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.”
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Up here in this God-forsaken part of the country, we’ve finally started our Little League Baseball season. However, as the weather up here is not necessarily ripe for baseball, we’re holding our practices in the gymnasiums. When we’ll finally be outside, no one really knows at this point-it’s actually snowing right now as I type this. Snow in late April…lovely, eh? Despite the circumstances we have no control over, Brian is still having a good time at the indoor clinics, and is doing very well. Trevor is all signed up and will start his practices soon, but still doesn’t enjoy the indoor clinics as much as Brian does. There is only so much the older kids can do at this point. Anyway, I’m still glad the season is upon us, and hoping May will be kinder to us up here. I’ll be the head coach of Brian’s tee-ball team, and an assistant on Trevor’s team due to my work schedule. In the back of my mind, though, I’ll be counting the days until I can get a transfer and live in a warmer, and more baseball friendly, climate.
West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Beloit Snappers (Midwest League)
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Well, this was our first ballgame of the season, and the Michigan weather treated us about as well as can be expected. I want to make a statement, too, that I loathe the Weather Channel. They are complete liars, and I will never trust them again. Never. Despite what mother nature through at us, though, we had a fun time together at the Whitecaps game, and I still was happy just to be watching live baseball. The kids had a fun time, and the game was part of their Papa’s birthday present. I was still impressed at how good Fifth Third Ballpark looked after the fire in January, too. They did a good job of rebuilding it and getting it ready for the season. We settled in and grabbed some hot dogs and pop for the kids, and a beer for my dad and I. The boys and I went down to the field level to watch pitching coach Mike Henneman work with some of the staff, and see some of the warm-ups. The game was off to a good pace with lots of action early on. I really like how Andrew Graham is working this team; lots of movement on the base paths, bunting, and smart baseball. Lily took Brian to the park for a short time, and he was able to meet the new mascot, Roxy, a female River Rascal. The rain hit us about the third inning, but we toughed it out until the tarp came out after the top of the fifth.
The game was a good one for the Whitecaps, as they produced four runs before the delay, and four after for the win. The ‘Caps racked up a season high 15 hits to go along with the season high of eight runs. Raph Rhymes led the way offensively, going 3-5 with two RBI. He was helped out by both Brett Harrison and Wynton Bernard who were each 3-4. Javier Betencourt was 2-4 with and RBI, and Ben Verlander was 2-5 to pitch in, also. On the mound, Buck Farmer earned the win, only giving up one run, striking out six, and issuing one walk. He pitched himself out of trouble at times, leaving the bases loaded in the first inning, and eight Snappers runners on base. Montreal Robertson and Will LaMarche kept Beloit in check the rest of the game. A good outing, and good work by this team all around. It will be interesting to see which players make the All-Star squad here in June, as there are a handful of candidates so far in the early going. We had planned on maybe hitting a Great Lakes Loons game, also, while down state, but the Weather Channel stated it would be raining all day (they ended up playing a double-header on a beautiful day…). We’ll see the Whitecaps again early next month down in Lansing as they take on the Lugnuts. Final Score: Whitecaps 8, Snappers 1.
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The West Michigan Whitecaps successfully held their home opener on Tuesday night. Was there ever any doubt? Apparently, there was, as the organization coined the phrase ‘never in doubt’, when stating that Fifth Third Ballpark would be ready, willing, and able to host baseball after the fire back in January. Co-owners of the team Lew Chamberlin and Denny Baxter addressed the crowd before the game, welcoming them back for a new season. The two business partners became fast friends, and together brought baseball to West Michigan in 1994. They both had the same feeling about Tuesday as they did 21 years ago.
“I’m so glad to see all you here tonight because this is why we do this,” Baxter stated to the rabid Whitecaps fans. “This is your team. This is your facility. Lew and I are so proud to be the stewards of this franchise for you folks.”
The season is underway, but there is still some work to be done. Most notably the home clubhouse and suites on the first base side.
As for the game, the Whitecaps hung on to beat the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 3-2. Jeff Thompson was the starter, pitching 4-plus innings, striking out six and did not get scored on. Julio Felix earned the win, despite getting into trouble a few times. Montreal Robertson earned his second save of the season in the win. Offensively, Dominic Ficociello knocked in the winning run, going 1-3. Ben Verlander also went 1-3 with two RBI’s, and Javier Betancourt singled and scored a run. The ‘Caps improved to 3-2 on the young season, but dropped game two to the T-Rats, and are now 3-3. The home stand continues over the weekend, and we’ll finally get to see them play on Saturday. Manager Andrew Graham seems to know there’s some work to be done, but is also confident in this team.
“We’ll be a scrappy team,” Graham stated to MLive. com. “We’re going to have to fight for those 27 outs every game.”
New West Michigan Whitecaps manager Andrew Graham had his team on the field yesterday, getting ready for the long season ahead. Graham spent the last three seasons managing the Connecticut Tigers, where they only play 76 games, and now will helm a squad for a 140 game season. He is familiar with the Whitecaps, however, helping them win the Midwest League championship back in 2004 as a player. He feels confident he can end the three-year playoff drought in West Michigan.
“It was great to win a championship here as a player and it is a goal of mine to come here and bring one back as a manager,” Graham told MLive.com. “I had 16 of the 25 guys with me last year, so I know what they can do. All hard-working guys; no bad apples.”
In the 2014 version of the Whitecaps, Graham sees a team with speed that can hit for average, and not much power. He feels they have a very strong pitching staff that can lead them to victory on most nights.
“Pitching definitely should be one of our strengths,” he continued to MLive.com. “We have a number of starters, and most of them were held back last year because of the amount of innings they had already thrown (in college). So it will be interesting to see how they do with fewer restrictions on them.”
The team definitely looks to have a solid staff, with four pitchers for the 2013 draft. One pitcher in particular they will be looking at to lead the staff this season is Jonathon Crawford. He is the Detroit Tigers’ number one pick in the 2013 draft, and played collegiate ball for the Florida Gators. Former Tiger and current ‘Caps pitching coach Mike Henneman seems to have a high opinion of him, and look forward to working with him this summer.
“I kept an eye on him just to see what was coming our way,” Henneman also stated to MLive. com. “I like his mound presence. He throws in the mid-90’s. He’s got a very good slider and a good change-up. He’s a competitor; a hard-nosed kid.”
Crawford also seems to have high hopes for this season: “I want to go out there and get a solid six innings every start. If they let me go that long.”
The Whitecaps definitely look like a team that can compete, from their pitching staff to their returning players such as Raph Rhymes and Austin Schotts, and top prospects like infielder Javier Betancourt. The team started their season tonight in Dayton, with a 5-4 win against the Dragons. Schotts went 2-5 with a run scored, and shortstop Curt Powell went 2-4 with an RBI to lead West Michigan offensively. On the mound, Scott Sitz earned the win with a scoreless 7th and 8th inning, and Montreal Robinson got the save. Unfortunately, both Schotts and Rhymes left the game due to injury, the extent of which is unknown at this time. I’m glad the Whitecaps started off the season with a win, but hope the injures aren’t too severe. I still can’t wait to see this team play on the 12th!
Photos courtesy of Cory Morse/MLive.com
The Los Angeles Dodgers have announced the players they will be placing at the Single-A Great Lakes Loons this season. The 2014 Loons roster has plenty of prospects listed by Baseball America and MLB.com, and plenty of top draft picks by L.A. in the last few years. Pitchers Zachary Bird and Victor Arano, catcher Kyle Farmer, outfielder Jacob Scavuzzo, and infielders Justin Chigbogu and Jesmuel Valentin are sure to impress fans at Dow Diamond this summer. Some other notable additions, such as outfielders Alex Santana and Joey Curletta, and pitchers Jacob Rhame and Brandon Martinez are young prospects who could contribute to the Loons this season also.
Great Lakes also has 12 players returning that have played in Midland in the past. Pitchers Bird (’13), Brandon Martinez (’12-’13), James Campbell (’12), and Jonathan Martinez (’13), catcher Webster Rivas (’13), infielders Paul Hoenecke (’13), Brandon Twinkwon (’13), and Delvis Morales (’12), and outfielder Malcolm Holland (’13). This seasons’ Loons roster also features some baseball legacy, as three players are sons of former Major Leaguers. Dillion Moyer is the son of former pitcher Jamie Moyer, Jesmuel Valentin’s father is former Dodger infielder Jose Valentin, and Greg Harris(Jr.) is the son of big league hurler Greg Harris.
This season’s squad will be led by 13-year major league catcher Bill Haselman, who managed the Inland Lakes Empire to the California League championship last season. This seems like a very experienced team for Single-A, and Hasleman has a good chance of success this season in the Midwest League. We don’t have any concrete plans to see the Loons this season yet, but I’m sure we will. There’s a chance we’ll see them play on April 13th, but a lot has to do with the weather and how the Whitecaps’ game goes. I guarantee we’ll be at Dow Diamond at some point this summer, though!
Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes Loons
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.
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