Results tagged ‘ Tigers ’

Whitecaps Update 6/14

suarez1Alumni Update: Well, we’ll start off with former ‘Cap Eugenio Suarez, as he finally earned his first start at short stop for the Detroit Tigers. He was first promoted on June 4th, and made an appearance that night in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays. Suarez reached on a fielder’s choice, and advanced to second on an errant throw. While sliding into second base, however, he ‘twerked’ his knee, and has been waiting to get a start until it felt better. That start came last night, and he made the most of it in his first at bat, hitting his first major league home run. He ended up 1-3 on the night with a base on balls and two runs scored, also. Another former West Michigander that has been playing well for the Tigers is third baseman Nick Castellanos. He has sported back-to-back-to-back three hit games, and also hit a dinger in last nights win over the Boston Red Sox. He is now hitting .271 this season, not bad for a rookie.

Ten Questions with Nick CastellanosSchott in the arm: The Whitecaps have been playing some good baseball lately, and part of the reason must be due to center fielder Austin Schotts coming off of the disabled list. Schotts injured his hamstring while making a play in the outfield in the very first game of the season. He’s shown he’s back and healthy, though, hitting .306 so far in just nine games. He had a monster night on June 1st against the Fort Wayne TinCaps, going 3-4 with two RBI’s on a double and home run. Also helping the ‘Caps is the return of Jeff Holm, who was re-assigned to West Michigan in late May, after spending the first 34 games of the season with the Lakeland Flying Tigers. Holm is hitting .333 with seven RBI’s since his return. With a 4-2 victory over the South Bend Silver Hawks last night, the Whitecaps trail them by only 1.5 games in the for the first place slot in the Eastern Division. The ‘Caps are looking to make their first trip to the playoffs since 2010.

Austin Schotts has helped lead the 'Caps into playoff contention since his return.

Austin Schotts has helped lead the ‘Caps into playoff contention since his return.

The 2014 Draft: I really liked watching or tracking the player draft, and this year it looks like the Tigers have picked some nice prospects. It’s fun to watch the guys come up through the system, and I’m looking forward to seeing some of the players from this season’s draft in West Michigan at some point. The Tigers took high school outfielder Derek Hill with their first pick, 23rd overall. I expect Hill to play for the Gulf Coast League Tigers this season, and if all goes well he could start 2015 in West Michigan. Detroit’s second pick, pitcher Spencer Turnbull (Arkansas), may see time with the ‘Caps this season if one of their all-star pitchers gets a promotion.  Their fourth pick, pitcher Adam Ravenelle (Vanderbilt) could see time up here if more than one is moved. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one the catchers drafted, Grayson Greiner (South Carolina-3rd pick) or Shane Zeile (UCLA-5th pick) at some point this season, or even third baseman Joey Pankake (South Carolina-7th pick). All just fun speculation, but we’ll see within the next week or so, as the minor league rosters usually get a shake up after the draft and during their all-star breaks.

monkey2Photos property of Minoring In Baseball

 

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Knebel gets the call to Detroit

Corey Knebel was lights-out for the Whitecaps last season

Corey Knebel was lights-out for the Whitecaps last season

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.

Photo property of Minoring In Baseball

Bet on Betancourt

betancourt1As 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

Wet and wild in West Michigan

West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Beloit Snappers (Midwest League)

rainy1rainy4Fifth 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.

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Brian happy to be back at the ballpark!

Brian happy to be back at the ballpark!

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The ballpark looks good after the January fire.

The ballpark looks good after the January fire.

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Ben Verlander #32

Ben Verlander #32

rainy11The 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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Brian was seriously happy to meet the Whitecaps new mascot, Roxy the River Rascal. Seriously...

Brian was seriously happy to meet the Whitecaps new mascot, Roxy the River Rascal. Seriously…

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A selfie with Brian

A selfie with Brian

rainy19rainy18And the tarp comes on the field:

rainy3Video from my YouTube channel:

All photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball

Never In Doubt

nid2The 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.

nid3As 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.”

nid1Photos courtesy of MLive.com/West Michigan Whitecaps

 

Whitecaps prepared for season

openingdaymilbNew 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.”

practice1The 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!

practice2Logo courtesy of MiLB.com

Photos courtesy of Cory Morse/MLive.com

Whitecaps Update: Verlander in West Michigan

Whitecaps UpdateWell, 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.

Austin Schotts will be returning for a second stint with the Whitecaps this season.

Austin Schotts will be returning for a second stint with the Whitecaps this season.

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

Renovations, along with rebuilding, at Fifth Third Ballpark

Park_Development_fptq9zg5Not 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.”

uprade1Now 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!

upgrade2Photos courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps

 

Suarez looking to get his shot

suarez1The Detroit Tigers have another hole to fill in their lineup, and this time it’s at the short stop position. Will starter Jose Iglesias out for most of the season due to stress fractures in both shins, GM Dave Dombrowski has stated that he’ll look to the organizations internal options then sign a free agent or trade for another infielder. The safe bet would be to go with Danny Worth (former ‘Cap), he has some big league experience and is having a nice spring. If Worth for some reason doesn’t get the job done, however, I’d like to see Eugenio Suarez step up and get his shot with Detroit. The only thing really against him at this point, is that he’s on 22 years old and hasn’t played above the Double-A level. Last season he split time between Erie and Lakeland, hitting .264. He had a very nice season back in 2012 with the West Michigan Whitecaps, also, hitting .288, earning 147 hits, 34 doubles, 6 home runs, and 67 RBI’s. He earned a Gold Glove as the best short stop in the Minor League that season, also. So far this spring, he’s hitting .200, with RBI’s in only 14 games of Grapefruit League action. The Tigers weren’t really expecting big things from Iglesias’ bat anyway, just a solid glove, and Suarez can provide that. He’s also the 8th ranked prospect in the Tigers’ system according to Baseball America. The other two options might be another former Whitecap Hernan Perez or new utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi. I think that Suarez has the highest ceiling, though, and Lombo will probably stay the utility guy off of the bench. The Tigers have options, it will be interesting to see which route they go.

UPDATE: This past week the Tigers acquired both Andrew Romine from the Angels and Alex Gonzalez from the Orioles to play shortstop this season. This pretty much ends any speculation, and Suarez has been optioned to Erie, Perez to Toledo, and Worth to minor league camp. This is really a slap in the face for Worth, who’s been having a nice spring and playing well at the position.

Photo property of Minoring In Baseball

Another Fifth Third Ballpark Update

ftb1While down on Lansing, the Lugnut staff is going over the future plans for their ballpark, in West Michigan they’re just focusing on getting Fifth Third Ballpark ready for Opening Day. When that day comes on April 8, the Whitecaps will use the third-base dugout and locker room while they wait for theirs on the first-base side to be completed. The visiting teams will be using a temporary trailer just outside the center field gate, as will the umpires. The new locker room and clubhouse facilities are expected to be completed by May 1, in time for the ‘Caps home stand on the 5th. The temporary visitor clubhouse will only affect two home series, and four opponents in Wisconsin, Beloit, Bowling Green, and Fort Wayne.

“I know it’s going to be a bit of a change,” stated Whitecaps Vice President Jim Jarecki to MLive.com. “But cooperation from them (the opposing teams) has been very good. These guys may be prepping a bit and going back and showering at their hotel, but, for the interim, that’s the best setup we can do. Hopefully, it’s for a short period of time and we’ll put it behind us.”

ftb2The Whitecaps still expect to have the first-base side enclosed with concessions stand and restrooms ready to go. The re-building of the suites will be ongoing, but the smoke damaged ones on the third-base side will be ready to use. The effort by all involved has to be the weather we’ve been hampered with here in Michigan. This is one of the coldest winters in recent memory, and only two cities in the country (Buffalo and Erie) received more snowfall this year. The organization is still push to be ready by the home opener, and grounds crews will be removing over a foot of snow off the field in the coming week.

“We’re usually starting work on the field at this time,” Jaracki stated. “But you just can’t take off all the snow and go. You (remove it from) the warning tracks, then the infield skin. The grass will take care of itself, but the biggest focus will be on the infield skin and the mound and the home plate area. That has to get dried out.”

There’s no doubt that the ballpark will be ready by opening day, in my opinion. I know this organization will be striving to meet all of their goals. We plan on being in the stands on April 12, and for the Midwest League All-Star Game in June.

ftb3Photos courtesy of MLive.com

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