Well, this is like Deja Vu all over again, as the Detroit Tigers organization has traded away one of my favorite prospects and former West Michigan Whitecap Javier Betancourt. I went through this a year ago when the Tigers shipped Devon Travis off to Toronto for Anthony Gose. I know this is a business, and the organization is making deals to better itself and be competitive for the 2016 season, but I’ve seen many of my favorite Whitecaps get traded away over the years. As a fan, it’s simply easier to invest in players that you’ve met and seen play live many times. Also, as a former second-baseman myself, they tend to be my favorites to track up through the system. Players like Scott Sizemore, Justin Henry, Brandon Douglas, Betancourt, and most recently Joey Pankake, have patrolled second base at Fifth Third Ballpark, and I’d hope to see do the same at Comerica Park in TV. Sizemore had his chance, but was dealt after the fact, and many don’t even make it that far. Henry has come back to the organization as a scout, so I guess that could be considered a victory, right?
As for Betancourt, he’s now with the Milwaukee Brewers organization, and in return the Tigers received a much needed closer in RHP Francisco Rodriquez (K-Rod). The Brewers will also receive a player-to-be-named-later, as will the Tigers, possibly, well, that’s not guaranteed, I guess. Detroit signed Betancourt as non-drafted free-agent in 2011. With the Whitecaps in 2014, he hit .269, with 18 doubles and 54 RBIs, and was a Midwest League All-Star as the youngest player in the league. This past season with the Lakeland Flying Tigers, he hit .263, with 17 doubles and 48 RBIs. Known for his above-average defense, he was also considered a hard worker by coaches, and a good teammate by his peers. We wish him all the best in Milwaukee, and say ‘hi’ to former Whitecaps Hernan Perez and Corey Knebel for us…
Photos property of Minoring in Baseball
As a former second-baseman myself, I tend to pay more attention to that position while watching the games, and tracking players. Especially when it comes to the West Michigan Whitecaps, and tracking them through the Detroit Tigers’ system. I’ve had the luxury of seeing some pretty good players over the years, with the number four printed next to their name on the lineup card, with the likes of Wil Rhymes, Scott Sizemore, Justin Henry, Brandon Douglas, Hernan Perez, and last season’s sensation Devon Travis. This season patrolling the infield of Fifth Third Ballpark is 18-year old Javier Betancourt, who is ranked as the Tigers 14th best prospect by Baseball America. Last season he played split time between the Venezuelan Summer League and the Gulf Coast League Tigers, hitting for an impressive .333 average. The Tigers were impressed also, and assigned him to West Michigan this spring.
“I was surprised when they told me I was going to spend the year here and that I would be in long-season,” Betancourt stated to MiLB.com. “But I’m looking forward to playing here and getting 500 at-bats. It’ll be hard, but baseball is what I love to do. I thank God for the opportunity.”
Betancourt doesn’t seem to have missed a beat so far this season, as his 34 hits are second in the Midwest League. He also is second on the Whitecaps in batting average with .304, and leads his team with 17 runs scored. The 5’10”, 155 pounder, also has hit five doubles and knocked in 14 RBI’s in the first month of the season. He has also seen time at short-stop and third base in West Michigan, and it would be nice if he was able to compete in the MWL All-Star in June, hosted by the Whitecaps.
“You always want to do your best, whether it’s batting .300 or hitting 20 homers,” he stated. “I just want to play for the team, get better and help win a championship. I’ll do what I know how to do.”
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
I’ve really enjoyed watching the Detroit Tigers’ pre-season games so far during Spring Training. I especially like seeing the former West Michigan Whitecaps players wearing the ‘D’, and hanging with the big boys in major league camp. Nick Castellanos is hitting the ball very well, and proving so far he’ll fit nicely into the hot corner at Comerica. It’s fun to watch Casey Crosby on the mound, trying to get back to that form that made him a top prospect, and the likes of Hernan Perez, Eugenio Suarez, and Devon Travis patrolling the infield. There is always that one player, however, that really stands out, and this season that guy seems to be outfielder Steven Moya. The 22-year-old started out on a tear this spring, going 2-4 with a double, a triple, and four RBI’s against Florida Southern College in the Tigers’ exhibition game. He recently followed that up with another impressive performance against the St. Louis Cardinals, being a home run away from hitting for the cycle, and knocking in another four RBI’s. So far in Grapefruit League play, he’s batting .412, with two doubles, a triple, and five RBI’s (stats against FSC don’t count). Moya was added to the Tigers 40-man roster in December, but despite his play, few think he’ll make the Tigers’ roster out of spring training.
“I like what I see, but he’s young,” manager Brad Ausmus told Chris Iott of MLive.com. “He’s inexperienced, really. He’s had some freak injuries that he missed some time with. I definitely like him. He still needs some time in the oven. He’s swung the bat well from day one. He really hasn’t let up at all offensively.”
Moya played for the Whitecaps during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. In 2011 he struggled a bit, hitting .204, with 10 doubles, and 39 RBI’s. He improved drastically in 2012, hitting .288, with 14 doubles, three triples, nine home runs, and 47 RBI’s in only 59 games before being injured. He also played in the 2012 Midwest League All-Star Game, going 1-2 with two runs scored, and three RBI’s on a bases-loaded triple. We should have a good chance to see Moya play this season if he stays in the minors, as we’ll be making stops in both Toledo and Erie form some games this June. All the best to him the rest of the spring, and for the 2014 season.
UPDATE: Moya has been optioned to Double-A Erie SeaWolves. The Tigers also cut five other players on Friday, bring the number of players in major league camp to 40. Moya’s final big league camp numbers are a .333 average, with five doubles, and one triple in 21 at-bats.
“You can make an argument he was the MVP of camp. The problem is that he was in A-ball and he really just needs to play. He needs experience,” Ausmus stated to MLive.com. “We certainly have a high ceiling for him. But asking a guys with 90 games in A-ball to go to the big leagues is an enormous jump. So, the best thing for Steven Moya is to play.”
Photo courtesy of MLive.com/Grand Rapids Press
I kind of went off the beaten path the Logo of the Month on this one. It is such a cool logo, though, I just had to feature it. Tickets for the 50th Midwest League All-Star Classic that will take place just north of Grand Rapids, go on sale on March 4th, with the game itself scheduled for June 17th. This will be a great way to kick off our baseball trip for sure. Grand Rapids boasts the name ‘Beer City, USA’, after winning an online poll for two years in a row. Fifth Third Ballpark also host the annual Michigan Brewer’s Guilds Winter Beer Fest in February, with many local breweries at the event. This is the third time in history that the Whitecaps have hosted the All-Star Classic, the other years being 1995 and 2003. Last season, Whitecaps’ second baseman Devon Travis won the Most Valuable Player award. Deik Scram also won that award in 2007 for his all-star game performance. Four current Detroit Tigers’ players have represented the Whitecaps in the past, including Ramon Santiago (2000), Don Kelly (2002), Hernan Perez (2011). and Bruce Rondon (2011). Miguel Cabrera participated during the 2001 season, representing the Kane County Cougars. Other notable MWL alumni to play in the all-star game are Mike Trout in 2010 (Cedar Rapids), Clayton Kershaw in 2007 (Great Lakes), Prince Fielder in 2003 (Beloit), and Wil Myers in 2010 (Burlington).
Despite the West Michigan Whitecaps barely missing out on the playoffs the last two seasons, a good handful of players from last years team are celebrating a Florida State League championship as members of the Lakeland Flying Tigers. The Flying Tigers beat out the Jupiter Hammerheads in five games for the title, with every game being decided by two or fewer runs. The Lakeland fans packing Joker Marchand Stadium were treated to a classic game five, as both teams were held scoreless for seven innings. Starting pitcher Warick Saupold and former Whitecaps reliever Melvin Mercedes combined for a four-hit shutout with their team scoring the only runs of the game in the eighth inning. Former ‘Caps players combined for some offense, as second baseman Hernan Perez singled and was sacrificed to second by Michael Rockett. Marcus Lemon, who started the season in West Michigan, drew a walk to put runners on first and second. With Dixon Machado at the plate, the Flying Tigers executed a double steal, but a throwing error by Jupiter’s catcher allowed Perez to score the first, and winning, run. Lemon would score on a single by Tyler Collins to make the score 2-0. Mercedes then entered the game on the mound, and retired three out of the four batters faced to seal the win and the championship. It was a great moment for Mercedes, and for Perez, who led the FSL in fielding this season.
“I’ve had something of an up and down season”, Perez told The Ledger(Lakeland). “Especially hitting, so getting on and scoring a run when we really needed it made my whole season special.
“Of all the championship teams I have had the honor of managing, this one has been the most fun to work with because they’re disciplined, they play hard, they believe in each other, and they won and lost as a team not as a bunch of individuals looking out for themselves,” Hupport also told The Ledger.
In a strange twist of fate, the Flying Tigers were the only team not to have a playing on the Florida State League’s All-Star roster. I guess they’ll have to settle for a championship. This is one of the few bright spots for the Detroit Tigers farm system, as the Flying Tigers and the Whitecaps were the on two affiliates with winning records. We wish all these players luck next season, especially the ones who played in West Michigan also. I’m probably one of the few baseball fans already looking to 2013!
Congrats to outfielder Avisail Garcia, who became the 100th West Michigan Whitecaps alumni to play in Major League Baseball. He was called up to the Detroit Tigers Friday from the Double-A Erie Seawolves. He had a key RBI single in the Tigers 7-4 over the Chicago White Sox. He went 2-4 in last nights 4-2, and is now batting .429. Detroit would sweep the series, tying the ChiSox for first place in the AL Central Division. Garcia is the eight former Whitecap to be called up to a MLB team this season, with Tigers bringing up pitchers Casey Crosby, Luke Putkonen, Jose Ortega, and Thad Weber, as well as infielder Hernan Perez. Former Tigers 2007 Minor League Player of the year Gorkys Hernandez debuted with the Pittsburgh Pirates this season, and catcher Rob Brantly debuted with the Marlins after being traded to Miami this month. Speaking with MLive.com about the Whitecaps organization was Toby Harrah, former roving hitting instructor, and now assistant hitting coach with the Tigers. He had nothing but good things to say about the organization and quality of the ballpark, coaches, and front office.
“It’s the best environment in the world for playing,” Harrah stated. “It’s a great atmosphere for young prospects. It’s a big-league ballpark where everything is first class. It’s a great way to introduce kids to playing professional baseball.”
Thirteen ‘Caps alumni were even part of Detroit’s Central Division championship team last season, including Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch, Brandon Inge, Ramon Santiago, Andy Dirks, Ryan Raburn, Scott Sizemore, and Duane Below. The Tigers organization has also used some former West Michigan players for trade, gaining the likes of Miguel Cabrera for Cameron Maybin. Whitecaps vice president Jim Jarecki also spoke with MLive.com about the teams’ milestone.
“We’re proud of them,” said Jarecki. “A good percentage of players who’ve gone on to the majors started here. They put on a professional uniform for the first time here and they are always going to remember that. For us to know that many of them were in Whitecaps uniforms is something that we’re very proud of and lends a lot of credibility to our organization.”
As for Garcia, he was signed by the Tigers back in 2007, and played in West Michigan in 2009-10 as a teenager. He hit .281 in 2010 with 17 doubles and four home runs. With Boesch struggling this season, the right field position could be open if Garcia can make the best of his playing time, and help the Tigers to the playoffs.
Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press
Ok, I’ve been slacking a bit on my Whitecaps coverage, but at least I’ve been to more games this season that the last few years, so that more fun that’s just reading the stats. The Whitecaps are off to a solid second half, so here’s hoping they can stay hot and continue their playoff streak. Inserted are photos from the ‘Caps recent series with the Fort Wayne TinCaps from the Grand Rapids Press. Happy 4th of July everyone….
First Half: The Whitecaps really struggled early this season, with such a young roster, but were able to battle back a bit. They ended the first half 32-37, which was good for 6th in the eight team division. What’s impressive, is that they went through a rough 12 game losing streak early in the season, so being able to recover from that is a positive sign.
Second Half: West Michigan is off to a solid start in the second half of the season, going 7-4, which is good enough for second place in the East one game behind the Dayton Dragons. Outfielder Jeff Rowland is off to a great start in this second stint. He’s batting .400 with four doubles, six walks, and a .600 OBP. The pitching staff is also getting the job done for the Whitecaps. Their starters have had seven quality starts in the first 10 games and are 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA. The team has gone 17-8 since June 3 and are almost at .500 for the entire season.
Team Leaders: Rookie sensation Nick Castellanos is emerging as a team leader, despite having a slow start to his first full pro season. He’s leading the ‘Caps in batting average with .306, RBI’s with 48, and SLG% with .441. James Robbins is leading the team in home runs with 10, and Luis Castillo is tops with a .369 OBP. On the mound, Kevin Eichhorn leads the team in three categories of his own: wins with 6, SO with 68, and a 1.17 WHIP. Antonio Cruz has the best ERA with 3.29, and Bruce Rondon is tops with 15 saves.
All Stars: Representing the Whitecaps in this year Midwest League All-Star game were Bruce Rondon, Rob Brantly, and Hernan Perez. Rondon pitched a scoreless 0.2 of an inning with one strikeout. Brantly went 0-3, while Perez went 0-2 in the East’s 8-3 loss to the West. In this season’s MLB All-Star game, catcher Alex Avila of the Tigers has been voted in as the starter. He’ll be joined on the American League roster by Matt Joyce (TB) and may face the National League’s Jair Jurrjens (ATL) on the mound.Photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press
Anyone thinking that being a grounds keeper at a professional ball park is an easy task, think again. After a freak snow storm dumped over three inches on Fifth Third Ball Park on Monday, first year head groundskeeper Adam Ferrell and his crew took action. Actually, more than 20 staff members, including front office personnel, the grounds keepers, and salesman all chipped in to remove the snow. It was a three hour process, with snow ball fights, snowmen, and Christmas music keeping the mood light. Even a Christmas tree was placed on the Whitecaps dugout.
Ferrell told the Grand Rapids Press: “I was a little nervous when I first woke up and it was coming down good, but we got some manpower behind it and everybody chipped in. We removed the snow off the tarp, flipped it over, and let Mother Nature do her thing. It melted by 3 p.m.”
With eleven forign-born players on the West Michigan roster, some were seeing this type of weather for the first time. Outfielder Luis Castillo from Panama and Clemente Mendoza from Venezuela are two of them.
“I was like, oh my God,” Castillo told the Press. “This was the first that I’ve seen this and couldn’t believe it.”
Mendoza chimed in, “It’s really depressing, and nobody from the Latin countries have seen this before. I didn’t think we would be playing baseball, I thought they would cancel the game because of the snow on the field.”
Ferrell, an intern with the Whitecaps in 2008, though, was up to the task. He worked under Heather Nobozny and the Detroit Tigers in 2009, and was head groundskeeper for the Spokane Indians of the Northwest League last season. He was named the NWL Sports Turf Manager of the Year for 2010.
The ‘Caps were able to play Monday’s game, but were rained out Tuesday night. They were able to beat the Fort Wayne TicCaps by the score of 7-3, much due to the return of designated hitter Billy Nowlin. Nowlin drove in four runs including a two-run homer to lead the way for West Michigan. After being hit in the head and sustaining a concussion in spring training, he was just activated from the DL on April 14. In his four game so far this season, he’s hitting .400 with two home runs and six RBI’s. Nowlin was a Midwest League All-Star in 2009, and split last season between High-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie.
“I’m just going to keep going out and playing hard, playing with my team here and see what happens,” Nowlin told the Press. “It’s always nice coming back to a place where you already know the ins and outs and stuff like that. Being familiar with a place is always a good thing.”
Manager Ernie Young seems happy to have Nowlin on the roster as well, “He swung the bat very well tonight. Billy being here is definately a good thing because it solidifies the middle of the order.”
Catcher Rob Brantly also drove in two runs in the game, and Hernan Perez scored three runs. On this hill, Jeff Ferrell picked up his first win of the season.
Photos courtosy of the Grand Rapids Press