Andrew Graham, who managed the Connecticut Tigers of the NY-Penn League the last three seasons, will take the helm in West Michigan for the 2014 season. Former manager Larry Parrish was promoted to take over the Toledo Mud Hens last fall. Graham is the first Whitecaps alumni to come back and manage in West Michigan, as he was a catcher in 2003-04. He previously coach the Gulf Coast League Tigers from 2009-10, and served as the Tigers Minor League catching coordinator in 2010.
Graham, a native of Sydney, Australia, was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 19th round of the 2003 draft. He played six seasons in the Tigers’s system, including the ‘Caps. In 2004, he helped West Michigan claim the Midwest League championship, hitting ,253 in 26 games. In 2005, he hit .190 in 32 games before being promoted to Lakeland. He was also in attendance when the team won the 2007 MWL title, and seems to have fond memories of his time north of Grand Rapids.
“I loved it”, he stated to MLive.com. “West Michigan fans are just the best. The area is beautiful and, to me, it’s like the big leagues in the minor leagues.”
While in Connecticut, he led the Tigers to a 33-42 last season, 35-40 in 2012, and 39-31 in 2011. He seems to be ready for the step up to the Midwest League level.
“I’ve done three years in Connecticut, and I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong time, but I think I was able to handle myself there”, Graham said. “I think I developed good relationships with the players and I’m ready to do that with the Whitecaps.” While stating that he’s a players coach, “In that meaning I like to get to know the players and foster relationships to develop trust. I want them to know I have their backs when it comes to evaluating them and helping to develop their game.”
Both the Whitecaps and Tiger organizations seem very pleased with the promotion of Graham. Jim Jarecki, the ‘Caps Vice President, stated to the Grand Rapids Press: “Andrew was definitely a player that you could look at and see that he had the make-up to manage once his playing days were over. Being the first former Whitecap to come back to manage in West Michigan is a great opportunity for him and I know that the Tigers are confident in his leadership skills to manage at this level.”
And Dan Lunetta, Detroit’s director of minor league operations had this to say: “After three years managing our Connecticut affiliate, we believe Andrew is ready to take the helm and advance to the Whitecaps. He has worked diligently and prepared himself well for the opportunity to advance to the next managerial step in our system. We’re also very pleased that for the first time, a former Whitecaps player as a Tiger will be managing the club. West Michigan is a very special place to play and work and we know Andrew is looking forward to returning to Grand Rapids with great anticipation.”
We wish him and the Whitecaps the best this coming season. We plan on making the trip down to a game in early April.
Photos courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps/MLive.com
Well, I’ve had a few days to mull this over…after the inevitable happened to (former) Tigers‘ third baseman and mainstay, Brandon Inge. I really don’t think any other player has had this love/hate relationship with fans as he does. Detroit faithful either love him, or call for his head on a platter. Very few seem to be in between. From a business standpoint, the Tigers organization had to do this, and with the majority of the fans leaning toward the ‘hate’ side, it was the right time. I give the Tigers credit, though, as they really gave him every chance this season to play and be effective. After going 2-20 (.100), it was apparent that he just wasn’t going to be the hitter he was during is All-Star year in 2009. In fact, he hasn’t done much since then. I also think that the Tigers are giving him a chance by releasing him. Giving him a chance to maybe catch lighting in a bottle somewhere else, and if that doesn’t happen, then he’ll be welcomed back into the organization in some capacity. I wrote a post back in February on why he’d make a fine Minor League coach, and would probably be in Toledo or West Michigan do to their proximity to Detroit, where Inge and his family live year round. That can be found here: http://burrilltalksbaseball.mlblogs.com/2012/02/12/the-future-of-brandon-inge/
Now, it looks like he’ll get his chance as a member other of the Oakland Athletics, who reportedly signed him yesterday. He’ll be patrolling third base as usual, ironically replacing former Tiger and Whitecap Scott Sizemore, who is out for the season with a torn knee ligament. If things don’t work out for him playing ‘moneyball’ on Oakland, I’m still believe that Tigers’ owner Mike Illitch will find a place for him in the organization somewhere. He’s a great owner, who is very loyal to players loyal to his teams. And Inge is the longest tenured Tiger since Alan Trammel and Lou Whitaker…
Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press
Opening Day of the 2012 baseball season is finally here in West Michigan. A lot more goes into this event, and every other game for that matter, than the coaches strategies and the players batting practice. The grounds crew, vendors, and maintenance workers are tirelessly getting Fifth Third Ballpark ready for the thousands of fans. This Miller Lite‘s for you….for all the workers who make it possible for us fans to enjoy the ballpark experience. We can’t make it tonight, but the kids and I will be there on Wednesday! The Whitecaps are 1-2 on the young season, beating Dayton Saturday night in 11 innings.
Photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press
All in the family is a good way to describe a small percentage of the West Michigan Whitecaps roster this season. Four of the new Whitecaps players are related to a former or current Detroit Tiger! First is catcher Patrick Leyland, who is the son of Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland. Patrick was drafted in the eighth round of the 2010 draft, and played at short-season Connecticut last year. Manning the second base position in West Michigan will be Colin Kaline, who is the grandson of HOFer Al Kaline. Big shoes to fill for Colin, as Al is one of the greatest Tigers ever, winning the World Series in 1968 and being a 15 time All-Star. Colin also played for the Connecticut Tigers last season. Also patrolling the infield will be Marcus Lemon, son of former Tiger Chet Lemon. Chet was a member of the 1984 World Series Champions during his nine-year stint in Detroit. Marcus was actually drafted by the Texas Rangers, but picked up by Detroit as a Minor League free agent in February. Pitching out of the ‘Cap bullpen this season will be Nick Avila. Nick is the cousin of current Tigers’ catcher Alex Avila, and the nephew of Detroit’s Vice President/Assistant General Manager Al Avila. Like I said, all in the family…
Joining the above mentioned on the 2012 ‘Caps roster, are seven of the Tigers ten 2011 draft picks. These are some decent prospects consisting of first baseman Aaron Westlake, shortstop Brandon Loy, and third baseman Jason King. The Whitecaps have some quality players returning from last season, too, who made a late season run and barely missed out on the playoffs. Outfielder Steven Moya and lefty pitcher Kyle Ryan are two of those returning players, and give the Whitecaps a more experienced ballclub this season. While the 2011 Opening Day roster consisted of six teenagers and twelve players under 20, this year club has just one teenager and five 20-yr-olds. The lone youngster is Danry Vasquez, one of the top 30 Detroit prospect despite having only one professional season under his belt.
The Whitecaps have been a pretty busy crew, though, despite only being in town a few days. Yesterday they held and open practice for the public, and took time to meet the fans and sign autographs. Today, a handful of players like Westlake, Loy, and Moya, participated in the Tigers vs. Mud Hens game in Toledo. They open the season tomarrow in Dayton, Ohio, against the Dragons. It was a nice surprise to see these guys in the lineup on TV, and a chance to see them in action before our game next week. I’m hoping that this is an exciting year in West Michigan!
Photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press