The Detroit Tigers have signed left-handed pitcher Duane Below to a minor league contract, with a non-roster invite to major league training camp. The former Tiger is expected to compete for a spot in the bullpen for next season. Below played eight seasons in the Detroit organization, before being claimed off waivers early last season by the Miami Marlins. He then took his talents to Korea in July, playing for the Kia Tigers of the Korea Baseball Organization. In 43 games for Detroit, he posted a 4.27 ERA. He flopped between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo this season before making the moves to Miami and Korea. He went 5-5 with a 3.04 ERA in 17 starts between the two farm clubs. A member of the West Michigan Whitecaps in 2007, he went 13-5, with a 2.97 ERA, and 160 strike outs. Below is a hometown boy from Britton, Michigan, and played college ball for Lake Michigan Community College. I wish him all the best in his return to Detroit, and hope he can crack the opening day roster next season.
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Next seasons’ Baseball Trip will be a little later this time, in June instead of May. One of the reasons for the change, is that we wanted to hit the Midwest League All-Star game on June 17th in West Michigan. This should be a great experience as I’ve never been to an all-star game before. This will be the hardest game to get tickets for, so I really need to be on the ball when they go on sale. The next day takes us south to Columbus, OH to check out our first Clippers game. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the stadium and franchise, so it should be a game to remember. The day after is a double-header for us. We start out with the Toledo Mud Hens for a day game. We saw the Hens back in 2007, and look forward to another great time at Fifth-Third Field. After we see the Hens, we head east to see the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and our first New York-Penn League game. Travelling in the early spring usually prevents us from making these games, since they start their season in mid-June. We stay busy the next morning, hitting the big city of Cleveland to check out the Baseball Heritage Museum. I don’t know much about this, so if anyone has been there any info would be appreciated. Next we enjoy more Midwest League action visiting the Lake County Captains in Eastlake, just east of Cleveland. Lake County and Bowling Green are the only two MWL teams I haven’t visited yet, as they transferred from the South Atlantic League a few years ago.
The next stop on our journey should be interesting, visiting Canton, OH, and just south of that the Temperance Tavern and Cy Young Museum. Again, I don’t have much info on this, so if anyone has visited there I’d appreciate your input. That’s just one stop on our way to Washington, PA to see the Wild Things in Frontier League action. Washington is an independent team, but it look like they have a nice stadium. The town was just awarded a pro softball franchise called the Revolution, too, so that’s something else to look into. The next morning, we travel north to see the Detroit Tigers’ Double-A affiliate, the Erie Seawolves. This is another team I’ve wanted to see for some time, and look forward to checking out some of the Tigers’ prospects. Another double-header for us, we go a little farther east to check out our second New York-Penn League team in the Jamestown Jammers. And..our trip concludes with the newly dubbed Akron RubberDucks. This should be a fun adventure if the weather holds, and it should be better in June. If anyone has been to this region and can recommend any other points of interest or eating establishments, I’d love to hear about them.
Well, Nick Castellanos has been mentioned on this blog about a billion times, so one more time probably won’t hurt anything. He did have a great season with the Toledo Mud Hens this past summer, that earned him a call up to the Detroit Tigers in September. Despite not making the playoff roster, many believe he has a great shot a being the Tigers’ everyday left fielder in 2014 (with the Tigers trading Prince Fielder, he looks to have a shot at starting at third base now). Also mentioned many times before, we had the luxury of watching him play for the West Michigan Whitecaps back in 2011, and he was nice enough to sign a baseball for Lily. So, here is another interview from MiLB.com, this one done by Sam Dykstra. Enjoy…
Castellanos: I think I approached it pretty well. They were trying to find a spot for me in the lineup with Prince [Fielder] signing and Miguel [Cabrera] moving over to third. I know I’m not going to be playing third base as long as Miguel is in the organization, so when they approached me to make the move, I knew it was just about trying to find a spot for me, and that was easy to take. It’s going to be my best path to the big leagues right now, and that’s a good thing. I do miss third base, though. Eventually at some point, I’d love to go back.
MiLB.com: How long did it take to you get to comfortable out there in left field?
Castellanos: It was difficult at the beginning, to be honest. I had never played outfield in my life before that. It’s not like I was trying to learn shortstop again, like I did in high school, or making a move over to second. I had never done that in my life, so it was a different feeling out there. I felt uncomfortable at the beginning, with the game being so far away. But I have to give credit to our outfield coordinator, Gene Roof. He spent all day and all night with me trying to get everything down, and I feel much better out there.
MiLB.com: Another part of the transition was the move up to Triple-A Toledo. What was that like?
Castellanos: I had to mature a lot more up there, that’s for sure. You’re facing great pitchers, day in and day out. In Triple-A ball, every guy you’re facing has their approach down and knows exactly what they’ll do with you when you come up to the plate. Plus, the bullpens in Triple-A are just day-and-night better than the ones you’re facing at the lower levels. You just have to get a feel for some of the flamethrowers, make adjustments like anywhere else and be prepared for what you’ll see.
MiLB.com: That being said, you were able to handle Triple-A pitching fairly well. Why was that?
Castellanos: I think that just goes to my confidence at the plate. All I need are at-bats and a little bit of time, and things usually get around to where they need to be.
MiLB.com: Where does that confidence and your general hitting prowess come from?
Castellanos: Most of it is that I’m always working on hitting. I’ve been hitting all the time since I was little, since I started playing really. I’m always trying to learn about the game I love, and the only way I can do that is to keep working hard at it. With that, whether I’m 0-for-4 or 4-for-4 on a given day, I’m still having fun at the plate because I like it so much up there. That amount of fun contributes to my success a little. I don’t mind putting work in because I enjoy it that much.
MiLB.com: Because of that hitting ability, you were able to get a callup to the Tigers in September during their playoff run. Describe that experience.
Castellanos: Just because who I am, I wish I got to play more when I was there, but they were competing to finish first in the division and stuff, so that happens. I got to start four games, and I was pretty happy with the way I hit when I did start. But for me, playing off the bench is difficult, you know? When I come to the park, I’m ready to go and want to get out there. I got some pinch-hit at-bats in the seventh inning or later, so that was something I had to get used to — preparing starting in the sixth, being on call, stuff like that. But above all, it was about getting used to the Major League life — the plane rides, what time to get to the field, what to do in the pregame. It was a good learning experience for that stuff.
MiLB.com: One of the things about joining that Tigers team, too, is that it’s a squad that is heavy with veterans. Was there anyone you sought out in particular?
Castellanos: First, everybody in that locker room is such a great guy. It’s easy to come into as a rookie because of that. But one guy that’s super-knowledgeable and just a super guy overall is Torii [Hunter]. He makes himself so open and so approachabl,e not only to the veterans but to the rookies like myself, too, and that’s a big help.
MiLB.com: What did you talk to him about specifically?
Castellanos: Above all, they were mostly outfield questions. I’d watch him out there and then try to pick his brain about why did he go after a ball here and why did he go that way there. The thing about Torii is that he picks up pitches so well. So if I saw him do something that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, I tried to talk to him about it. Overall, he just makes the game fun. He’s been in the game for 17, going on 18 years, so it’s great he can share stuff with me.
MiLB.com: Besides Hunter, it must have been interesting to play with Miguel Cabrera, not only because of who he is, but because you’re a guy from the Miami area.
Castellanos: It is pretty wild. In ’03, I watched the World Series with him in it, and I was actually there when he went “oppo” against Clemens after he threw at him. I was idolizing Cabrera when I was little, and then the first run I scored in the Majors was driven in by Miguel. It’s cool how everything comes full circle like that. Being 10, 11 and watching him play and now I’m with him on the field. Beyond that too, Alex Fernandez — my coach in high school — won a World Series with Jim Leyland, and I played under him too. Just cool how that all happens.
MiLB.com: Speaking of Leyland, you got to play under him right before he retired. What was that like?
Castellanos: Leyland is very professional in everything he does. From a player’s perspective, he’s fun to watch and has been doing it for so long. I think someone said that he’s filled out something like 4,800 lineup cards in his career. Anyone with that much experience in baseball, you know you have to listen and respect what they do. I feel like I know so much about baseball already. But compared to Leyland, and beyond that, [bench coach Gene] Lamont and [former hitting coach and recently named Mariners manager Lloyd] McClendon? I don’t know anything. All I can do is watch them, learn and see how Jim would manage a game, even if that meant sitting there thinking, “Why would he do this?” Being around him, I was able to just add a lot of knowledge that wasn’t there.
MiLB.com: Leyland’s also known in baseball circles as a fairly colorful character. Got any good Leyland stories?
Castellanos: The biggest thing that comes to mind is one day [Sept. 4] we got beat pretty bad by the Red Sox. It was the day [David] Ortiz got his 2,000th hit, and we lost by a lot [20-4]. I went into the clubhouse thinking, “Man, if we’re in Toledo right now, we’re going to get chewed out.” And then he walks in and just says, “Well, tomorrow’s a great day for an off-day, huh?” And that was it. It was really loose and easy, and it was his way of telling us to pick up our heads and keep on pushing through because there were a lot of other big games coming up.
MiLB.com: After those big games were through, the Tigers moved onto the playoffs, but you were left off the postseason roster. How did you handle that?
Castellanos: It was pretty nerve-racking, knowing I couldn’t help or contribute in any way. All I could do is watch from my living room in Miami. There were even a couple of times I had to turn off the TV because I couldn’t watch anymore.
MiLB.com: Many see you as likely to be on the big league roster come Opening Day. How do you approach the offseason with that in mind?
Castellanos: Pretty much like any other offseason really. I don’t want to put any added pressure on myself. I just have to work hard and be ready come spring, just like I always have.
MiLB.com: If it does come down to it, that you are the starting left fielder for the Tigers on Opening Day, how ready do you feel for that opportunity?
Castellanos: Oh, 100 percent. With the instruction I’ve gotten from the people that have helped me in the outfield, I know I’m ready. I know I can help the team right now. It’s tremendously exciting to think about. Any time you play in the big leagues is a great opportunity, and I’m ready to do that every day.
MiLB.com: With all this being said, probably the biggest thing to happen to you this year was the birth of your first child. Does Liam have a bat in his hand yet?
Castellanos: No, he’s only three months so he hasn’t touched anything yet, but he does have a couple of gloves and a couple of bats with his name on them already. When he was born, that was better than the big leagues. My Major League debut was on Sept. 1, and my son was born Aug. 1. I was there when he was born, but on the morning of Aug. 3, I had fly back to Toledo and didn’t get to see him again until Sept. 1. When I did get that callup, all the reporters were asking me, “How did you feel about your Major League debut?” What I really wanted to say was I just want to spend time with my son.
It definitely puts your perspective on an 0-for-4 day, I’ll tell you that. Whether I’m 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, I still have a beautiful, healthy son that I care a lot about. To strike out with the bases loaded or make an error in the field, it doesn’t mean so much anymore.
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Congrats to Wil Myers of the Tampa Bay Rays on winning the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year award. I was lucky enough to see him play back in May while he was still a member of the Durham Bulls of the International League and even back in 2010 when he was playing for the Burlington Bees of the Midwest League. Wil posted a .293 average, with 13 home runs, and 53 RBI’s this season with the Rays. Just another example to get out to the Minor League ballparks when you get a chance. You never know what future award winners you’ll be witnessing.
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Yesterday Minor League Baseball and Rawling Sporting Goods released the names of the nine players chosen to receive Gold Gloves for defensive excellence at their position. Three out of the nine happen to be Detroit Tigers prospects and former West Michigan Whitecaps. The 2013 Rawlings Gold Glove Award winners were chosen from all the qualifying players from the ten domestic-based, full season Minor Leagues. Each player will receive his own Rawlings Gold Glove Award, modeled after the iconic award given to MLB’s top defensive players. Taking home the award at first base is Jordan Lennerton, who played with the Toledo Mud Hens in 2013. He posted an impressive .996 fielding percentage, with 1, 167 put outs, and five errors. Lennerton played two seasons in West Michigan, hitting .282 with 71 RBI’s, and a .996 fielding percentage in 2009. In 2010, he hit .290 with a .993 fielding percentage. Covering the hot-corner is Wade Gaynor. He had a .967 fielding percentage, with 95 put-outs, 227 assists, and 11 errors playing third base for the Erie Sea Wolves. We were lucky enough to meet Wade (pictured above) back in 2010 when he was with the Whitecaps. He hit .286 with 39 doubles, 80 RBI’s, and a .927 fielding percentage that year. Earning the honor in left field is Jason Krizan, who just played for the Whitecaps the last two seasons, where he hit .242 with 59 RBI’s, and a .980 fielding percentage combined. This season with the Lakeland Flying Tigers, he had a .995 fielding percentage, 175 put-outs, and only one error in the outfield. Congratulations to all three players. It was fun watching them in West Michigan, and I’ve been enjoying tracking their progress through the Tigers’ system.
“I know what an honor it is for a player to receive a Rawlings Gold Glove Award, having been involved in presenting them to the winners the last two years,” stated President and CEO of Minor League Baseball, Pat O’Conner. “The players really appreciate and understand how prestigious the accolade is and I want to thank Rawlings Sporting Goods for their continued support of Minor League Baseball.”
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For the second season in a row, the West Michigan Whitecaps are left without a manager. Unlike last season, however, this change comes with a promotion. Larry Parrish (pictured), who led the ‘Caps to a 69-70 finish in the Midwest League, has been promoted to helm the Toledo Mud Hens in 2014. This isn’t his first experience with Detroit’s Triple-A affiliate, as he managed Toledo in 1994 and from 2003-2010. Under Parrish, the Mud Hens won back to back Governor’s Cup (International League) championships in 2005 and 2006. Parrish has won more games for Toledo than any other manager at 569. It looks like three times a charm for him, as he has some great support from the parent club Tigers, as well as the Hens.
“As a manager, he’s a great teacher, and I know we’ll see improvement in player development,” said Toledo’s general manager and team president Joe Napoli in a press release. “For our fans, he’s always been a favorite, they will be glad to welcome him back.”
“He’s going to be missed,” stated Whitecaps vice president Jim Jarecki to MLive.com. “Having LP on board, he was a great guy on and off the field. He was great to work with and the guys really liked and respected him. Even though the record didn’t reflect it, the players gravitated to him and he was a great leader.”
This is a good move by the Tigers’ organization, and a deserved promotion for Parrish, as he’s already in the International League Hall of Fame. We already have a couple of dates circled on the calendar for season to watch the Mud Hens, so we’ll be seeing him again soon. Now…what about the Whitecaps? The Single-A affiliate is once again in need of a skipper, and it will be interesting to see who the Tigers will assign. I’ve written in the past how I think that Brandon Inge would be a good fit in West Michigan. The Tigers’ have basically stated that they’d like him back in the organization once his playing days are done, and Inge always said positive things about the ‘Caps. We’ll see if he retires at the end of the season, though, and if he shows interest in coaching. Jarecki aslo stated the Tigers should name the ‘Caps new manager sometime in early October, so the safer bet may be seeing the promotion of Connecticut Tigers manager Andrew Graham. He has been at the helm of the C-Tigers for the last three seasons, and before that coached the Gulf Coast League Tigers from 2009-2010. He also served as the Tigers minor league catching coordinator during the 2010 season. This season, Graham led Connecticut to a 33-42 finish, good for third place in the New York-Penn League‘s Stedler Division. He is also a Tigers product, getting drafted by Detroit in 2003, and was a catcher in the organization from 2003-2008. A native of Sydney, Australia, Graham also played in the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009. I’ll be keeping a close eye on who gets the West Michigan job. The Whitecaps have missed the playoffs the last three season, so whoever is chosen I hope they can break that streak in 2014.
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For anyone who cares for the prospect ratings, one of the most respected analysts is ESPN’s Keith Law. Also, for anyone who cares about the Detroit Tigers, the only prospect who appears on his top 50 list is outfielder Nick Castellanos. Castellanos has moved up to number 22 on the list, but some feel his value has actually gone down since moving to the outfield. After seeing him play in West Michigan in 2011, his defense at third wasn’t really his strongest tool. He wasn’t horrible, mind you, but a move to the outfield in an organization that sports Miguel Cabrera at the hot corner, can only be a positive move for him. Castellanos started the season ranked at 38, but is having a solid season in his first year at Triple-A with the Toledo, batting .281 with 12 home runs and 49 RBI’s. In June, he pounded out a .361 average with five home runs, but has slumped a tad in July. He has gone 3-6 after the Triple-A All-Star Game, however, a game he missed due to the birth of his first child.
Here’s what Law stated from ESPN: “Castellanos is now a full-time right fielder, which hurts his potential value relative to what it might have been had he stayed at third base, but he’s putting together a solid season as one of the International League’s youngest everyday players, working the count more effectively while already setting a career high in home runs. He might be more above-average regular than superstar after the position switch, which still makes him very valuable and a likely trade target for sellers this month.”
Nick is not exclusive to right field, though, and has played in left for Toledo and Erie last year. If the Tigers do decide to move Castellanos, it should be for a player that will not only improve their chances at a World Series this season, but for years to come. He’s still only 21-year-old, so plenty of time for him to develop and not rush his Major League debut, which some feel will come this September. For the Whitecaps in 2011, Castellanos hit .312 with 36 doubles, seven home runs, and 76 RBI’s. He is currently ranked 15th on the prospect list released by Baseball America, also.
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Durham Bulls Athletic Park–Durham, NC: This is one that have been on my bucket list for some time…the Durham Bulls. And what a better time than the 25th anniversary of the hit movie Bull Durham? The new ballpark is located right downtown, so parking can be a nightmare. Throw in all the construction, and it’s a pain if you don’t get to the ballpark early. The Durham Bulls Athletic Park was simply the gem of our trip. It’s an amazing ballpark with no bad seat in the house. It’s easily one of the best minor league parks we’ve ever been to. It was a beautiful sunny day, and luckily we were able to catch some shade. It was a little ironic, too, that we were sitting next to someone from my hometown, Grand Rapids, MI. I enjoyed the game immensely, and the Bulls really do put on a great show for their fans. Triple-A is also a good chance to see the young stars on the rise, and former major leaguers in action as well. If you’re a baseball fan, you need to see a Durham Bulls game. It’s as simple as that.
The game itself saw the Bulls defending their home turf against the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. The Bulls took care of business early, and never looked back. Lead-off hitter Jason Bourgeois led the way offensively, going 3-4 with an RBI. Third-baseman Vince Belome contributed a pair of hits and an RBI, also. Alex Colome earned the win on the mound for the home team, throwing seven complete innings. Our Durham experience lived up to the hype, and couldn’t have gone better (well, maybe it would have been nice to see a player win a steak, and the mascot hit by a pitch). Final score: Bulls 8, Iron Pigs 2.