Yes, it’s that time of the year again when we get to vote for the very best of Minor League Baseball this past season. As usual, a few of the local players made the list. I’ll be voting as much as possible, and hoping some of them can bring home an award or two.
Top Offensive Player: Former Great Lakes Loons short stop Corey Seager had a fantastic season for the High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. He led all of the minors with 50 doubles, and was tied for first with a .349 batting average. Throw in 20 home runs and 90 RBI’s, and you have a player worthy of being named a top offensive player.
Breakout Prospect: Most Tiger fans knew outfielder Steven Moya was a top prospect going into the season, but he really earned that moniker in 2014. Hitting .276 with the Double-A Erie Seawolves, he also belted 35 home runs and drove in 105. He also showed some speed, stealing 16 bases this season. Those stats were good enough to be named the Eastern League MVP, but will they be good enough to be the breakout prospect? As a former West Michigan Whitecaps, he’ll be in completion for that crown with hurler that pitched for the ‘Caps this season. Kevin Ziomek quickly moved up the Tigers prospect list with his accomplishments this season. A member of a rotation stacked with top prospects, he led the Midwest League with a 2.27 ERA, and his 152 strikeout were second in the league. With is 10-6 record, he can certainly be considered a breakout prospect.
Photo of the Year: No monkey business here, as the ‘Caps are up for the photo of the year award. The above photo was taken during one of the promo nights (Team Ghostrider) where the monkeys ride around on dogs and heard sheep. We didn’t get to see the act this season, but last year in West Michigan. It’s a funny photo and I’m voting for it to win! You can vote for your favorites HERE.
Seager and Ziomek photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Monkey photo courtesy of MiLB.com
Players of the Year: The Detroit Tigers have named outfielder Steven Moya their Minor League Player of the Year, and Austin Kubitza the Pitcher of the Year. Moya, playing for the Erie SeaWolves this season, hit .276, with 33 doubles, three triples, while stealing 16 bases. He set records with Erie with 35 home runs and 105 RBI’s this season, also. Moya lead the Eastern League with 70 extra-base hits and was named the league’s MVP. He’s ranked as the Tigers’ No. 7 prospect by MLB.com. Kubitza pitched for the West Michigan Whitecaps this season, but we never had a chance to see him on the mound. He was named the Midwest League’s Pitcher of the Week on two separate occasions, and had an impressive 2.34 ERA this season. He had a 10-2 record for the ‘Caps and had 140 strike outs.
Executive of the Year: The Whitecaps’ vice president of ticket sales Steve McCarthy has been named the Midwest League Executive of the Year. This season the ‘Caps averaged 5,595 fans per game, good for fourth in the league, and their total attendance of 391,000 was the most through the gates of Fifth Third Ballpark since 2002. In all, this was one of West Michigan’s best seasons for advertising revenue, attendance, and ticket revenue. McCarthy was in intern for the Whitecaps in 1995, then with Van Andel Arena and The Palace of Auburn Hills. He worked for the Detroit Pistons as a ticket sales account representative and Director of Group Sales, before returning to West Michigan in 2001. He was promoted to vice president of ticket sales in 2005.
Tigers call up…Reatini? The Whitecaps’ clubhouse attendant Sam Reatini has been temporarily called up to the Detroit Tigers. He has been the clubhouse attendant in West Michigan for the last two seasons, and is now sitting in the opposing teams clubhouse at Comerica Park. If he needs any supplies for the ‘Caps, he contacts John Nelson, who is the assistant equipment manager for Detroit and handles minor league equipment needs for the affiliates. Nelson asked Reatini to join him when his college interns left toward the end of the season to go back to school. With the Whitecaps season over, this is a great opportunity for Reatini, and I’m sure at least heard the Tigers’ celebrate winning the Central crown for the other side of the field.
Henneman leaving: The Whitecaps pitching coach Mike Henneman has informed the Tigers he won’t be coming back next season. To be closer to his family, he is returning to the D-Bat baseball academy, where his duties include pitching coach and camps coordinator. Starting with West Michigan in 2013, he greatly improved the teams’ ERA from 3.62 to 3.05 this season, one of the best in the Midwest League, and in the teams history. Henneman pitched for the Tigers for nine of his 10 years in the majors. We’ll miss Mike at Fifth Third Ballpark, as he was one of my favorite players as a kid. We did have a chance to meet him, though, and he signed some cards for the kids. We wish him the best down in Texas. UPDATE: Henneman has come back to the Tigers organization, and will become the pitching coach for the Erie SeaWolves.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
With their playoff hopes dangling by a thread, the Detroit Tigers needed something positive to happen. Enter left-handed pitcher Kyle Ryan, making his major league debut against the arch rival Chicago White Sox. The rookie threw six shutout innings, helping the Tigers win the game 8-4 and move into a tie for first place in the Central Division. Ryan only gave up five hits, while walking two batters and earning one strikeout. He threw 97 pitches in all, and 60 of those were for strikes. He is the 30th pitcher the Tigers have used this season, the most since the 30 Detroit used in the 2002 season. Before the spot-start in Detroit, he has split the season between Double-A Erie SeaWolves and Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.
Ryan spent two seasons with the West Michigan Whitecaps in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, he went 6-10 posting a 3.15 ERA, and striking out 99. In 2012, Ryan improved to 7-8, but his ERA rose a bit to 3.74, and he had 105 strikeouts. We were lucky enough to see him pitch both seasons in West Michigan. The top picture is from 2011 on military appreciation night, and the bottom photo is from 2012 with Ryan on the mound. I’d like to see him get another start with Detroit, and hopefully help them in their playoff run.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
The Detroit Tiger prospects seem to be doing very well this season, with the Erie SeaWolves’ outfielder Steven Moya being named the Eastern League Most Valuable Player. The native of Puerto Rico is the first SeaWolves player to earn this honor since Erie joined the Eastern League in 1999. Moya is batting .271, with 32 doubles, 34 homers, and 102 RBI’s so far this season. He’s already set a new single season record for Erie for total bases with 277, and his 34 home runs and 102 RBI’s ties the record. His totals for home runs, RBI’s, slugging percentage (.549), and total bases (277), and extra base hits ( 69) leads all other Eastern League batters. Moya’s also tied for 10th in the league with eight outfield assists, and has only made three errors in the outfield. He caught fire in July, hitting .304 with 10 home runs, 33 RBI’s, and 20 runs scored. Good enough to be named the Eastern Leagues’ Player of the Month. He also earned the Top Star Award as MVP of the Eastern League All-Star game, after hitting a grand-slam to win the game 5-2 for the Western Division. Mayo also participated in the All-Star Futures game in Minnesota, suiting up for the World Team.
Adding to this seasons success, he named to the Eastern League’s post-season All-Star Team, also, and selected by Baseball America as the ‘Best Power Prospect’ in the league this season. Moya was signed by Detroit as a non-drafted free agent in 2008. He played two seasons for the West Michigan Whitecaps. In 2011, he struggled with a .204 batting average, hitting 13 home runs and knocking in 31 RBI’s in 86 games. He bounced back in 2012, however, hitting .288, with 14 doubles, nine home runs, and 47 RBI’s in only 59 games.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
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.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Akron RubberDucks vs. Erie SeaWolves (Eastern League)
Canal Park-Akron, OH: After spending the morning in Erie, we had a pretty easy drive over to Akron. Akron is a nice town, but not much parking in the downtown area. They have the university, hospital, and ballpark all close together. We were in town pretty early, and some lots won’t let you park there until after 5:00, so we settled for a parking garage, and took a little nap. We had a three hour drive back to Michigan after the game, so a little rest couldn’t hurt. After our rest, we got a little hungry and went hunting for food. Canal Park has a resteraunt attached to it called The Game Bar and Grill, so we decided on that. Not only was the food very good, but you can see inside the park (after the gates officially open, you can access it from inside the ballpark), and we could watch the Erie SeaWolves warm up and take some batting practice.
After our meal, it was time to head inside the park and get ready for the game. Canal Park is just a beautiful ballpark, and we would plenty of time to explore it. We decided to get our shopping over with, and I picked up a nice t-shirt for Trevor with his name and number customized on the back. Due to the new name and logo, however, they were sold out of many items, such as pennants. We found our seats, and they were awesome right behind the SeaWolves dugout. The dugouts are pretty open, also, so you can pretty much see everything that’s going on. We also got a visit from Akrons mascot, Webster the duck, who looks pretty Disney like.
I then went out to the right field area, where the ballpark entrance to The Game is located. There is lots of room out that way, and not only holds the kids play area, but they had a live concert also, with Wild Ave belting out some classic ’80’s rock tunes.
Back in our seats, I was ready to enjoy some great Double-A baseball, as the clock was turn to 7:05 pm. And then the rain came. And it didn’t stop. Not for two hours. The grounds crew was able to get the tarp on the infield pretty quickly, and the outfield looked like it was draining pretty well. I really give the RubberDucks credit, that they don’t jump the gun and cancel games too early, and they do their best to keep the fans entertained during the rain delay. Both mascots were available for pictures with the fans (the old Akron Aeros mascot Orbit joined Webster), the had games for the kids, and used the video board for entertainment. My favorite is the ‘Baseball Bugs’ cartoon, where Bugs Bunny plays every position. Classic… We are also able to watch some of the College World Series live. And did you notice all of the rubber ducks on the tarp? Awesome!
After a mere 2 1/2 hour delay, we finally had baseball! The teams still went through their pre-game routine which took some time, but eventually the RubberDucks took the field, and the SeaWolves went to bat. The home team finally did some ass-kicking, but unfortunately, we were kind of rooting for Erie in this game. Third baseman Corey Jones lead the way offensively for Erie, going 2-3 with his teams only RBI. Outfielder Jason Krizan went 2-4, also. On the hill, Tommy Collier took the loss for the SeaWolves. For the hometown Akron squad, DH Bryan LaHair had three RBI’s off of his only hit, which was a double. First baseman Jake Lowery went 3-4 in the game, also. The winning pitcher was Joseph Colon for the ‘Ducks. Due to the weather delay and our long drive ahead, we only stayed for about five innings before hitting the road. I’d love to make another trip back to Canal Park. It’s a wonderful place to watch a game, and they treat the fans well. Final: RubberDucks 7, SeaWolves 1.
All photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball
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.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball