevor turning 10, his first football game, and a couple of trips to the county fair. The kids last hurrah before school starting up. Final: Whitecaps 6, Dragons 4.
The Traverse City Beach Bums are the best team in the Frontier League. I know that’s a pretty bold statement, but with a record of 64-32 at the end of the regular season, they are statistically the best. Now comes the hard part…winning the playoffs. They start their quest on Wednsday taking on the Souther Illinois Miners, and will then hopefully take on the winners of the Gateway Grizzlies/Florence Freedom series. It was probably no suprise, either, that the Beach Bums were named the Frontier League Organization of the Year. Contributing to the Bums win/loss record, was the fact that they led the league in overall attendance with 160, 581, and average attendance with 3, 491 per game. The roster also includes the winner of the Morgan Burkhart Award, given to the Frontier League’s MVP in Jose Vargas. He has broken many of Traverse City‘s offensive records this season, and was one home run short of setting a league record of 30 home runs and 100 RBI’s. Vargas ended the season with 29 dingers, and 100 RBI’s right on the nose. He also hit .290 for the season. The team also includes four post-season Frontier League All-Stars. Chase Burch was named as the All-Star first baseman after hitting .304 with 17 home runs and 76 RBI’s. Ryan Still was named as the All-Star second baseman, after hitting .301 with 110 walks. This set the league record for bases on ball in a season. Vargas is the league’s All-Star third baseman, for putting up his great numbers, and in the outfield, Jeff Flagg is defiantly an All-Star. He hit with power all season, knocking 20 over the wall with 83 RBI’s. Bums manager Gregg Langbehn seemed pretty proud of his team and what they accomplished so far.
“The Beach Bums are honored to be represented in several postseason categories,” Langbehn stated the the Bums website. “Like we have said all along, when you surround yourself with good people, the right people and quality players, good things will come of it. Burch, Still and Flagg all are deserving of being on the post-season All-Star team. Their contribution have been significant to this squad. Jose (Vargas) is well deserving of the FL MVP. Without question he earned that award.”
Something good also happened for Langbehn, too, as he was given the Roger Hanners Award given to the Frontier League Manager of the Year. His team’s 62 wins this season ranks fifth in the FL history books.
“As a whole, we are proud and honored to receive these awards,” Langbehn said. “It would not happen without the support, hard work, and determination of every person associated with the Beach Bums and all of our families. These are all organizational awards.”
Photo courtesy of the Traverse City Beach Bums
Congrats to outfielder Avisail Garcia, who became the 100th West Michigan Whitecaps alumni to play in Major League Baseball. He was called up to the Detroit Tigers Friday from the Double-A Erie Seawolves. He had a key RBI single in the Tigers 7-4 over the Chicago White Sox. He went 2-4 in last nights 4-2, and is now batting .429. Detroit would sweep the series, tying the ChiSox for first place in the AL Central Division. Garcia is the eight former Whitecap to be called up to a MLB team this season, with Tigers bringing up pitchers Casey Crosby, Luke Putkonen, Jose Ortega, and Thad Weber, as well as infielder Hernan Perez. Former Tigers 2007 Minor League Player of the year Gorkys Hernandez debuted with the Pittsburgh Pirates this season, and catcher Rob Brantly debuted with the Marlins after being traded to Miami this month. Speaking with MLive.com about the Whitecaps organization was Toby Harrah, former roving hitting instructor, and now assistant hitting coach with the Tigers. He had nothing but good things to say about the organization and quality of the ballpark, coaches, and front office.
“It’s the best environment in the world for playing,” Harrah stated. “It’s a great atmosphere for young prospects. It’s a big-league ballpark where everything is first class. It’s a great way to introduce kids to playing professional baseball.”
Thirteen ‘Caps alumni were even part of Detroit’s Central Division championship team last season, including Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch, Brandon Inge, Ramon Santiago, Andy Dirks, Ryan Raburn, Scott Sizemore, and Duane Below. The Tigers organization has also used some former West Michigan players for trade, gaining the likes of Miguel Cabrera for Cameron Maybin. Whitecaps vice president Jim Jarecki also spoke with MLive.com about the teams’ milestone.
“We’re proud of them,” said Jarecki. “A good percentage of players who’ve gone on to the majors started here. They put on a professional uniform for the first time here and they are always going to remember that. For us to know that many of them were in Whitecaps uniforms is something that we’re very proud of and lends a lot of credibility to our organization.”
As for Garcia, he was signed by the Tigers back in 2007, and played in West Michigan in 2009-10 as a teenager. He hit .281 in 2010 with 17 doubles and four home runs. With Boesch struggling this season, the right field position could be open if Garcia can make the best of his playing time, and help the Tigers to the playoffs.
Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press