Results tagged ‘ Toledo Mud Hens ’

Whitecaps Update: The 20th Season Begins

Print2013 Roster: The West Michigan Whitecaps, along with the parent Detroit Tigers, set and released the opening day ‘Caps roster yesterday. Well travelled manager Larry Parrish will take the helm of a more veteran club than we’ve seen in West Michigan the last couple of seasons. Every player on the roster is over 20, with the exception of top prospects Austin Schotts and Danry Vasquez, who will be 19 for the entire season. Schotts was the Tigers second pick in the 2012 draft, and is ranked as their fifth overall prospect by Baseball America. Last season with the GCL Tigers, he hit .310, stealing 15 bases, and scoring 31 runs in just 40 games. Schotts has the speed and athleticism for center field, which earned him a brief promotion to the Lakeland Flying Tigers late in the season. Vasquez, also and outfielder, started the 2012 season with the Whitecaps as the youngest player in the Midwest League. He struggled early, but excelled after being sent to the Connecticut Tigers in the NY/Penn League, where he hit .311, racking up a league leading 90 hits, and slugging 20 extra-base hits. Vasquez is ranked the sixth overall prospect for Detroit by BA. Joining the outfield duo from last seasons C-Tigs roster are pitching prospects Montreal Robertson (ranked 18th), Endrys Briceno (22), and Edgar De La Rosa (29). All three are expected to be part of the ‘Caps starting rotation this season, although no opening day starter has been named. The grandpa of the team will be returning outfielder Michael Hernandez, who suited up for West Michigan back in 2006, helping the team win the Midwest League Championship. He hit for the cycle twice that season, and set a record at the time with seven RBI’s in one game. The Tigers re-signed Hernandez, after trading him away in 2007. He’s played the last four seasons in the independent Atlantic League. Also returning from last season team are pitchers Brennan Smith (3-4, 3.86 ERA), Chad Smith (0-2, 4.38 ERA), Slade Smith (1 sv, 3.59 ERA), infielder Jeff Holm (.254 BA), and Lance Durham (.238, 4 HR).
Although this is his first season with the Whitecaps, Larry Parrish has managed the Tigers, Toledo Mud Hens, and has been the hitting coach in Texas. He’s joined on the bench by first year pitching coach, and former Tiger Mike Henneman, and returning hitting coach Scott Dwyer. This looks like it could be a special season for the Whitecaps…I’m hoping so anyway!

Outfielder Austin Schotts is ranked as the fifth highest prospect for the Tigers by Baseball America

Outfielder Austin Schotts is ranked as the fifth highest prospect for the Tigers by Baseball America

Open Workout: Whitecaps fans can meet and greet the new players and coaches, and catch up with the returning ones on Wednesday, April 3. The team will be holding an open workout where fans can watch practice, and get some autographs afterward. The event starts at 1:00 p.m., with the team practicing at 1:30, and the meet and greet from 2:30-3:00. The event is free for the public, as is the parking! If I was living a little closer, I’d be there for sure, as it was a big hit last season. The ‘Caps take the field for Opening Day on the 4th, hosting the Dayton Dragons.

capsbg3Whitecaps on TV: For all the games I can’t make it down from the Upper Peninsula for, the Whitecaps have signed a deal to have all of the their home games broadcast on MiLB.tv. I bought this last season, and loved it. It’s also very cheap if you buy it along with the MLB.tv package. They join all Triple-A teams, along with select Double and Single-A teams who are broadcast on the network. They join fellow Tiger affiliate the Toledo MudHens, and fellow Michigan team the Great Lakes Loons also. Living so far away from the ballparks, this is really a great deal for me, so I can keep up on all my teams. I wish the MiLB.tv would be compatible with the online streaming devises for my regular TV, though, like the MLB.tv is. Watching on computer or iPhone is ok, but doesn’t compare to watching them on the big screen!

Logo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps

Schotts photo courtesy of Flickr.com

Team photo property of Minoring In Baseball

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Putkonen me in, Coach

Luke Putkonen pitching for the Whitecaps back in 2009

Luke Putkonen pitching for the Whitecaps back in 2009

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

Parrish announced for IL 2013 Hall of Fame class

larry_parrish2Larry 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

West Michigan alums get invites

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.

opening20day200091Top 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.

suarez1Another 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

And Another Returns

Michael Hernandez with the Whitecaps back in 2006

Michael Hernandez with the Whitecaps back in 2006

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

The return of Nunez

Nunez hit .315 playing for the Whitecaps in 2009

Nunez hit .315 playing for the Whitecaps in 2009

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

Rondon closing in on Detroit

Whitecaps alum Bruce Rondon will be competing for the Tigers closer role this spring.

The Detroit Tigers need a closer. GM Dave Dombrowski stated in a news conference that the won’t be pursuing former closer Jose Valverde, for very apparent reasons. In the same breath he also mentioned West Michigan Whitecaps alumni Bruce Rondon for a candidate for the role. After all, free-agent closers are in short supply this off-season, and in this Borus-esque world, the most routine pitchers will be wearing high-end price tags. So, it would make sence for the Tigers to look into their farm system, and why not look at a kid who can hit 103 on the radar gun. The 21-year-old from Venezuela takes care of opposing batters with quick innings, and the GM in Detroit is taking notice.

“He’s a rare talent”, Dombrowski told the Detroit News. “You would not believe the number of clubs that have called me about Bruce Rondon to trade him. This guy is a closer, with the makeup of a closer. Normally, you’re not going to thrust that (job) in a young guy’s hands and say, automatically, ‘It’s your job’. But it would not surprise me if he earned that job.”

What DD means in the ‘makeup of a closer’, is that Rondon simply overpowers hitters. A closer needs to intimidate the opposition and deny them any chance of a rally. Throwing fastballs at 100 mph usually does that, but he also has an effective slider, and can thow in the change-up. He’s impressed his pitching coach at Double-A Erie, too, former ‘Caps coach Ray Burris.

“The average is 99-100″, Burris also told the News. “It’s a comfortable velocity for him. But, he’ll also throw 103, and then maybe back off to 95 or 96. He’ll throw that slider at 91 and his change-up is up at 88-89. If you look at the discrepancies in velocities, what you see is that he knows what pitching is all about. He knows when to back off. And he knows when to get the strikeout. It just shows this young man, at his age, has a great feel for pitching.”

He spent the 2011 season with the Whitecaps, where he walked 34 batters in 40 innings of 41 games. He did, however, have 61 strikeouts and only 22 hits against him. In 2012, he played High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A ball. At Lakeland, he gave up only 12 hits and struck out 34, and only walked nine in 23+ innings. At Erie in 21+ innings, he also had nine walks, with 23 strikeouts and gave up five hits. He did struggle a bit in Toledo, though. He gave up six walks and five hits, while striking out nine. The Tigers drafted him in 2007 when he was only 16 years-old. Rondon is currently pitching for Navegantes del Magallanes in the Venezuelen Winter League pitching in three games, six innings, while striking out five and walking five. The opposition is only hitting .158 against him. Hopefully this success will carry over to spring training, and a spot on the Tigers roster.

Photo courtesy of MLive.com

Fields back as Minor League hitting coordinator

Fields with his sons back when he coached the Whitecaps. Daniel, right, spent this season with the Erie SeaWolves in Detroit’s system.

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

Whitecaps Alumni play in WBC qualifiers

Ben Guez with the Whitecaps back in 2009. He represented Team Isreal in the WBC qualifier.

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

Former Tigers, Mud Hens, skipper Larry Parrish to manage Whitecaps

The 2013 baseball season is starting to look a little brighter for us Whitecaps fans, as Larry Parrish was officially assigned to manage the team yesterday. It seems his managing career is coming full circle, though, after managing in the bigs and at the Triple-A level, he’s back in Class A baseball where he started. Parrish’s last job was the hitting coach for the Atlanta Braves, but took off the 2012 season after he was let go in 2011. Lucky he was still available when the Tigers organization called with the West Michigan job offer.

“The Tigers called to give me an opportunity and, for me, I really enjoy the minor leagues and the teaching aspect of it,” Parrish stated in a press release. “I talked to a couple of other clubs, but I’m comfortable with the Tigers. I was with the organization for a long time and was treated well, so it was a feeling coming back to work with your family.”

Parrish started his career with the Tigers organization back in 1992, taking the helm of the Class-A SS Niagara Falls Rapids, leading the team to a NY-Penn League championship. He worked as a roving minor league hitting instructor for three seasons before being assigned to the Double-A Jacksonville Suns in 1996. He also took the Suns to a Southern League championship. A year later, he was in the bigs, as the bench coach in Detroit. He took over the reigns as manager half-way though the 1998 season after Buddy Bell was relieved of duty. He had the privilege of managing the Tigers in their last year in historic Tigers Stadium in 1999, also. He also worked as a scout for the Tigers until he took over as manager of their Triple-A affiliate Toledo Mud Hens in 2003. He was named Minor League Manager of the Year in 2005 by the Sporting News after leading the Hens to the International League championship, a feat he repeated in 2006. Parrish named that Governor’s Cup championship is his favorite coaching achievement, also.

“I would think winning the championship in Toledo after they hadn’t won it in like 40 years. That was neat for the people there and to be a part of it. It’s always nice to win, ” he stated, but also recognizes the differences between the Triple-A and Class-A levels. “There you have guys who’ve either played in the big leagues a little bit or have gone though the system. At the A-ball level, you have to have more patience. They’re going to have some great games and they’re going to have games where you go ‘Oh, Lord’. But that’s part of it. But, to me, being able to coach and hopefully teach will have an impact. Experience-wise, having played and coached in the big leagues, I know what it takes to have to play at that level. That’s the whole idea.”

Parrish has visited the Grand Rapids area in the past after surgery in 2007 and was doing some roving instruction. He was very impressed with the stadium and fan support of the Whitecaps. The Tigers director of minor league operations is very pleased with their selection, also. As far as the rest of the Whitecaps staff goes, hitting coach Scott Dwyer will return next season, while pitching coach Mark Johnson will be assigned to Class-A SS Connecticut. As a player, Parrish was a two-time Major League All-Star in 1979 and ’87. He had a career batting average of .263 with 256 homers and 992 RBI’s. He played in Montreal, Texas, and Boston, before ending his pro career with two seasons in Japan.

Parrish chatting it up with Tigers manager Jim Leyland in 2008 when he was managing the Mud Hens

I know the Tigers are in the playoffs, which is very exciting, but having a guy with this kind of resume’ taking over has me excited for next season. Hopefully this will not only mean possibly more championships in West Michigan, but better prepared players working their way up to Detroit.

Top photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps

Bottom photos courtesy of the Associated Press

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