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…
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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.”
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Charlotte Knights vs. Pawtucket Red Sox (International League)
Knights Stadium-Fort Mill, SC: Well, it was a beautiful night in Fort Mill, anyway. The stadium is located just south of Charlotte. It was a Saturday game, so there was a really good crowd, and again it was good to see so many kids and families. It was also breast cancer awareness night, so the Knights were wearing their pink jerseys that were auctioned off after the game. The Knights had two mascots on hand, with Homer being the boy dragon, but I didn’t catch the name of the female one. The Charlotte Knights cheerleaders/dance team was also on hand, the lovely KnightinGals. Knights Stadium is nothing spectacular, but is good size for Triple-A. It’s a good walk up the stairs from the front row to the concourse. Some fans are excited by the new stadium being built downtown, but most feel it will bring higher prices for tickets and concessions. The current stadium isn’t that far from Charlotte, and has plenty of parking, so I think an upgrade would be better than a new one. We ended up moving from the front row to the upper deck to get a better view of the action, too. There’s not a bad seat in the house, but we love the upper deck. We met some great baseball fans in Charlotte, and it was a great night for baseball.
The game itself wasn’t much fun for the home town fans, but there seemed to plenty of Red Sox fans cheering the visitors. I guess the Nation really is expanded, because we met plenty of BoSox fans in both North and South Carolina. It was good to see former Whitecap Justin Henry play again, also, for the PawSox. He played in West Michigan back in 2007. Final score: Charlotte 0, PawSox 4.
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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 Detroit Tigers have traded former West Michigan Whitecaps second baseman turned outfielder, Justin Henry to the Boston Red Sox in a deal also involving the New York Mets. They, in turn, received second baseman Jeff Kobernus and LHP reliever Kyle Lobstein. While with the Whitecaps in 2008, Henry hit .295 with 24 doubles, and 27 stolen bases. He was also a Detroit organizational All-Star in 2011. I never really understood why the Tigers would move him to the outfield where they have an abundance of prospects, from the infield, in which they have few. They seem to have gotten a pretty decent infield prospect in Kobernus, though, who spent last season with Double-A Harrisburg (Nationals), stealing 42 bases and hitting .282. He was picked by Boston in the Rule 5 draft, then immediately traded for Henry. The Tigers think he might contend for a utility role in spring training, along with former ‘Caps Danny Worth and Ramon Santiago. Lefty pitcher Lobstein is expected to be in the Tigers’ bullpen next season. Last season he went 8-7 with a .407 ERA and 129 strikeouts for the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits (Tampa Bay). Both Rule 5 picks, Kobernus and Lobstein must remain on Detroit’s 25-man roster all season in 2013 or be offered back at half of their claiming price.
I will miss Justin Henry, though, as he was my favorite player off the 2008 team. As some of my readers know (who am I kidding?), I tend to favor the second baseman, being one myself. I always thought Henry would make it to Comerica Park. I did have something tingling in the back of my mind, though, something about Justin Henry and the old Tiger Stadium…then it hit me! The ball player should not be confused with the actor Justin Henry, though, who made it to Tiger Stadium in the Disney TV movie Tiger Town, staring him and Roy Scheider (JAWS). I really don’t remember this movie from when I was a kid, but picked it up a couple of years ago, and loved it. It is a sad story, though, about a young boy whose father died, but told him that anything is possible as long as he believed. Taking this advise to heart, he wished that his favorite player, an aging Scheider, would play like his old self. It worked!!! Due to the belief in his idol, the Tigers make a historic play-off run. The film also included great Ernie Harwell and Sparky Anderson playing themselves. I highly recommend this movie to any baseball fan, not just us Tiger fans. Oh, Justin Henry was also in some movie called Kramer vs. Kramer, where he almost won an award, or something. Just can’t compete with Tiger Town, though…
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Movie photos courtesy of Walt Disney/Disney Channel
As for the readers who’ve read some of my other posts, I’ve stated that I’m a former second baseman when I played the wonderful game of baseball. As such, I really follow that position when I watch live games. As a fan of the West Michigan Whitecaps, I also follow that position, and the personnel assigned there, with great interest. From Will Rhymes, Scott Sizemore, Justin Henry, to Brandon Douglas, I’ve done my best to keep track of them all as they make their way through the system, even after a trade or two. This season, second base has mostly been occupied by first year player Brandon Loy. Loy has played a little short-stop as well, but defense wasn’t much of an issue with him early on, as much as his hitting. Getting off to a rough start in professional baseball, he went 0-10 with four strike-outs to start the season. With some hard work, Loy has been hitting well recently, though, and is on a 13-game hitting streak. He has six multi-hit games, is now batting .390, and has four steals.
“For me it was just a matter of getting started and getting accustomed to this atmosphere,” Loy told MLive.com. “When you strike out a few times, you tend to start swinging at bad pitches. So I just told myself to relax and I’m just seeing the ball much better now.”
He’s also getting help from outfielder Steven Moya, who’s on a 12-game hitting streak of his own, and now leading all ‘A’ ball players with a .436 batting average. Batting in front of Moya is giving Loy some decent pitches to hit.
“That helps out a lot because I’m seeing a few extra fastballs because he’s (Moya) hitting the ball so well,” Loy stated.
Brandon was a fifth round draft pick of the Tigers last June. It will be fun to watch him play this season, and move up through the Tigers system. Detroit doesn’t really have a number one at that position, so maybe in a few years he can fill that role.
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There’s no real reason to hurry along Tigers’ prospect Nick Castellanos. With the arrival of Prince Fielder, and Miguel Cabrera moving to third base, he’ll have plenty of time to develop before being moved up to Detroit. Castellanos was penciled in at third base in the lineup to take on the Astros yesterday, before the game was postponed due to rain. Tigers manager Jim Leyland had a chance to talk to MLive.com about him, though.
“You don’t want to fill a 20-year-old kid full of too much,” Leyland stated. “You’ve got to be careful about that as well. It’s good (for him) to be around. It’s probably good to listen to everybody. It’s probably not good to hear everybody.”
Castellanos even had a chance to work out with Cabrera in the offseason, and said that it has been ‘awesome’ working with him in Spring Training.
“It’s mostly about learning how it’s done in the big leagues,” Castellanos said about the spring. “Just watching, observing and also getting my work in because I also have a season to prepare for.”
Leyland also commented on him in camp: “I think it’s valuable experience. But like all the young players, it’s about time for him to get over there (to minor-league camp) and get to work where he’s playing every day.”
With the third base spot taken for now, it will be interesting to see if they experiment with him at any other positions, like second base or out field. I’m glad to see, too, that they’re not rushing his development along, like they’ve done with a few other players, and give him the time he needs to become a big league ball player. I can’t wait to see him up with Detroit, but not until he’s ready. Last season with the Whitecaps he batted .312, with 36 doubles and seven home runs.
Justin Henry is another player who has been developing in the Minors for Detroit. He’s played every infield and outfield position in the minor so far, and has posted a .291 average with 104 stolen bases in five seasons. The last two seasons, he’s split time between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. With West Michigan in 2008, he batted .295 with 24 doubles and 46 RBI’s.
Leyland had some very positive things to say about Henry, also: “It looks like he can play anywhere. He look like he’s got a good swing and he can run..with not a lot of power. I think he’s one of those guys that’s kind of grown on the organization. He just kept getting better, and all of the sudden people are taking a little notice. I don’t think he came here with some big fanfare about being some great prospect. All of the sudden, he’s turned himself into a prospect.”
Nice words from the skipper. When he played here in West Michigan, he was at second base. With so many outfielders in the system, I’m wondering if they plan on moving him back to second or even try him out at short stop. We’ll be keeping an eye on him, to this season.
Photos property of M.I.B.