The Detroit Tigers have named Joe Jimenez as their Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and outfielder Mike Gerber Player of the Year. Both players laced up their cleats in West Michigan this season, and both were instrumental in the Whitecaps winning the Midwest League Championship. The 20-year-old Jimenez posted a 1.47 ERA in 40 games with the ‘Caps this season, earning five wins and 17 saves. He struck out 71 batters in 43 innings of work, with a 0.79 WHIP. His 97-98 mph fastball and nasty slider made him the ‘Caps ‘go-to’ guy in late innings, especially in the playoffs. Jimenez was the Tigers’ lone representative at the All-Star Futures game this past July in Cincinnati, and will head back to his home of Puerto Rico to play winter ball.
Gerber hit .292 this season in West Michigan, smacking 13 home runs and 76 RBI’s. He also added 31 doubles, 74 runs scored, and swiped 13 bases with a .822 OPS playing in 135 games this season. He also played eight games with the Whitecaps in 2014, hitting an impressive .387 with five RBI’s. Gerber, 22, was drafted by the Tigers in last seasons’ MLB Amateur Draft out of Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, in the 15th round. Ranked number 18 on Detroit’s prospect list, he’ll join fellow Whitecaps’ alums Austin Kubitza (last season’s Pitcher of the Year), Montreal Robertson, Dominic Ficociello (recently awarded a MiLB Gold Glove with a .996 fielding %), and Adam Ravenelle in the Arizona Fall League. JaCoby Jones will also be representing the Tigers as a member of the AFL’s Scottsdale Scorpions. It was fun to watch Jimenez and Gerber play for West Michigan this season, and I’ll enjoy watching them climb the latter up the organization.
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Players of the Year: The Detroit Tigers have named outfielder Steven Moya their Minor League Player of the Year, and Austin Kubitza the Pitcher of the Year. Moya, playing for the Erie SeaWolves this season, hit .276, with 33 doubles, three triples, while stealing 16 bases. He set records with Erie with 35 home runs and 105 RBI’s this season, also. Moya lead the Eastern League with 70 extra-base hits and was named the league’s MVP. He’s ranked as the Tigers’ No. 7 prospect by MLB.com. Kubitza pitched for the West Michigan Whitecaps this season, but we never had a chance to see him on the mound. He was named the Midwest League’s Pitcher of the Week on two separate occasions, and had an impressive 2.34 ERA this season. He had a 10-2 record for the ‘Caps and had 140 strike outs.
Executive of the Year: The Whitecaps’ vice president of ticket sales Steve McCarthy has been named the Midwest League Executive of the Year. This season the ‘Caps averaged 5,595 fans per game, good for fourth in the league, and their total attendance of 391,000 was the most through the gates of Fifth Third Ballpark since 2002. In all, this was one of West Michigan’s best seasons for advertising revenue, attendance, and ticket revenue. McCarthy was in intern for the Whitecaps in 1995, then with Van Andel Arena and The Palace of Auburn Hills. He worked for the Detroit Pistons as a ticket sales account representative and Director of Group Sales, before returning to West Michigan in 2001. He was promoted to vice president of ticket sales in 2005.
Tigers call up…Reatini? The Whitecaps’ clubhouse attendant Sam Reatini has been temporarily called up to the Detroit Tigers. He has been the clubhouse attendant in West Michigan for the last two seasons, and is now sitting in the opposing teams clubhouse at Comerica Park. If he needs any supplies for the ‘Caps, he contacts John Nelson, who is the assistant equipment manager for Detroit and handles minor league equipment needs for the affiliates. Nelson asked Reatini to join him when his college interns left toward the end of the season to go back to school. With the Whitecaps season over, this is a great opportunity for Reatini, and I’m sure at least heard the Tigers’ celebrate winning the Central crown for the other side of the field.
Henneman leaving: The Whitecaps pitching coach Mike Henneman has informed the Tigers he won’t be coming back next season. To be closer to his family, he is returning to the D-Bat baseball academy, where his duties include pitching coach and camps coordinator. Starting with West Michigan in 2013, he greatly improved the teams’ ERA from 3.62 to 3.05 this season, one of the best in the Midwest League, and in the teams history. Henneman pitched for the Tigers for nine of his 10 years in the majors. We’ll miss Mike at Fifth Third Ballpark, as he was one of my favorite players as a kid. We did have a chance to meet him, though, and he signed some cards for the kids. We wish him the best down in Texas. UPDATE: Henneman has come back to the Tigers organization, and will become the pitching coach for the Erie SeaWolves.
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Midwest League MVP: For the third time in history, a member of the West Michigan Whitecaps was named Midwest League Most Valuable Player, in Wynton Bernard. The 23 yr-old outfielder leads the league with a .328 average, first in run scored with 89, hits with 159. He’s second in the league in total bases with 217 and on-base percentage with .401. Bernards’ 159 sets a Whitecaps’ franchise record, which he set on Sunday at South Bend.
“It feels so amazing,” Bernard told MLive.com. “Just thinking about all that I’ve been through the past year…it’s pretty special.”
What’s amazing, is that he was released by the San Diego Padres in January, and joined the Tigers via an open tryout in March in Lakeland. Now, he joins Robert Fick (1997) and Gorkys Hernandez (2007) as Whitecaps named league MVP.
Post-season All-Stars: Joining Bernard in the MWL post-season All-Star Team, are pitchers Buck Farmer and Kevin Ziomek. Farmer, who’s made two appearances with the Tigers this season, went 10-5 during his time in West Michigan. He posted a 2.60 ERA with 116 strikeouts, which lead the league at the time. Ziomek is currently 10-6 with a league-leading 145 strikeouts. He leads the league with a rate of 11.15 strikeouts per nine innings, that could also be a franchise record when the season is done.
Pitcher of the Week: Although he didn’t make the post-season All-Star squad, pitcher Jon Maciel was named the Midwest League Pitcher of the Week for August 18-24. Maciel was brilliant during the ‘Caps’ 5-0 win over Dayton on Thursday, giving up one hit in seven shut-out innings. The 21 yr-old hurler struck out a career high 10 batters, including six straight. Maciel was an 18-round pick in the 2013 draft out of Cal State-Long Beach. So far this season he’s 6-6 with a 3.97 ERA and 85 strikeouts. He joins Austin Kubitza (x2) and Jonathon Crawford as recipients of the award this season.
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Kicking off our annual baseball trip this season will be the 50th Midwest League All-Star Game in Comstock Park, MI in less than two weeks. This will be the first All-Star game of any kind that we have attended, and it will possibly be the highlight game of the trip. The gates to Fifth Third Ballpark will be opening at 4:00 p.m., and we’ll be able to see both teams take batting practice and be able to take part in an on-field autograph session. Also in attendance, joining the Whitecap’s own Crash the River Rascal, will be Big Lug (Lansing), Lou E. Loon (Great Lakes), Fang (Wisconsin), and Johnny (Fort Wayne). There will also being jugglers, stilt walkers, and face painters on the concourse before the game. Sounds like a great place to be a kid, and it’s almost guaranteed we’ll be seeing some great baseball. The Midwest League has announced the rosters for the event, also.
The West Michigan Whitecaps lead the way with five (or six?) players selected. Infielder Javier Betancourt (.272, 68 hits) and outfielder Wynton Bernard (.298, 14 doubles) were picked as the position players representing the ‘Caps. On the mound, pitchers Buck Farmer (5-4, 2.81 ERA), Austin Kubitza (5-0, 2.02 ERA), and Joe Mantiply (4-1, 2.00) will represent West Michigan. Jonathan Crawford (2-1, 2.27 ERA) is listed on the ‘Cap website, but has yet to be added to the official roster. That’s a very good group for the home-town fans to root for.
The Lansing Lugnuts will be sending four players north on I-96. Starting for the Eastern Division will be first baseman Matt Dean (.297, 3 triples, 2 home runs) and third baseman Mitch Nay (.267, 31 RBI’s). Outfielder Derrick Loveless (.287) will come off the bench, as will pitcher Griffin Murphy (2-2, 1.73). Not a bad group to represent the Lugnuts this year.
Three members of the Great Lakes Loons will also be all-star bound. Starting for the Eastern Division will catcher Kyle Farmer (.308, 15 2B, 33 RBI’s) and outfielder Joey Curletta (.314, 72 hits, 95 total bases). On the hill will Mark Pope, with a 1-0 record and miniscule 0.41 ERA. What the Loons lack in quantity, that definitely make up for in quality. All three players are having great seasons in the Midwest League this year!
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Well, 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.
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!
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