It doesn’t happen too often, when we watch a player in Single-A West Michigan one season gets the call up to the Detroit Tigers the next. In fact I believe Alex Avila is the last one who got that quick call up. This season it’s relief pitcher Corey Knebel, who just made the move to the bigs on Thursday. The Tigers drafted Knebel just last June 39th overall out of the University of Texas, where the right-hander was a highly successful closer for the Longhorns for three seasons. After the draft, he was sent to West Michigan, where he earned a 2-1 record, a 0.87 ERA, 15 saves, 41 strikeouts, and just three earned runs in 31 games. Knebel was assigned to the Erie Seawolves to begin the season, and he has been just as successful there, going 3-0 with a 1.20 ERA, one save, and 23 strikeouts. He was promoted to the Toledo Mud Hens just a week ago, giving up no runs and striking out four in just four innings of work. When asked if he thought he’d be moving up to the Tigers this soon:
“No idea,” Knebel stated to the Detroit News. “I just tried to do what I’ve been doing. My college coach taught me to fear no man, fear no hitter. That’s just what I kind of live by. I go out there and I think I’m better.”
The 6’3″ hurler certainly has the stuff to back that up. His fast ball hits up to 95 mph, and he has a nasty curve/slider combo that has made minor league batters look just silly. The Tigers look to be using Knebel to help out the depleted bullpen that has been overworked this past week. He was available to pitch in last nights’ game against the Rangers, but got no further that some warm-up pitches in the ninth inning. Tigers’ manager Brad Ausmus looks to be giving him a chance to get adjusted, and looking for the right time to get him into a game.
“We’ve seen him pitch,” Ausmus said. “He has a really good curve, his makeup is supposed to be really good. He pitched in a big-time program in Texas. It’s not the major leagues, but generally those guys that come out of big programs are a little bit more stable, they get to the major leagues a little faster. But we’ll be learning about him on the go a little bit here, this staff, Jeff Jones, and myself.”
Knebel is not the first 2013 Tigers’ draft pick to get the call up (second in MLB), but he’s the first one from the last two drafts. Although he was a closer at Texas, the Tigers considered him for a starting job when assigned to the minors. It’s good for him that management realized how effective he is in the late innings. As a starter, who knows when he would have been able to earn a shot in Detroit’s rotation.
“I do love the ‘pen,” Knebel stated. “I love coming out of the bullpen. I love hearing my name called. My heart gets going. As a starter, you’re more relaxed. I don’t think I’m a relaxed person.”
To make room for Knebel, the Tigers optioned pitcher Robbie Ray back down to Toledo. We’ll definitely be watching the Tigers’ games closely for #49 to take the mound for his debut. We wont be as excited as his family that scattered to fly to Detroit from Austin, but we’re still looking forward to it.
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Lansing Lugnuts vs. West Michigan Whitecaps (Midwest League)
Cooley Law School Stadium-Lansing, MI: It’s that time of the year again, when my scruffy-looking nerf-herders and I headed down state for Star Wars Day! This season we decided to check out the Lansing Lugnuts at Cooley Law School Stadium. Lucky for us, though, they were hosting the West Michigan Whitecaps. This was Lily and Brian’s first time in this ballpark, too, as Trevor was with me in 2009, and we were rained out here last year. Battling the rain for over a week straight up north, we were happy to head south for a few days. We were very lucky that it was such a beautiful day in Lansing and it was good to finally see the sun again. We got to the ballpark a little early, so we were able to hang out outside the park for a little bit and get some pics of its façade.
When we entered the ballpark, the Imperial Forces were waiting for us…it’s a trap! We got some pics with some stormtroopers and the like, but Brian was very impressed with the purple astrodroid. I’m sure he wanted to take the droid home with us, and how cool would that be? We then found our seats, and noticed more Star Wars characters down on the field, as well as some other fans playing catch. We didn’t waste any time grabbing our gloves and joining them.
We made our way down onto the field, right field to be exact, and made a beeline for Boba Fett! Easily the favorite of the boys and myself, they had to get a pic with him. Brian was a little weary of the Lugnuts’ mascot Big Lug, but reluctantly took a picture with him anyway. Trevor played catch with his Papa, and I with Brian, while Lily was nice enough to take some pictures. We were able to toss the ball around for a good 15-20 minutes before being rounded up like droids by the Jawas, and left the field so the teams could warm up.
On our way back to our seats, the boys were able to get an autograph by a couple of the Lugnuts’ players. One of them was #16 Phil Kish, but the other player was wearing a jacket and we couldn’t see who he was.
The game itself was a good one, well, during the ninth inning anyway. Pitching for Lansing, both Chase De Jong and Alonzo Gonzalez shut out the Whitecaps for five and three innings each, respectively. The ‘Caps refused to go out without a fight, however. In the final inning, Harold Castro singled and was moved to third by another hit by Tyler Gibson. Ben Verlander would then step into the box as a pinch hitter, and drove the ball over the wall, but just left of the left field foul pole. Down to two outs and two strikes, Verlander hit the next pitch just over the infield to score Castro as the tying run, and advancing Gibson to third. Jose Zambrano followed that up with a base hit to give West Michigan the 2-1 lead. On the mound, Julio Felix earned the win by shutting down the Lugnuts in the eight and ninth innings. Chad Green pitched well also, just giving up the one run and striking out six in seven innings of work. Castro and Willy Adames were both 2-4 for the ‘Caps. D.J. Davis and L.B. Dantzler led the way offensively for Lansing, going 2-4 each, also. This game went by too quickly, but a fun one to watch to the end. Final Score: Lugnuts 1, Whitecaps 2.
The only thing that was disappointing about this game was a lack of a crowd. It was a beautiful day, and Cooley Law School Stadium is a great venue to watch a game. I can’t imagine living in a town with such a nice baseball experience and not attending! Trevor took advantage of the small crowd, and moved up by the dugout to get a game ball. It took him the whole game, but he finally got the ball from the final out.
Although the game was over, the fun was not. Being the best big sister in the world, Lily took Brian over to run the bases. Brian has become a master at this, and can now add another stadium to his list. It was hard to catch up to him with the camera he is so fast. This is just another day that I feel lucky and blessed to have spent the day at the ballpark with my dad and kids. I can’t wait for our big baseball trip next month.
This second video from my YouTube channel is of the game:
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Promotion courtesy of the Lansing Lugnuts
As a former second-baseman myself, I tend to pay more attention to that position while watching the games, and tracking players. Especially when it comes to the West Michigan Whitecaps, and tracking them through the Detroit Tigers’ system. I’ve had the luxury of seeing some pretty good players over the years, with the number four printed next to their name on the lineup card, with the likes of Wil Rhymes, Scott Sizemore, Justin Henry, Brandon Douglas, Hernan Perez, and last season’s sensation Devon Travis. This season patrolling the infield of Fifth Third Ballpark is 18-year old Javier Betancourt, who is ranked as the Tigers 14th best prospect by Baseball America. Last season he played split time between the Venezuelan Summer League and the Gulf Coast League Tigers, hitting for an impressive .333 average. The Tigers were impressed also, and assigned him to West Michigan this spring.
“I was surprised when they told me I was going to spend the year here and that I would be in long-season,” Betancourt stated to MiLB.com. “But I’m looking forward to playing here and getting 500 at-bats. It’ll be hard, but baseball is what I love to do. I thank God for the opportunity.”
Betancourt doesn’t seem to have missed a beat so far this season, as his 34 hits are second in the Midwest League. He also is second on the Whitecaps in batting average with .304, and leads his team with 17 runs scored. The 5’10”, 155 pounder, also has hit five doubles and knocked in 14 RBI’s in the first month of the season. He has also seen time at short-stop and third base in West Michigan, and it would be nice if he was able to compete in the MWL All-Star in June, hosted by the Whitecaps.
“You always want to do your best, whether it’s batting .300 or hitting 20 homers,” he stated. “I just want to play for the team, get better and help win a championship. I’ll do what I know how to do.”
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