Well, this is like Deja Vu all over again, as the Detroit Tigers organization has traded away one of my favorite prospects and former West Michigan Whitecap Javier Betancourt. I went through this a year ago when the Tigers shipped Devon Travis off to Toronto for Anthony Gose. I know this is a business, and the organization is making deals to better itself and be competitive for the 2016 season, but I’ve seen many of my favorite Whitecaps get traded away over the years. As a fan, it’s simply easier to invest in players that you’ve met and seen play live many times. Also, as a former second-baseman myself, they tend to be my favorites to track up through the system. Players like Scott Sizemore, Justin Henry, Brandon Douglas, Betancourt, and most recently Joey Pankake, have patrolled second base at Fifth Third Ballpark, and I’d hope to see do the same at Comerica Park in TV. Sizemore had his chance, but was dealt after the fact, and many don’t even make it that far. Henry has come back to the organization as a scout, so I guess that could be considered a victory, right?
As for Betancourt, he’s now with the Milwaukee Brewers organization, and in return the Tigers received a much needed closer in RHP Francisco Rodriquez (K-Rod). The Brewers will also receive a player-to-be-named-later, as will the Tigers, possibly, well, that’s not guaranteed, I guess. Detroit signed Betancourt as non-drafted free-agent in 2011. With the Whitecaps in 2014, he hit .269, with 18 doubles and 54 RBIs, and was a Midwest League All-Star as the youngest player in the league. This past season with the Lakeland Flying Tigers, he hit .263, with 17 doubles and 48 RBIs. Known for his above-average defense, he was also considered a hard worker by coaches, and a good teammate by his peers. We wish him all the best in Milwaukee, and say ‘hi’ to former Whitecaps Hernan Perez and Corey Knebel for us…
It doesn’t happen too often, when we watch a player in Single-A West Michigan one season gets the call up to the Detroit Tigers the next. In fact I believe Alex Avila is the last one who got that quick call up. This season it’s relief pitcher Corey Knebel, who just made the move to the bigs on Thursday. The Tigers drafted Knebel just last June 39th overall out of the University of Texas, where the right-hander was a highly successful closer for the Longhorns for three seasons. After the draft, he was sent to West Michigan, where he earned a 2-1 record, a 0.87 ERA, 15 saves, 41 strikeouts, and just three earned runs in 31 games. Knebel was assigned to the Erie Seawolves to begin the season, and he has been just as successful there, going 3-0 with a 1.20 ERA, one save, and 23 strikeouts. He was promoted to the Toledo Mud Hens just a week ago, giving up no runs and striking out four in just four innings of work. When asked if he thought he’d be moving up to the Tigers this soon:
“No idea,” Knebel stated to the Detroit News. “I just tried to do what I’ve been doing. My college coach taught me to fear no man, fear no hitter. That’s just what I kind of live by. I go out there and I think I’m better.”
The 6’3″ hurler certainly has the stuff to back that up. His fast ball hits up to 95 mph, and he has a nasty curve/slider combo that has made minor league batters look just silly. The Tigers look to be using Knebel to help out the depleted bullpen that has been overworked this past week. He was available to pitch in last nights’ game against the Rangers, but got no further that some warm-up pitches in the ninth inning. Tigers’ manager Brad Ausmus looks to be giving him a chance to get adjusted, and looking for the right time to get him into a game.
“We’ve seen him pitch,” Ausmus said. “He has a really good curve, his makeup is supposed to be really good. He pitched in a big-time program in Texas. It’s not the major leagues, but generally those guys that come out of big programs are a little bit more stable, they get to the major leagues a little faster. But we’ll be learning about him on the go a little bit here, this staff, Jeff Jones, and myself.”
Knebel is not the first 2013 Tigers’ draft pick to get the call up (second in MLB), but he’s the first one from the last two drafts. Although he was a closer at Texas, the Tigers considered him for a starting job when assigned to the minors. It’s good for him that management realized how effective he is in the late innings. As a starter, who knows when he would have been able to earn a shot in Detroit’s rotation.
“I do love the ‘pen,” Knebel stated. “I love coming out of the bullpen. I love hearing my name called. My heart gets going. As a starter, you’re more relaxed. I don’t think I’m a relaxed person.”
To make room for Knebel, the Tigers optioned pitcher Robbie Ray back down to Toledo. We’ll definitely be watching the Tigers’ games closely for #49 to take the mound for his debut. We wont be as excited as his family that scattered to fly to Detroit from Austin, but we’re still looking forward to it.
This time of year, Minor League Baseball honors the players in each organization’s farm who had the best seasons. This season was a good one for the Detroit Tigers‘ minor leaguers, as many of them had some solid stats. I’ve always enjoyed following the players up through the system, especially the ones who played in West Michigan for the Whitecaps. I plan on making trips down to Toledo and Erie, along with my usual stops in Grand Rapids, so I’ll have a good chance to see most of these players next season. It looks like eight out of the 12 selected played for the Whitecaps at one point in their career.
Catcher-James McCann(Erie Seawolves): Suited up for nine games with West Michigan in 2009. This season with Erie, he hit .277, with 30 doubles, eight home runs, and 54 RBI’s. His BA, doubles, along with 178 total bases and 50 runs scored, lead all catchers in the system. Behind the plate he threw out 28 of 76 base runners (1/3), and had a .991 fielding percentage.
First Base-Jordan Lennerton(Toledo Mud Hens): Played for the Whitecaps during the 2009-10 seasons. This season with Toledo, he lead all first basemen with 17 home runs and 143 hits. He placed second in the Tigers organization with 84 walks, fourth with 57 RBI’s, and fourth with 221 total bases.
Second Base-Devon Travis (West Michigan Whitecaps/Lakeland Flying Tigers): Played most of the season in West Michigan before being promoted to Lakeland. Travis was the Midwest League All-Star Game MVP, the Tigers’ Minor League Player of the Year, and won two MiLBY Awards for Breakout Prospect and Offensive Player. He hit .351 across both leagues, and lead all middle infielders with 16 home runs and 76 RBI’s. He was also successful in 22 out of 26 base stealing attempts.
Third Base-Wade Gaynor (Erie Seawolves): Played for the ‘Caps during the 2010 season. This season with Erie, he lead all players at the hot corner with 108 hits, 179 total bases, 64 RBI’s, 31 doubles, and 12 stolen bases. He also contributed 12 homers and 45 extra-base hits.
Shortstop-Eugenio Suarez(Erie Seawolves/Lakeland Flying Tigers): Won a Gold Glove last season with the Whitecaps, as the best defensive shortstop in the minors, and a Midwest League All-Star. In 2013 with Lakeland and Erie, he hit .264, added 10 home runs (career high), 57 RBI’s across both levels. He led all Tiger shortstops with six triples and 70 runs scored.
Outfield-Danny Dorn (Toledo Mud Hens): Dorn led all Tigers’ minor leaguers with 25 home runs and 82 RBI’s. He ranked second in the system with 228 total bases, also. He was signed by Detroit as a free-agent in 2012.
Outfield-Tyler Collins (Erie Seawolves): Skipped over the Whitecaps, moving up to Lakeland from Connecticut. He ranked second in the system with 21 home runs and 79 RBI’s, hitting .240, with 29 doubles, and 67 runs scored.
Outfield-Nick Castellanos (Toledo Mud Hens): Played with the Whitecaps in 2011. Was called up to the big team for 11 games this season, but with Toledo he hit 18 homers and 76 RBI’s. He also led all outfielders with 240 total bases and 81 runs scored. His biggest improvement, was cutting down on strikeouts, and drawing more walks this season (54). I’d like to see him starting for Detroit next season in left field.
Utility Player-Daniel Fields (Erie Seawolves): The Michigan native hit .284 for Erie this season, hitting 43 extra-base hits including 10 home runs. He added 58 RBI’s, 24 stolen bases, and 71 runs scored.
Starter/RHP-Wilsen Palacios (Lakeland Flying Tigers): Played for the Whitecaps last season. In 2013 with Lakeland, he posted a 3.07 ERA and struck out 109. He held opponents to a .238 batting average and 1.23 WHIP. Had a 7-8 record in 23 starts, including a complete game. He’s currently pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Starter/LHP-Kyle Lobstein(Erie Seawolves/Toledo Mud Hens): Playing 15 games with the ‘Wolves and 13 with the Hens, he went 13-7 this season. He led all pitchers in wins and with 148 strikeouts. across both leagues, he boasted a 3.27 ERA.
Relief Pitcher-Corey Knebel (West Michigan Whitecaps): Played for the Whitecaps this season, after finishing his collegiate career at the University of Texas. He had 15 saves in half a season for the ‘Caps, good for fourth in the system. Had an impressive 41-to-10 strikeout to walk ratio, and held opponents to a .133 average, and had an ERA of 0.87.
Yesterday was the Arizona Fall League‘s all-star game, properly termed the Fall-Star Game. The game is the half-way point of the AFL schedule for some of the best prospects in baseball. The game also featured two of this season’s most successful West Michigan Whitecaps players, and Detroit Tigers prospects. The West beat the East 9-2, but second baseman Devon Travis and relief pitcher Corey Knebel both made appearances. Travis went 1-2 with a triple and an RBI. Knebel pitched only 0.2 of an inning, giving up a home run, a solo shot, and striking out a batter.
Both players are suiting up for the Mesa Solar Sox this fall, a team that featured prospects from the Tigers, California Angels, Chicago Cubs, Oakland Athletics, and Washington Nationals. Travis is hitting .233, with two home runs, three doubles, and eight RBI’s. Knebel has a 1.50 ERA in eight games, with two saves, and seven strike outs. Three other former Whitecaps playing for Mesa are pitchers Tommy Collier (2012) and Kenny Faulk (2010), and shortstop Dixon Machado (2011). Collier has a 0.64 in four appearances, with 10 strike outs and giving up only one earned run. Faulk is 1-1, with a frightful 11.37 ERA. He did strike out eight and have one hold. Machado is batting .188 in only nine game, and added four RBI’s for his efforts. Other players in the Tigers system that are playing with the Solar Sox are pitcher Blaine Hardy and outfield Tyler Collins.
West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Lansing Lugnuts(Midwest League)Cooley Law School Stadium–Lansing, MI: Both the West Michigan Whitecaps and the Lansing Lugnuts missed the playoffs this season, but ended 2013 with their in-state rivalry. Despite the ‘Caps having a better record this season, the Lugnuts have had their number, and that includes taking 2/3 in the final series. In the first game, the Whitecaps made a gallant come-back attempt, only to lose in a walk-off in the ninth. Jake Stewart and Bennett Pickar hit back-to-back singles, when the Lugnuts brought in Arik Sikula to close the game. Sikula threw a wild pitch and had a passed ball, though, that scored Stewart. Then David Gonzalez hit a triple, scoring the pinch-runner Harold Castro to tie the game. The ‘Caps celebration was short-lived, however, as a walk and two singles gave Lansing the win, and Corey Knebel his only loss of the season. Kevin Patterson hit the winning RBI in the 5-4 win for the Lugnuts. The second game of the series was a complete rout for the Whitecaps, winning the game 13-1. The ‘Caps scored five runs in both the third and fourth innings, one in the sixth, and two in the eighth with 19 total hits. Jared Reaves led the way going 4-6 with an RBI and two runs scored. Raph Rhymes went 3-4 with a double and two runs scored. Connor Harrell and Jake Stewart each contributed with three RBI’s each. On the mound, West Michigan was just as dominant. Calvin Drummond earned the win, going five innings, giving up only three hits, and striking out four. Kramer Chaplin took the loss for Lansing. The final game of the series, and of the season, went to the hometown Lugnuts by the score of 9-4. The Whitecaps had a 4-0 lead at one point, but surrendered nine streight to the ‘Nuts. Jeff Holm, Pickar, Castro, and Jason King each had two hits in the loss. Daniel Klein led the way for Lansing, going 3-4 with two doubles, two RBI’s, and a run scored. Relief pitcher Yorfrank Lopez took the loss, giving up six hits and five runs in just over an inning of work, while Ian Kadish earned the win for Lansing.
Lucky for me, I had a buddy from work attend one of the games and get this photo for me. It will be a long nine or so months before seeing baseball again for sure. We’ll try to get to Lansing next season of the weather cooperates, and we’ll hit a few Whitecaps games for sure, including the Midwest League All-Star game hopefully.
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Back, again, just north of Grand Rapids for our last Whitecaps game of the season. A very bitter-sweet moment, but so much going on at this game, I’m not sure where to start. First, Brian was happy they had a ‘bounce castle’ set up in the parking lot. We didn’t have much time for him to play, but he still was able to bounce around for a little while before we made our way into the stadium. Upon entry, each of us received a free mini-bat, to commemorate the ‘Caps 20th season of play. Brian has been collecting the bats lately, so more for him. It was super hero night at the ballpark, just like in Battle Creek last month, but the only ones dressed up were the Whitecaps’ on-field staff. Still, some of them has some cool outfits. We were at the ballpark early, so we saw the Captains take some batting practice, and waited for the home team to hit the field for their warm-ups. We went down to field level, where we met former Tigers’ relief pitcher, and current ‘Caps pitching coach, Mike Henneman. He was nice enough to sign a baseball card for Brian (a future hurler, himself!). Before the game got underway, we were also entertained by team Ghostrider: basically monkeys riding around on dogs. They would appear a few time throughout the game, herding goats and riding away. When monkeys act like cowboys, everybody wins! It didn’t take the kids long to get hungry, and Lily, Brian, and their Papa stuck with traditional hot dogs. Trevor and I, however, wanted to try the Baco! We made our way through the concourse, and with a sold-out crowd we were moving slowly. We took a break, though, to check out the Whitecaps 2007 Midwest League Championship trophy that was on display. The team was also celebrating the championship during this game, too. We finally made it to the other side of the ballpark to get our Bacos. Trevor didn’t care for it too much, but I thought it was pretty good. Not worth $6 each, but had to do it. Unfortunately the Whitecaps has some of the slowest concessions ever, so we missed a good chunk of the game waiting in line. We decided to head back to our seats through the lower bowl, which was a good idea because Trevor got a foul ball that bounced our way. We were finally able to sit down and enjoy the rest of the game, which was a good one. The ‘Caps also provided post-game fireworks that the kids really love, too. It was a hectic night all around, and sold-out crowds will do that, but still hard to wrap my head around the fact it will be a minimum of nine months before I’m enjoying baseball at Fifth-Third Ballpark again!
Like I stated, the game between the ‘Caps and the Captains was a good one. West Michigan was down 2-0 in the third, but busted out for three runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. Connor Harrell and David Gonzales started it off with a pair of singles, then Lake County started walking some batters. The Whitecaps scored two runs on walks, then Jason King hit a sac fly for the third run. In the fourth inning, Jeff Holm hit a solo shot to put the ‘Caps up 4-2. West Michigan concluded the scoring in the eighth inning, when Lance Durham hit his team leading 14th home run, after King singled. On the hill for West Michigan, Edgar De La Rosa pitched a solid game, only giving up the two runs in six innings of work. He struck out four and didn’t walk any of the Lake County hitters. The bullpen finished the job, throwing four shutout innings, with Corey Knebel closing the door in the ninth. Holm lead the offense going 2-4, and Gonzalez went 2-3. Final Score: Whitecaps 6, Captains 2.
Midland, MI-July 2-3: The first two game of the series were played at Dow Diamond. In game one, ‘Cap second baseman Harold Castro’s ninth inning home run broke West Michigan’s losing streak with a 4-3 win. He was 2-4 in the game, while Zach Kirksey was 2-3. For the Loons, Aaron Miller hit a home run of his own in the sixth inning, to tie the game at three. He was 2-4 on the night, also, while third baseman Leo Rodriguez went 3-4. On the mound, Angel Nesbitt earned the win to improve to 3-1, while Corey Knebel got the save. Arismendy Ozoria took the loss for the Loons. Great Lakes would take conrol the next night, however, pounding the Whitecaps 8-0. Shortstop Corey Seager went 2-3 with four RBI’s to lead the Loons offensively. Rodriguez and Miller each went 2-4, also. The Whitecaps only managed four hits during the game, with 16-yr-old Julio Urias getting the win. He pitched six shut-out innings while striking out eight. Endrys Briceno took the loss for the ‘Caps, giving up four earned runs in three innings of work.
Comstock Park, MI-July 4-5: Both teams would re-unite at Fifth-Third Ballpark on Independence Day! The Whitecaps continued their defensive woes, however, and fell to the Loons 7-5. They committed two errors and one miscue that led to two Loons’ runs. Three of the Loons runs were unearned in the game. Left-fielder Robbie Garvey had a nice game for Great Lakes, though, going 2-4 with two runs scored and an RBI. For the Whitecaps, Jason King went 2-2, with two runs scored, and RBI, and two walks. On the mound for West Michigan, Chad Smith started the game, but Yorfrand Lopez took the loss, giving up three runs in just over three innings. Geoff Brown earned the win for the Loons, pitching five innings giving up one earned run and striking out five. In the final game of the series, the Loons would take a 2-0 lead early, but watched the ‘Caps roll off seven in a row. Zach Kirskey lead the offensive charge for the ‘Caps, going 1-3 with a home run, two runs scored, and three RBI’s. Helping out was Danry Vasquez, going 2-3 with a double and two RBI’s, and Jason King who went 2-3 with a home run, two runs scored, and an RBI. Malcolm Holland delivered a solid game for Great Lakes, going 2-3 with an RBI and two walks. For the ‘Caps, Charlie Gillies won his first game of the season in the 7-2 win. Arismendy Ozoria took the loss, giving up six runs in two innings. It was a good series for both teams, especially West Michigan, who has been struggling as of late. The Loons are in first place of the Midwest League East.