Vote for the Whitecaps 20th Anniversary Team

votecapsThe West Michigan Whitecaps are competing in their 20th season in the Midwest League. To celebrate this event, the team is having the fans vote on the best players they’ve seen in each position for the last two decades. Even three managers are up for the vote, in Bruce Fields, Matt Walbeck, and Tom Brookens. All three won the Midwest League Championship in West Michigan. Catchers such as Brandon Inge, current Tiger Alex Avila, and Miami Marlin Rob Brantley are all up for the best behind the plate. At first base, I think that Robert Fick has the inside edge. He was voted into the first Whitecaps Hall of Fame, and has the honor of hitting the last home run in Tiger Stadium. That’s just my vote, though. Second base is my favorite position, so I’ve followed the players there pretty closely. It will be tough for me to choose only one of my favorites such as Scott Sizemore, Justin Henry, and Brandon Douglas. At short stop, in my opinion, the vote might come down to current Tiger Ramon Santiago, or last’s years MiLB Gold Glove winner Eugenio Suarez, which is a tough call. At the hot corner, top prospect Nick Castellanos may be the favorite despite being moved to the outfield last season with Lakeland and Erie. He may get a push from guys like Wade Gaynor and Wilkin Ramirez, though. Fans are allowed three choices for outfielders, and there are plenty. While players like Matt Joyce, Cameron Maybin, Cody Ross, and Brent Clevlen have all seen action at the MLB level, Gorkys Hernandez had a great season in West Michigan in 2007. He was also named the Tigers Minor League Player of the Year that year. Fans are also allowed to vote for three pitchers. Players like Andy Van Hekken, Casey Crosby, Duane Below, and Joel Zumaya all found success on the hill in West Michigan. Rounding out the relief pitchers, fans can vote for two, including Michael Torrealba and Anthony Claggett. This is another great way the Whitecaps are celebrating so much success the last 20 years. VOTE NOW!

Photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps

West Michigan alums get invites

Being a non-roster invitee to major league spring training, is like being in high school, and getting a birthday party invite from the prettiest girl in school. For six former members of the West Michigan Whitecaps, being invited to the Detroit Tigers camp must seem pretty sweet. The Tigers have 17 non-roster invites in all.

Of all the invitees, utility man Don Kelly has the most experience at the big league level. He recently re-signed with the Tigers, after being told after the World Series that there would not be room for him on this years roster. Kelly played for the Whitecaps back in 2002, batting .286. He had 21 doubles and 59 RBI’s, plus an impressive .728 OBS. Kelly only hit .186 at the major league level last season, but due to his versatility and experience he may have a chance to crack the roster. An obstacle in his way, though, is that the Tigers are looking for a right-handed hitter to platoon with Dirks in left field, and Kelly is a lefty.

opening20day200091Top prospect Nick Castellanos (pictured above with Lily) will be at the Tigers camp, also. He did his time in West Michigan in 2011, when he was just 19 years old. After a slow start, he really had a solid season, hitting .312, with seven home runs and 76 RBI’s. He patrolled third base at Fifth Third Ballpark, but was moved to the outfield last season, after Miguel Cabrera took over the hot corner in Detroit. Castellanos made 23 errors at third for the ‘Caps, and ended the year with a .917 fielding percentage. With his defense not being his strongest asset, the move could be good for him, but he just needs time to develop those skills, so I doubt that he’ll be making an appearance at Comerica this season. Be patient, though, his time will come. Castellanos was the Tigers Minor League Players of the Year in 2011, also.

Two of the three catcher invited to camp played for the Whitecaps, too. James McCann was the Tigers’ second round pick in 2011 after finishing his collegiate career at the University of Arkansas. He played nine games for the Whitecaps in 2011 also, hitting only .059, with two singles and one double. He only made one error, though, and threw out 4 runners out of 19 attempting to steal. Curt Casali was also drafted by the Tigers in 2011, after playing his college ball at Vanderbilt University. He played parts of two seasons in West Michigan, 2011 and 2012. In 2011, he played 25 games hitting .227, with two home runs and 14 RBI’s. He only made one error behind the plate, and threw out seven base runners. In 2012, his average increased to .288, with 12 doubles, eight home runs, and 25 RBI’s. He only allowed on passed ball, and threw out 20 potential base stealers. In my opinion, the Tigers are still a little weak at catcher, so if either of these guys has their bat catch fire, they have an outside chance of making the roster.

Kenny Faulk pitched for the Whitecaps back in 2010. His record was 5-4 with an impressive 2.16 ERA. He made 12 saves, giving up no home runs, and striking out 78. His ERA inflated last season at the Double-A level, so he’ll need to bring that down a bit before getting consideration. I’d have to gauge his fast ball, and see his secondary pitches before making an informed opinion on his chances to make the team, though. I look forward to seeing him in spring training, and hope he can earn a spot.

suarez1Another weakness in Detroit is at the short stop position. Last season, though, the Whitecaps’ Eugenio Suarez won the Golden Glove as the best short stop in the minor leagues. He played 119 games at short, and 15 at second base, so he does have versatility at middle infield. He had a .971 fielding percentage, with 257 put-outs and 349 assists at short. He had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage at second. At the plate, Suarez hit a very respectable .288, with 34 doubles, had 64 RBI’s, and stole 21 bases. Keep in mind, these are all in 2012 at the Single-A level. He’ll still need a few more seasons to develop, but the Tigers I’m sure are very happy with the way he’s progressing, and I’m confident he’ll be scooping ’em up at Comerica in no time. Just not this year.

Photos property of Minoring In Baseball

Whitecaps’ Suarez strikes Gold

The West Michigan Whitecaps shortstop Eugenio Suarez was impressive with his bat this season, finishing 10th in the Midwest League in batting with a .288 average and was second in the league with 147 hits. Oh, by the way, this kid seems to be pretty capable with his glove, too. Suarez became the first Whitecaps player to be honored with the Rawlings Gold Glove Award given out by Minor League Baseball and the Rawlings Sporting Good Company for his defensive excellence. Only nine players in all of Minor League ball are given this honor each season. Suarez played 119 games at short stop for West Michigan with a .971 fielding percentage and was part of 80 double plays. He only made 18 errors in 624 chances as well as going 15 games without an error while played second base. At least us Whitecaps fans can brag about having the best short stop in the Minors this season! The fact that he’s a switch hitter along with his stats and awards, make him one of the top prospects in the Detroit Tigers‘ system. He is only 21, as this was his first full season of professional baseball, after being signed out of Venezuela and splitting time between two short season/rookie leagues. It’s going to be fun watching him move up through the system, especially with the Tigers lack of middle infielders.

Photo property of Minoring In Baseball

The End is Near

West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Dayton Dragons

Brian and I with Whitecaps mascot Crash the River Rascal!

Fifth-Third BallparkComstock Park, MI: I’m not talking about the doomsday prophecy, but last weekend was the second-to-last game for the Whitecaps, and most likely our very last game of the 2012 season. It’s always bitter-sweet to see a season come to an end, but we have a lot of great memories to look back on. This was another memorable game for the kids and I, as we were able to get onto the field again and see some of the players and coaches. Brian really wanted to see Crash the river rascal one last time, so that was our priority! We didn’t have much of a chance after that for playing catch or getting many other pics with the players, but I did get one with the kids in front of the dugout. Brian was able to play on the playground and jump around on the ‘bouncy house’, which burns up some of his energy (Lily and Trevor are too big for the playground…where does the time go???). The kids Papa and Nana were able to join us, too, so it was a great day spent with family at the ballpark. I’m really going to miss the sunshine and the green grass, as fall, and soon winter, will be blasting us with the reality that we live up north. I was really glad we were able to make this trip, though, with school starting and two birthdays within ten days of each other, this was definitely a ‘no frills’ trip. Don’t worry…I still fed them and even got them their ice cream!

The game itself was a fun one, as the ‘Caps built and early 5-run lead on the Dragons. That was no easy task, either, considering that Robert Stephenson was on the mound for Dayton, who was the Cincinnati Reds first round draft pick last year and the organizations top pitching prospect. For West Michigan, Zach Maggard hit a two-run double in the second inning, to put the ‘Caps up 3-0. In the third inning, Jason King and Patrick Leyland each had RBI singles to put them up 5-0. Eugenio Suarez gave West Michigan some insurance, with an RBI triple in the sixth inning. The Dragons came back to score a few runs off starter Jeff Ferrell, but he held on for the win. Ferrell is now 4-1 in his last six games. Michael Torrealba pitched a scoreless ninth inning to earn the save. In all, the Whitecaps ended up with 15 hits in the game, with five doubles and one triple. It’s good to see them playing hard, even though they won’t be making the playoffs. I still can’t believe that it will be another six months at least until another baseball game. This was an end to and extremely busy week for us, that saw Trevor turning 10, his first football game, and a couple of trips to the county fair. The kids last hurrah before school starting up. Final: Whitecaps 6, Dragons 4.

Lily and Brian had to switch roles for this one, as Brian wasn’t tall enough to be ‘the boy’

Photos property of  Minoring In Baseball

The Name Game

Roberto Hernandez made his first start this season in a rehab stint vs. the Whitecaps

Eastlake, OH: The West Michigan Whitecaps had a successful trip to Ohio, taking two of three games from the Lake County Captains. Their only loss of the series was an interesting one, though, as they faced former Major League pitcher Fausto Carmona, er, I mean, Roberto Hernandez. Wait…what? Hernandez is serving a three-week suspention from MLB, and made a rehab start for the Captains in game two of the series with West Michigan. The picher formerly known a Carmona was arrested in January for identity theft in the Dominican Rebublic for assuming the name of a family friend. The Cleveland Indians thought they were signing a 17 yr-old back in 2000, but in reality, Hernandez was 20. Three years later he was pitching for the Captains, going 17-4 with a 2.06 ERA in 2003. Six years later, he had to wait for a new visa to come into the United States. How he was granted a new visa with a fraud conviction, I’ll never know, but money talks I guess, and Major League Baseball slapped him with a whopping three-week suspension. Back on track- he did earn his first professional victory since Sept. 20, 2011 against the ‘Caps, as they were downed 5-4 by Lake County. Hernandez gave up three runs on six hits. West Michigan didn’t show the 31 yr-old much respect out of the gate, though, as they scored two runs in the first inning on an Aaron Westlake home run. Eugelio Suarez singled before him. In the fourth inning, Jason King doubled, and scored on an RBI by Patrick Leyland. In the end, two errors costs the ‘Caps the winning run and the game. Carmona Hernandez is eligible to join the Indians on August 11.

The Whitecaps dominated the first game of the series 8-1. On the hill for the ‘Caps, Chad Smith was successful in his first start in the Midwest League. In three innings he allowed one hit and struck out three. Along with the bullpen, he held the Captains to only four hits on the night. This was only Smith’s fifth pro start after Tommy John surgery last year. West Michigan was led offensively by Jason King, who ended the game going 3-5 with a home run and three RBI’s. The ‘Caps scored six runs in the seventh inning to break the game wide open. King and Brandon Loy each drove in two runs in the inning. Loy was 2-4 in the game with a pair of doubles. Jason Krizan also doubled in a pair of runs in the inning. The Whitecaps received more solid pitching in a 4-0 victory in the last game of the series. Marcelo Carreno threw six shutout innings and only allowed one hit. Loy helped out with his bat, scoring two with a single in the second. Jeff McVaney would drive him home for a 3-0 lead. In the eighth, McVaney tripled and was hit home on a single by King. Leyland and Krizan each singled to load the bases with no outs when the game was called due to lightning.

Photos courtesy of Maribeth Joeright/The News-Herald

Suarez helping Whitecaps tread water in MWL

So far in this second half of the Minor League season, the West Michigan Whitecaps are certainly treading water. The good news, is that the Whitecaps are currently in second place in the Midwest League‘s Eastern Division. The bad news, is that they are tied with Great Lakes, Lake County, and South Bend for that spot. Each with an identical 15-14 record. More good news, is that they are only three games out of first place. More bad news, is that there are three teams in first place, all with identical 18-11 records. So, I say that they’re treading water is fairly accurate. Helping the Whitecaps this second half is infielder Eugenio Suarez. On July 19th, Suarez turned his 21st birthday into one he’ll never forget. He went 4-4 with four RBI’s, including a two-run home run, and reached base in all of his six plate appearances. To top that all off, he came through with a walk-off single with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning, as the ‘Caps rallied from behind to beat the Peoria Chiefs 9-8.  He lined a 2-2 pitch into left field for the win, and was mobbed by his teammates for his efforts.

“I’m so happy because I dedicated this game to my father,” Suarez told MLive.com. “I told my father I was going to have a good game for my family, and I did. I’m so happy and excited because we never gave up and kept working and fighting for this game.”

He’s also been getting the job done in the infield, too. On the 21st, in a close game with the Burlington Bees, Suarez made 11 assists in the field. One of his assists was a throw to the plate that caught a Burlington player trying to steal home in the seventh inning, and that kept his team in the lead. In the third inning, he assisted on all three outs. The Whitecaps won the game 5-0, but it was very close (1-0) until they opened up the offense in the eighth inning.

“That is the first time in my life that I’ve had 11 assists in a game,” he stated. “I like a game like that, I feel excited when I can help the team win with defense.”

We ‘Caps fans like it, too, Eugenio! The team will have to keep playing tough, and starting winning more of these close games (they lost 1-0 last night…grrrr…) if they plan on playing in the post season. And with the teams so evening matched, every game will certainly count.

Photo property of Minoring In Baseball

Moya’s three RBI’s help Eastern All-Star rout

Steven Moya, Tommy Collier, Eugenio Suarez, and Michael Torrealba representing the West Michigan Whitecaps at the 2012 Midwest League Summer All-Star Classic

This season the Midwest League Summer All-Star Classic was held at Fifth-Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva, Illinois, home of the Kane County Cougars. The stadium should not be confused with Fifth-Thrid Ballpark in Comstock Park, MI (Whitecaps), or the two different Fifth-Third Fields in Dayon and Toledo, OH (Dragons and MudHens). Anyway, the West Michigan Whitecaps were well represented in the 2012 ‘mid-season’ classic, as outfielder Steven Moya, infielder Eugenio Suarez, and pitchers Tommy Collier and Michael Torrealba attended the event. Designated hitter Dean Green was also selected to the Eastern Division team, but was unable to play due to being on the DL. The Eastern Division decimated the Western squad 18-2, and a few of the ‘Caps contributed to that score. Moya went 1-2 with two runs scored, and drove in three runs on a bases-loaded triple. He walked and scored a run the first inning, as the Easterners went up 5-0. They ended up scoring 13 runs in the first two innings on 20 hits against the Western Division pitchers. Moya seemed happy with his performance.

“They made a pitching change, the bases were loaded and I was just waiting for a fastball”, Moya stated to MLive.com. “The first pitch I saw was a fastball, and I hit my triple. It fest amazing. The guys swung the bats very well tonight, and were swinging at good pitches. It was a good feeling to help my team score that many runs and it was an honor for me to be here for the first time. I have been having fun the whole time.”

Suarez played a little shortstop, and went one for two in the game, including a two-out single in the sixth inning. Relief pitcher Michael Torrealba never entered the game, but Collier did face one batter. He stopped the Western Divisions two-run ‘rally’ with a strke-out to end the inning. He also seemed happy with the game.

“I got in there and did my job,” he also stated to MLive.com. “I did what they asked me to do and that’s all I can do. I thought I was going to have the whole seventh inning, that was the plan, but it ended up being one batter in the sixth. It was fine because they had other guys who they wanted to get out there and get a chance to pitch.”

The Midwest League Summer All-Star Classic MVP O’Koyea Dickson

The hero of the game, however, was Great Lakes Loons first baseman O’Koyea Dickson. He was a late addition to the Eastern squad, replacing the injured Whitecap Green, but made the most of his opportunity. He went 2-3 in the game, including a two-run homer in the first inning. Dickson was named the Midwest League All-Star game’s Most Valuable Player for his efforts.

We’ll be able to see all of these great players in action in just under two weeks, as the Loons will host the Whitecaps on July 2. It should be a fun time, and the kids have never been to Dow Diamond before, so they’re really looking forward to it!

Whitecaps photo courtesy of Dean Holzworth/MLive.com

Dickson photo courtyes of Jon Garcia/The Saginaw News