The Detroit Tigers were a busy bunch at the Winter Meetings in San Diego. Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski traded away a few more West Michigan Whitecaps alumni, trying to build a team to win the World Series in 2015. The price was steep, and we fans had to say goodbye to some solid young ballplayers. Before the meetings even began, the Tigers traded away middle-infielder Domingo Leyba, along with pitcher Robbie Ray, to the Arizona Diamondbacks in three-way deal that brought starting pitcher Shane Greene from the New York Yankees. The 19-year-old prospect hit .397 in 30 games for the Whitecaps this season, after being promoted from Class-A SS Connecticut Tigers when short-stop Willy Adames was traded late last season to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The second trade involving some West Michigan alumni, had another middle-infielder in Eugenio Suarez and starting pitcher Jonathan Crawford shipped to the Cincinnati Reds for pitcher Alfredo Simon. As a rookie, Suarez hit .242 with four home runs, and 23 RBI’s last season in 85 games with Detroit. In 2012 with the Whitecaps, Suarez batted .288 with 34 doubles and 67 RBI’s. His .947 fielding percentage helped him win a Minor League Baseball Gold Glove at short-stop (.971 at short, and his fielding percentage was 1.000 at second base). Crawford was a first round draft pick by Detroit in 2013. He pitched for the ‘Caps this season, going 8-3 with a 2.85 ERA, and was the starting pitcher for the East at the Midwest League All-Star Classic played at Fifth Third Ballpark.
The Tigers also lost former Whitecaps pitcher Alex Burgos in the Triple-A/Double-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft. The 24-year-old hurler saw action in Lakeland, Erie, and Toledo, but mostly with the Flying Tigers earning a 4.26 ERA. He suited up for the ‘Caps in 2011, pitching to a 6-5 record and a 2.19 ERA. We were able to see him pitch on Star Wars night that season. Two other former ‘Cap pitchers, Edgar De La Rosa and Montreal Robertson were spared in the Major League portion of the draft. We wish the best of luck to all of the players we were lucky enough to watch in West Michigan.
Midwest League MVP: For the third time in history, a member of the West Michigan Whitecaps was named Midwest League Most Valuable Player, in Wynton Bernard. The 23 yr-old outfielder leads the league with a .328 average, first in run scored with 89, hits with 159. He’s second in the league in total bases with 217 and on-base percentage with .401. Bernards’ 159 sets a Whitecaps’ franchise record, which he set on Sunday at South Bend.
“It feels so amazing,” Bernard told MLive.com. “Just thinking about all that I’ve been through the past year…it’s pretty special.”
What’s amazing, is that he was released by the San Diego Padres in January, and joined the Tigers via an open tryout in March in Lakeland. Now, he joins Robert Fick (1997) and Gorkys Hernandez (2007) as Whitecaps named league MVP.
Post-season All-Stars: Joining Bernard in the MWL post-season All-Star Team, are pitchers Buck Farmer and Kevin Ziomek. Farmer, who’s made two appearances with the Tigers this season, went 10-5 during his time in West Michigan. He posted a 2.60 ERA with 116 strikeouts, which lead the league at the time. Ziomek is currently 10-6 with a league-leading 145 strikeouts. He leads the league with a rate of 11.15 strikeouts per nine innings, that could also be a franchise record when the season is done.
Pitcher of the Week: Although he didn’t make the post-season All-Star squad, pitcher Jon Maciel was named the Midwest League Pitcher of the Week for August 18-24. Maciel was brilliant during the ‘Caps’ 5-0 win over Dayton on Thursday, giving up one hit in seven shut-out innings. The 21 yr-old hurler struck out a career high 10 batters, including six straight. Maciel was an 18-round pick in the 2013 draft out of Cal State-Long Beach. So far this season he’s 6-6 with a 3.97 ERA and 85 strikeouts. He joins Austin Kubitza (x2) and Jonathon Crawford as recipients of the award this season.
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Kicking off our annual baseball trip this season will be the 50th Midwest League All-Star Game in Comstock Park, MI in less than two weeks. This will be the first All-Star game of any kind that we have attended, and it will possibly be the highlight game of the trip. The gates to Fifth Third Ballpark will be opening at 4:00 p.m., and we’ll be able to see both teams take batting practice and be able to take part in an on-field autograph session. Also in attendance, joining the Whitecap’s own Crash the River Rascal, will be Big Lug (Lansing), Lou E. Loon (Great Lakes), Fang (Wisconsin), and Johnny (Fort Wayne). There will also being jugglers, stilt walkers, and face painters on the concourse before the game. Sounds like a great place to be a kid, and it’s almost guaranteed we’ll be seeing some great baseball. The Midwest League has announced the rosters for the event, also.
The West Michigan Whitecaps lead the way with five (or six?) players selected. Infielder Javier Betancourt (.272, 68 hits) and outfielder Wynton Bernard (.298, 14 doubles) were picked as the position players representing the ‘Caps. On the mound, pitchers Buck Farmer (5-4, 2.81 ERA), Austin Kubitza (5-0, 2.02 ERA), and Joe Mantiply (4-1, 2.00) will represent West Michigan. Jonathan Crawford (2-1, 2.27 ERA) is listed on the ‘Cap website, but has yet to be added to the official roster. That’s a very good group for the home-town fans to root for.
The Lansing Lugnuts will be sending four players north on I-96. Starting for the Eastern Division will be first baseman Matt Dean (.297, 3 triples, 2 home runs) and third baseman Mitch Nay (.267, 31 RBI’s). Outfielder Derrick Loveless (.287) will come off the bench, as will pitcher Griffin Murphy (2-2, 1.73). Not a bad group to represent the Lugnuts this year.
Three members of the Great Lakes Loons will also be all-star bound. Starting for the Eastern Division will catcher Kyle Farmer (.308, 15 2B, 33 RBI’s) and outfielder Joey Curletta (.314, 72 hits, 95 total bases). On the hill will Mark Pope, with a 1-0 record and miniscule 0.41 ERA. What the Loons lack in quantity, that definitely make up for in quality. All three players are having great seasons in the Midwest League this year!
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Well, I knew that the headline would get somebody’s attention…. Yes, Ben Verlander, brother of Detroit Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander, will suit up for the Whitecaps this season. He was a 14th round pick out of Old Dominion last season, who batted .219 for the Connecticut Tigers in 2013, and was a NY-Penn League All-Star. Another 2013 draft pick joining the team this season is starting pitcher Jonathan Crawford, who is ranked as the Tiger’s #5 prospect by MLB.com. Crawford pitched three seasons of NCAA baseball for the Florida Gators, and threw two games for the C-Tigs. Kevin Ziomek will also be a quality arm on the Whitecaps pitching staff. The lefty is a second-round pick (third overall) by Detroit last season out of Vanderbilt, pitched eight innings in four games for Connecticut. Right-hander Zac Reininger will be a force to recon with on the mound also, once he’s off the seven-day DL, as he posted a 1.00 ERA in 22 games also with Connecticut last season. The Whitecaps should also get some starts from pitchers Austin Kubitza, Buck Farmer, and Chad Green. Another top-20 prospect in West Michigan this season will be shortstop Javier Betancourt. The 18-year-old played for the Gulf Coast League Tigers last season, hitting .333, and only stuck out 14 times in 177 at bats. He was also named the GLC Tigers’ Player of the Year.
The Whitecaps roster will include some familiar faces also, in players such as pitchers Jeff Thompson, Montreal Robertson, Julio Felix, and Jonathon Miciel, catcher Bennett Pickar, infielders Dominic Ficociello and Curt Powell, and outfielders Raph Rhymes and Austin Schotts. Rhymes came to the ‘Caps last season after being a 15th round pick by the Tigers out of LSU, and was the NCAA batting champion in 2012. He hit .345 last season, good for second best on the team. Schotts was the starting center fielder in West Michigan last season, before finishing up the year down in Connecticut. The Whitecaps will be led this season by new manager Andrew Graham, who coached a decent chunk of the roster in Connecticut last season. He’ll try to bring a playoff berth to West Michigan for the first time in three seasons. This looks like it could be a really exciting season in West Michigan, with the roster sporting seven pitchers from the first ten rounds of last season’s draft, and plenty of college experience for the position players. I really look forward to seeing this team on the field, and can’t wait until April 12th! You can view the complete 2014 Whitecaps roster HERE!
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