The Future is now for West Michigan Alumni

Two players from the Detroit Tigers organization have been chosen to play in the 14th Annual Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game this season, held at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Third-baseman Nick Castellanos and pitcher Bruce Rondon, both of whom also played for the West Michigan Whitecaps in 2011. Castellanos seemed to be an easy pick for the U.S. roster, as he’s currently one of the best hitters in Minor League baseball. With Class-A Lakeland, he was hitting .405 with 17 doubles, three triples, three homers, and has knocked in 32 RBI’s. Since being promoted to Double-A Erie on June 5, he was batting just .225 until he finally found his swing this week in a game against the Bowie Bay Sox. He went 3-4 in the game with three RBI’s, and was just a single away from hitting for the cycle.

“This season, this game is up there, definitely in the top five. It’s my first game with three extra-base hits. I drove some balls the opposite way pretty well and I got my swing back. I wasn’t being myself for a few games,” Castellanos told For him, every level has been somewhat of an adjustment. “It’s still a transition. The pitchers are very consistent with what they do so you have to battle every at bat. I really don’t believe in mechanical changes. I believe in my swing and I think it works, so if things are not going well I watch video because it is almost always because of my timing.”

Castellanos, only 20 years old, was Detroit’s top draft pick in 2010. With the Whitecaps in ’11, he hit .312 with 36 doubles, seven home runs, and 76 RBI’s. He’s probably Detroit’s top hitting prospect right now, but as a third baseman, I’m not sure where they plan on putting him in a couple of years if he makes the Tigers’ roster.

In the opposite dugout of the Futures Game, will be Venezuelan born relief pitcher Bruce Rondon. This flame-thrower has hit 100+ mph on the radar gun a few times this season already. With Lakeland he picked up 15 saves in 22 appearances this season. He’s struck out 34 hitters in over 23 innings of work, while only allowing 12 hits. He was promoted to the Seawolves at the same time as Castellanos, and picked up his first Double-A save this week, also, hitting the 101 mark while striking out the side. Last season with the ‘Caps, Rondon went 2-2 with 19 saves, with an impressive 2.03 ERA. If he stays healthy, he’ll be a huge addition to the Tigers bullpen in a couple of years.

Photos property of Minoring In Baseball

Whitecaps Update: 2011 Mid-Season Report

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

Hurray for Opening Day

opening day 004.jpgHeading downstate, I wasn’t very optimistic about this game actually taking place, as all the weather reports called for thunder storms. The baseball gods must have felt generous, though, and after the first three games of the season were postponed from Lansing, the Whitecaps and Lugnuts were finally able to kick the season off in Comstock Park. The sun was shining as I packed the kids kid in the car. The boys stayed back at my sisters due to illness, so I got to spend the day at the ball park with my favorite girl (my daughter, not Avril Lavigne). The weather was sunny as we played catch in the parking lot before the gates opened at 11:00 a.m. When we were finally let into the ball park our sences were overloaded with the smells of popcorn, hot dogs, and freshly cut grass as we recieved out free hats and found our seats. Lily played at the park for a bit before we got in line for autographs on the field at 12:15 p.m. They only allowed about fifteen minutes on the field, so we had to hustle to get her baseball and cards signed. Lily did get to meet the Tigers number two prospect Nick Castellanos and former Major Leaguers Ben Oglivie and Ernie Young. The rest of the day was perfect for baseball, topping low 80’s (a record high for the ‘Caps openers) with a nice breeze for us to enjoy the action.

The game itself was a real pitchers duel, with the Whitecaps winning 13-12 with a walk-off hit in the ninth. Trailing 12-7, they scored the last six runs of the game for the win. West Michigan battled back with a seventh inning two-run homer by Luis Castillo, and a three-run shot by James Robbins to even the score in inning eight. In the ninth inning, Dixon Machado stole second and scored the winning run on a two-out base hit by Rob Brantly. Machado was 4-5 on the day with a stolen base and three runs scored. Brantley went 2-4 with the home run and a two-run double. Bruce Rondon came on in the ninth to close the door and earn the win.

I simply can’t wait for the next ball game we can make it too. Just another month until our trip in May, which will include a Whitecaps game, too.

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opening day 017.jpgPhotos property of M.I.B.