Results tagged ‘ Toledo Mud Hens ’
The start of the new Minor League Baseball season is upon us, with the first pitch due to be thrown out at hundreds of ballparks today. As with a new season, comes many new stories for every team. As is such with the West Michigan Whitecaps, as they welcome a new manager this season, along with some returning players. Fans of the West Michigan team were able to watch them practice yesterday, and then had a chance for pictures and autographs. It was a cold, but sunny, day just north of Grand Rapids, but many fans attended the open workout.
One positive story, is how Michael Hernandez worked his way back into the Detroit Tigers’ organization. The 29-year-old Brooklyn native played for the Whitecaps back in 2006, helping them win the Midwest League Championship. In his first tour of duty, he made the team as an un-drafted free agent from Oklahoma State. After being traded away to Texas, and spending four years in the Independent Atlantic League, Hernandez finds himself once again patrolling the outfield at Fifth-Third Ballpark.
“I feel blessed just to be here, to get this opportunity to tell you the truth”, Hernandez told MLive.com. “I knew it would be tough, and it went really well in spring training. They asked me if I’d be willing to go Low-A until maybe something opens up, and I said 100 percent. If I’m here, I have a chance. I’m willing to take that. I know they wanted to put in a guy with some experience to help anchor the outfield, especially with a couple of young guys we have. I want to be known as a veteran guy here, and I want to help out as much as I can while I’m here. Hopefully they’ll learn something from me and I can learn from them.”
That’s a great attitude by Hernandez, and I hope he has a great season, as he wants to move up the ladder to Double-A or Triple-A. He has good power with his bat, and can captain the outfield. In 2006 with the ‘Caps, he hit .278, with 13 home runs, 63 RBI’s, and hit for the cycle twice. Last season, playing for the York Revolution, he hit .303, with 13 home runs, and 55 RBI’s. He asked the Tigers organization for an invitation to spring training, and they granted it for him. It’s a good chance that with his locker room presence and a veteran skipper, the Whitecaps can go a long way.
Speaking of the veteran skipper, Larry Parrish may be in his first season as the Whitecaps manager, but his resume’ is extremely impressive. He has even managed the big club, back in 1998-99, and the Toledo Mud Hens in 1994, 2003-06, and 2008-10. He left the Hens with a record of 569-551, and two Governor’s Cup championships. Before the circus of the new season begins, Parrish chatted with Peter Wallner of MLive.com about a few issues with the Whitecaps
Here are five notable things Parrish had to say about the team:
• What to expect from Briceno in the opener. Endrys Briceno, in his first full season as a pro after back-to-back seasons with 12 starts each in short-season A, drew the starting nod.
Parrish has been impressed.
“He’s a long, lanky guy, and it’s all a matter of location with him,” Parrish said. “He has pretty strong movement to his fastball, and his breaking ball can be inconsistent at times, but Mike (pitching coach Mike Henneman) has been working with him on gripping it a little tighter.”
Briceno went 4-3 with 60 hits in 58 innings with 30 strikeouts and 22 walks.
• A second baseman to love. Devon Travis won fans over in Connecticut last season with his gritty play, and Parrish expects West Michigan fans will think the same.
“I could see him becoming a fan favorite,” Parrish said. “He’s not a big guy, but he has strength and some pop in his bat, too.”
Travis, who’s listed a 5-9 and 183 pounds, was a 13th-round pick of Detroit in 2012, leaving Florida State after his junior season. He hit .283 (.352 OBP) in 25 games with Connecticut.
• Living with the talent. Austin Schotts and Danry Vasquez are ranked as the fifth and sixth best prospects in the Tigers’ organization and will be patrolling the Whitecaps’ outfield this season – Schotts in center and Vasquez in right. That will bring highlights, and test patience, too.
“There’s going to be some really good days and then some days where they look young,” Parrish said.
The two will be closely watched as the best prospects. Vasquez, who played in 29 games at West Michigan before going down to Connecticut, will gain power as he adds weight (currently 177 pounds) to his 6-3 frame. Schotts, the highest pick on the team (third round last season), is known for his speed. He hit .310 with 15 stolen bases in 40 games last season in the Gulf Coast League.
• Adolfo Reina will be key to the pitching staff. The thing is, Reina isn’t even a pitcher, but a 23-year-old catcher.
“With all the Latin pitchers we have, Reina could be a real stabilizer for us,” Parrish said. “We expect him to really be able to work with the staff.”
Reina, in the organization since 2008, played most of last season at Lakeland, though he did get into one game at Triple-A Toledo – and homered. He has the experience, Parrish said, to help youngsters such as Endrys Briceno, as well as other Latin pitchers such as starter Edgar De La Rosa and starter/reliever Yorfrank Lopez.
• Of all the starters, keep a close eye on Hudson Randall. The right-hander, projected to be the third starter in the rotation, is a 6-4, 185-pounder who was drafted in the seventh round last year after a stellar career at University of Florida.
“If I had to bet on a pitcher to watch, it would be Hudson,” Parrish said. “He was the most consistent pitcher (during spring training), he has some big-game experience (with the Gators) and he has a bunch of pitches that he can throw well.”
Randall, 22, has curve, slider and change-up to go with his fastball
The Whitecaps open the season with a seven game stint hosting the Dayton Dragons and Fort Wayne TinCaps. Here’s to another fun season of baseball for all, and at this point I’m really happy just that there’s no snow on the field!
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
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
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
Bruce Fields is back with the Detroit Tigers organization as their new Minor League hitting coordinator. He got his start with the Tigers almost ten years ago, and is back after a stint with the Cleveland Indians as their hitting coach. After the change in management, Fields’ contract wasn’t renewed in Cleveland. The change brings him into a familiar situation, though, as he spent a good chunk of his playing career in the Tigers’ farm system. He made his Major League debut with Detroit in 1986. As a coach, he started with Class A Jamestown before being promoted to the Toledo Mud Hens. As manager of the Whitecaps, he coach current Tigers Omar Infante and Ramon Santiago. He sported an impressive 331-220 record in West Michigan, including three season with the league’s best record. Fields was twice voted the Midwest League’s Manager of the Year, and led the ‘Caps to MWL championship in 1998. He was inducted into the Whitecaps Hall of Fame in 2010.
Another perk to his job with the Tigers organization, is the opportunity to work with his son, Daniel, who is a 2009 draft pick of Detroit, and spent last season with the Double-A Erie SeaWolves. He’s currently the 7th ranked prospect in the system, behind plays such as Bruce Rondon, Nick Castellanos, and Avisail Garcia. Coaching your own son isn’t always easy, but it can always be very rewarding.
“It’ll obviously be a challenging situation–the father-son, coach-player dynamic,” he told MLB.com. “But our dynamic is strong. Whereas some people I know say they have a hard time coaching their children, my son listens. We might not see eye to eye on everything, but they’ll listen. Both my sons are good that way. There won’t be any issues that way.”
Photo courtesy of Jim Hill
Three former West Michigan players cut their teeth on international competition recently. Ben Guez, who played with the ‘Caps in 2009, was invited to play for Team Isreal by former Tiger Brad Ausmus. Guez qualifies because his dad and both grandparents are jewish, though he was born and raised in Houston.
“I said ‘sure, why not,’” Guez stated. “I was going to tame some time off before I got married in October, so I had a full schedule. But it seemed like a good opportunity. It was really cool, to be able to play in something like the WBC and travel around the world and maybe play in San Fransisco was great. I love to play baseball. It’s something I’ve done since I was a kid and this would have been something different.”
Guez hit .167 for Isreal, who almost qualified before losing a 9-7 heartbreaker to Spain in the championship game. He split time between the Toledo Mud Hens and the Erie Seadogs this past season, going .289 with 24 doubles and 48 RBI’s between the two teams.
Playing for Team Canada are both catcher Chris Robinson and first baseman Jordan Lennerton. Robinson played for the Whitecaps in 2005, while Lennerton played in 2009 and 2010. Canada advanced by outscoring it’s opponents by a combined score of 38-9. Lennerton feels that playing in the minors and representing your country are very different.
“There is definitely a different kids of pressure”, Lennerton stated. “In the minor leagues it’s all about numbers and development. You’re playing for yourself, even though you want to win. The goal for the WBC is to win. It’s all about right now. Whenever you get the chance to play for your country you do it. I would always drop what I’m doing to play.”
Lennerton, a native of British Columbia, had a solid season at Double-A Erie, hitting .269 with 34 doubles, 21 home runs, and 82 RBI’s. I will be difficult for both he and Robinson to crack the Canada line-up next March, though, when the Major Leaguers are added to the roster, though. Good luck to all of these guys, and I hope they get their chance to play.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball