Logo of the Month: 50th Midwest League All-Star Classic

allstarclassic2014 Location: Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI

I kind of went off the beaten path the Logo of the Month on this one. It is such a cool logo, though, I just had to feature it. Tickets for the 50th Midwest League All-Star Classic that will take place just north of Grand Rapids, go on sale on March 4th, with the game itself scheduled for June 17th. This will be a great way to kick off our baseball trip for sure. Grand Rapids boasts the name ‘Beer City, USA’, after winning an online poll for two years in a row. Fifth Third Ballpark also host the annual Michigan Brewer’s Guilds Winter Beer Fest in February, with many local breweries at the event. This is the third time in history that the Whitecaps have hosted the All-Star Classic, the other years being 1995 and 2003. Last season, Whitecaps’ second baseman Devon Travis won the Most Valuable Player award. Deik Scram also won that award in 2007 for his all-star game performance. Four current Detroit Tigers’ players have represented the Whitecaps in the past, including Ramon Santiago (2000), Don Kelly (2002), Hernan Perez (2011). and Bruce Rondon (2011). Miguel Cabrera participated during the 2001 season, representing the Kane County Cougars. Other notable MWL alumni to play in the all-star game are Mike Trout in 2010 (Cedar Rapids), Clayton Kershaw in 2007 (Great Lakes), Prince Fielder in 2003 (Beloit), and Wil Myers in 2010 (Burlington).

Official Midwest League Website

Lennerton to play in All-Star Futures Game

From deep in the M.I.B. archives. Jordan Lennerton with the Whitecaps back in 2009.
From deep in the M.I.B. archives. Jordan Lennerton with the Whitecaps back in 2009.

Detroit Tiger prospect, and former West Michigan Whitecap, Jordan Lennerton was named to the All-Star Futures World team. The first baseman leads the Triple-A Toledo MudHens in batting average at .311,  and on-base percentage at .416. In the last 54 games, he’s batting .332 with seven doubles, nine homers, and 21 RBI’s. Last season, Lennerton led the Double-A Erie Sea Wolves with 34 doubles, 21 home runs, and 82 RBI’s. In 2009 with the Whitecaps, he hit .282 with 12 home runs and 71 RBI’s. He split the 2010 season between West Michigan and Lakeland, but hit .290 with three home runs and 23 RBI’s in 59 games with the ‘Caps. He was named the Midwest League Player of the Week on 06/01/10. Lennerton was drafted by Detroit in the 33rd round of the 2008 draft, after completing his collegiate career at Oregon State. Lennerton was named to the World roster due to the fact he’s from British Columbia, Canada, eh. At this point he’s the only Tigers representative to the Futures Game, but may be joined by Toledo teammate Nick Castellanos. Fans can vote for the final roster spots, and Castellanos is one of the finalists. You can vote for him HERE. He was the MVP of last years Futures Game after getting three hits, scoring three runs, and three RBI’s. Fellow Detroit prospects Bruce Rondon and Rob Brantley joined him in last season’s game, also.

Photo property of Minoring In Baseball

Bruce Rondon Q & A

Here’s a question and answer segment off of MiLB.com by Andrew Pentis. There’s been much talk about Bruce Rondon this season, and he’s been under the microscope all spring. After a few shakey innings, he’s settled down in his last few outings and thrown the ball pretty well. Hopefully he keeps his off-speed pitches under contol, and really helps the Tigers out this season. Rondon pitched for the ‘Caps in 2011, with a record of 2-2 with a 2.03 ERA, 19 saves, and 61 strike-outs. Here’s the interview by Pentis:

Bruce Rondon played for the Whitecaps back in 2011
Bruce Rondon played for the Whitecaps back in 2011

The last time the Tigers started grooming a closer with 100 mph heat and a tattoo running down his forearm, things didn’t go according to plan. Joel Zumaya, who sported flames on his skin and whipped his elbow high into the air and seemingly above his cap, struck out 97 batters in 62 games as a rookie in 2006. His violent motion limited him to an average of 27 relief appearances over the next four seasons, and he hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2010.

Bruce Rondon is not Joel Zumaya.

And his style gets results. After saving 29 games with three Detroit affiliates last season — nine more than his Opening Day goal — Rondon is MLB.com’s No. 92 prospect and in his first Major League camp. If he succeeds there, few among the long-tenured Tigers will remember at all the hurler he only slightly resembles.

Thanks to Tigers official Aileen Villarreal for transcribing and then translating Rondon’s Spanish into English.

MiLB.com: How would you describe your mind-set and approach while on the mound?

Rondon: That I’m the best.

MiLB.com: Has that always been your attitude?

Rondon: Always. Every time I’m on the mound, I always think I’m the best. Off the mound, I don’t think that, but when I’m on there I have to have that mentality, that I’m the best and that I’m invincible.

MiLB.com: Your repertoire should inspire self-assuredness. Tell us about it.

Rondon: Fastball, slider and changeup. The fastball, I try to throw over 100 [mph]. The changeup is around 92-93. The slider is around 86-88. From last year ’til now, I would say I have [improved my] control. I’ve worked very hard to control them.

MiLB.com: You’re obviously known for your fastball. Were you always able to throw hard growing up or did a specific mechanical change in your career increase your velocity?

Rondon: Yes, I could always throw the ball pretty hard. Actually, they didn’t let me pitch when I was young because I threw the ball too hard. Everyone knew [I could pitch], but they wanted me to hit. [Then I was converted] into a catcher.

MiLB.com: Could you have ended up playing that position?

Rondon: Honestly, I never loved being a catcher; my love was always pitching. It was something that always inspired me, that caught my attention, that motivated me. I felt happy pitching, and it was just always what I loved. so when they asked me if I wanted to pitch I was very excited and of course said yes. [That was when] I signed with the Tigers [on Sept. 12, 2007].

MiLB.com: Before you made your way to the States, what was baseball like at home in Valencia, Venezuela?

Rondon: The crowds over there are very aggressive. It’s a little crazy, but it can be motivating because when you do well, the whole stadium gets up and cheers. On the other hand, when you don’t have a good outing, you have to know how to handle it with the crowds. The greatest thing in the world for me is when my family is able to watch me play. Sometimes I’m sad when I’m playing here and look in the stands and they’re not there. When I was growing up, I would always tell my dad that I was going to pitch professionally so that they could watch me play.

MiLB.com: How good of a hitter were you? Do you think you could have made it as a position player?

Rondon: During batting practice, I was good, but not really during the game. Maybe after practicing, I could learn, but I don’t think so.

MiLB.com: How old were you when you turned to pitching full-time?

Rondon: I was 15. [I had] never practiced. I knew I could throw, but I had to start from point zero. When they told me I was going to pitch, I was so excited that I was going to be pitching that it didn’t matter about taking the hits I was going to take. I wanted to learn, so I started with just my fastball. I didn’t have any other pitches aside from my fastball. Once I got to the Tigers, they helped me with my pitching and I have really learned a lot.

MiLB.com: What is the fastest reading you’ve registered on a radar gun?

Rondon: 104 mph — against the [Class A Advanced] Yankees at their stadium in Tampa. My teammates told me after the game. They said, “Rondon, we have some news for you.” I asked them what had happened. They told me I had thrown the ball 104. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. Then they showed me the radar gun and I said, “Wow.”

MiLB.com: Have you ever been on a team with a pitcher who threw harder than you?

Rondon: It has always been me so far.

MiLB.com: That would seem to inspire a nickname. What’s yours?

Rondon: Up to this point, I have not gotten one.

MiLB.com: Bruce doesn’t seem like it would be a popular first name in Venezuela. Where does it come from?

Rondon: My dad loves Bruce Lee. My dad wanted to name me “Bruce Lee.” My mom didn’t want the “Lee,” but she was fine with the “Bruce.”

MiLB.com: Where does your dad’s admiration for the martial arts master come from?

Rondon: He loves all the Bruce Lee movies. He always asks me to get him Bruce Lee movies from here and shirts and those kinds of things. [Lee] was big for him because he made it to the United States by himself. My dad would always tell me that I would make it to the United States by myself and I was going to accomplish big things … and here I am now. Things have happened where I think, “Wow, my dad was right.”

MiLB.com: So your name works on a couple different levels …

Rondon: Maybe he chose that name became [Lee] never lost faith. I would always tell him that I loved baseball and he’d tell me, “Son, you have to work a lot and work hard because it will be very difficult for you to be in the United States by yourself.” I didn’t believe him because I was young, but everything that he told me was true. Sometimes [now] my family will call me and tell me, “Son, you came out in the newspaper next to Miguel [Cabrera],” and I tell them sometimes, “I’m next to him and can’t even believe it.”

MiLB.com: What would it mean for your family back in Venezuela if you make a Major League Opening Day roster?

Rondon: I’ll tell you this, they probably wouldn’t sleep the night before. They really wouldn’t sleep because that’s what they’ve been waiting for. If [the Tigers] tell me I’m making it, I probably won’t sleep that night, either, from thinking about it so much. Thinking to myself, “Wow, it’s me — I’m the closer.” It would really be something special if they gave me that news, like a dream come true.

MiLB.com: Do you notice a different feel to the ninth inning, compared with pitching in the seventh or eighth inning?

Rondon: Honestly, I don’t like throwing in the fifth, sixth, seventh innings. It just isn’t the same attention, it’s not the same adrenaline. When you come out in the ninth inning, people are waiting for the ninth inning. People are thinking, “Wow, there comes the closer.” And that is what motivates me, what gets me going.

Photos courtesy of MLive.com/MiLB.com

Formers on the 40-man

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.

Photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps

Rondon closing in on Detroit

Whitecaps alum Bruce Rondon will be competing for the Tigers closer role this spring.

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.

Photo courtesy of MLive.com

Whitecaps Update: It’s all in the cards

Fifth-Third Ballparks’ outfield during the ‘Aces in the Outfield’ promotion

The Standings: The West Michigan Whitecaps are still treading water in the Midwest League Eastern Division, but are sinking a bit. They are currently 21-22 in the second half, and are six games out of first place. They hit a little speed bump with a five-game losing streak, but have bounced back and won two games in a row from the talented Lansing LugNuts, 7-1 and 6-3, who ran away with the first half title. Manager Ernie Young, though,  will have to have some Aces up his sleeve, if the ‘Caps are going to capture a playoff spot this season…

Ferrell Honored: Whitecaps pitcher Jeff Ferrell has been named the Midwest League Pitcher of the Week for July 30-August 5. Ferrell had an extremely impressive showing against the Lake County Captains last week in the ‘Caps 6-0 shut-out win. He retired all of the 21 batters he faced before being taken out of the game after seven perfect innings of work. His outing included 11 ground-outs and six strikeouts in 79 pitches, and gave up only three hits. Ferrell, just 21 years old, underwent Tommy John surgery just 14 months ago. He started the 2011 campaign with the Whitecaps, before injury his elbow that led to the surgery. He missed the rest of last season and the start of this season, before joining West Michigan in May. So far, he has a 4-4 record with a 4.42 ERA, with 60 strikeouts, and holding the opposition to a .209 batting average. Ferrell is a native of Wilmington, North Carolina and a 26th round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers.

Fifth-Third one of fifth best: The Whitecaps home, Fifth-Third Ballpark, was mentioned as one of five Minor League ballparks on the Fox News website recently. The story titled ‘Five Minor League Baseball Parks You Have To Visit’, stated that the stadium in Comstock Park, Michigan has the best food for baseball fans. The Fifth-Third Burger certainly still packs a mighty punch. The story can be found here: http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2012/08/01/five-minor-league-baseball-parks-have-to-visit/?intcmp=features

MudHen Marathon: The Tigers Triple-A affiliate in the International League, the Toledo MudHens suffered a  tough 10-9 loss Monday night to the Rochester Red Wings. One-run losses are always hard to swallow, especially when they are in extra innings….19 innings to be exact. The contest took over 6 1/2 hours to compete, and featured plenty of former Whitecaps. For the Red Wings, Clete Thomas  went 2-8 with a walk and two runs scored. Wilkin Ramirez was 4-9 with a double, run scored, and an RBI. Pitcher Luke French threw for 3.1 innings, giving up two hits and five strikeouts. For the MudHens, Andy Oliver pitched 2.0 innings giving up one hit and striking out 3. Luis Marte gave up one hit, but was burned for two runs in just 0.1 innings. Luke Putkonen pitched five innings, giving up four hits, no runs, and striking out three. Jose Ortega threw for 2.0 innings giving up six hits and three runs.

Former West Michigan Whitecap and Detroit Tiger Clete Thomas.

Rond-on the move: Former Whitecaps pitcher Bruce Rondon has been promoted from the Double-A Erie Seawolves to Toledo. He fills a spot after on of the MudHens’ pitchers was injured in the 19-inning loss. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski stated that he believes that he’s ready for the Triple-A level, though. Rondon started the season at Lakeland, going 1-0, with a 1.93 ERA, with 15 saves, and 34 strikeouts. With Erie, he was 0-1 with a 0.83 ERA, with 12 saves on 23 strikeouts. He struggled with his control last season with West Michigan, issuing 7.6 walks per nine innings, but his walk-to-strikeout ratio this season is 3.8.

Fifth-Third Ballpark photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps

Ferrell photo courtesy of MLive.com

Thomas photo property of Minoring In Baseball

Castellanos named All-Star Futures Game MVP

Former Whitecaps re-unite, as Rob Brantly high-fives Nick Castellanos after his three-run homer in the All-Star Futures Game Sunday night.

Kauffman Stadium-Kansas City, MO: Nick Castellanos has been the Tigers top positional prospect ever since he was drafted by Detroit in the first round of the 2010 Draft 44th overall. He seems to be doing his best in keeping up with the Motor City’s expectations, as seen last night at the All-Star Futures Game. Castellanos went 3-4 including a three-run homer, three runs scored, and three RBI’s. He was awarded the honor of being named the games’ MVP for his efforts. The 20-yr-old prospect from Florida kicked off a nine-run sixth inning with a single before being hit home by fellow Tiger’s prospect (and former Whitecap) Rob Brantly. Castellanos would bat a second time in the inning for Team USA, this time taking a high fast-ball deep into center field almost 406 feet! The U.S. team defeated the World team in a 17-5 blowout.

“I think I gave a couple of fist pumps rounding second, and I remember saying to myself, ‘That’s huge. That’s awesome.” Castellanos stated to MLB.com. “It was a great at bat. The pitcher pitched me really well. I worked a 3-2 count and he left, I think, a two-seamer that got in. And I was able to get the good part of the bat on it and it got enough to get out. That at-bat’s definitely up there with the greatest at-bats I’ve had in pro ball.” Also, on his bat going to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, he stated:

“The bat’s probably the coolest thing ever. That’s right up there with playing in this game. I don’t even think I’ve taken that in yet, that the bat I used is going to Cooperstown. I went to Cooperstown when I was 12 for a tournament and I was just walking around. The names that are in Cooperstown and that my bat’s going to Cooperstown, saying that out loud is pretty cool. …”

He is currently hitting .307 for the Double-A Erie Seawolves, and was hitting. 405 with the Lakeland Flying Tigers before his promotion. Last season in West Michigan, Nick hit .312 with 36 doubles, seven home-runs, and 76 RBI’s.

Brantly was also a 2010 draftee of the Tigers, and played with Castellanos most of last season with the Whitecaps before being promoted to Lakeland. He was a late injury replacement to the U.S. team, but contributed to the victory both offensively and defensively. He went 1-3 with an RBI after entering the game in the fifth inning. He also gunned down a steal attempt in the fifth inning. So far in this 2012 season, he has split time between Double-A Erie and the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens. Combined, he is hitting .300 with 19 doubles, three home runs, and 29 RBI’s. Last season with the ‘Caps, he batted .303, adding 16 doubles, seven home runs, and 44 RBI’s.

Rob Brantly at bat for the Whitecaps last season during Military Night

Getting lost in the World team pitching suffle, is Tigers prospect and former Whitecap Bruce Rondon. The Venezuelan born reliever pitched one inning in the Futures All-Star Game, pitching a scoreless inning in the eighth. He also hit the 102 mph mark on the radar gun…. Rondon was also split time this season, between Class-A Lakeland, where he was named to the Florida State League All-Star team,  and Double-A Erie. He is 1-0 this season, with a 1.38 ERA, 23 saves, and 45 strike-outs. Last season in West Michigan, he went 2-2, with a 2.02 ERA, 19 saves, and 61 K’s.  

Brantly stated to MLB.com about the possibility of facing Rondon in the Future’s Game:

“I think everybody was thinking about that at the beginning of the game. I don’t know if you guys saw the radar gun there, he didn’t throw anything below 101. Guys were coming out of their shoes early. They were looking forward to getting out of the box — single, home run, whatever. He pounded the zone, so kudos to him. I’m proud of him.”

I think it’s pretty cool that they all played together most of last season, and were able to share the experience of this game. Hopefully they’ll all be on the Tigers roster together in a few years. Sorry, no pic of Bruce, though…

Top photo courtesy of the Associated Press

Bottom photos property of  Minoring In Baseball