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

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

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

Loons alum Kershaw wins NL Cy Young

 

Clayton Kershaw with the Loons in 2007.
Clayton Kershaw with the Loons in 2007.

Los Angeles Dodgers‘ hurler Clayton Kershaw has won the Cy Young award for being the best pitcher in the National League. With a recor of 16-9 and a microscopic ERA of 1.83, not too many can really argue. Before he became a star on the west coast, however, he honed his stills in the Midwest League as a member of the Great Lakes Loons in 2007. I remember a lot of talk about him back then, like everyone knew that this kid was going to be that good. In 25 starts for the Loons, he ended up 8-7 with a 2.95 ERA. The sad part is, though, I never was able to see him pitch down in Midland. And to think, just one season later, he was making his big league debut with the Dodgers. A new team in 2007, the Loons had Lance Parrish as their manager, who was a member of the 1984 World Series Champion Detroit Tigers. So, the only game I attended that season, I was more determined to meet a local hero like Parrish then an up-and-coming superstar. That was my mistake, though seeking an autograph from a starting pitcher isn’t an easy task. On days they pitch, they’re not allowed to sign autgraphs, and on days they don’t they’re not really out of the dugout, or even in uniform at times. It would have been nice to have seen him pitch, but it’s always good to have alumni do well and make through the system, and in Kershaw’s case excel at the highest level.

Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes Loons

Wil Myers wins AL ROY

bulls7Congrats to Wil Myers of the Tampa Bay Rays on winning the  2013 American League Rookie of the Year award. I was lucky enough to see him play back in May while he was still a member of the Durham Bulls of the International League and even back in 2010 when he was playing for the Burlington Bees of the Midwest League. Wil posted a .293 average, with 13 home runs, and 53 RBI’s this season with the Rays. Just another example to get out to the Minor League ballparks when you get a chance. You never know what future award winners you’ll be witnessing.

Photo property of Minoring In Baseball

Current and former Whitecaps dealt

Outfielder Danry Vasquez now with the Astros organization
Outfielder Danry Vasquez now with the Astros organization

It’s the trade deadline, and the Detroit Tigers decided to make some moves to improve the teams chances at making the post season. Unfortunately, the moves included trading away two West Michigan Whitecaps alumni, and one of their current players. The Tigers’ first move took West Michigan’s starting left fielder Danry Vasquez and sent him to the Houston Astros organization. In return, Detroit acquired relief pitcher Jose Veras. Vasquez struggled last season with the Whitecaps, but went down to Connecticut and ended up leading the NY-Penn League in hits. This season he’s been hitting .281 with five home runs and 39 RBI’s. He started the season hitting in the number three slot, but moved to lead-off hitter in June.  He will be staying in the Midwest League, however, suiting up for the Quad Cities River Bandits.

“It made me sad that I will be leaving the Detroit Tigers organization but it made me excited that Houston made a trade for me,” Vasquez stated to Ben Chiswick, the Whitecaps’ radio announcer (and courtesy of MLive.com).

Villarreal for RealThe Tigers next dealt outfielder Avisail Garcia and relief pitcher Brayan Villarreal to the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox in a three-way deal. The full deal sends Garcia to the ChiSox, Jake Peavy from Chicago to the BoSox, Villarreal to Boston, and the Tigers get short stop Jose Iglesias from the Red Sox. Iglesias is said to be one of the best young middle infielders in the game today, so it will be excited watching him in Detroit.  Villarreal has been sidelined in Toledo due to a thumb injury, but has been up with Detroit part-time for the last three seasons. He is 4-8 with a 4.56 ERA with the Tigers. During the 2008 season he split between the GCL Tigers and the Whitecaps, he was 1-6 with a 4.69 ERA and 37 strikeouts. He spent the entire 2009 season in West Michigan, going 5-5 with a 2.87 ERA and 118 strikeouts. As for Garcia, he was one of the top prospects in the Tigers organization, hitting .241 with two home runs and 10 RBI’s with the big club this season. He also played in West Michigan in 2009, splitting the season with the Lakeland Flying Tigers. He hit .264 with 31 RBI’s that year. Spending the entire 2010 season with the Whitecaps, he hit .281 with 17 doubles and 63 RBI’s. Good luck to all three players with their new clubs. We’ll still be keeping track of these guys.

Photos property of Minoring In Baseball

Jurrjens back with Tigers

jairFormer Detroit Tigers and West Michigan Whitecaps pitcher Jair Jurrjens is back. The Tigers signed him to a minor league deal, and he will report to the Toledo Mud Hens today. He last pitched in Detroit in 2007, before being traded to Atlanta. Despite his health issues, the Tigers are hoping to put him into the rotation, and not the bullpen as of yet.

“He kind of came on the scene pretty good,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland stated. “Pretty calm. Pretty collected. Make a good impression. Evidently, he’s had a lot of health issues since we had him, so I don’t have any recent update on him.”

Back in 2007, he went 3-1 with the Tigers, with a 4.70 ERA. Pitching for the Whitecaps in 2005, we was 12-6, with a 3.41 ERA and 108 strikeouts. He was a member of the ‘Caps 20th anniversary team.

Photo courtesy of wizardkitten