April 4th, 2013

Let The Games Begin

12519972-standardThe start of the new Minor League Baseball season is upon us, with the first pitch due to be thrown out at hundreds of ballparks today. As with a new season, comes many new stories for every team. As is such with the West Michigan Whitecaps, as they welcome a new manager this season, along with some returning players. Fans of the West Michigan team were able to watch them practice yesterday, and then had a chance for pictures and autographs. It was a cold, but sunny, day just north of Grand Rapids, but many fans attended the open workout.

Michael Hernandez played for the Whitecaps in 2006, helping them to the Midwest League Championship

Michael Hernandez played for the Whitecaps in 2006, helping them to the Midwest League Championship

One positive story, is how Michael Hernandez worked his way back into the Detroit Tigers’ organization. The 29-year-old Brooklyn native played for the Whitecaps back in 2006, helping them win the Midwest League Championship. In his first tour of duty, he made the team as an un-drafted free agent from Oklahoma State. After being traded away to Texas, and spending four years in the Independent Atlantic League, Hernandez finds himself once again patrolling the outfield at Fifth-Third Ballpark.

“I feel blessed just to be here, to get this opportunity to tell you the truth”, Hernandez told MLive.com. “I knew it would be tough, and it went really well in spring training. They asked me if I’d be willing to go Low-A until maybe something opens up, and I said 100 percent. If I’m here, I have a chance. I’m willing to take that. I know they wanted to put in a guy with some experience to help anchor the outfield, especially with a couple of young guys we have. I want to be known as a veteran guy here, and I want to help out as much as I can while I’m here. Hopefully they’ll learn something from me and I can learn from them.”

That’s a great attitude by Hernandez, and I hope he has a great season, as he wants to move up the ladder to Double-A or Triple-A. He has good power with his bat, and can captain the outfield. In 2006 with the ‘Caps, he hit .278, with 13 home runs, 63 RBI’s, and hit for the cycle twice. Last season, playing for the York Revolution, he hit .303, with 13 home runs, and 55 RBI’s. He asked the Tigers organization for an invitation to spring training, and they granted it for him. It’s a good chance that with his locker room presence and a veteran skipper, the Whitecaps can go a long way.

Larry Parrish, who has managed the Detroit Tigers and Toledo Mud Hens, is at the helm for the Whitecaps this season

Larry Parrish, who has managed the Detroit Tigers and Toledo Mud Hens, is at the helm for the Whitecaps this season

Speaking of the veteran skipper, Larry Parrish may be in his first season as the Whitecaps manager, but his resume’ is extremely impressive. He has even managed the big club, back in 1998-99, and the Toledo Mud Hens in 1994, 2003-06, and 2008-10. He left the Hens with a record of 569-551, and two Governor’s Cup championships. Before the circus of the new season begins, Parrish chatted with Peter Wallner of MLive.com about a few issues with the Whitecaps

Here are five notable things Parrish had to say about the team:

What to expect from Briceno in the opener. Endrys Briceno, in his first full season as a pro after back-to-back seasons with 12 starts each in short-season A, drew the starting nod.

Parrish has been impressed.

“He’s a long, lanky guy, and it’s all a matter of location with him,” Parrish said. “He has pretty strong movement to his fastball, and his breaking ball can be inconsistent at times, but Mike (pitching coach Mike Henneman) has been working with him on gripping it a little tighter.”

Briceno went 4-3 with 60 hits in 58 innings with 30 strikeouts and 22 walks.

A second baseman to love. Devon Travis won fans over in Connecticut last season with his gritty play, and Parrish expects West Michigan fans will think the same.

“I could see him becoming a fan favorite,” Parrish said. “He’s not a big guy, but he has strength and some pop in his bat, too.”

Travis, who’s listed a 5-9 and 183 pounds, was a 13th-round pick of Detroit in 2012, leaving Florida State after his junior season. He hit .283 (.352 OBP) in 25 games with Connecticut.

Living with the talent. Austin Schotts and Danry Vasquez are ranked as the fifth and sixth best prospects in the Tigers’ organization and will be patrolling the Whitecaps’ outfield this season – Schotts in center and Vasquez in right. That will bring highlights, and test patience, too.

“There’s going to be some really good days and then some days where they look young,” Parrish said.

The two will be closely watched as the best prospects. Vasquez, who played in 29 games at West Michigan before going down to Connecticut, will gain power as he adds weight (currently 177 pounds) to his 6-3 frame. Schotts, the highest pick on the team (third round last season), is known for his speed. He hit .310 with 15 stolen bases in 40 games last season in the Gulf Coast League.

Adolfo Reina will be key to the pitching staff. The thing is, Reina isn’t even a pitcher, but a 23-year-old catcher.

“With all the Latin pitchers we have, Reina could be a real stabilizer for us,” Parrish said. “We expect him to really be able to work with the staff.”

Reina, in the organization since 2008, played most of last season at Lakeland, though he did get into one game at Triple-A Toledo – and homered. He has the experience, Parrish said, to help youngsters such as Endrys Briceno, as well as other Latin pitchers such as starter Edgar De La Rosa and starter/reliever Yorfrank Lopez.

Of all the starters, keep a close eye on Hudson Randall. The right-hander, projected to be the third starter in the rotation, is a 6-4, 185-pounder who was drafted in the seventh round last year after a stellar career at University of Florida.

“If I had to bet on a pitcher to watch, it would be Hudson,” Parrish said. “He was the most consistent pitcher (during spring training), he has some big-game experience (with the Gators) and he has a bunch of pitches that he can throw well.”

Randall, 22, has curve, slider and change-up to go with his fastball

12519957-standardThe Whitecaps open the season with a seven game stint hosting the Dayton Dragons and Fort Wayne TinCaps. Here’s to another fun season of baseball for all, and at this point I’m really happy just that there’s no snow on the field!

12519960-standardPhotos courtesy of Sally Finneran/MLive.com

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