For the second season in a row, the West Michigan Whitecaps are left without a manager. Unlike last season, however, this change comes with a promotion. Larry Parrish (pictured), who led the ‘Caps to a 69-70 finish in the Midwest League, has been promoted to helm the Toledo Mud Hens in 2014. This isn’t his first experience with Detroit’s Triple-A affiliate, as he managed Toledo in 1994 and from 2003-2010. Under Parrish, the Mud Hens won back to back Governor’s Cup (International League) championships in 2005 and 2006. Parrish has won more games for Toledo than any other manager at 569. It looks like three times a charm for him, as he has some great support from the parent club Tigers, as well as the Hens.
“As a manager, he’s a great teacher, and I know we’ll see improvement in player development,” said Toledo’s general manager and team president Joe Napoli in a press release. “For our fans, he’s always been a favorite, they will be glad to welcome him back.”
“He’s going to be missed,” stated Whitecaps vice president Jim Jarecki to MLive.com. “Having LP on board, he was a great guy on and off the field. He was great to work with and the guys really liked and respected him. Even though the record didn’t reflect it, the players gravitated to him and he was a great leader.”
This is a good move by the Tigers’ organization, and a deserved promotion for Parrish, as he’s already in the International League Hall of Fame. We already have a couple of dates circled on the calendar for season to watch the Mud Hens, so we’ll be seeing him again soon. Now…what about the Whitecaps? The Single-A affiliate is once again in need of a skipper, and it will be interesting to see who the Tigers will assign. I’ve written in the past how I think that Brandon Inge would be a good fit in West Michigan. The Tigers’ have basically stated that they’d like him back in the organization once his playing days are done, and Inge always said positive things about the ‘Caps. We’ll see if he retires at the end of the season, though, and if he shows interest in coaching. Jarecki aslo stated the Tigers should name the ‘Caps new manager sometime in early October, so the safer bet may be seeing the promotion of Connecticut Tigers manager Andrew Graham. He has been at the helm of the C-Tigers for the last three seasons, and before that coached the Gulf Coast League Tigers from 2009-2010. He also served as the Tigers minor league catching coordinator during the 2010 season. This season, Graham led Connecticut to a 33-42 finish, good for third place in the New York-Penn League‘s Stedler Division. He is also a Tigers product, getting drafted by Detroit in 2003, and was a catcher in the organization from 2003-2008. A native of Sydney, Australia, Graham also played in the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009. I’ll be keeping a close eye on who gets the West Michigan job. The Whitecaps have missed the playoffs the last three season, so whoever is chosen I hope they can break that streak in 2014.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
The West Michigan Whitecaps are celebrating their 20th season, and along with that allowed the fans to vote for their all-time favorite players. There have been more than 600 optomistic young men that have taken the field for the Whitecaps, with 102 of them breaking into the big leagues. The players were voted for by position in an on-line ballot, and here are the 14 that made the cut.
Manager-Tom Brookens (2007)
Catcher-Brandon Inge (1999)
First Base-Robert Fick (1997)
Second Base-Scott Sizemore (2007)
Shortstop-Brent Dlugach (2005)
Third Base-Nick Castellanos (2011)
Outfield-Matt Joyce (2006), Cameron Maybin (2006), Avisail Garcia (2009-10)
Designated Hitter-Eric Munson (1999)
Relief Pitcher-Francisco Cordero (1997), Ed Clelland (2005, 2007)
You can read the full story HERE on the Whitecaps website. Of all the winners, only Castellanos and Clelland have not played in the Major Leagues. The results are not that surprising, though, knowing the popularity of some of these guys in West Michigan. One of the few positions I voted different was Eugenio Suarez (2012) at shortstop.
Promo photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
It was just another day at the ballpark for this Mud Hens fan. Sit back, have a few beers, throw peanuts at former Tiger Brandon Inge…wait, what? Yes, fans do heckle players at the games, especially at the minor league games where the fans are so close to the action. Last night, however, one fan took things a little too far and began belittling Inge, and even started throwing peanuts at him. Inge, who signed with the Pirates this spring, was playing for the Indianapolis Indians on a rehab assignment against the Mud Hens in Toledo.
“It was just an agitate fan that took it a little too far”, Inge told The Toledo Blade. “That stuff is unfortunate. You can’t avoid it. There’s always going to be a couple of idiots at every game. There’s nothing you can do about it. You can handle it the best you can, and I think we did.”
When the fans assaults became unbearable, Inge’s teammates were quick to defend him. Pirate prospect Jerry Sands and Felix Pie had to be restrained from going after the unruly fan. Sands actually cleared the fence between the stands and dugout, an action that brought a one game suspension from the International League. The fan was escorted out of the ballpark, but still tried throwing beer at the players on their way out (alcohol abuse?). Inge did his best to continue the game, and make it enjoyable for the remaining fans, especially the kids in attendance. He handed out more than a half-dozen baseball to kids.
“Everything was handled very professionally,” Inge stated. “The Mud Hens handled it professionally and I think we handled it as professionally as we could.” Uh, except for Sands, though, Brandon? He did take care of the kids, though: “I know the face of a kid that’s scared. And that man was definitely scaring those kids around the area. I actually saw a couple of kids sitting by themselves, I’m sure their parents were nearby, and I saw them actually get up and move a couple of seats back. They were just like, ‘Wow, we need to move,’. I didn’t want them to feel like that. So I pulled them over and gave them some baseballs. It turned to be, I think, ok.”
None of the Mud Hens players were involved. The Detroit fans have always had a love/hate relationship with Inge, though. Personally I’ve never had a problem with him. He always worked hard and wanted to contribute the best he could. He’s also recently stated he’d like to come back to the Tigers organization when his playing days are done. This is prediction I’ve made many times, however.
“I’d probably, one day, like to stay part of that organization in some way,” Inge stated to the Detroit News. ” One thing I learned through the years in this game is reading people. It’s why I respect Al Kaline so much. He’s still helping the Tigers in so many ways. But what impresses me is that he’s such a great personality reader.” He also stated to the News, “Detroit is home for me. It’s not something you experience for as long as I did and not call it home. In my mind, I’ll always be a Tiger.”
There you have it, folks…. Any way you slice it, though, the fan was in the wrong, and I’m glad he got tossed without anyone getting hurt. Best of luck in your rehab, Brandon.
Photo courtesy of the Detroit News
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
Former West Michigan Whitecap and Detroit Tiger Brandon Inge was looking for a new home this coming season. Looks like his ship has found port in Pittsburgh with the Pirates. He has signed a minor league contract with the Pirates with an invitation to major league spring training. Inge’s season was cut short in 2012 with a right shoulder injury which needed surgery. Splitting the season between Detroit and Oakland, he had a .658 on base percentage and 12 home runs. Inge has much versatility, playing third, second, and every outfield position in his major league career. He’s had many games as catcher, too, but hasn’t been behind the plate since 2008. If he makes the Pirate roster, it will most likely be at second base or as a utility player. He could also be assigned to the Indianapolis Indians, and play in one of my favorite ballparks, Victory Field. Inge played for the Whitecaps way back in 1999, batting .244, with 9 home runs, 46 RBI’s, and swiping 15 bases. I still think that when his playing days are done, he’ll be back in the Tigers system as a coach, hopefully in West Michigan.
Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press/MLive.com
Last Monday the West Michigan Whitecaps’ season came to an end. Also coming to an end, was Ernie Young’s tenure as the ‘Caps manager, as he was notified after the game by the Detroit Tigers organization that his contract won’t be renewed. This news he handled with class, and kept to himself, until he was back home in Arizona the next day.
“They’re not going to renew my contract for next year,” Young stated to MLive.com over the phone. “I knew yesterday, I just didn’t tell anyone. They gave a reason (but Young did not state the reason). There are going to be some changes, but that’s the only one that I can tell you about. I can’t speak to or for anyone else.”
The ‘Caps went 72-68 this season, and 70-69 in 2011. Unfortunelty, they missed the playoffs both years even with winning records. At this point it’s unknown whether pitching coach Mark Johnson or hitting coach Scott Dwyer will be brought back, but both did their job well. Coaching in the minors is a tough gig, but I thought Young has done a pretty good job. Last season with top prospect Nick Castellanos struggling out of the gate, the coaching staff helped him turn his season around and lead the league in hits. West Michigan struggled at times this season more due to injuries than anything else. They lost power hitters Steven Moya and Dean Green to injuries, then a promotion to Green. They also lost catcher Curt Casali when he was promoted. Young is a former manager of the Class-A Kannapolis Intimidators in 2009-10. The 2009 team lead the South Atlantic League with a 82-57 record. He has also served as hitting coach for Great Falls in the Pioneer League in 2008 following his Major League career that included eight seasons with Oakland. His 142 wins is fifth all-time for the Whitecaps. He seems positive he’ll land with a new team, though.
“I’ll redo my resume’ tonight and tomorrow and get it out to the other teams and go from there”, Young said. “I’ll bounce back and I’ll be on my feet. I’ll tell you what, I enjoyed my time in West Michigan. The fans were great to me. I don’t have anything to be upset about because I know how hard I worked and what I gave to the organization.”
I wish Young all the best, as I think that he did well the last two seasons in West Michigan. Now, I guess, is the time to try to guess who the new manager will be, although we may not get an answer for several months. Back in February, I wrote that I thought that former Tigers infielder Brandon Inge would be a perfect fit in West Michigan. Some of my reasons included his 12 year stint with Detroit, and owner Mike Illitch’s reputation for taking care of his loyal players, and the fact that Inge still lives in Michigan and has his family here. His experience at various positions and the fact that his playing career may be coming to and are other factors. In fact, this season for Inge has already come to an end due to injury. Now, also playing for the Oakland A’s, Inge suffered a season ending shoulder injury on the first of the month. He originally dislocated it on August 11, and had just come off the DL when he injured it again.
“My damn shoulder came out again,” Inge told the Sporting News. “I gave it my best shot. I knew it was going to be rough coming into it. In a year like this, you don’t leave anything on the table. I literally gave everything I had to offer to this team. And I’m at peace with it.”
He also stated he was in pain before the re-injury, but wanted to help the A’s in their playoff push. In 74 games with Oakland, he hit .266 with 11 home runs and 52 RBI’s. Inge was brought in last April when fellow Whitecaps alumni Scott Sizemore went down with a season ending injury of his own. If Sizemore is good to go by next season, it will be unlikely that Inge’s contract will be picked back up, and courting a new time at this point in his career could prove difficult. Now, I like Brandon Inge, I really do. I love the fact that he wants to compete and contribute to his team, and I respect the hell out of that. At this point in his life, though, it may be time for a change. A job with the Whitecaps would put him very close to his family, and give him a stable environment. Inge is still very popular in West Michigan and has said nothing but good things about playing there. I’m sure if the Whitecaps themselves had a say in it, he might be a top candidate. It’s the Tigers organization, however, that will make that call. Honesty, I don’t see any other reason that Young would get the axe unless they really had someone else lined up to replace him. Hitting coach Scott Dwyer has head coaching experience, so he would be a solid candidate to get promoted also, with maybe Inge taking his job. If any of these bold predictions do come to pass, however, remember you read it here first: http://burrilltalksbaseball.mlblogs.com/2012/02/12/the-future-of-brandon-inge/
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
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
Well, I’ve had a few days to mull this over…after the inevitable happened to (former) Tigers‘ third baseman and mainstay, Brandon Inge. I really don’t think any other player has had this love/hate relationship with fans as he does. Detroit faithful either love him, or call for his head on a platter. Very few seem to be in between. From a business standpoint, the Tigers organization had to do this, and with the majority of the fans leaning toward the ‘hate’ side, it was the right time. I give the Tigers credit, though, as they really gave him every chance this season to play and be effective. After going 2-20 (.100), it was apparent that he just wasn’t going to be the hitter he was during is All-Star year in 2009. In fact, he hasn’t done much since then. I also think that the Tigers are giving him a chance by releasing him. Giving him a chance to maybe catch lighting in a bottle somewhere else, and if that doesn’t happen, then he’ll be welcomed back into the organization in some capacity. I wrote a post back in February on why he’d make a fine Minor League coach, and would probably be in Toledo or West Michigan do to their proximity to Detroit, where Inge and his family live year round. That can be found here: http://burrilltalksbaseball.mlblogs.com/2012/02/12/the-future-of-brandon-inge/
Now, it looks like he’ll get his chance as a member other of the Oakland Athletics, who reportedly signed him yesterday. He’ll be patrolling third base as usual, ironically replacing former Tiger and Whitecap Scott Sizemore, who is out for the season with a torn knee ligament. If things don’t work out for him playing ‘moneyball’ on Oakland, I’m still believe that Tigers’ owner Mike Illitch will find a place for him in the organization somewhere. He’s a great owner, who is very loyal to players loyal to his teams. And Inge is the longest tenured Tiger since Alan Trammel and Lou Whitaker…
Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press
I’ve been mulling over this topic for a while, now, so I thought I might as well vent my feelings on the subject. Brandon Inge continues to be a sensitive topic for Detroit Tiger fans, and has become a player that some simply love, hate, or love to hate. I like Brandon Inge, I really do, and would like nothing more than to see him succeed and have a very productive MLB career. The fact is however, he batted .197 last season and is a career .235 hitter. So… I can understand why fans have a problem with him making $5.5 million a year this season, when it’s not even a ‘gimme’ that he’ll make the Major League roster. I think he will, though, and we’ll find out here in a few short weeks if all of the work he’s done in the offseason will pay off. The signing of Prince Fielder didn’t help Inge’s case, either, with Miguel Cabrera now being moved back to his old position at third. A bit of deja’ vu, as Inge went through this before when Cabrera was originally signed, and even back when the Tigers got Pudge Rodriquez who took his catching position. Tigers manager Jim Leyland really didn’t help matter either, by stating at the Prince press conference that Inge “isn’t the happiest camper”. I guess he could have put a positive spin on it, or not really mentioned Inge at all. All this does is give the media a chance to open up a Pandora’s Box of Inge bashing, without him even making a statement himself. I really think that I can step back and see both sides. I can see how fans may have a problem with Inge’s average and salary, but how can you blame a guy for just wanting to play? I don’t see what’s wrong with a guy stating that he wants to work hard enough and play well enough to earn a starting position. I would like to think that Cabrera will be the DH much of the time, with him being gradually inserted into the hot corner throughout the season. Inge’s defense is enough to at least earn him a spot on the bench, but if he can out-hit Don Kelly in spring training, he could see plenty of starts at third until Miggy gets used to third base again. Leyland stated that he wants Inge on the team, but he’ll have to accept the position as a reserve player, which isn’t bad considering he doesn’t have many options. It’s doubtful that any other team will pick him up with his salary, unless Detroit eats most of it. Last season he was demoted to Triple-A Toledo, and stated he didn’t want to play anywhere else but Detroit. When he was called back up to the Tigers and hit a home-run in his first at bat, you would have thought they won the Series. Despite all of the haters, many fans still like Inge, and would like to see him stay. Even GM Dave Dombrowski seems positive about Inge’s contribution to the Tigers in 2012 stating, “Probably the best thing is to let him come to spring training, let him play well, and let’s see what happens from there. He’s still an important part of our club at this point. ”
Now we come to the impass on how well the 2012 season goes for him, though. This is the last year of his contract, but even if he plays well enough, it’s doubtful that he’ll get more than a one year deal, and with Victor Martinez returning to the DH spot next season, the hot corner will be completely owned by Cabrera. They also have Nick Castellanos being groomed in the Minors and should be big league really in a few seasons, though they may move him to the outfield. With 2013 not looking like there will be a place for him, I do have a suggestion….I’d like to see Inge get into coaching. Hear me out…please. This is what Inge needs to do in 2012: work hard, don’t get caught by the press bad mouthing the organization, no matter how much he plays, or doesn’t play. The fact is, that Mike Illitch is one of the best owners in pro sports, and does a good job of taking care of players who are loyal to him. Look at all he’s done for some of the Red Wings alumni like Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Chris Chelios, and Chris Osgood. They all have pretty nice cushy jobs within the organization. Inge has been in Detroit longer than any other Tiger on the roster, and if he plays his cards right, could still be employed by the organization when his playing days are done. Granted he’s only 34, but is he starts coaching at 35-36, he could still be able to relate to the younger players. The fact that he’s played so many positions in at catcher, infield, and outfield, will also help his case. Just because he’s a career .235 hitter doesn’t mean he can’t be an effective hitting coach, either. Many players who don’t even have much of a Major League career have had success in coaching, including Leyland himself. I think Inge’s attitude would go long way in his coaching career, and could even lead to a manager job. Where else would I like to see him coach, also, than West Michigan? Inge lives in metro Detroit year round, and moving to Grand Rapids wouldn’t be much of a change for him. He’s also one of the most popular players to ever play for the Whitecaps and the crowds at Fifth Third Ballpark are riddled with Inge jerseys/shirts (though Brennan Boesch is starting to give him a run for his money). He also was part of the inaugural class of the Whitecaps Hall of Fame. Inge has only good things to say about his time in West Michigan, too. During a rehab game in 2010 he stated to the Grand Rapids Press, “I love it here, I really do. It’s kind of the starting point for me. This was the first full season I had in the Minor Leagues. This place produces great ball players, and it’s the first place you go to where you have larger crowds. People are very loyal here-the most loyal I’ve ever seen.” It seems like the Whitecaps are a perfect fit for Inge’s post-playing career. His alpha and omega….
Duane Below makes MLB debut with the Tigers
Everyone loves a ‘local boy makes good’ story, so this should make some readers ecstatic. Britton, Michigan native Duane Below made his Major League debut Wednesday night against the Oakland A’s at Comerica Park, about an hour away from his home town. The Tigers lost 7-5, but Below pitched well in his first game and gave his team a chance to win. He threw five innings, giving up three runs on five hits, but only one run was earned. He also had two strike outs in the game. Below seemed pleased with his performance, though.
“It’s nice, it’s exciting,” Below told MLB.com. “[I was] just trying to continue to feel it out and feel what I have to do to get better. I’m still kind of nervous a little bit, I’m still excited, not sure how to take it, because it’s still settling in. It’s a dream. Hopefully I can continue to stay here and help the team win.”
I love it when players sound like little kids when their dreams come true. We were lucky enough to see Below pitch when he was with the Whitecaps back in 2007. The game was a sell-out at the time, with a local boy on the mound, and the ‘Caps picking up an 8-4 win over visiting Fort Wayne. Below also pitched five innings in that game and gave up one run. He posted a 2.97 ERA with West Michigan in 2007, and had a record of 13-5. He was named the Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year and the Whitecaps Pitcher of the Year after leading the Midwest League in strikeouts with 160 in 2007. I was able to scrounge up a couple of pics from that game before my MLBlog days, but nothing real good of Below.
Cruz traded to Kansas City Royals
Now-former Whitecaps pitcher Antonio Cruz was traded to the Kansas City Royals yesterday, in a deal that brought infielder Wilson Betemit to the Tigers. Lucky for Cruz, the Whitecaps were hosting KC affiliate Kane County Cougars, so he just walked across the field to his new dugout and team. He first joined the ‘Caps as an 18-yr-old in 2010, going 2-0 with a 2.79 ERA during ten late season relief appearances. This season, the left-handed hurler was 2-6 with a 3.11 ERA. At the beginning of the season he was a starter, but was moved to the bullpen to limit his innings pitched.
With the acquisition of Betemit, former Whitecap and Tigers staple third baseman Brandon Inge has been designated for assignment and has reported to the Triple A Toledo MudHens. He needs to clear waivers next Monday, but Inge can’t really picture himself playing anywhere but Detroit.
“I could’ve made the decision not to accept the assignment, and maybe get picked up by another team,” Inge stated. “But i live here, my kids go to school around here, I’ve made this home. I still feel, no matter what happens–and no matter what will ever happen–that this is home for me. I’ve spent so many years here, and still plan on spending a lot more here. Everyone goes through rough patches in their career. This is definitely on of them. But I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason, and I opted not to push them into making a decision where they could release me.”
Inge is a fan favorite, and one of my favorites, but this had to be done. I wish him the best, and hope he can turn things around.
Below photo courtesy of Joel Dinda/mwlguide
Whitecaps game photo property of M.I.B.
Cruz photo courtesy of Emily Jones/MiLB