Well, I knew that the headline would get somebody’s attention…. Yes, Ben Verlander, brother of Detroit Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander, will suit up for the Whitecaps this season. He was a 14th round pick out of Old Dominion last season, who batted .219 for the Connecticut Tigers in 2013, and was a NY-Penn League All-Star. Another 2013 draft pick joining the team this season is starting pitcher Jonathan Crawford, who is ranked as the Tiger’s #5 prospect by MLB.com. Crawford pitched three seasons of NCAA baseball for the Florida Gators, and threw two games for the C-Tigs. Kevin Ziomek will also be a quality arm on the Whitecaps pitching staff. The lefty is a second-round pick (third overall) by Detroit last season out of Vanderbilt, pitched eight innings in four games for Connecticut. Right-hander Zac Reininger will be a force to recon with on the mound also, once he’s off the seven-day DL, as he posted a 1.00 ERA in 22 games also with Connecticut last season. The Whitecaps should also get some starts from pitchers Austin Kubitza, Buck Farmer, and Chad Green. Another top-20 prospect in West Michigan this season will be shortstop Javier Betancourt. The 18-year-old played for the Gulf Coast League Tigers last season, hitting .333, and only stuck out 14 times in 177 at bats. He was also named the GLC Tigers’ Player of the Year.
The Whitecaps roster will include some familiar faces also, in players such as pitchers Jeff Thompson, Montreal Robertson, Julio Felix, and Jonathon Miciel, catcher Bennett Pickar, infielders Dominic Ficociello and Curt Powell, and outfielders Raph Rhymes and Austin Schotts. Rhymes came to the ‘Caps last season after being a 15th round pick by the Tigers out of LSU, and was the NCAA batting champion in 2012. He hit .345 last season, good for second best on the team. Schotts was the starting center fielder in West Michigan last season, before finishing up the year down in Connecticut. The Whitecaps will be led this season by new manager Andrew Graham, who coached a decent chunk of the roster in Connecticut last season. He’ll try to bring a playoff berth to West Michigan for the first time in three seasons. This looks like it could be a really exciting season in West Michigan, with the roster sporting seven pitchers from the first ten rounds of last season’s draft, and plenty of college experience for the position players. I really look forward to seeing this team on the field, and can’t wait until April 12th! You can view the complete 2014 Whitecaps roster HERE!
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Not only are the West Michigan Whitecaps re-building their ballpark after January’s fire, they are also adding some renovations to it while they’re at it. Fifth Third Ballpark will be moving it’s gift shop and naming it ‘CapSized’, with a play on words there to an overturned ship, and a popular item in the sized caps. It will now be located between the entrances behind home plate, will be three times the size of the old one, and will have improved accessibility with two entrances and exits. CapSized will also have a ticket window inside where future game tickets can be purchased. It will also contain an eight-foot boat to display the novelty items for sale.
On the first base side where the fire took place, the main concession stands have been rebuilt with an additional 1,700 square feet for patrons. The new roof is now fully enclosed, and the restrooms are ready to go. The new Whitecaps’ clubhouse won’t be ready by opening day, but should be by May 1. Improvements there include an improved laundry facility, a larger upgraded weight room, better coaches’ offices, and more storage space. The suites and the secondary concession stands also won’t be ready by opening day, but when completed will feature a ‘super’ suite on the first base side.
“The unfortunate occasion of the fire has placed us in a position where we can make these improvements now while the stadium is already under construction at a substantially lower cost then if we were to undertake them from scratch at some future date”, Whitecaps owner Lew Chamberlain told MiLB.com. “There are a number of economies of scale, not the least of which is avoidance of demolition costs, that we can take advantage of now that wouldn’t be available later. The last few months have been a real challenge, but thanks to the hard work of our staff as well as the admirable efforts of the folks at Progressive AE, Wolverine Building, and all of their subcontractors, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and we look forward to showing off the new and improved facility to West Michigan on April 8.”
Now that the new gift shop is located where the old administrative offices once where, and future plan is in effect to build the new offices on the right field side, between the playground and the first base grill. Construction of that facility will start next fall, and will feature a rooftop deck with a great view of the ballpark and the Grand River. A new craft brew bar area is set to take over the space where the old gift shop was. Also, due to the construction and the weather, the Whitecaps’ staff has cancelled the annual public workout session that was originally scheduled for April 2. The organization wants the repairs and upgrades to continue, and ensure the ballpark is ready for opening day.
“Unfortunately, with the ongoing construction, and for the safety of everyone, we’re not going to be able to have it this year,” Whitecaps VP Jim Jarecki stated to MLive.com.
The Whitecaps open the season on the road in Dayton, an opening day for them is April 8. We hope the weather is warm enough with no rain, so we can enjoy the game on April 12. The new roster should be available soon, also, so stay tuned for those updates. We’re due for another snow storm up here, though, so I’m praying this clears up soon. I really need to be at a ballgame with a cold beer, and the warm sun!
Sticking with our ballpark theme this week, C.O. Brown Stadium, home to the Battle Creek Bombers of the Northwoods League, has its own renovations in store for the 2014 season. As the scoreboard at C.O. Brown was struck by lightning last season, a new and improved one will take its place, and the outfield fences tended to. The centerfield fence will be moved and lowered, and should give the outfielders a chance to rob some home runs, but also make the ballpark a little more hitter friendly. All the fencing in the infield, will be replaced and upgraded, also, including the field and grandstand areas. There will be new poles, lamps, and lights in the outfield and infield that will improve the overall play of night games. The Bombers will also be re-vamping the parking lot on the third base side, increasing the flow of traffic before and after games. As of now, there is only on main entrance into the whole Bailey Park complex. The organization will also be re-painting areas of the ballpark, including the restrooms and visitor’s clubhouse. The Bombers expect to have all of the renovation completed by the time their opening day rolls around on May 29th, when they host the new Kalamazoo Growlers. The upgrades might not seem as grand as the ones in Lansing and Grand Rapids, but they will make Bombers’ games a better experience for the fans.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
While down on Lansing, the Lugnut staff is going over the future plans for their ballpark, in West Michigan they’re just focusing on getting Fifth Third Ballpark ready for Opening Day. When that day comes on April 8, the Whitecaps will use the third-base dugout and locker room while they wait for theirs on the first-base side to be completed. The visiting teams will be using a temporary trailer just outside the center field gate, as will the umpires. The new locker room and clubhouse facilities are expected to be completed by May 1, in time for the ‘Caps home stand on the 5th. The temporary visitor clubhouse will only affect two home series, and four opponents in Wisconsin, Beloit, Bowling Green, and Fort Wayne.
“I know it’s going to be a bit of a change,” stated Whitecaps Vice President Jim Jarecki to MLive.com. “But cooperation from them (the opposing teams) has been very good. These guys may be prepping a bit and going back and showering at their hotel, but, for the interim, that’s the best setup we can do. Hopefully, it’s for a short period of time and we’ll put it behind us.”
The Whitecaps still expect to have the first-base side enclosed with concessions stand and restrooms ready to go. The re-building of the suites will be ongoing, but the smoke damaged ones on the third-base side will be ready to use. The effort by all involved has to be the weather we’ve been hampered with here in Michigan. This is one of the coldest winters in recent memory, and only two cities in the country (Buffalo and Erie) received more snowfall this year. The organization is still push to be ready by the home opener, and grounds crews will be removing over a foot of snow off the field in the coming week.
“We’re usually starting work on the field at this time,” Jaracki stated. “But you just can’t take off all the snow and go. You (remove it from) the warning tracks, then the infield skin. The grass will take care of itself, but the biggest focus will be on the infield skin and the mound and the home plate area. That has to get dried out.”
There’s no doubt that the ballpark will be ready by opening day, in my opinion. I know this organization will be striving to meet all of their goals. We plan on being in the stands on April 12, and for the Midwest League All-Star Game in June.
Cooley Law School Stadium, home of the Lansing Lugnuts, will be receiving a $22 million dollar renovation. First, there will be an $11 million renovation to upgrade and modernize the ballpark itself. There will also be an $11 million project called ‘The Outfield’, that is a privately funded residential and commercial development venture. There will also be a state-of-the-art high-definition video board that will be attached to the Outfield complex, but paid for by the Lugnuts. Along with the new video board, other upgrades will include and 360 degree walk-around concourse, and enhanced picnic area, new kids playground, upgrades to the clubhouses, refurbished seating, and brand new playing surface, renovated suites, an energy-efficient lighting and window system, and a new special event facility.
“This revolutionary project is a model for how the private and public sectors can work together to preserve a community asset while also propelling further economic growth downtown,” Lugnuts owner Tom Dickson stated in a press release. “It’s inclusion of a mixed-use development directly in the outfield of the ballpark delivers a twist that is unprecedented in the industry, creating more energy in both the ballpark and surrounding downtown Stadium District.”
This new Outfield project will include about 80 residential units as well a restaurant. The development will be constructed over the existing outfield wall, and will give some of the residents to have front row seats to the games. The Lugnuts organization will be working with the city to secure City Council approval by May 1st, and want the renovations to be completed over the next two off-seasons.
“The opening of the stadium in 1996 dramatically turned around the downtown area and catalyzed capital-area and regional development,” Lansing mayor Virg Bernero stated in the same press release. “With this renovation, we’re solidifying a crown jewel in Cooley Law School Stadium and ensuring the Lugnuts remain an amazing entertainment option for Lansing area patrons for the next twenty years.”
This is great news for the city, and for Lugnuts fans, and I really look forward to experiencing the finished product. We have plans to attend a Lugnuts game on May 4th, so hopefully the weather is at least a little bit warmer by then, and we can enjoy another Star Wars day. We didn’t have much luck in our two trips to Lansing last season.
I’ve really enjoyed watching the Detroit Tigers’ pre-season games so far during Spring Training. I especially like seeing the former West Michigan Whitecaps players wearing the ‘D’, and hanging with the big boys in major league camp. Nick Castellanos is hitting the ball very well, and proving so far he’ll fit nicely into the hot corner at Comerica. It’s fun to watch Casey Crosby on the mound, trying to get back to that form that made him a top prospect, and the likes of Hernan Perez, Eugenio Suarez, and Devon Travis patrolling the infield. There is always that one player, however, that really stands out, and this season that guy seems to be outfielder Steven Moya. The 22-year-old started out on a tear this spring, going 2-4 with a double, a triple, and four RBI’s against Florida Southern College in the Tigers’ exhibition game. He recently followed that up with another impressive performance against the St. Louis Cardinals, being a home run away from hitting for the cycle, and knocking in another four RBI’s. So far in Grapefruit League play, he’s batting .412, with two doubles, a triple, and five RBI’s (stats against FSC don’t count). Moya was added to the Tigers 40-man roster in December, but despite his play, few think he’ll make the Tigers’ roster out of spring training.
“I like what I see, but he’s young,” manager Brad Ausmus told Chris Iott of MLive.com. “He’s inexperienced, really. He’s had some freak injuries that he missed some time with. I definitely like him. He still needs some time in the oven. He’s swung the bat well from day one. He really hasn’t let up at all offensively.”
Moya played for the Whitecaps during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. In 2011 he struggled a bit, hitting .204, with 10 doubles, and 39 RBI’s. He improved drastically in 2012, hitting .288, with 14 doubles, three triples, nine home runs, and 47 RBI’s in only 59 games before being injured. He also played in the 2012 Midwest League All-Star Game, going 1-2 with two runs scored, and three RBI’s on a bases-loaded triple. We should have a good chance to see Moya play this season if he stays in the minors, as we’ll be making stops in both Toledo and Erie form some games this June. All the best to him the rest of the spring, and for the 2014 season.
UPDATE: Moya has been optioned to Double-A Erie SeaWolves. The Tigers also cut five other players on Friday, bring the number of players in major league camp to 40. Moya’s final big league camp numbers are a .333 average, with five doubles, and one triple in 21 at-bats.
“You can make an argument he was the MVP of camp. The problem is that he was in A-ball and he really just needs to play. He needs experience,” Ausmus stated to MLive.com. “We certainly have a high ceiling for him. But asking a guys with 90 games in A-ball to go to the big leagues is an enormous jump. So, the best thing for Steven Moya is to play.”
Photo courtesy of MLive.com/Grand Rapids Press
League: Eastern League (Double-A)
Affiliation: Detroit Tigers
Home Field: Jerry Uht Park
Fun Facts: The Erie Seawolves started out up in Welland, Ontario as the Welland Pirates, affiliated with Pittsburg, and played in the short season NY-Penn League. The Pirates relocated to Erie in 1995 to become the Seawolves. This move caused the Frontier League franchise Erie Sailors to move themselves, over to Jamestown, NY. There was another Sailors team in Erie, who also played in the NY-Penn League, but they relocated to become the Hudson Valley Renegades before the independent team used the Sailors name. The Seawolves were upgraded to Double-A status when the Eastern League added two new teams in 1999. They became affiliated with the Angels after the upgrade for two seasons, then signed with the Detroit Tigers in 2001. Since 2003, the team has been rumored for another relocation, but upgrades to Jerry Uht Park have kept the team in place for now. Their mascot is named C. Wolf, and can be seen all over Jerry Uht Park, and in the Erie community. I’m really looking forward to visiting Erie, and taking in my first Seawolves game this summer. Seeing another Tigers affiliate will be a plus also, as many Whitecaps alumni will probably be in the lineup.
Notable Alumni: Justin Verlander, Alex Avila, Curtis Granderson, Omar Infante, John Lackey, Cameron Maybin, Cody Ross