The West Michigan Whitecaps are celebrating their 20th season, and along with that allowed the fans to vote for their all-time favorite players. There have been more than 600 optomistic young men that have taken the field for the Whitecaps, with 102 of them breaking into the big leagues. The players were voted for by position in an on-line ballot, and here are the 14 that made the cut.
Manager-Tom Brookens (2007)
Catcher-Brandon Inge (1999)
First Base-Robert Fick (1997)
Second Base-Scott Sizemore (2007)
Shortstop-Brent Dlugach (2005)
Third Base-Nick Castellanos (2011)
Outfield-Matt Joyce (2006), Cameron Maybin (2006), Avisail Garcia (2009-10)
Designated Hitter-Eric Munson (1999)
Relief Pitcher-Francisco Cordero (1997), Ed Clelland (2005, 2007)
You can read the full story HERE on the Whitecaps website. Of all the winners, only Castellanos and Clelland have not played in the Major Leagues. The results are not that surprising, though, knowing the popularity of some of these guys in West Michigan. One of the few positions I voted different was Eugenio Suarez (2012) at shortstop.
Promo photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
The 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
The Streak: The Whitecaps young season has been interesting so far, to say the least. After having the first three games of the season postponed, to a beautifull opening day with 80 degree weather, to their five game winning streak. The unfortunate part, however, is thier current streak that has the team suffering it’s eleventh loss in a row, a new franchise record. The previous record was the inagural 1994 team that endured a nine game losing streak from July 22-30. A streak like this is tough on a ball club, especially the mangaer. Ernie Young made some statements to the Grand Rapids Press:
“We have a young team and we’re going to make mistakes. Right now, we’re taking some lumps, but I expect these guys to keep battling, get better and be professional.” He also stated: “It’s tough on everybody. It’s tough on the players, it’s tough on myself. I go home every night and re-manage the game from that day for anything I could have done differently. My job is to go out there and encourage these guys, let them know I’ve been in their shoes, I’ve done the same things they’re doing. As long as I can keep preaching to the and believe, they’re going to come through.”
Young seems to be the perfect manager to turn this youthfull team around. They’re in the cellar of the Midwest League as of now with a record of 7-14, but they were in last place at the begining of last season while still earning a playoff spot in the second half. The players seem to be taking things in stride, also. Some of the players also spoke to the Grand Rapids Press.
“It’s not like we’re not hitting, it has just been the timing of them,” stated Nick Constellanos. “We’re going to work hard to get through this.”
“Obviously, we’re frustrated,” stated P.J. Polk. “You want to win, but I think we’re as positive as you can be in this situation. Everybody is doinig their part in picking each other up. We’ll be all right.”
It’s only the fist month, so even a small winning streak can even out their record and get them back into the MWL title hunt.
Jonathan Welscott: The Whitecaps had a very special guest announcer on Friday, junior-high student Jonathan Welscott. Jonathan, who just happens to be blind and suffers from a mild for of cerebral palsy, announced the batters in the third inning at Fifth Third Ballpark.
“It was really cool,” Welscott told the Press. “I guess I was a good luck charm for the Whitecaps. I had no idea what it would be like, but it was a cool experience.”
The Whitecap scored three runs in the third while he was announcing. Maybe hire this kid full time? Why not, as announcing is nothing new to this eigth-grader. He’s called middle school and high school games in the past two years including volleyball, basketball, and football. Despite not being able to perticipate in sports, he still loves the games, and has a great attitude for someone who’s undergone more than 20 eye surgeries since he was born.
“Since it is hard to be involved in sports because I’m blind, this is a way for me to be involved in sports and I like doing it.”
This is a ‘beyond baseball’ moment if I ever heard one, people. All the best for this kid.
The Zumaya List: This is formerly known as the disabled list. Whitecaps pitcher Richard Zumaya has recently been put on the DL with shoulder stiffness. The 21-yr-old experienced discomfort after he took the loss in Friday’s game. He joins his brother Joel Zumaya, a career DLer with the Tigers. At least they can keep each other company and get some quality video game time in.
Photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press
Winter Banquet and HOF: The Whitecaps 2011 Winter Banquet will be held on Wednesday, January 19th this year, and will be headlined by Detroit Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski. Also speaking at the event, is new ‘Caps skipper Ernie Young and alumni Will Rhymes and Brennan Boesch. This event will also feature the 2011 Whitecaps Hall of Fame ceremony which will induct current Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya, catcher Ramon Hernandez, and groundskeeper Heather Nabozny. Heather took good care of Fifth Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids before becoming the first female head groundskeeper in the Majors with the Tigers.
Alumni Moves: Former Whitecap center fielder Cameron Maybin was shipped from the Florida Marlins to the San Diego Padres for Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica. Maybin was on the Marlins opening day roster in 2009 and 2010. Maybin was sent to Florida from Detroit in the deal for Miguel Cabrera and was part of West Michigan’s 2006 Midwest League championship team. The Padres look for his range in center to be a great asset playing at Petco Park. Also on the move is pitcher Alfredo Figaro. The Tigers sold his contract to the Orix Buffaloes of the Japanese Pacific League. In eight appearances for the Tigers, he was 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA. Figaro was 10-6 with a 4.14 ERA in 23 starts for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens in 2010.
Tiger Fridays: Tigers Fridays are back at Fifth Third Ballpark for this season. Former Tigers Johnny Grubb, Steve Kemp, Frank Lary, Mickey Tettleton, Dick Tracewski, Jason Thompson, and Richie Hebner will be making appearances. The dates are June 3 & 17, July 1, 22, & 29, and August 12 & 26. The team hasn’t released the dates each former Tiger will be attending, though. I hope I have a chance to make it down to meet Tettleton. He’s one of my favorite players of all time.
Non-Roster Invite: Outfielder Avisail Garcia in one of the 18 non-roster players the Tigers have invited to spring training in Lakeland, FL. Garcia has spent the last two seasons with the ‘Caps and is ranked as the Tigers ninth-best prospect by Baseball America. In 2010 he batted .281 with four home runs, 63 doubles, and 20 stolen bases. In 2009 he was a .264 hitter in 81 games in West Michigan. He’ll be at Spring Training with former ‘Caps outfielders Andy Dirks, Ben Guez, Casper Wells, Clete Thomas, and Brennan Boesch.
Fifth Third Burger on TV…Again: Last year the famous West Michigan Whitecaps Fifth Third Burger was featured on Man v. Food. This year, the giant hamburger will be featured on the Food Network’s series ‘Unwrapped’ with host Marc Summers. The show will air at 9:00 p.m. on January 22 in an episode called ‘Game Day Goodies’. I plan on tackling this monsterous burger this season, but I’ll have three hungary kids to help polish it off. In two seasons, the ‘Caps have served 3,253 Fifth Third Burgers to fans, and 761 have attempted the Challenge to eat the whole thing by themselves. A total of 483 people have won the challenge, earning a T-shirt and their pic on the ‘wall of champs’.
A Look Ahead: This should be a fun year for us at the Whitecaps games. I’m trying to get my work schedules manipulated so the kids and I can make it to Opening Day and hopefully Star Wars day again in July. Brian will be making his debut at Fifth Third Ballpark this season, also. Below is a pic of him sporting his new hat he got for his third birthday on the 11th. I’ve also added a ‘Caps game to my baseball trip, as we’re flying back into Michigan via Grand Rapids. Why not stay and catch one more game?
Photos property of M.I.B.
First Half Report: The Whitecaps finished last in the Midewest League East Division with a record of 26-43, the worst in the team’s history. The club is on pace to score it’s fewest runs in a season (currantly 570 in 2003) and to have the highest ERA (4.04 in 1999). Offensively, the only standout is third baseman Wade Gaynor (pictured) who hit .269 with 20 extra-base hits. On the mound, Giovanni Soto led the way with a 5-4 record and 2.05 ERA. Pitching prospect Jacob Turner and first baseman Jordan Lennerton have been promoted to the Lakeland Flying Tigers of the Florida State League, and made room for some 2010 draft picks on the ‘Caps rosters. Coming to West Michigan are infielder Tony Plagman from Georgia Tech (where he hit 21 homers), catcher Robert Brantly from Univ. of Cal-Riverside (hit .373 with 20 doubles and 11 homers), and first baseman Clay Jones from Alabamba (hit .313 with 17 homers and 66 RBI’s for the Crimson Tide). Hopefully these guys an contribute and help to aviod the Whitecaps falling on their face again in the second half.
2010 Midwest League All-Star Game: Representing the Whitecaps in this seasons All-Star game were 19 year old pitchers Jacob Turner and Giovonni Soto. Turner pitched the third inning, giving up one double and retiring the other three hitters. “Whenever you make an all-strar team, it means you’re doing something right,” Turner told the Grand Rapids Press. “It felt all right. It was one inning. Nothing spectacular and it wasn’t terrible. I just went out there and did my thing. That’s what you have to try adn do.” The lefty Soto came in to pitch a shutout inning in the sixth. He gave up one infield single and struck out one. “I felt proud because I’ve never been on an all-star team”, stated Soto. “And I feel I pitched well.” Their efforts help lead the East Division to a 6-2 victory over the West for the second year in a row, and fifth time in the last six years.
Whitecaps Hall of Fame: Voting has now started for the 2011 class of the Whitecaps Hall of Fame. This years ballot features current Detroit Tigers Joel Zumaya and Ramon Santiago, as well as Detroit’s head groundskeeper Heather Nabozny. Heather is the first female head groundskeeper in Major League history, and used to run things at Fifth-Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids. You can cast your vote HERE.
Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press