It seems like it was just yesterday that we saw Buck Farmer pitch for the West Michigan Whitecaps. Not exactly, but it was earlier this season that we saw him on the bump at Fifth Third Ballpark. Last night Farmer did become the first to play in West Michigan and Detroit in the same season, helping the Tigers break their four-game losing streak. Farmers’ spot-start wasn’t a spectacular performance, but it was good enough to keep his team in the game, and he pitched a solid five innings giving up four runs. He shut down the Pirates in the first inning, but struggled a bit in the third. Down 4-1, Farmer was bailed out by some other Whitecaps alumni, as Nick Castellanos hit an RBI triple in the first, then broke the tie with a home run in the sixth. Alex Avila also homered in the game to cut into the Pittsburgh lead. Detroit ended up winning the game 8-4, with Farmer not getting the decision.
George Runie Farmer, nicknamed Buck, was a 5th round draft pick by Detroit in 2013 out of the Georgia Institute of Technology. This season he started in West Michigan, going 10-5 with a 2.60 ERA and 116 strikeouts. We also saw him in the Mdwest League All-Star Classic in June. He was promoted to the Erie SeaWolves, but only has a 1-0 record there with a 3.00 ERA. After his spot-start in Detroit, they assigned him to the Toledo Mud Hens. Best of luck to him the rest of the season. I’m sure fans will be seeing more of Farmer in a Tigers uniform in the future.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
League: Eastern League (Double-A)
Affiliation: Detroit Tigers
Home Field: Jerry Uht Park
Fun Facts: The Erie Seawolves started out up in Welland, Ontario as the Welland Pirates, affiliated with Pittsburg, and played in the short season NY-Penn League. The Pirates relocated to Erie in 1995 to become the Seawolves. This move caused the Frontier League franchise Erie Sailors to move themselves, over to Jamestown, NY. There was another Sailors team in Erie, who also played in the NY-Penn League, but they relocated to become the Hudson Valley Renegades before the independent team used the Sailors name. The Seawolves were upgraded to Double-A status when the Eastern League added two new teams in 1999. They became affiliated with the Angels after the upgrade for two seasons, then signed with the Detroit Tigers in 2001. Since 2003, the team has been rumored for another relocation, but upgrades to Jerry Uht Park have kept the team in place for now. Their mascot is named C. Wolf, and can be seen all over Jerry Uht Park, and in the Erie community. I’m really looking forward to visiting Erie, and taking in my first Seawolves game this summer. Seeing another Tigers affiliate will be a plus also, as many Whitecaps alumni will probably be in the lineup.
Notable Alumni: Justin Verlander, Alex Avila, Curtis Granderson, Omar Infante, John Lackey, Cameron Maybin, Cody Ross
Tragedy hit West Michigan this morning, with the Whitecaps’ Fifth Third Ballpark caught on fire. First I want to say that we are very thankful that no injuries occurred due to the fire, and that the Whitecaps staff members and dozens of brave firefighters are all safe. According to reports by WOODTV8 by the Plainfield Township Fire Dept., the fire was started by a heater in one of the suites on the first base side. Once it spread to the attic area, it ended up destroying approximately 40% of the stadium, including the clubhouse and 11 suites. Early reports also indicate that in that area of the ballpark the sprinkler system may not have been active or charged. At this time, nothing is known as an absolute cause of anything, though. Fifth Third Field, built in 1994, is just 95 days away from the ‘Caps opening day. It is also the venue for the 50th Midwest League All-Star Game on June 17.
The Detroit Tigers were notified of the event also, and seem to be supportive of their Single-A affiliate’s predicament. In a statement on Twitter, the Tigers’ organization said, “The [Whitecaps] are and extension of our baseball family. We certainly hope for the best for all parties involved. The Tigers look forward to attending the annual baseball banquet later this month as part of the annual Tigers Winter Caravan”. Some of the form ‘Caps were stunned by the news and pictures of their old ballpark, also.
In a statement to MLive.com, Detroit infielder Don Kelly stated, “The team means a lot to the Grand Rapids area. You hate to see stuff like that happen to a great organization.”
Tigers’ catcher Alex Avila started his pro career in West Michigan, and told MLive.com, “Just saw some of the pictures. Pretty crazy. I’m glad no one was hurt. That is one of the best Minor League Baseball stadiums. Always a packed house and a great atmosphere.”
This was a nightmare of a day for the Whitecaps co-founder, chief financial officer, and director of accounting Denny Baxter. While his wife is battling cancer, he was called away to help deal with the situation. Baxter seems positive, however, that the organization and community will band together, and the Whitecaps will be ready to play baseball in April.
“We’re going to survive this and come out of this. I’d like to believe, if we rebuild it, they will come,” Baxter stated. “April 8, plan to be here, we will be. We’ll be back, business as usual. We’ll just have some construction plans and design work, but we have a great staff and we’re up to that challenge. The community will show that support to us. We’re gonna play baseball–we’re very determined about that. We’re strong in our resolve. We’re going to play on Opening Day, we’re still going to have an All-Star Game. I’m absolutely confident about that.”
If any baseball organization can bounce back from this, I believe the Whitecaps can. We plan to make our first game of the season on April 12, and are really looking forward to seeing how much they’ve accomplished by then. All the best to the Whitecaps, and, again, we’re just grateful no one was hurt.
The West Michigan Whitecaps are competing in their 20th season in the Midwest League. To celebrate this event, the team is having the fans vote on the best players they’ve seen in each position for the last two decades. Even three managers are up for the vote, in Bruce Fields, Matt Walbeck, and Tom Brookens. All three won the Midwest League Championship in West Michigan. Catchers such as Brandon Inge, current Tiger Alex Avila, and Miami Marlin Rob Brantley are all up for the best behind the plate. At first base, I think that Robert Fick has the inside edge. He was voted into the first Whitecaps Hall of Fame, and has the honor of hitting the last home run in Tiger Stadium. That’s just my vote, though. Second base is my favorite position, so I’ve followed the players there pretty closely. It will be tough for me to choose only one of my favorites such as Scott Sizemore, Justin Henry, and Brandon Douglas. At short stop, in my opinion, the vote might come down to current Tiger Ramon Santiago, or last’s years MiLB Gold Glove winner Eugenio Suarez, which is a tough call. At the hot corner, top prospect Nick Castellanos may be the favorite despite being moved to the outfield last season with Lakeland and Erie. He may get a push from guys like Wade Gaynor and Wilkin Ramirez, though. Fans are allowed three choices for outfielders, and there are plenty. While players like Matt Joyce, Cameron Maybin, Cody Ross, and Brent Clevlen have all seen action at the MLB level, Gorkys Hernandez had a great season in West Michigan in 2007. He was also named the Tigers Minor League Player of the Year that year. Fans are also allowed to vote for three pitchers. Players like Andy Van Hekken, Casey Crosby, Duane Below, and Joel Zumaya all found success on the hill in West Michigan. Rounding out the relief pitchers, fans can vote for two, including Michael Torrealba and Anthony Claggett. This is another great way the Whitecaps are celebrating so much success the last 20 years. VOTE NOW!
Photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
Last night the Detroit Tigers clinched the American League Central Division title by beating the Kansas City Royals 6-3. This is the Tigers second Central title in a row, and the 14th division title in their history. As the team picked by most experts and fans from the get-go, the Tigs didn’t make it easy on any of us, and floundered for most of the season around or under .500 before making a final push the last two months of the season. Miguel Cabrera had another big day, going 4-5 with a home run. He’s now batting .329 and is definitely one of the favorites for the MVP. Miggy’s 203 hits, 40 doubles, 44 homers, 137 RBI’s have been equaled only three times in history…twice by Lou Gehrig and once by Babe Ruth. That’s pretty good company, I’d say. It would also be unMIBy of me not to mention the former Whitecaps that are on this championship team, like Alex Avila, Omar Infante, Don Kelly, Andy Dirks, Brennan Boesch, Ramon Santiago, Danny Worth, Avisail Garcia, Brayan Villarreal, Louis Marte, and Luke Putkonen. There. Now all is right with the world for the time being… Good luck to the Tigers in the playoffs!
Congrats to outfielder Avisail Garcia, who became the 100th West Michigan Whitecaps alumni to play in Major League Baseball. He was called up to the Detroit Tigers Friday from the Double-A Erie Seawolves. He had a key RBI single in the Tigers 7-4 over the Chicago White Sox. He went 2-4 in last nights 4-2, and is now batting .429. Detroit would sweep the series, tying the ChiSox for first place in the AL Central Division. Garcia is the eight former Whitecap to be called up to a MLB team this season, with Tigers bringing up pitchers Casey Crosby, Luke Putkonen, Jose Ortega, and Thad Weber, as well as infielder Hernan Perez. Former Tigers 2007 Minor League Player of the year Gorkys Hernandez debuted with the Pittsburgh Pirates this season, and catcher Rob Brantly debuted with the Marlins after being traded to Miami this month. Speaking with MLive.com about the Whitecaps organization was Toby Harrah, former roving hitting instructor, and now assistant hitting coach with the Tigers. He had nothing but good things to say about the organization and quality of the ballpark, coaches, and front office.
“It’s the best environment in the world for playing,” Harrah stated. “It’s a great atmosphere for young prospects. It’s a big-league ballpark where everything is first class. It’s a great way to introduce kids to playing professional baseball.”
Thirteen ‘Caps alumni were even part of Detroit’s Central Division championship team last season, including Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch, Brandon Inge, Ramon Santiago, Andy Dirks, Ryan Raburn, Scott Sizemore, and Duane Below. The Tigers organization has also used some former West Michigan players for trade, gaining the likes of Miguel Cabrera for Cameron Maybin. Whitecaps vice president Jim Jarecki also spoke with MLive.com about the teams’ milestone.
“We’re proud of them,” said Jarecki. “A good percentage of players who’ve gone on to the majors started here. They put on a professional uniform for the first time here and they are always going to remember that. For us to know that many of them were in Whitecaps uniforms is something that we’re very proud of and lends a lot of credibility to our organization.”
As for Garcia, he was signed by the Tigers back in 2007, and played in West Michigan in 2009-10 as a teenager. He hit .281 in 2010 with 17 doubles and four home runs. With Boesch struggling this season, the right field position could be open if Garcia can make the best of his playing time, and help the Tigers to the playoffs.
Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press
Ok, I’ve been slacking a bit on my Whitecaps coverage, but at least I’ve been to more games this season that the last few years, so that more fun that’s just reading the stats. The Whitecaps are off to a solid second half, so here’s hoping they can stay hot and continue their playoff streak. Inserted are photos from the ‘Caps recent series with the Fort Wayne TinCaps from the Grand Rapids Press. Happy 4th of July everyone….
First Half: The Whitecaps really struggled early this season, with such a young roster, but were able to battle back a bit. They ended the first half 32-37, which was good for 6th in the eight team division. What’s impressive, is that they went through a rough 12 game losing streak early in the season, so being able to recover from that is a positive sign.
Second Half: West Michigan is off to a solid start in the second half of the season, going 7-4, which is good enough for second place in the East one game behind the Dayton Dragons. Outfielder Jeff Rowland is off to a great start in this second stint. He’s batting .400 with four doubles, six walks, and a .600 OBP. The pitching staff is also getting the job done for the Whitecaps. Their starters have had seven quality starts in the first 10 games and are 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA. The team has gone 17-8 since June 3 and are almost at .500 for the entire season.
Team Leaders: Rookie sensation Nick Castellanos is emerging as a team leader, despite having a slow start to his first full pro season. He’s leading the ‘Caps in batting average with .306, RBI’s with 48, and SLG% with .441. James Robbins is leading the team in home runs with 10, and Luis Castillo is tops with a .369 OBP. On the mound, Kevin Eichhorn leads the team in three categories of his own: wins with 6, SO with 68, and a 1.17 WHIP. Antonio Cruz has the best ERA with 3.29, and Bruce Rondon is tops with 15 saves.
All Stars: Representing the Whitecaps in this year Midwest League All-Star game were Bruce Rondon, Rob Brantly, and Hernan Perez. Rondon pitched a scoreless 0.2 of an inning with one strikeout. Brantly went 0-3, while Perez went 0-2 in the East’s 8-3 loss to the West. In this season’s MLB All-Star game, catcher Alex Avila of the Tigers has been voted in as the starter. He’ll be joined on the American League roster by Matt Joyce (TB) and may face the National League’s Jair Jurrjens (ATL) on the mound.Photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press
Still In Second: The Whitecaps are still standing in second place in the MWL Eastern Division with a record of 32-24 in the second half. They are just unable to catch the almost unbeatable Fort Wayne TinCaps. who they trail by 8.0 games as of this post.
Hot Bat: Short stop Gustavo Nunez has been hot at the plate since returning to West Michigan. Last week Nunez homered from both sides of the plate (including a grand slam), during a nine-run first inning against the Dayton Dragons, a game the ‘Caps would win 14-2. Over the last 10 games he’s batting .357 with three homers and eight RBI’s.
Ups and Downs: Ronnie Borquin has been reassigned to the Whitecaps from the AA Erie Seawolves. He was sent to Erie right after the MWL All-Star game and hit .228 with five homers and 19 RBI’s during his AA stint. Second basebman Brandon Douglas has been placed on the disabled list. Also a MWL All-Star, Douglas is batting .333 with 34 RBI’s in 74 games so far this season in West Michigan.
Alex Avila: Wow, it seems like just last season when I was watching Avila play in a ‘Caps uniform. Oh, wait, it WAS just last season. Spending most of the 2009 season with the AA Seawolves, he was recently promoted to the Detroit Tigers and is making the most of it, going 2-4 in his MLB debut. As of this post, he’s hitting .370 with three home runs, four doubles, and nine RBI’s in just 10 games with Detroit. The Tigers have had a tough time finding a reliable backup at catcher this season that can do anything productive at the plate.
“I guess that’s the reason they called me up”, Avila stated. “They want to see what you can do and how you can play at this level…Any time you’re in the lineup, you just try to do your job. Then, hopefully, you’ll stick up here.”
In his stint with the Whitecaps last season, he hit .305 with 22 RBI’s in 58 games. He was assigned to West Michigan after being drafted out of the Univ. of Alabama. Being his dad is the Tigers assistant GM, baseball must be in his blood.
“Ever since I was young,” Avila said, “all we did was baseball.”
Photo courtesy of The Detroit News