West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Peoria Chiefs (Midwest League)
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: I had the night off from work, rare for a Thursday, so I decided to take the boys downstate for a ballgame for my birthday. What can be better than a birthday at the ballpark with family, right? When we got to the ballpark, the team had a dunk tank out front, so this gave the boys a chance to show off their arms a bit and dunking a couple of the Whitecaps players.
The giveaway was an Oyo (like Lego?) figure of Whitecaps outfielder Ben Verlander (now with the Connecticut Tigers). Brian loved this, and had to get one put together right away with a little help from his Papa. The kid is starting to become a master builder, if there ever was one!
As a birthday bonus, the Fox Sports Detroit Girls were on hand to mingle with fans, also. They were nice enough to sign a baseball for my birthday and Trevor had his picture taken with them. The boys had their hats signed, but Brian was too shy for a picture. Stephanie and Angela each threw out a first pitch, too.
And finally on to some baseball! The game itself, though, only lasted just over six hours, with the pitching leading the way. For West Michigan, Jonathon Crawford threw five solid innings, giving up one earned run, one walk, one strikeout, and giving up only four hits. Will LaMarche came in to pitch three innings, striking out three, and only giving up one hit. Scott Sitz earned the save by pitching a scoreless ninth. Dominic Ficociello led the way offensively, going 3-4 with three runs scored and two doubles. Francisco Contreras was 1-3 with two RBIs, while shortstop Willy Adames knocked in a run, also. Catcher Grayson Greiner added two hits in the game as well. It’s always good to have the Whitecaps win, especially on my birthday. I hope my schedule works out so we can make it back down this way and see them in the playoffs. This was a great birthday at the ballpark, and I’m very blessed and lucky to have spent the day with my boys and dad. We need to drag Lily down to another game this summer, though. Final: Whitecaps 3, Chiefs 1.
Here’s a video:
Photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball
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!
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
With Andrew Graham’s promotion from the Connecticut Tigers to the Whitecaps, the Detroit organization had another spot to fill. The Tigers filled that spot with another former catcher who played in West Michigan, with Mike Rabelo. He spent 2011 as hitting coach for the Gulf Coast League Tigers, and 2012-13 in the same position for Connecticut. Rabelo was drafted by Detroit in 2001, spending the 2006-07 seasons with the big club. He started out his minor league career with the Oneonta Tigers of the New York-Penn League in 2001, before they relocated to Connecticut. In the first of two season with the Whitecaps in 2002, he hit .195 with 41 RBI’s. In 2003, Rabelo improved to hit .274 with 40 RBI’s, and 16 doubles. It’s always fun to watch former players move up the ranks in the coaching department, too.
“I’m extremely excited for the opportunity to take the next step with a great organization like the Tigers,” Rabelo stated to MiLB.com. “We have a tremendous staff in place in Connecticut with Mark Johnson, Scott Dwyer, and Randy Brunner. I speak for all of them when I say we can’t wait to get started and play under the lights at Dodd Stadium in front of our fans. I wish the season started tomorrow.”
Johnson with serve as the teams pitching coach, as he did last season. He spent the 2008-12 seasons as pitching coach for the Whitecaps. Johnson pitched in the majors for nine seasons, including a stint with the Tigers. Scott Dwyer, who was the hitting coach in West Michigan just last season, will take Rabelo’s old job in Connecticut. They seem to have a very good staff lined up for the C-Tigs this season, that the Detroit organization seems to have some confidence in.
Stated the Tigers Director of Player Development Dave Owen: “Mike Rabelo is a talented young man with a very good baseball mind. He has done a great job as hitting coach and we are confident in his ability as he moves into his role as manager.”
We wish the Connecticut Tigers and Rabelo all the best this coming season. After all, they will be mentoring some future Whitecaps in the coming years for sure.
Photo courtesy of the Connecticut Tigers
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 2013 baseball season is starting to look a little brighter for us Whitecaps fans, as Larry Parrish was officially assigned to manage the team yesterday. It seems his managing career is coming full circle, though, after managing in the bigs and at the Triple-A level, he’s back in Class A baseball where he started. Parrish’s last job was the hitting coach for the Atlanta Braves, but took off the 2012 season after he was let go in 2011. Lucky he was still available when the Tigers organization called with the West Michigan job offer.
“The Tigers called to give me an opportunity and, for me, I really enjoy the minor leagues and the teaching aspect of it,” Parrish stated in a press release. “I talked to a couple of other clubs, but I’m comfortable with the Tigers. I was with the organization for a long time and was treated well, so it was a feeling coming back to work with your family.”
Parrish started his career with the Tigers organization back in 1992, taking the helm of the Class-A SS Niagara Falls Rapids, leading the team to a NY-Penn League championship. He worked as a roving minor league hitting instructor for three seasons before being assigned to the Double-A Jacksonville Suns in 1996. He also took the Suns to a Southern League championship. A year later, he was in the bigs, as the bench coach in Detroit. He took over the reigns as manager half-way though the 1998 season after Buddy Bell was relieved of duty. He had the privilege of managing the Tigers in their last year in historic Tigers Stadium in 1999, also. He also worked as a scout for the Tigers until he took over as manager of their Triple-A affiliate Toledo Mud Hens in 2003. He was named Minor League Manager of the Year in 2005 by the Sporting News after leading the Hens to the International League championship, a feat he repeated in 2006. Parrish named that Governor’s Cup championship is his favorite coaching achievement, also.
“I would think winning the championship in Toledo after they hadn’t won it in like 40 years. That was neat for the people there and to be a part of it. It’s always nice to win, ” he stated, but also recognizes the differences between the Triple-A and Class-A levels. “There you have guys who’ve either played in the big leagues a little bit or have gone though the system. At the A-ball level, you have to have more patience. They’re going to have some great games and they’re going to have games where you go ‘Oh, Lord’. But that’s part of it. But, to me, being able to coach and hopefully teach will have an impact. Experience-wise, having played and coached in the big leagues, I know what it takes to have to play at that level. That’s the whole idea.”
Parrish has visited the Grand Rapids area in the past after surgery in 2007 and was doing some roving instruction. He was very impressed with the stadium and fan support of the Whitecaps. The Tigers director of minor league operations is very pleased with their selection, also. As far as the rest of the Whitecaps staff goes, hitting coach Scott Dwyer will return next season, while pitching coach Mark Johnson will be assigned to Class-A SS Connecticut. As a player, Parrish was a two-time Major League All-Star in 1979 and ’87. He had a career batting average of .263 with 256 homers and 992 RBI’s. He played in Montreal, Texas, and Boston, before ending his pro career with two seasons in Japan.
I know the Tigers are in the playoffs, which is very exciting, but having a guy with this kind of resume’ taking over has me excited for next season. Hopefully this will not only mean possibly more championships in West Michigan, but better prepared players working their way up to Detroit.
Top photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
Bottom photos courtesy of the Associated Press
Recently MiLB.com released the Detroit Tigers organizational All-Stars. Basically they honor the players who had the best seasons in their organization, regardless of age or prospect status. The Whitecaps are highly represented here, in players from the 2011 season, and alumni from previous seasons. Plenty of players here that we’ve seen and met, and hoping to see at Comerica Park someday.
Catcher-Rob Brantly. Brantly was hitting .303 with seven homers in 75 games with the Whitecaps before being promoted to Lakeland. He totaled a .274 average, 10 long balls, and 62 RBI’s between the two leagues.
First Base-Ryan Strieby. Spending the whole Minor League season in Toledo, he led all Minor-Leaguers in home runs with 19, and second with 76 RBI’s.
Second Base-Brandon Douglas. I remember Douglas well from his time in West Michigan. He spent the entire 2011 campaign in Double-A Erie. He hit .281, had a career-high 46 RBI’s, nailed 30 doubles, and scored 72 runs.
Third Base-Nick Castellanos. We saw Castallanos play plenty of times this season, and had the opportunity to see him progress. After a very slow start, he ended up hitting .312, had 76 RBI’s, 36 doubles, and 156 total hits. Tigers are banking on him, but he’s still a few years away.
Short Stop-Audy Ciriaco. Played most of the season with Erie (101 games), but also saw some time in Toledo (14 games). Between the two levels he batted .255, with 58 runs, and 57 RBI’s. This is the third season in a row that he’s seen a little action in Triple-A, so he needs to make the jump for good next season.
Outfield-Justin Henry. Believe it or not, I’ve been sitting on this pic of Henry since 2008 when he was with the Whitecaps, and playing second base. Not sure why they moved him to outfield with the Tigers needing infield help, but maybe Douglas playing the position so well could have something to do with that. All said, Henry split time with Erie and Toledo also. He hit .314 between the two, and stole 23 bases. He drove in 47 runs for Erie to be named to the Eastern League Midseason All-Star Team.
Outfield-Jamie Johnson. In only his third season as a pro, he spent the entire season with Erie, setting personal highs in RBI’s with 51, doubles with 33, and stolen bases with 14. His 93 runs scored was tops in the Eastern League.
Outfield-Timo Perez. Perez is 36, a former World Series Champion, and still going strong. Playing in Toledo, he hit .304 and stole 16 bases. He also pounded out six homers and 32 doubles. Most impressive, though, is that he only struck out 41 times in 473 at bats.
Utiliy-Tony Plagman. Plagman spent the season with the Lakeland Flying Tigers, scoring 97 runs that led the organization. He hit .257, with 18 homers, 32 doubles, and 62 RBI’s. Good turn around for him, as he only hit five homers last season for the Whitecaps.
RHP/Starter-Brennan Smith. Smith played 14 games in Connecticut, and nine games in West Michigan. He was 4-3 with a league leading ERA of 1.53 in the NY-Penn. He had an impressive scoreless streak through 34 2/3 innings.
RHP/Starter-Jacob Turner. Turner played in Detroit this season, but before that he split time between Erie and Toledo, posting a 4-5 record with a 3.44 ERA and 110 strikeouts. Kevin Eichhorn was also mentioned, after an impressive season in West Michigan where he went 11-5 with a 3.61 ERA.
LHP/Starter-Drew Smyly. Smyly pitched 14 games for Lakeland and eight for Erie in 2011. His 2.07 ERA is the lowest in the organization, and went 7-3 in Erie, and with Toledo posted a 1.18 ERA with 53 strikeouts.
LHP/Starter-Jay Voss. Between Lakeland and Erie, he won 12 games and struck out 131 batters. While with Lakeland, he won an organizational best 15 wins.
Relief Pitcher-Chance Ruffin. Ruffin played in both Erie and Toledo before swept up by Seattle as the ‘player to be named later’ in the deal that brought Doug Fister and David Pauley to the Tigers. While with Erie, he made 10 saves in 14 attempts, with a 2.12 ERA and 3-3 record. In Toledo, he saved nine games in 10 tries with a 1.84 ERA.
Photo property of M.I.B.