The Detroit Tigers were a busy bunch at the Winter Meetings in San Diego. Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski traded away a few more West Michigan Whitecaps alumni, trying to build a team to win the World Series in 2015. The price was steep, and we fans had to say goodbye to some solid young ballplayers. Before the meetings even began, the Tigers traded away middle-infielder Domingo Leyba, along with pitcher Robbie Ray, to the Arizona Diamondbacks in three-way deal that brought starting pitcher Shane Greene from the New York Yankees. The 19-year-old prospect hit .397 in 30 games for the Whitecaps this season, after being promoted from Class-A SS Connecticut Tigers when short-stop Willy Adames was traded late last season to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The second trade involving some West Michigan alumni, had another middle-infielder in Eugenio Suarez and starting pitcher Jonathan Crawford shipped to the Cincinnati Reds for pitcher Alfredo Simon. As a rookie, Suarez hit .242 with four home runs, and 23 RBI’s last season in 85 games with Detroit. In 2012 with the Whitecaps, Suarez batted .288 with 34 doubles and 67 RBI’s. His .947 fielding percentage helped him win a Minor League Baseball Gold Glove at short-stop (.971 at short, and his fielding percentage was 1.000 at second base). Crawford was a first round draft pick by Detroit in 2013. He pitched for the ‘Caps this season, going 8-3 with a 2.85 ERA, and was the starting pitcher for the East at the Midwest League All-Star Classic played at Fifth Third Ballpark.
The Tigers also lost former Whitecaps pitcher Alex Burgos in the Triple-A/Double-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft. The 24-year-old hurler saw action in Lakeland, Erie, and Toledo, but mostly with the Flying Tigers earning a 4.26 ERA. He suited up for the ‘Caps in 2011, pitching to a 6-5 record and a 2.19 ERA. We were able to see him pitch on Star Wars night that season. Two other former ‘Cap pitchers, Edgar De La Rosa and Montreal Robertson were spared in the Major League portion of the draft. We wish the best of luck to all of the players we were lucky enough to watch in West Michigan.
Last week when Baseball America released it’s prospect list, second baseman Devon Travis was ranked number one for the Detroit Tigers. Later that day, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for center fielder Anthony Gose. The Tigers were actually trying to convert Travis to the outfield, as he played there late this season before suffering a core muscle injury in the final week of the season for the Double-A Erie SeaWolves. The injury kept him out of the Arizona Fall League, where he was scheduled to play second, but still see work in the outfield. Travis hit .298 with 10 home runs, 52 RBI’s, 156 stolen bases for Erie this season. He played 77 games for the Whitecaps in 2013, hitting .352 with 102 hits before being promoted to the Lakeland Flying Tigers. He was a 13th-round draft pick by Detroit in 2012. Despite the surprising trade, Travis had nothing but positive things to say about the Tigers organization.
“The Tigers do it right,” he stated to MLive.com. “Through and through. I wouldn’t have rather been drafted by any other team. I’m thankful for everything they’ve done for me.”
In exchange, the Tigers get left-handed hitter Anthony Gose, who is expected to possibly platoon in center with Rajai Davis, who bats right. I’m not sure why Detroit would trade their number one prospect for a platoon player, but the team has been without a true center fielder since trading away Austin Jackson. Gose is sure to help defensively, though. It’s frustrating sometimes seeing some pretty good prospects play in the minor just to be traded away, but that’s the business of baseball. We do wish Travis the best in Toronto’s organization. Detroit’s top 10 list by Baseball America includes seven former Whitecaps including Steven Moya, Buck Farmer, Domingo Leyba, Kevin Ziomek, Hernan Perez, and James McCann. As for Gose, we actually saw him play a couple of games for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats back in 2011, one in Manchester and one on the road in New Britain.
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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