Late last month the Detroit Tigers Caravan pulled to a stop in Cadillac, Michigan. Attending the event was my dad, a fellow baseball fanatic and companion on the annual baseball trip. He was able to earn the right to attend the festivities by being named to citizen of the year after receiving the ‘Spirit of the Community’ award last summer. He was able to meet the players attending the event, and sit at the main table during the Chamber of Commerce ceremony. In the above picture, he’s with Quintin Berry, Drew Smyly, and Andy Dirks. Guests were not allowed to ask for autographs, but meeting the Tigers was a real thrill for him! All three players were great with all the baseball fans that showed up to support them. I’m very happy that my dad was able to be a part of this, and proud for all that he’s accomplished. He was given the award at last year’s Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce Awards Dinner, and had no idea he had even been nominated. He was nominated for this due to all his selfless acts around the community, and all he’s done for charity. He’s been an active member of the Kiwanis Club for thirty years, and is a Big Brother to a local high school student. He helps his student with his homework, and takes him fun places like baseball games. As a member of Kiwanis, he works the concession stand at area athletics events to raise money, has helped to renovate the local children’s camp, and build local playgrounds. Instead of being honored to meet the Tigers, the players should have been honored to meet him!Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Although no players were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this season, the West Michigan Whitecaps will be. Holland, Michigan native, and former ‘Caps and Tigers pitcher Andy Van Hekken will be inducted during the Whitecaps Winter Banquet ceremonies on January, 23. Van Hekken pitched in West Michigan during the 2000 season, winning 16 games that is still tied for a team record. He still ranks in the top ten in team records for winning percentage at .727 (8th), ERA with 2.45 (8th), and the strikeouts to walk ratio at 3.41 (10th). Van Hekken made his major league debut for the Tigers in 2002, pitching a complete game shutout victory against the Cleveland Indians. He went 1-3 that season in five appearances, with a 3.00 ERA. He then spent the next two seasons in the Tigers farm system, as well as the systems for the Reds, Braves, Astros, and Royals in the following seasons. His latest stop is in Korea last season, playing for the Nexan Heroes of the Korean Baseball Organization. Van Hekken will report back to the Heroes after the Banquet.
The Whitecaps Winter Banquet not only features the HOF induction, but dinner, a live auction, and guest speakers. This year, the guests will include Tigers President/CEO/General Manager Dave Dombrowski, outfielders Quintin Berry and Andy Dirks, and pitcher Drew Smyly. The proceeds from the banquet and auctions go to the Whitecaps Community Foundation, which in turn donates the funds to the YMCA Inner-City Youth Baseball and Softball Program and the Detroit Tigers Foundation. The YMCA program, that is funded by the Whitecaps and Fifth Third Bank, provides about 1,900 children the chance to participate in a structured activity that provides guidance in their lives, per year. I would love to make it to this event at some point, but at $80 a ticket, it’s just to rich for my blood when you have three kids to bring along. This is a great event, though, for a great cause.
Photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
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.
The Detroit Tigers recently handed out some Minor League hardware, with the Whitecaps’ Nick Castellanos being awarded Minor League Player of the Year, and Lakeland’s Drew Smyly awarded Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Both players are from last seasons draft and just completed their first pro seasons.
Castellanos was the top draft pick last season, and is the Tigers top position prospect. He had a slow start adjusting to the Midwest League, but his bat started to heat up with the weather in May. The nine-teen year old ended the 2011 campaign batting .312 with 36 doubles, seven home runs, and 76 RBI’s in West Michigan.
Smyly was Detroit’s second round selection from last years draft out of the University of Arkansas. His award is very impressive, considering the Tigers have prospects like Jacob Turner and Andy Oliver in the mix. He started the season with the Lakeland Flying Tigers, going 7-3 with a 2.58 ERA and 77 strikeouts before being promoted to Double A Erie in July. With the Seawolves, he was 4-3, but pitched himself to a miniscule 1.18 ERA in seven starts and one relief appearance.
Good luck to these players as they move up the latter in the Tigers organization.
Bottom photo property of M.I.B.