Results tagged ‘ Midwest League ’
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
The Detroit Tigers organization recently re-acquired Gustavo Nunez, now they have re-signed West Michigan Whitecaps alum Michael Hernandez to a minor league deal. An outfielder, Hernandez played for the ‘Caps in 2006, then split time in Lakeland and Erie in 2007. While in West Michigan, he hit a solid .278, with 13 home runs and 63 RBI’s. He was a two-time Midwest League Player of the Week, as well as being an All-Star in the Florida State League. He was traded to the Texas Rangers after the 2007 season, in the deal that brought Armando Galarraga to Detroit. He was released by Texas, spent a couple of years in the Mets system, and recently has been honing his skills in the Atlantic League. The Tigers have also signed right-handed pitcher Michael Dubee to a minor league deal. Pitching out of the bullpen the last few seasons, Dubee was 4-4 last season, with a 4.07 ERA. He also had 53 strike-outs between the Yankees and Blue Jays Double-A affiliates. Both players were signed simply to add depth the organization, but I hope they both have solid seasons.
Photo courtesy of MotownSports.com
Baseball just might return to Kalamazoo, Michigan yet. The city sent out a request for proposals, and the league that responded was the Northwoods League. The Northwoods League is a collegiate wooden bat league, the same one that the Battle Creek Bombers are in. The team would play at Homer Stryker Field, recently re-named Mayor’s Riverfront Park. The NL now has 16 teams, and is based in Rochester, Minnesota. All the players are NCAA eligible, are not paid, and use wooden bats just like the pros. If the deal goes through, a new team could move into Riverfront ballpark by this fall, with plans to start play in 2014. From the pictures, it looks like the ballpark has been kept up, but it still may need some work. Sean Fletcher, director of the Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation Department, is optimistic.
“The big thing is just getting it game-ready, inspecting it, routine maintenance and getting ready for a team to play ball,” Fletcher told the Kalamazoo Gazette.
The city wants at least a three-year contract, with the team managing all aspects of Mayor’s Riverfront Park, including field maintenance, concessions, merchandising, and advertising. It’s a pretty tall order, and the city should find out within the next few weeks if the Northwoods League will grant them a team. I think it’s fitting that a summer college team would call Kalamazoo home, since it’s the sight of the very first two College World Series. Having a natural rival in Battle Creek won’t hurt either. In fact, in my opinion, if these two communities would have worked together and built a ballpark between the cities off the highway, their Midwest League team would not have moved to Midland. Battle Creek hosted the Michigan Battle Cats, Battle Creek Yankees, and Southwest Michigan Devil Rays before the team left in 2006 to become the Great Lakes Loons.
Kalamazoo did have two recent teams in the indy pro Frontier League. The Kalamazoo Kodiaks played from 1996-1998, before moving to London, Ontario, to become the London Werewolves. The Kalamazoo Kings played at Homer Stryker Field from 2001-2010. The team stated they would cease operations for the 2011 season, but never started up again. It’s too bad I never had the chance to get back to Kalamazoo and see the Kings play. I did see them up in Traverse City playing the Beach Bums, though. Having a new team would give me a second chance to get down that way and see some more baseball! Some fans from the area state that the ballpark isn’t in a great part of town, but I doubt the city will consider building a new stadium for this league, but I wish them all the best in getting a team.
West Michigan Whitecaps alum Gustavo Nunez has returned to the Detroit Tigers in strange turn of events. The 24 year-old short stop was taken by the Pittsburg Pirates in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft in December of 2011. He was then claimed off waivers by the Arizona Diamondback in October, and is now back in the Tigers organization as the D-Backs have outrighted his contract to the Toledo Mud Hens. He spent the 2012 season on the disabled list for the Pirates, recovering from surgery to his right ankle. As part of re-hab, he did play twelve games between the Gulf Coast League Pirates, Single-A Bradenton Marauders, and the Double-A Altoona Curve, hitting a combined .273. Nunez had a solid year with the Whitecaps in 2009. Playing in 112 games, he hit .315, with 16 doubles, 10 triples, and five home runs. The Tigers needed some depth at middle infield in the system, so I’m glad to see him back, and hope he has a great year in Toledo.
Photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
Good new for me, as one of my favorite Tigers of the late 80′s has been named the new pitching coach for the Whitecaps. Mike Henneman, former Detroit Tiger and MLB All-Star will begin his tenure in West Michigan starting the 2013 season. This will be his first professional coaching job, but he does have plenty of experience coaching young players. Since his retirement in 1995, Henneman founded a select youth baseball team in McKinney, Texas, to make sure his kids received quality instruction and competition. His team grew into an organization of teams and eventually evolved into the McKinney Marshals Youth Baseball Organization. This includes 15 select youth teams as well as a Texas Collegiate League team. Henneman serves as the co-owner, president, and roving pitching instructor of the organization, but also built a 75-acre baseball complex with 15 baseball/softball fields, two pro-sized fields including locker rooms, press boxes and an 2,500 seating capacity. A training academy, pro shop, and concession stand are also present. That’s pretty impressive, and it must be nice to be able to play baseball year-round down there.
In his time with the Tigers, Henneman held the all-time saves record with 154 until is was broke in 2006. Coming up to the Tigers in 1987, he was named The Sporting News Rookie Pitcher of the Year and finished sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, after pitching to a an 11-3 record with seven saves and a 2.98 ERA. He led all Detroit relief pitchers in both wins and ERA in 1987-’88, he led the AL in win-loss percentage in 1987, and in 1989 he was elected to the All-Star team. During his decade in the majors, he earned a 57-42 record, with 193 saves and a 3.21 ERA. He also played in Texas and Houston, but seems happy to be back in the Tigers organization, and part of the Whitecaps.
“I’m so excited to be coming on board with the Tigers organization”, Henneman stated to MiLB.com. “To me, it’s like home-I came up with the Tigers; my career started here. I’m fortunate to be back with them. With these minor league guys, it’s all about learning their personalities and working with them in a way that works best for them, without forcing anything down their throats, because that will run them off. These guys in Class A ball have the skills and they know what they want, so it’s just a matter of teaching them how to be successful. I’ve got a bit of a wacky personality, so if we’re talking about something serious, I think I can make the point in a way that these guys will listen. We’re going to have a lot of fun next season at Fifth Third Ballpark.”
Sounds good to me! Just one more reason to get really excited about baseball next April. The Whitecaps staff is all set now, with Henneman, Scott Dwyer returning as hitting coach, and new manager Larry Parrish.
Photo courtesy of the Detroit News
Tom Brookens patrolled third base at Tiger Stadium for Detroit from 1979 to 1988, and was part of the awesome World Series Championship team of 1984. Now, he’s back, but standing outside the lines as the Tigers new third base coach. He, Gene Lamont, and Rafeal Belliard have done the ‘ol coaching shuffle, with the latter taking over Brookens’ first base coaching job, and Lamont being ‘promoted’ to bench coach. After this season ended, management stated that they would be making adjustments to the coaching staff, and this will hopefully solve the ‘third base coach’ problem. Tigers fans have not been pleased with Lamonts’ performance the last few seasons. The most obvious blunder was sending a not-so-speedy Prince Fielder to his doom in a close game of the World Series. He’s been defended by manager Jim Leyland, though, as he called it “an aggressive mistake”. Leyland said the move was not based on performance, but I’m not sure what other criteria this decision would be based on. It’s also been stated that Lamont wanted the change, due to his bad knees and in-ability to dodge foul balls, so maybe that’s it. Brookens been coaching in the Detroit system since 2005. He helped out as hitting coach with the West Michigan Whitecaps for the first half of the season in 2006, before managing short-season Oneonta the rest of the way. He took over as skipper for the ‘Caps in 2007, leading them to a 83-57 record and a Midwest League Championship. He was great with the fans during his time there, and was really nice to the kids when giving autographs. Hopefully this is one more step toward managing in the Majors.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Fifth-Third Ballpark will be getting a bit of a face-lift this fall, getting ready for play in 2013. In this project, the West Michigan Whitecaps will be rewarding their loyal fans with new premium seats behind home plate. The old bleacher seats are being removed, and new seats will be inserted soon. We usually don’t sit in this area, but it’s nice to know that they keep improving the ballpark every year. I can’t wait for April of next year and our first trip to see some baseball.
I put this post off, waiting until the outcome of the MVP race, but I did want to congratulate Mike Trout on winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award. He was basically a sure thing after his performance in the 2012 season. Trout was the unanimous pick for the award, as he’s not just the best rookie this season, but some say he’s the best rookie ever. He finished second in the league in batting average with .326, first in steals with 49 and runs with 129, third in on-base-percentage at .399, and third in slugging % at .564. His was pretty good defensively, too, robbing batters of four home runs, and 23 runs altogether. Trout also became the first player to win the MLB Rookie of the Month Award four months in a row. Then you hear him compared to guys like Mickey Mantle and things really start clicking. But with all his stats and steals and defense it still wasn’t enough to edge Triple Crown winning Miguel Cabrera for the MVP Award. It wasn’t all that surprising that Miggy won, I guess what surprised me is that the voting wasn’t a lot closer. So the Angels fans are probably feeling a little jilted, and they have a right to feel so, while the Tigers fans get a little reason to smile after the disastrous World Series. The voting really could have gone either way, though, and fans of both players have a reason to feel their guy is the best. All awards and voting and BS aside, though, nothing can take away the year that Trout had. The guy is 21 yrs-old. I’m sure within the next 20 years he’ll get his due. He’ll give Angels fans and all baseball fans alike some great moments in this sport.
When I saw him play back in 2010, he was a stand-out at the Single-A level at only 18. We sat in the front row right behind the on-deck circle, and he was nice enough to chat with us before the game started. He seemed pretty humble and had a great attitude about being a top draft pick. Then he hit the first pitch out of the ballpark. He had his own little cheering section, and he made sure his fans got a game ball. The whole game experience in Cedar Rapids was amazing, and watching a talent like Trout made it even better, especially the way he conducted himself. There’s nothing but good things for this guy in the future, and he’ll have a lot of fans rooting for him.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
The West Michigan Whitecaps will continue to have ‘Tiger Friday’s’ as one of their top promotions next summer. The former Detroiter who will be ‘headlining’ this promotion will be one of the best second baseman in Tigers history…’Sweet’ Lou Whitaker. The other half of one of the greatest double-play tandems in history (along with Alan Trammel) will appear at Fifth-Third Ballpark on June 28. The first 2,000 fans will receive a bobble head, but due to high demand, there will be a raffle for autographs. Nothing has been posted yet on the ‘Caps website on how to enter the raffle, but when they due I’ll be sure to keep it to myself.. I would love to meet Lou, as a fellow second baseman, he’s was one of my idols growing up. He came up just about the time I was really getting into baseball, collecting cards, and getting my jersey dirty on the field myself. In high-school, I was even given the ‘Sweet Lou’ moniker for my play in the field. We’ve actually only been to one Tiger Friday, when we met John Wockenfuss back in 2009. I’ve missed some of my other favorites like Matt Nokes and Mickey Tettleton, though. I’m hoping that either one of the kids or myself win a chance to meet Whitaker. The rest of the participants for Tiger Fridays will be announced later this winter.
Lou played in Detroit for 19 seasons from 1977-1995. He and Trammel were one of the best double-play combinations in the game through out that period. Lou was on that great Tigers’ team of 1984 that roared to the World Series Championship. He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1978, and a five-time All-Star. In 1985 he was voted to start the All-Star game, but forgot his bag in the back of his car before leaving for Minnesota. He used the glove, batting glove, and helmet from his fellow All-Stars, and wore a Tigers hat and jersey from a souvenir stand. One of the clubhouse attendants drew his #1 on the back with a marker. One of my favorite Lou stories.
Photos courtesy Getty Images