Up here in Michigan, the snow has finally fallen, and it didn’t take long to cover the landscape frosty white. It was a record high 65 degrees this month, but things have changed back to normal unfortunately. The kids have been playing in the snow non-stop, and I’ve had to bundle them up before school to keep them warm every day this week. Down in Comstock Park, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps, Fifth-Third Ballpark is bundling up as well. The thermal blankets were put onto the field today, to protect the grass from snow and ice thrown at us the next few months. For me, April 4th can’t come soon enough. Maybe I can just go into hibernation after Christmas…
It’s that time of year again, and no, not Thanksgiving or Black Friday. It’s about that time the Major League teams needed to get their 40-man roster in order. The Detroit Tigers used this time to release former West Michigan Whitecap utility guy Ryan Raburn. This move was probably celebrated by most Tiger fans, who viewed Raburn as a player favored by manager Jim Leyland, and probably got too many second chances to prove himself over younger more deserving players. Though never one of my favorites, Raburn did show up every day and try his best, so I wish him the best of luck. The positive news is that the Tigers added three more Whitecaps alumni in pitchers Bruce Rondon and Melvin Mercedes, and shortstop Dixon Machado. Rondon played in West Michigan in 2011, going 2-2 with 19 saves. He boasted a 2.03 ERA and 61 strike-outs. He also played in the Futures Game in KC this past summer, impressing fans with his 102 mph fastball. Management has been vocal about giving him a chance to compete for the closing job next season.
Mercedes has been up and down the organizational latter, and has played for the Whitecaps in each of the last four seasons. In 2009, he went 0-1 in just three games played. 2010 saw him go 1-2 with a 5.03 ERA. He played only two games for the ‘Caps in 2011, with no decisions. This past season, he was 0-3 with six saves, and a 2.80 ERA. He’s shown some improvement, but needs to be more consistent to be considered to make the opening day roster. He needs to play either Double or Triple-A, and have a solid year.
Machado also played for the Whitecaps in 2011. He hit .235 with 101 hits, 28 RBI, and 25 stolen bases. He had a rough season this past summer in Lakeland, but hopefully can get his bat going and move up the ladder. The Tigers are in need of a young short-stop in the near future, and he could be the guy to replace Peralta, or whomever Detroit decides to put up the middle at Comerica. I like his speed, though, and the Tigers sure could use solid defense and speed on the base path. It will be fun to track these guys in 2013, and hopefully they might see some action in the big leagues.
I put this post off, waiting until the outcome of the MVP race, but I did want to congratulate Mike Trout on winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award. He was basically a sure thing after his performance in the 2012 season. Trout was the unanimous pick for the award, as he’s not just the best rookie this season, but some say he’s the best rookie ever. He finished second in the league in batting average with .326, first in steals with 49 and runs with 129, third in on-base-percentage at .399, and third in slugging % at .564. His was pretty good defensively, too, robbing batters of four home runs, and 23 runs altogether. Trout also became the first player to win the MLB Rookie of the Month Award four months in a row. Then you hear him compared to guys like Mickey Mantle and things really start clicking. But with all his stats and steals and defense it still wasn’t enough to edge Triple Crown winning Miguel Cabrera for the MVP Award. It wasn’t all that surprising that Miggy won, I guess what surprised me is that the voting wasn’t a lot closer. So the Angels fans are probably feeling a little jilted, and they have a right to feel so, while the Tigers fans get a little reason to smile after the disastrous World Series. The voting really could have gone either way, though, and fans of both players have a reason to feel their guy is the best. All awards and voting and BS aside, though, nothing can take away the year that Trout had. The guy is 21 yrs-old. I’m sure within the next 20 years he’ll get his due. He’ll give Angels fans and all baseball fans alike some great moments in this sport.
When I saw him play back in 2010, he was a stand-out at the Single-A level at only 18. We sat in the front row right behind the on-deck circle, and he was nice enough to chat with us before the game started. He seemed pretty humble and had a great attitude about being a top draft pick. Then he hit the first pitch out of the ballpark. He had his own little cheering section, and he made sure his fans got a game ball. The whole game experience in Cedar Rapids was amazing, and watching a talent like Trout made it even better, especially the way he conducted himself. There’s nothing but good things for this guy in the future, and he’ll have a lot of fans rooting for him.
The West Michigan Whitecaps will continue to have ‘Tiger Friday’s’ as one of their top promotions next summer. The former Detroiter who will be ‘headlining’ this promotion will be one of the best second baseman in Tigers history…’Sweet’ Lou Whitaker. The other half of one of the greatest double-play tandems in history (along with Alan Trammel) will appear at Fifth-Third Ballpark on June 28. The first 2,000 fans will receive a bobble head, but due to high demand, there will be a raffle for autographs. Nothing has been posted yet on the ‘Caps website on how to enter the raffle, but when they due I’ll be sure to keep it to myself.. I would love to meet Lou, as a fellow second baseman, he’s was one of my idols growing up. He came up just about the time I was really getting into baseball, collecting cards, and getting my jersey dirty on the field myself. In high-school, I was even given the ‘Sweet Lou’ moniker for my play in the field. We’ve actually only been to one Tiger Friday, when we met John Wockenfuss back in 2009. I’ve missed some of my other favorites like Matt Nokes and Mickey Tettleton, though. I’m hoping that either one of the kids or myself win a chance to meet Whitaker. The rest of the participants for Tiger Fridays will be announced later this winter.
Lou played in Detroit for 19 seasons from 1977-1995. He and Trammel were one of the best double-play combinations in the game through out that period. Lou was on that great Tigers’ team of 1984 that roared to the World Series Championship. He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1978, and a five-time All-Star. In 1985 he was voted to start the All-Star game, but forgot his bag in the back of his car before leaving for Minnesota. He used the glove, batting glove, and helmet from his fellow All-Stars, and wore a Tigers hat and jersey from a souvenir stand. One of the clubhouse attendants drew his #1 on the back with a marker. One of my favorite Lou stories.
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.
The Detroit Tigers top prospect Nick Castellanos went 2-5 in last nights Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Game. He batted fourth, and was the DH for the West team. His first hit was a shot to right-center off Twins’ prospect Kyle Gibson, and his second was a rip though the left side of the infield off Mariner prospect left-hander James Paxton. Playing for the Mesa Solar Sox, he’s hitting .239 with one home run and three RBI’s. In Lakeland this season, he hit .405 with three home runs, while in Erie he had an average of .264 and pounded seven homers. He played for the West Michigan Whitecaps in 2011, there he hit .312 with 76 RBI’s. He is joined on the Mesa team by some fellow Tiger prospects and Whitecaps alumni. Catching prospect James McCann is hitting 7 for 26 in ten AFL games. First baseman Aaron Westlake played for the Whitecaps this season, where he hit .249. For Mesa, he’s .220 with three home runs. Pitching prospect Luke Putkonen is 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA, while striking out six batters. Relief pitcher Mike Morrison has appeared in eight games, only allowing three runs. Pitcher Matt Hoffman and Tyler Clark also play for Mesa.
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.”