The dream season has come to an end for the West Michigan Whitecaps. With a year starting with a fire to Fifth Third Ballpark in January, it would have been a nice story book ending for them to take home the Midwest League crown. Despite falling in the first round to the Fort Wayne TinCaps, in controversial fashion, the ‘Caps still had a stellar season filled with more highs than lows.
Game one of the playoffs saw the Whitecaps and TinCaps tied at five all in the bottom of the eighth innings. With the TinCaps having the bases loaded and nobody out, a ground ball was hit to short stop Domingo Leyba, who was interfered with and couldn’t make the play. Despite the rule clearly stating that the base runner must avoid the defensive player fielding the ball, the umpires let the play stand, and Fort Wayne won by the score of 7-5. In game two in Comstock Park, the Whitecaps used their pitching staff to strike out 15 batters in route to a 2-1 victory. Bennett Pickar’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh inning scored Dominic Ficociello for the go ahead run. Zac Reininger earned the win, working 2.1 shutout innings. In the deciding game three, the Whitecaps fell by the score of 6-2 to be eliminated. After the one hour and 44 minute rain delay, the ‘Caps just couldn’t get anything going.
Despite the early playoff exit, this season has to be regarded as a success. After all, with a 82-58 record this was the Whitecaps first division title in seven years, and it was a positive step just to be back in the playoffs. The ‘Caps also hosted the MWL 50th All-Star Classic that was a huge success, and the early construction to the ballpark didn’t keep fans away, as 391, 653 fans visited Fifth Third Ballpark, good for the largest total since 2002. Wynton Bernard was also the first ‘Cap to be named the MWL Player of the Year since Gorkys Hernandez in 2007. Bernard was also the first batting champion since Robert Fick in 1997, and broke the Whitecaps single-season hit record with 158. He was joined on he post season All-Star team by pitchers Buck Farmer and Kevin Ziomek. New manager Andrew Graham did a great job in West Michigan this season, and I’m looking forward to see how he progresses as a manager as well as the progression of this seasons players through the system. I will certainly miss visiting Fifth Third Ballpark, and can’t wait until next April. The winters are so long and brutal up here, the only way to pass the time is dream about sunshine and baseball!
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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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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.
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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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West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Beloit Snappers (Midwest League)
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Well, this was our first ballgame of the season, and the Michigan weather treated us about as well as can be expected. I want to make a statement, too, that I loathe the Weather Channel. They are complete liars, and I will never trust them again. Never. Despite what mother nature through at us, though, we had a fun time together at the Whitecaps game, and I still was happy just to be watching live baseball. The kids had a fun time, and the game was part of their Papa’s birthday present. I was still impressed at how good Fifth Third Ballpark looked after the fire in January, too. They did a good job of rebuilding it and getting it ready for the season. We settled in and grabbed some hot dogs and pop for the kids, and a beer for my dad and I. The boys and I went down to the field level to watch pitching coach Mike Henneman work with some of the staff, and see some of the warm-ups. The game was off to a good pace with lots of action early on. I really like how Andrew Graham is working this team; lots of movement on the base paths, bunting, and smart baseball. Lily took Brian to the park for a short time, and he was able to meet the new mascot, Roxy, a female River Rascal. The rain hit us about the third inning, but we toughed it out until the tarp came out after the top of the fifth.
The game was a good one for the Whitecaps, as they produced four runs before the delay, and four after for the win. The ‘Caps racked up a season high 15 hits to go along with the season high of eight runs. Raph Rhymes led the way offensively, going 3-5 with two RBI. He was helped out by both Brett Harrison and Wynton Bernard who were each 3-4. Javier Betencourt was 2-4 with and RBI, and Ben Verlander was 2-5 to pitch in, also. On the mound, Buck Farmer earned the win, only giving up one run, striking out six, and issuing one walk. He pitched himself out of trouble at times, leaving the bases loaded in the first inning, and eight Snappers runners on base. Montreal Robertson and Will LaMarche kept Beloit in check the rest of the game. A good outing, and good work by this team all around. It will be interesting to see which players make the All-Star squad here in June, as there are a handful of candidates so far in the early going. We had planned on maybe hitting a Great Lakes Loons game, also, while down state, but the Weather Channel stated it would be raining all day (they ended up playing a double-header on a beautiful day…). We’ll see the Whitecaps again early next month down in Lansing as they take on the Lugnuts. Final Score: Whitecaps 8, Snappers 1.
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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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