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
Home Field: NewBridge Bank Park
League: South Atlantic League
Affiliation: Miami Marlins
Summary: The third day of this year’s baseball trip will be a busy one (they all will be…). Our first stop will be in Winston-Salem to watch Wake Forest play the Miami Hurricanes in some college action. Then, we’ll be hitting the pavement forty minutes east to Greensboro, to see the Grasshoppers face the Lakewood Blue Claws. I’m really psyched about my first ‘Hoppers game, and the pictures of the ballpark look amazing. I really love the logo and the uniforms are pretty sweet. What makes a game special for us, though, is the great fans we get to meet. Thanks to the guys over at Hoppers Fan, I’m getting a pretty solid preview of the loyal fans that turn out game after game to support this team! I’m really anticipating having a lot of fun at this game. Now for the history lesson… Baseball has been around Greensboro in the early 1900′s with the Patriots. The team name was referenced to the Battle of the Guilford Courthouse. Even their current mascot is named Guilford! The Patriots competed in the North Carolina League, Virginia-North Carolina League, and the Piedmont League. The also played in the Cone Athletic Park and War Memorial Stadium in Greensboro. After the franchise left for Asheville, another team was brought to town in the Piedmont League, the Greensboro Red Sox. After the Red Sox era, Greensboro competed in the Carolina league as the Patriots, Pirates, and Yankees. After joining the Western Carolinas League, which became the South Atlantic League, they renamed the team the Hornets. The team abandoned the Hornets moniker due to the NBA franchise, and became the Bats. The franchise finally settled on a new name, and become the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Again, I really like this logo, and I’m such big fan of the SALly league as a whole. There is a pretty solid list of alumni, too, that laced up the spikes in Greensboro, such as Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly, Robinson Cano, Reggie Sanders, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Pasada, and Curt Schilling. I’m excited to see what future big leaguers will be playing there this spring!
I am absolutely excited that I’m now watching some baseball, even spring training games. Actually, I really enjoy these games, since there is a better chance of me seeing some players that I saw play for the Whitecaps last season. I know I’m going to drive the kids nuts, too, with all of the baseball I’ll be watching this spring. Nick Jr. and Disney Channel will have to take a rest. I snapped this photo over the weekend while in Grand Rapids (more on that later). I’m really excited to see live baseball, though. I’ve already received my tickets to the Winston-Salem Dash, and just ordered front row seats for the Hickory Crawdads over the weekend. Just excited, so bear with me this spring!!!
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Former West Michigan Whitecap and Detroit Tiger Brandon Inge was looking for a new home this coming season. Looks like his ship has found port in Pittsburgh with the Pirates. He has signed a minor league contract with the Pirates with an invitation to major league spring training. Inge’s season was cut short in 2012 with a right shoulder injury which needed surgery. Splitting the season between Detroit and Oakland, he had a .658 on base percentage and 12 home runs. Inge has much versatility, playing third, second, and every outfield position in his major league career. He’s had many games as catcher, too, but hasn’t been behind the plate since 2008. If he makes the Pirate roster, it will most likely be at second base or as a utility player. He could also be assigned to the Indianapolis Indians, and play in one of my favorite ballparks, Victory Field. Inge played for the Whitecaps way back in 1999, batting .244, with 9 home runs, 46 RBI’s, and swiping 15 bases. I still think that when his playing days are done, he’ll be back in the Tigers system as a coach, hopefully in West Michigan.
Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press/MLive.com
Recently Parkview Field, home of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, has been honored by Stadium Journey magazine as the best overall Minor League experience. This is the second year in a row that Parkview and Fort Wayne has received this award. In Stadium Journey’s ‘Top 101 sports venues of 2012′, Parkview ranked #14 overall.
“The thing about Parkview Field, is that it combines all of the elements that we recognize as making a stadium experience great”, stated Stadium Journey’s president and co-founder Paul Swaney. “The food and beverage is better than you’ll find most places and (the concessions options are) related to the overall theme. When I go to Parkview Field apple turnovers are something I seek out. Having a downtown location is an important factor as well. The variety of seating selections is important, too. Fans can go back again and again and have different experiences each time depending on where they want to sit.”
Stadium Journey ranked the venues on many different factors, including the neighborhood, food and drink options, fan experience and atmosphere. The access to the outside and inside of the stadium is also taken into consideration.
“This award is a testament to our great community and fans who continue to make Parkview Field an enjoyable place to be,” TinCaps president Mike Nutter stated to Stadium Journey. “We’re honored to be ranked among the best venues in all of professional sports.”
We were lucky enough to visit Parkview Field in its first year during our 2009 baseball trip. We had a great time at the game, and the ballpark does live up to the hype. Our seats were directly next to the Fort Wayne dugout, to the point that we could literally look right into it and interact with players. It didn’t take much for Trevor to snag a game ball that night. It had been raining all day, and we were pretty lucky to even get the game in.
The Detroit Tigers seem to have the pitching rotation for the 2013 season all but set. With Verlander, Scherzer, Fister, and Sanchez almost surely taking up the first four spots, the real competition will come down to the fifth starter. In the eyes of most fans and the Tigers front office, this looks to be a two-man race between Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello. Smyly, the lefty, did well last season, and would be the only south-paw in the rotation. Porcello is the kid with tons of talent, but his numbers could be better. He’s still young, though, and most fans feel his numbers would be much better is the Tigers were a little tighter in the infield. The two-man race aside, spring training is just around the corner, and usually their is a player or two who steps up and forces the coaches to take a good long look in his direction. This spring the guy who could turn some heads in Lakeland could be right-handed pitcher Luke Putkonen. No doubt the Tigers are high on this 6’6″, 210 pounder, and placed him in the Arizona Fall League last, well, fall, to hone some skills. Putkonen’s stats from the AFL aren’t amazing, posting a 5.06 ERA while allowing 19 hits and seven walks in 21 1/3 innings. Last season, he made 24 appearances (two of those starts) for the Toledo Mud Hens, with an ERA of 4.29. When called up to the Tigers, he appeared in 12 games, striking out 10 with a 3.94 ERA. It seems Putkonen needs to develop his secondary pitches to get outs, though, if he’s going to make that jump to the bigs permanent. Statistics show he throws his fastball 65% of the time, with an average speed of 94.6 mph. It also looks like working some long relief may be his calling, but don’t count him out as a starter. Recently Detroit’s assistant general manager Al Avila made some comments about him to the Detroit Free Press:
“He actually impressed us in the Fall League that we feel real good about Putkonen. I know Jim Leyland likes him and lot. He’s a real big guy with real good stuff. We’ve had many conversations about him being a starter or reliever. My thing is-this is just my philosophy-if you can keep a guy a starter and work with him as a starter and all of a sudden he shows he can be a starter, that’s the best-case scenario. If it doesn’t happen, you can always make him a reliever.”
It seems like Putkonen is already getting some positive attention, and it will be fun to watch him in Spring Training here in a few weeks. It’s no secret I love watching the guys we’ve seen play in West Michigan move up the ladder, and we wish him the best. He pitched for the Whitecaps back in 2009, going 7-8 with a 3.13 ERA and 63 strikeouts!
Photo courtesy of the Detroit Free Press
Larry Parrish may be entering his first season as skipper of the West Michigan Whitecaps, but he has plenty of experience under his belt. On Tuesday the Triple-A International League announced that Parrish will be rewarded for that experience, and success, by being inducted to their 2013 Hall of Fame class. Managing the Toledo Mud Hens, he won the IL Manager of the Year award in 2005, and is the teams’ all time leader in wins with 569. Parrish’s first stint in Toledo started in 1994, leading them to a 56-62 record. After being promoted to become the Detroit Tigers manager in 1998-99, he came back to the Mud Hens from 2003-06, and 2008-10. He guided the Mud Hens to back-to-back Governor’s Cup championships in 2005 and 2006. He has also served as the Atlanta Braves hitting coach in 2011. Parrish played in the majors for 15 seasons with the Rangers, Expos, and Red Sox. The International League Hall of Fame was originally created in 1947, and ran through 1964. It was then re-established in 2008, the leagues 125th anniversary, and went through a three-year transition period where 50 inductees were selected by a committee. Parrish, along with Mack Jones and Don Richmond, represents the third class to be chosen by the HoF’s current standard.
Photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
Location: Fort Mill, South Carolina
Home Field: Knights Stadium
League: International League
Affiliation: Chicago White Sox
Summary: This is actually a very cool logo, in my opinion. And during this coming seasons’ baseball trip, our second game on the schedule will be at Knights Stadium when the Knight take on the Pawtucket Red Sox. This will be my first time seeing both teams. We were in Pawtucket a couple of years ago, but the game was rained out. The team represents Charlotte, North Carolina, but the ballpark is located in one of its suburbs, Fort Mill, SC. From what I’ve read, the ballpark isn’t anything special, but a new one is being built as we speak in downtown Charlotte. There has been some opposition to this, and I’m not sure why, but the new stadium looks like it will be amazing. Too bad we’ll miss that one, but I’m sure we’ll have a great time seeing them this year, too. Baseball in Charlotte dates back to 1901, and the Charlotte Hornets (sound familiar?). The modern version of the team dates back to 1976, when famous wrestling promoter Jim Crocket, Jr. bought the team that was in Asheville, and brought them to town to become the Charlotte Orioles. They were then bought by the owner of the NBA Charlotte Hornets, and named the Knights. They have been in the original South Atlantic League, which became the Southern League, and then landed a Triple-A franchise in the International League. During their affiliation with Baltimore, the likes of Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Curt Schilling played in Charlotte. During their stint with Cleveland, fans were able to watch young versions of Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome. The mascot is a Dragon named Homer, and I’ll do my best to get a photo with that guy. Charlotte looks like a great city, and I am really looking forward to our visit. There is so much else to see and do, also, including the Charlotte Motor Speedway and President Polk Memorial. P.S.: I know this is the second LoM this month, but if I’m going to get through all the teams before my trip, I’ll have to double some of them up!
Six must be a lucky number for the West Michigan Whitecaps this year, as first a half-dozen former players were got invites to the Tigers training camp. Now, six ‘Caps alumni will be playing in this season’s World Baseball Classic representing their respective countries. The latest player to sign on, is Warwick Saupold. He pitched for the Whitecaps last season and will be representing Australia. A relief pitcher, Saupold was 2-1 during his time in West Michigan, with a 2.79 ERA. He struck out 58 batters in 28 games.
Representing Venezuela will be Ramon Hernandez. Hernandez played in West Michigan back in 1996, when they were affiliated with the Oakland A’s. He hit .255, with 12 home runs and 68 RBI’s. He’s been playing in the majors with Oakland, San Diego, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Colorado.
Former Tigers’ closer Fernando Rodney will be playing for his home country of the Dominican Republic. He played for the Whitecaps way back in 2000, going 6-4 with a .294 ERA. In 22 games he had 56 strike-outs and only gave up two home runs. After leaving the Tigers, Rodney went on to pitch out of the bullpen for California/Anaheim/Los Angeles and Tampa Bay.
Representing the great maple leaf will be Chris Robinson for team Canada. Robinson was a catching prospect for the Tigers when he played in West Michigan in 2005, hitting .257, with eight doubles and two home runs. He’ll be in pursuit of base hits and cheap gasoline while playing in the WBC. He threw out 12 baserunners from behind the plate for the Whitecaps, too.
One of my favorite former Whitecaps, Jair Jurrjens, will be playing for the Netherlands. He was part of one of the worst trades in Tigers’ history, in my opinion, but needs to find his form back to be effective in the WBC. With West Michigan in 2005, he went 12-6 with a 3.41 ERA. He had a whopping 108 strike-outs in that season, also. He was traded to the Atlanta Braves in 2008, and I love to see him back in the Detroit system.
Giovanni Soto pitched 16 games for the Whitecaps before being traded to the Indians that same season. He went 6-6 with 2.61 ERA in West Michigan, while fanning 76 and pitching two shutouts. He would go on that season to win the Midwest League Championship with the Lake County Captains, and threw a no-no last season for Akron. He’ll be representing Puerto Rico in the WBC.
Photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
Being a non-roster invitee to major league spring training, is like being in high school, and getting a birthday party invite from the prettiest girl in school. For six former members of the West Michigan Whitecaps, being invited to the Detroit Tigers camp must seem pretty sweet. The Tigers have 17 non-roster invites in all.
Of all the invitees, utility man Don Kelly has the most experience at the big league level. He recently re-signed with the Tigers, after being told after the World Series that there would not be room for him on this years roster. Kelly played for the Whitecaps back in 2002, batting .286. He had 21 doubles and 59 RBI’s, plus an impressive .728 OBS. Kelly only hit .186 at the major league level last season, but due to his versatility and experience he may have a chance to crack the roster. An obstacle in his way, though, is that the Tigers are looking for a right-handed hitter to platoon with Dirks in left field, and Kelly is a lefty.
Top prospect Nick Castellanos (pictured above with Lily) will be at the Tigers camp, also. He did his time in West Michigan in 2011, when he was just 19 years old. After a slow start, he really had a solid season, hitting .312, with seven home runs and 76 RBI’s. He patrolled third base at Fifth Third Ballpark, but was moved to the outfield last season, after Miguel Cabrera took over the hot corner in Detroit. Castellanos made 23 errors at third for the ‘Caps, and ended the year with a .917 fielding percentage. With his defense not being his strongest asset, the move could be good for him, but he just needs time to develop those skills, so I doubt that he’ll be making an appearance at Comerica this season. Be patient, though, his time will come. Castellanos was the Tigers Minor League Players of the Year in 2011, also.
Two of the three catcher invited to camp played for the Whitecaps, too. James McCann was the Tigers’ second round pick in 2011 after finishing his collegiate career at the University of Arkansas. He played nine games for the Whitecaps in 2011 also, hitting only .059, with two singles and one double. He only made one error, though, and threw out 4 runners out of 19 attempting to steal. Curt Casali was also drafted by the Tigers in 2011, after playing his college ball at Vanderbilt University. He played parts of two seasons in West Michigan, 2011 and 2012. In 2011, he played 25 games hitting .227, with two home runs and 14 RBI’s. He only made one error behind the plate, and threw out seven base runners. In 2012, his average increased to .288, with 12 doubles, eight home runs, and 25 RBI’s. He only allowed on passed ball, and threw out 20 potential base stealers. In my opinion, the Tigers are still a little weak at catcher, so if either of these guys has their bat catch fire, they have an outside chance of making the roster.
Kenny Faulk pitched for the Whitecaps back in 2010. His record was 5-4 with an impressive 2.16 ERA. He made 12 saves, giving up no home runs, and striking out 78. His ERA inflated last season at the Double-A level, so he’ll need to bring that down a bit before getting consideration. I’d have to gauge his fast ball, and see his secondary pitches before making an informed opinion on his chances to make the team, though. I look forward to seeing him in spring training, and hope he can earn a spot.
Another weakness in Detroit is at the short stop position. Last season, though, the Whitecaps’ Eugenio Suarez won the Golden Glove as the best short stop in the minor leagues. He played 119 games at short, and 15 at second base, so he does have versatility at middle infield. He had a .971 fielding percentage, with 257 put-outs and 349 assists at short. He had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage at second. At the plate, Suarez hit a very respectable .288, with 34 doubles, had 64 RBI’s, and stole 21 bases. Keep in mind, these are all in 2012 at the Single-A level. He’ll still need a few more seasons to develop, but the Tigers I’m sure are very happy with the way he’s progressing, and I’m confident he’ll be scooping ‘em up at Comerica in no time. Just not this year.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball