Los Angeles Dodgers‘ hurler Clayton Kershaw has won the Cy Young award for being the best pitcher in the National League. With a recor of 16-9 and a microscopic ERA of 1.83, not too many can really argue. Before he became a star on the west coast, however, he honed his stills in the Midwest League as a member of the Great Lakes Loons in 2007. I remember a lot of talk about him back then, like everyone knew that this kid was going to be that good. In 25 starts for the Loons, he ended up 8-7 with a 2.95 ERA. The sad part is, though, I never was able to see him pitch down in Midland. And to think, just one season later, he was making his big league debut with the Dodgers. A new team in 2007, the Loons had Lance Parrish as their manager, who was a member of the 1984 World Series Champion Detroit Tigers. So, the only game I attended that season, I was more determined to meet a local hero like Parrish then an up-and-coming superstar. That was my mistake, though seeking an autograph from a starting pitcher isn’t an easy task. On days they pitch, they’re not allowed to sign autgraphs, and on days they don’t they’re not really out of the dugout, or even in uniform at times. It would have been nice to have seen him pitch, but it’s always good to have alumni do well and make through the system, and in Kershaw’s case excel at the highest level.
Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes Loons
Congrats to Wil Myers of the Tampa Bay Rays on winning the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year award. I was lucky enough to see him play back in May while he was still a member of the Durham Bulls of the International League and even back in 2010 when he was playing for the Burlington Bees of the Midwest League. Wil posted a .293 average, with 13 home runs, and 53 RBI’s this season with the Rays. Just another example to get out to the Minor League ballparks when you get a chance. You never know what future award winners you’ll be witnessing.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Despite having one of the worse records in the Midwest League this season, the Lansing Lugnuts fared very well against their in-state rival West Michigan Whitecaps, affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. Some of that magic must have sprinkled onto Lugnut alumni Henderson Alvarez, who, as a member of the Miami Marlins, through a no-hitter against the Tigers yesterday. Detroit had no answer for Alvarez, who needed on 99 pitches to shut down mighty Motor City team in a 1-0 victory. For Alvarez, the season ended much better than it began. He started the season on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation, and missed the first three months of the season. Pitching for Lansing in 2009, he went 9-6 with a 3.47 ERA with 92 strike outs. Coincidentally, he faced five former Whitecaps in yesterday’s game: Don Kelly (0-4), Andy Dirks (0-3), Omar Infante (0-2), Nick Castellanos (0-1), and Roman Santiago (0-3). Former ‘Cap Luke Putkonen took the loss for Detroit, after giving up two hits, walking a batter, and throwing a wild pitch. A former West Michigan catching combo was left on the bench, however, as Alex Avila for Detroit, and Rob Brantly for the Marlins did not play. If the Tigers don’t break out of this offensive slump, it could be a short run in the play-offs this season.
Photo courtesy of the Lansing Lugnuts
It’s the trade deadline, and the Detroit Tigers decided to make some moves to improve the teams chances at making the post season. Unfortunately, the moves included trading away two West Michigan Whitecaps alumni, and one of their current players. The Tigers’ first move took West Michigan’s starting left fielder Danry Vasquez and sent him to the Houston Astros organization. In return, Detroit acquired relief pitcher Jose Veras. Vasquez struggled last season with the Whitecaps, but went down to Connecticut and ended up leading the NY-Penn League in hits. This season he’s been hitting .281 with five home runs and 39 RBI’s. He started the season hitting in the number three slot, but moved to lead-off hitter in June. He will be staying in the Midwest League, however, suiting up for the Quad Cities River Bandits.
“It made me sad that I will be leaving the Detroit Tigers organization but it made me excited that Houston made a trade for me,” Vasquez stated to Ben Chiswick, the Whitecaps’ radio announcer (and courtesy of MLive.com).
The Tigers next dealt outfielder Avisail Garcia and relief pitcher Brayan Villarreal to the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox in a three-way deal. The full deal sends Garcia to the ChiSox, Jake Peavy from Chicago to the BoSox, Villarreal to Boston, and the Tigers get short stop Jose Iglesias from the Red Sox. Iglesias is said to be one of the best young middle infielders in the game today, so it will be excited watching him in Detroit. Villarreal has been sidelined in Toledo due to a thumb injury, but has been up with Detroit part-time for the last three seasons. He is 4-8 with a 4.56 ERA with the Tigers. During the 2008 season he split between the GCL Tigers and the Whitecaps, he was 1-6 with a 4.69 ERA and 37 strikeouts. He spent the entire 2009 season in West Michigan, going 5-5 with a 2.87 ERA and 118 strikeouts. As for Garcia, he was one of the top prospects in the Tigers organization, hitting .241 with two home runs and 10 RBI’s with the big club this season. He also played in West Michigan in 2009, splitting the season with the Lakeland Flying Tigers. He hit .264 with 31 RBI’s that year. Spending the entire 2010 season with the Whitecaps, he hit .281 with 17 doubles and 63 RBI’s. Good luck to all three players with their new clubs. We’ll still be keeping track of these guys.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Former Detroit Tigers and West Michigan Whitecaps pitcher Jair Jurrjens is back. The Tigers signed him to a minor league deal, and he will report to the Toledo Mud Hens today. He last pitched in Detroit in 2007, before being traded to Atlanta. Despite his health issues, the Tigers are hoping to put him into the rotation, and not the bullpen as of yet.
“He kind of came on the scene pretty good,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland stated. “Pretty calm. Pretty collected. Make a good impression. Evidently, he’s had a lot of health issues since we had him, so I don’t have any recent update on him.”
Back in 2007, he went 3-1 with the Tigers, with a 4.70 ERA. Pitching for the Whitecaps in 2005, we was 12-6, with a 3.41 ERA and 108 strikeouts. He was a member of the ‘Caps 20th anniversary team.
Photo courtesy of wizardkitten
‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson Museum-Greenville, SC: While in Greenville, we also visited the ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson Museum, which is located right behind Flour Field. The folks who run the museum are the nicest you’d ever meet, and they love their baseball. They stated that they spend more time at the museum than their own homes! They are also extremely knowledgeable about Joe and the history of baseball in the area. The museum is in Joe’s home that he had built-in 1940. Unfortunately, many of his trophies and memorabilia were taken after the death of his wife. It’s believed that family members came to the house and took most those items. It’s a nice little museum and a must for any baseball fan in the area, especially if your taking in a Drive game anyway.
Carpenter Field-Charleviox, MI: This weekend the boys and I headed south to Charlevoix so Trevor could participate in a baseball clinic hosted by the MLBPAA Alumni and Little League Baseball. A good number of former Major Leaguers were on hand to teach kids ages 6-16. Some of the players on hand were Doug Mirabelli (Red Sox), Roger Mason (Tigers, Mets, Giants), Dennis Rasmussen (Yankees), Bruce Look (Twins), and Rob Ellis (Brewers). The alumni did a great job of giving the kids instruction in a positive manner, and they were all very patient with the younger kids. Trevor had a great time, and really learned from it. They were also talked to about respect and hard work, whether you’re playing baseball or doing anything else in life. My only regret, actually, is not fudging Brian’s age and letting him join the fun. He would have done very well, also. After the clinic the kids were given hot dogs, hamburgers, and chips for lunch, and the MLB Alumni signed autographs for them. The weather was beautiful, and it was a great day for us all around! I highly recommend it for anyone who wants their child to succeed.
Promotion courtesy of the MLBPAA
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Here’s a question and answer segment off of MiLB.com by Andrew Pentis. There’s been much talk about Bruce Rondon this season, and he’s been under the microscope all spring. After a few shakey innings, he’s settled down in his last few outings and thrown the ball pretty well. Hopefully he keeps his off-speed pitches under contol, and really helps the Tigers out this season. Rondon pitched for the ‘Caps in 2011, with a record of 2-2 with a 2.03 ERA, 19 saves, and 61 strike-outs. Here’s the interview by Pentis:
The last time the Tigers started grooming a closer with 100 mph heat and a tattoo running down his forearm, things didn’t go according to plan. Joel Zumaya, who sported flames on his skin and whipped his elbow high into the air and seemingly above his cap, struck out 97 batters in 62 games as a rookie in 2006. His violent motion limited him to an average of 27 relief appearances over the next four seasons, and he hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2010.
Bruce Rondon is not Joel Zumaya.
And his style gets results. After saving 29 games with three Detroit affiliates last season — nine more than his Opening Day goal — Rondon is MLB.com’s No. 92 prospect and in his first Major League camp. If he succeeds there, few among the long-tenured Tigers will remember at all the hurler he only slightly resembles.
Thanks to Tigers official Aileen Villarreal for transcribing and then translating Rondon’s Spanish into English.
MiLB.com: How would you describe your mind-set and approach while on the mound?
MiLB.com: Has that always been your attitude?
Rondon: Always. Every time I’m on the mound, I always think I’m the best. Off the mound, I don’t think that, but when I’m on there I have to have that mentality, that I’m the best and that I’m invincible.
MiLB.com: Your repertoire should inspire self-assuredness. Tell us about it.
Rondon: Fastball, slider and changeup. The fastball, I try to throw over 100 [mph]. The changeup is around 92-93. The slider is around 86-88. From last year ’til now, I would say I have [improved my] control. I’ve worked very hard to control them.
MiLB.com: You’re obviously known for your fastball. Were you always able to throw hard growing up or did a specific mechanical change in your career increase your velocity?
Rondon: Yes, I could always throw the ball pretty hard. Actually, they didn’t let me pitch when I was young because I threw the ball too hard. Everyone knew [I could pitch], but they wanted me to hit. [Then I was converted] into a catcher.
MiLB.com: Could you have ended up playing that position?
Rondon: Honestly, I never loved being a catcher; my love was always pitching. It was something that always inspired me, that caught my attention, that motivated me. I felt happy pitching, and it was just always what I loved. so when they asked me if I wanted to pitch I was very excited and of course said yes. [That was when] I signed with the Tigers [on Sept. 12, 2007].
MiLB.com: Before you made your way to the States, what was baseball like at home in Valencia, Venezuela?
Rondon: The crowds over there are very aggressive. It’s a little crazy, but it can be motivating because when you do well, the whole stadium gets up and cheers. On the other hand, when you don’t have a good outing, you have to know how to handle it with the crowds. The greatest thing in the world for me is when my family is able to watch me play. Sometimes I’m sad when I’m playing here and look in the stands and they’re not there. When I was growing up, I would always tell my dad that I was going to pitch professionally so that they could watch me play.
MiLB.com: How good of a hitter were you? Do you think you could have made it as a position player?
Rondon: During batting practice, I was good, but not really during the game. Maybe after practicing, I could learn, but I don’t think so.
MiLB.com: How old were you when you turned to pitching full-time?
Rondon: I was 15. [I had] never practiced. I knew I could throw, but I had to start from point zero. When they told me I was going to pitch, I was so excited that I was going to be pitching that it didn’t matter about taking the hits I was going to take. I wanted to learn, so I started with just my fastball. I didn’t have any other pitches aside from my fastball. Once I got to the Tigers, they helped me with my pitching and I have really learned a lot.
MiLB.com: What is the fastest reading you’ve registered on a radar gun?
Rondon: 104 mph — against the [Class A Advanced] Yankees at their stadium in Tampa. My teammates told me after the game. They said, “Rondon, we have some news for you.” I asked them what had happened. They told me I had thrown the ball 104. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. Then they showed me the radar gun and I said, “Wow.”
MiLB.com: Have you ever been on a team with a pitcher who threw harder than you?
Rondon: It has always been me so far.
MiLB.com: That would seem to inspire a nickname. What’s yours?
Rondon: Up to this point, I have not gotten one.
MiLB.com: Bruce doesn’t seem like it would be a popular first name in Venezuela. Where does it come from?
Rondon: My dad loves Bruce Lee. My dad wanted to name me “Bruce Lee.” My mom didn’t want the “Lee,” but she was fine with the “Bruce.”
MiLB.com: Where does your dad’s admiration for the martial arts master come from?
Rondon: He loves all the Bruce Lee movies. He always asks me to get him Bruce Lee movies from here and shirts and those kinds of things. [Lee] was big for him because he made it to the United States by himself. My dad would always tell me that I would make it to the United States by myself and I was going to accomplish big things … and here I am now. Things have happened where I think, “Wow, my dad was right.”
MiLB.com: So your name works on a couple different levels …
Rondon: Maybe he chose that name became [Lee] never lost faith. I would always tell him that I loved baseball and he’d tell me, “Son, you have to work a lot and work hard because it will be very difficult for you to be in the United States by yourself.” I didn’t believe him because I was young, but everything that he told me was true. Sometimes [now] my family will call me and tell me, “Son, you came out in the newspaper next to Miguel [Cabrera],” and I tell them sometimes, “I’m next to him and can’t even believe it.”
MiLB.com: What would it mean for your family back in Venezuela if you make a Major League Opening Day roster?
Rondon: I’ll tell you this, they probably wouldn’t sleep the night before. They really wouldn’t sleep because that’s what they’ve been waiting for. If [the Tigers] tell me I’m making it, I probably won’t sleep that night, either, from thinking about it so much. Thinking to myself, “Wow, it’s me — I’m the closer.” It would really be something special if they gave me that news, like a dream come true.
MiLB.com: Do you notice a different feel to the ninth inning, compared with pitching in the seventh or eighth inning?
Rondon: Honestly, I don’t like throwing in the fifth, sixth, seventh innings. It just isn’t the same attention, it’s not the same adrenaline. When you come out in the ninth inning, people are waiting for the ninth inning. People are thinking, “Wow, there comes the closer.” And that is what motivates me, what gets me going.
Photos courtesy of MLive.com/MiLB.com
I can’t even imagine what former West Michigan Whitecaps and current Detroit Tigers pitcher Brayan Villarreal was going through the other day. Being away from your family is difficult enough, but when they are in real danger, well, Villarreal stated he felt totally helpless. His family was back home in Venezuela, when they were robbed at gunpoint. His parents and brother arrived to their house, finding armed robbers already there. His father and brother were tied up, and the family was threatened they would be kidnapped. Lucky for them, one neighbor called the police when they suspected something was wrong at the house. Unfortunately both robbers escaped custody, even though one had received a gunshot wound.
“It was hard”, Villarreal told MLive.com. “I was mad. And then I couldn’t do anything because I was here. I was angry. That happened and now I’m good. They are good. They’re going to come here. They’re going to be safe. Thank God, everything is fine.” He continued about Venezuela, “It’s a very dangerous place. That’s my country. It’s sad to say that, but it’s very dangerous to live in Venezuela. I’ve thought about it. We’ve actually talked about coming here one day, but they didn’t want to before. I don’t know if they’re going to want to come now.”
Villarreal went on to state that the robbery seemed to be a random act, and not connected to him, or the fact that he’s a professional baseball player. Apparently they only broke in to steal a tv and maybe his car. If not, things could have gone much worse, and there may have been a kidnapping and ransom involved. So glad to know that his family is now safe. Again, I can’t even imagine going through something like this, and being in no position to help. Villarreal pitched one game with the Whitecaps in 2008, going 0-1. In 2009, he had a 5-5 record, 2.87 ERA, and 118 strike-outs.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball