Results tagged ‘ 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

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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

Moya making waves this Spring

Steven Moya with the Whitecaps in 2012, is impressive so far this spring

Steven Moya with the Whitecaps in 2012, is impressive so far this spring

I’ve really enjoyed watching the Detroit Tigers’ pre-season games so far during Spring Training. I especially like seeing the former West Michigan Whitecaps players wearing the ‘D’, and hanging with the big boys in major league camp. Nick Castellanos is hitting the ball very well, and proving so far he’ll fit nicely into the hot corner at Comerica. It’s fun to watch Casey Crosby on the mound, trying to get back to that form that made him a top prospect, and the likes of Hernan Perez, Eugenio Suarez, and Devon Travis patrolling the infield. There is always that one player, however, that really stands out, and this season that guy seems to be outfielder Steven Moya. The 22-year-old started out on a tear this spring, going 2-4 with a double, a triple, and four RBI’s against Florida Southern College in the Tigers’ exhibition game. He recently followed that up with another impressive performance against the St. Louis Cardinals, being a home run away from hitting for the cycle, and knocking in another four RBI’s. So far in Grapefruit League play, he’s batting .412, with two doubles, a triple, and five RBI’s (stats against FSC don’t count). Moya was added to the Tigers 40-man roster in December, but despite his play, few think he’ll make the Tigers’ roster out of spring training.

“I like what I see, but he’s young,” manager Brad Ausmus told Chris Iott of MLive.com. “He’s inexperienced, really. He’s had some freak injuries that he missed some time with. I definitely like him. He still needs some time in the oven. He’s swung the bat well from day one. He really hasn’t let up at all offensively.”

Moya played for the Whitecaps during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. In 2011 he struggled a bit, hitting .204, with 10 doubles, and 39 RBI’s. He improved drastically in 2012, hitting .288, with 14 doubles, three triples, nine home runs, and 47 RBI’s in only 59 games before being injured. He also played in the 2012 Midwest League All-Star Game, going 1-2 with two runs scored, and three RBI’s on a bases-loaded triple. We should have a good chance to see Moya play this season if he stays in the minors, as we’ll be making stops in both Toledo and Erie form some games this June. All the best to him the rest of the spring, and for the 2014 season.

UPDATE: Moya has been optioned to Double-A Erie SeaWolves. The Tigers also cut five other players on Friday, bring the number of players in major league camp to 40. Moya’s final big league camp numbers are a .333 average, with five doubles, and one triple in 21 at-bats.

“You can make an argument he was the MVP of camp. The problem is that he was in A-ball and he really just needs to play. He needs experience,” Ausmus stated to MLive.com. “We certainly have a high ceiling for him. But asking a guys with 90 games in A-ball to go to the big leagues is an enormous jump. So, the best thing for Steven Moya is to play.”

Photo courtesy of MLive.com/Grand Rapids Press

Minoring in Hockey, too

Grand Rapids Griffins vs. San Antonio Rampage

grg1Van Andel Arena-Grand Rapids, MI: After a fun afternoon at the West Michigan Whitecaps’ Open House, and a great meal at Enza’s Pizza, we made out way to the Van Andel Arena for an evening of AHL hockey featuring the home town Griffins taking on San Antonio. The Griffins won the Calder Cup last season, and were out to their best start ever in 2013, but injuries to parent club the Detroit Red Wings have depleted the roster here in GR. The Griffins still have a lot of fight in them, though, and it was fun to finally make it down to a game this season. The kids really like Van Andel Arena, also, as it’s the biggest one they’ve had a chance to visit so far. They also had a free hockey figure promotion, and we all know how much kids love getting free stuff. Brian finally got to meet one of the Griffins’ mascots, so he was all his glory at that point.

Last year's championship banner. This is what it's all about.

Last year’s championship banner. This is what it’s all about.

grg3grg4grg5grg6The game itself was a rough one for the hometown Griffins, as they got spanked 3-0 by San Antonio. They really just didn’t look like a typical Grand Rapids team, and made too many mistakes. The only stand out player was Petr Mrazek in net, who made 22 saves on the night, but was hung out to dry on the three Rampage goals. Head coach, and Sault Ste. Marie native, Jeff Blashill should have this team back to their winning ways by next weekend, though. The games are always a little more fun with a win like they did for us last season, but we still had a great time together. I’m not sure if we’ll make it down to another game this season, but if not we surely wish the Griffins luck on another championship run. Looking over the Whitecaps schedule, I was hoping to find a baseball/hockey double-header we could go to, but their games just don’t match up. All together, another day with the kids and my dad that I’m extremely thankful for.

grg7grg8grg9grg10grg11

This one was taken at the kiosk on the Van Andel concourse.

This one was taken at the kiosk on the Van Andel concourse.

Photos property of Minoring In Baseball

Whitecaps Open House

gr1Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Yes, I know there is still about ten feet of snow on the ground, but that fact couldn’t keep us from visiting Fifth Third Ballpark over the weekend. The West Michigan Whitecaps held a special Open House for their fans. There were many fun things going on, and the kids and I really had a good time despite the cold. In Michigan, the weather can always be worse, so at least the sun was out for us. Outside, Brian really enjoyed the carnival rides, Trevor showed off his throwing arm, and Lily taught her little brother how to make s’mores! Inside the Pepsi Stadium Club, we enjoyed some free hot dogs, and I was able to purchase some tickets for opening day and another weekend in April. We also got to interact with the Whitecaps’ mascots, Crash and Franky. Crash is all excited, because they will be joined by a female River Rascal on opening day. I was able to get some pictures of the progress of the ballpark reconstruction, also. I really couldn’t believe how many fans showed up, and even the staff on had been a little blown away by the attendance. We all had a great time, and again, it was just nice to get out to the ballpark, no matter what time of year it is.

gr2gr3gr6Showing off their fastball:

gr4gr5You don’t know about s’mores? You’re killing me, Smalls!:

gr7Carnival rides!:

gr8gr9 Ballpark progress:

gr10gr11gr12 Photos property of Minoring In Baseball

Lance to Erie; Brookens to retire

Lance Parrish signs some cards for the kids while managing the Loons in 2007

Lance Parrish signs some cards for the kids while managing the Loons in 2007

Parrish to mange Erie: Lance Parrish is back in the Detroit Tigers organization. In what seems to be the final game of the Tigers’ minor league manager roulette, the former catcher will take the reigns of the Double-A Erie SeaWolves. Parrish’s last managerial job was with the Great Lakes Loons back in 2007. He led them to a 57-82 record, despite having Clayton Kershaw in the rotation. From 1999-2001, he served as the Tigers’ bullpen and third base coach under managers Larry Parrish (now with the Mud Hens) and Phil Garner. He was also the bullpen coach from 2003-06 under Alan Trammel. He really didn’t think he’d have another chance at a job in baseball until Al Avila gave him a call last week.

“What can I bring to this job? I can just bring me,” Parrish told the Detroit News. “My desire is to be the very best at my job and try to help the players out the best I can.
I’ve always felt I develop a good rapport with the players, whether in the minors or the majors.”

As a player, Parrish played most of his career in Detroit, helping the team win the 1984 World Series, was a six-time All-Star, and won three gold gloves behind the plate. Although he regretted leaving Detroit to play for Philly, among other teams, he always wanted a job back in Detroit.

“I always consider myself a Detroit Tiger,” Parrish said. “Even when I went to Philly, I didn’t want to go to Philly. After I was gone a year or two, I was hoping some time or way the Tigers would get me back.”

We had the opportunity to meet Parrish back when he was with the Loons, and he was nice enough to sign some baseball cards for the kids. We wish him the best with the SeaWolves this season, and look forward to seeing him back on the field while we’re in Erie this June.

Brookens led the Whitecaps to the 2007 MWL Title, and still had time to sign a card for Lily!

Brookens led the Whitecaps to the 2007 MWL Title, and still had time to sign a card for Lily!

Brookens retires: Someone who didn’t seem to be interested in the Erie job was Tom Brookens, who told the Detroit Free Press yesterday that he was retired. He was not asked to join new Tiger manager Brad Ausmus’ staff after spending the last four years under Jim Leyland as first and third base coach.

“I talked with a couple of teams,” Brookens told the Press. “There was basically minor league positions available, and that was it.”

He did talk to the Tigers about different jobs in the organization, but decided that if he couldn’t work in the major leagues, it was time to spend time at home with family. As a player, Brookens was also part of the 1984 Championship team with Parrish and Trammel. He played in Detroit from 1979-1988. He also managed in the Tiger system, as skipper for the Oneonta Tigers from 2005-06, Whitecaps in 2007 (leading them to the Midwest League championship), and Erie from 2008-09. We wish him all the best in his retirement. We were also lucky enough to meet him during his time in West Michigan, and he was great to the fans, and to my kids!

Photos property of Minoring In Baseball

What if… We had one Single-A Champion?

Whatif1The off-season is a time to reflect in the season past, and at the same time look to the future. With sports in general, fans have always conversed on the ‘what if?’ factor, and I’ve been contemplating an idea for months now, ever since last season’s baseball trip. First, let me state that my two favorite Minor League’s are the Midwest League and the South Atlantic League. The MWL has three teams here in Michigan, and is where my hometown team, the West Michigan Whitecaps, reside. We also attend some Great Lakes Loons games over in Midland, and that is a  great venue, also. In fact, I’ve been to every stadium in the MWL except two, the Lake County Captains and the Bowling Green Hot Rods. We’ll get back to those teams momentarily, as they’re important. As for the SALly league, through work training down in Charleston and southern Georgia, I’ve was able to attend a few games of the Savannah Sand Gnats and the Charleston Riverdogs. During my baseball trip to North and South Carolina last year, I was able to visit another five SAL towns. Through my experience, these leagues have a lot in common. Between the two, we can see some of the best logos,  nicknames, and mascots in all of sports. Both have teams in some great towns, with stadiums ranging from state-of-the-art, to simple and classic. Some of the best baseball fans we’ve had the luxury of interacting with attend games of these great leagues. Oh, the MWL and the SALly league have one more thing in common: they are the only two Single-A league. Now, I know there is short season and advanced ‘A’ league, but these two are just plain ol’ Single-A. The only two. These two league also have a link, so let us back up to two teams mentioned earlier, the Lake County Captains and the Bowling Green Hot Rods. The Captains organization played in the South Atlantic League from 1991-2009, hosting their All-Star Game in 2006. The franchise started out in Columbus, Georgia, as the Columbus Indians (1991) and RedStixx. The franchise moved up to Eastlake, Ohio in 2003 and became the Captains. Lake County joined the Midwest League in 2010 with the Bowling Green Hot Rods. The Hot Rods were previously the Columbus Catfish up until 2009, and the two northern most teams jumped to the MWL to alleviate travel expenses.

baseballsSo, now that the link between the two has been established the fun can begin. We can ask ourselves ‘what if the teams from these leagues played each other?’, and if so, ‘in what capacity?’. Due to the aforementioned travel expenses, any interleague play between the two is illogical, so we’ll just scrap that right away. It could be possible to have a Single-A All-Star Game, pitting the MWL against the SAL, but I don’t care for that, either. It may work at the Triple-A level, but I don’t like it for this one. What I would purpose is to have a simple championship series between the two leagues. For the Triple-A National Championship, they have a pre-determined neutral site to hold the event, and the winners of the International and Pacific Coast League play a one game winner-take-all. This could work at the Single-A level, also, and would ensure the fans of every team to have the opportunity to witness the championship game, and be exposed to the other Single-A league. Another route would be to have a three game series, with game one and games two and/or three at each of the participating teams’ stadiums. Last season, the Quad Cities River Bandits won the Midwest, while the Sand Gnats reigned supreme in the SAL. What an amazing series this would make, and not for just the prospects involved. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting both Modern Woodman Park with its breath taking sight lines in right field, and Historic Grayson Stadium, where you can feel the ghosts of baseball past when you enter the gates. What if the Loons would wind up playing the Greensboro Grasshoppers at some point? It would be awesome to cover the games from both ends with my buddies from Hoppers Fan, with both teams having phenomenal venues and fantastic community support. On a personal note, what if my transfer down south is granted next year, and the ‘Caps end up opposing the Greenville Drive. Where would my loyalties lie between my birth city and my adopted home? Although the possibilities my be endless, the one fact that stands out is this would be a win-win situations for all baseball fans involved, as well as the teams from both historic leagues. It would also be fun to see a game like this featured on MiLB.tv or the MLB Network.  This is still nothing but  a pipe dream, but it’s fun to imagine who the first team might be to win the ‘Minoring In Baseball Cup’…

Photo property of Minoring In Baseball

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