The Detroit Tigers seem to have the pitching rotation for the 2013 season all but set. With Verlander, Scherzer, Fister, and Sanchez almost surely taking up the first four spots, the real competition will come down to the fifth starter. In the eyes of most fans and the Tigers front office, this looks to be a two-man race between Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello. Smyly, the lefty, did well last season, and would be the only south-paw in the rotation. Porcello is the kid with tons of talent, but his numbers could be better. He’s still young, though, and most fans feel his numbers would be much better is the Tigers were a little tighter in the infield. The two-man race aside, spring training is just around the corner, and usually their is a player or two who steps up and forces the coaches to take a good long look in his direction. This spring the guy who could turn some heads in Lakeland could be right-handed pitcher Luke Putkonen. No doubt the Tigers are high on this 6’6″, 210 pounder, and placed him in the Arizona Fall League last, well, fall, to hone some skills. Putkonen’s stats from the AFL aren’t amazing, posting a 5.06 ERA while allowing 19 hits and seven walks in 21 1/3 innings. Last season, he made 24 appearances (two of those starts) for the Toledo Mud Hens, with an ERA of 4.29. When called up to the Tigers, he appeared in 12 games, striking out 10 with a 3.94 ERA. It seems Putkonen needs to develop his secondary pitches to get outs, though, if he’s going to make that jump to the bigs permanent. Statistics show he throws his fastball 65% of the time, with an average speed of 94.6 mph. It also looks like working some long relief may be his calling, but don’t count him out as a starter. Recently Detroit’s assistant general manager Al Avila made some comments about him to the Detroit Free Press:
“He actually impressed us in the Fall League that we feel real good about Putkonen. I know Jim Leyland likes him and lot. He’s a real big guy with real good stuff. We’ve had many conversations about him being a starter or reliever. My thing is-this is just my philosophy-if you can keep a guy a starter and work with him as a starter and all of a sudden he shows he can be a starter, that’s the best-case scenario. If it doesn’t happen, you can always make him a reliever.”
It seems like Putkonen is already getting some positive attention, and it will be fun to watch him in Spring Training here in a few weeks. It’s no secret I love watching the guys we’ve seen play in West Michigan move up the ladder, and we wish him the best. He pitched for the Whitecaps back in 2009, going 7-8 with a 3.13 ERA and 63 strikeouts!
Photo courtesy of the Detroit Free Press
The Detroit Tigers top prospect Nick Castellanos went 2-5 in last nights Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Game. He batted fourth, and was the DH for the West team. His first hit was a shot to right-center off Twins’ prospect Kyle Gibson, and his second was a rip though the left side of the infield off Mariner prospect left-hander James Paxton. Playing for the Mesa Solar Sox, he’s hitting .239 with one home run and three RBI’s. In Lakeland this season, he hit .405 with three home runs, while in Erie he had an average of .264 and pounded seven homers. He played for the West Michigan Whitecaps in 2011, there he hit .312 with 76 RBI’s. He is joined on the Mesa team by some fellow Tiger prospects and Whitecaps alumni. Catching prospect James McCann is hitting 7 for 26 in ten AFL games. First baseman Aaron Westlake played for the Whitecaps this season, where he hit .249. For Mesa, he’s .220 with three home runs. Pitching prospect Luke Putkonen is 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA, while striking out six batters. Relief pitcher Mike Morrison has appeared in eight games, only allowing three runs. Pitcher Matt Hoffman and Tyler Clark also play for Mesa.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Last night the Detroit Tigers clinched the American League Central Division title by beating the Kansas City Royals 6-3. This is the Tigers second Central title in a row, and the 14th division title in their history. As the team picked by most experts and fans from the get-go, the Tigs didn’t make it easy on any of us, and floundered for most of the season around or under .500 before making a final push the last two months of the season. Miguel Cabrera had another big day, going 4-5 with a home run. He’s now batting .329 and is definitely one of the favorites for the MVP. Miggy’s 203 hits, 40 doubles, 44 homers, 137 RBI’s have been equaled only three times in history…twice by Lou Gehrig and once by Babe Ruth. That’s pretty good company, I’d say. It would also be unMIBy of me not to mention the former Whitecaps that are on this championship team, like Alex Avila, Omar Infante, Don Kelly, Andy Dirks, Brennan Boesch, Ramon Santiago, Danny Worth, Avisail Garcia, Brayan Villarreal, Louis Marte, and Luke Putkonen. There. Now all is right with the world for the time being… Good luck to the Tigers in the playoffs!
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
The Standings: The West Michigan Whitecaps are still treading water in the Midwest League Eastern Division, but are sinking a bit. They are currently 21-22 in the second half, and are six games out of first place. They hit a little speed bump with a five-game losing streak, but have bounced back and won two games in a row from the talented Lansing LugNuts, 7-1 and 6-3, who ran away with the first half title. Manager Ernie Young, though, will have to have some Aces up his sleeve, if the ‘Caps are going to capture a playoff spot this season…
Ferrell Honored: Whitecaps pitcher Jeff Ferrell has been named the Midwest League Pitcher of the Week for July 30-August 5. Ferrell had an extremely impressive showing against the Lake County Captains last week in the ‘Caps 6-0 shut-out win. He retired all of the 21 batters he faced before being taken out of the game after seven perfect innings of work. His outing included 11 ground-outs and six strikeouts in 79 pitches, and gave up only three hits. Ferrell, just 21 years old, underwent Tommy John surgery just 14 months ago. He started the 2011 campaign with the Whitecaps, before injury his elbow that led to the surgery. He missed the rest of last season and the start of this season, before joining West Michigan in May. So far, he has a 4-4 record with a 4.42 ERA, with 60 strikeouts, and holding the opposition to a .209 batting average. Ferrell is a native of Wilmington, North Carolina and a 26th round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers.
Fifth-Third one of fifth best: The Whitecaps home, Fifth-Third Ballpark, was mentioned as one of five Minor League ballparks on the Fox News website recently. The story titled ‘Five Minor League Baseball Parks You Have To Visit’, stated that the stadium in Comstock Park, Michigan has the best food for baseball fans. The Fifth-Third Burger certainly still packs a mighty punch. The story can be found here: http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2012/08/01/five-minor-league-baseball-parks-have-to-visit/?intcmp=features
MudHen Marathon: The Tigers Triple-A affiliate in the International League, the Toledo MudHens suffered a tough 10-9 loss Monday night to the Rochester Red Wings. One-run losses are always hard to swallow, especially when they are in extra innings….19 innings to be exact. The contest took over 6 1/2 hours to compete, and featured plenty of former Whitecaps. For the Red Wings, Clete Thomas went 2-8 with a walk and two runs scored. Wilkin Ramirez was 4-9 with a double, run scored, and an RBI. Pitcher Luke French threw for 3.1 innings, giving up two hits and five strikeouts. For the MudHens, Andy Oliver pitched 2.0 innings giving up one hit and striking out 3. Luis Marte gave up one hit, but was burned for two runs in just 0.1 innings. Luke Putkonen pitched five innings, giving up four hits, no runs, and striking out three. Jose Ortega threw for 2.0 innings giving up six hits and three runs.
Rond-on the move: Former Whitecaps pitcher Bruce Rondon has been promoted from the Double-A Erie Seawolves to Toledo. He fills a spot after on of the MudHens’ pitchers was injured in the 19-inning loss. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski stated that he believes that he’s ready for the Triple-A level, though. Rondon started the season at Lakeland, going 1-0, with a 1.93 ERA, with 15 saves, and 34 strikeouts. With Erie, he was 0-1 with a 0.83 ERA, with 12 saves on 23 strikeouts. He struggled with his control last season with West Michigan, issuing 7.6 walks per nine innings, but his walk-to-strikeout ratio this season is 3.8.
Fifth-Third Ballpark photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
Ferrell photo courtesy of MLive.com
Thomas photo property of Minoring In Baseball