Despite the West Michigan Whitecaps barely missing out on the playoffs the last two seasons, a good handful of players from last years team are celebrating a Florida State League championship as members of the Lakeland Flying Tigers. The Flying Tigers beat out the Jupiter Hammerheads in five games for the title, with every game being decided by two or fewer runs. The Lakeland fans packing Joker Marchand Stadium were treated to a classic game five, as both teams were held scoreless for seven innings. Starting pitcher Warick Saupold and former Whitecaps reliever Melvin Mercedes combined for a four-hit shutout with their team scoring the only runs of the game in the eighth inning. Former ‘Caps players combined for some offense, as second baseman Hernan Perez singled and was sacrificed to second by Michael Rockett. Marcus Lemon, who started the season in West Michigan, drew a walk to put runners on first and second. With Dixon Machado at the plate, the Flying Tigers executed a double steal, but a throwing error by Jupiter’s catcher allowed Perez to score the first, and winning, run. Lemon would score on a single by Tyler Collins to make the score 2-0. Mercedes then entered the game on the mound, and retired three out of the four batters faced to seal the win and the championship. It was a great moment for Mercedes, and for Perez, who led the FSL in fielding this season.
“I’ve had something of an up and down season”, Perez told The Ledger(Lakeland). “Especially hitting, so getting on and scoring a run when we really needed it made my whole season special.
“Of all the championship teams I have had the honor of managing, this one has been the most fun to work with because they’re disciplined, they play hard, they believe in each other, and they won and lost as a team not as a bunch of individuals looking out for themselves,” Hupport also told The Ledger.
In a strange twist of fate, the Flying Tigers were the only team not to have a playing on the Florida State League’s All-Star roster. I guess they’ll have to settle for a championship. This is one of the few bright spots for the Detroit Tigers farm system, as the Flying Tigers and the Whitecaps were the on two affiliates with winning records. We wish all these players luck next season, especially the ones who played in West Michigan also. I’m probably one of the few baseball fans already looking to 2013!
All in the family is a good way to describe a small percentage of the West Michigan Whitecaps roster this season. Four of the new Whitecaps players are related to a former or current Detroit Tiger! First is catcher Patrick Leyland, who is the son of Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland. Patrick was drafted in the eighth round of the 2010 draft, and played at short-season Connecticut last year. Manning the second base position in West Michigan will be Colin Kaline, who is the grandson of HOFer Al Kaline. Big shoes to fill for Colin, as Al is one of the greatest Tigers ever, winning the World Series in 1968 and being a 15 time All-Star. Colin also played for the Connecticut Tigers last season. Also patrolling the infield will be Marcus Lemon, son of former Tiger Chet Lemon. Chet was a member of the 1984 World Series Champions during his nine-year stint in Detroit. Marcus was actually drafted by the Texas Rangers, but picked up by Detroit as a Minor League free agent in February. Pitching out of the ‘Cap bullpen this season will be Nick Avila. Nick is the cousin of current Tigers’ catcher Alex Avila, and the nephew of Detroit’s Vice President/Assistant General Manager Al Avila. Like I said, all in the family…
Joining the above mentioned on the 2012 ‘Caps roster, are seven of the Tigers ten 2011 draft picks. These are some decent prospects consisting of first baseman Aaron Westlake, shortstop Brandon Loy, and third baseman Jason King. The Whitecaps have some quality players returning from last season, too, who made a late season run and barely missed out on the playoffs. Outfielder Steven Moya and lefty pitcher Kyle Ryan are two of those returning players, and give the Whitecaps a more experienced ballclub this season. While the 2011 Opening Day roster consisted of six teenagers and twelve players under 20, this year club has just one teenager and five 20-yr-olds. The lone youngster is Danry Vasquez, one of the top 30 Detroit prospect despite having only one professional season under his belt.
The Whitecaps have been a pretty busy crew, though, despite only being in town a few days. Yesterday they held and open practice for the public, and took time to meet the fans and sign autographs. Today, a handful of players like Westlake, Loy, and Moya, participated in the Tigers vs. Mud Hens game in Toledo. They open the season tomarrow in Dayton, Ohio, against the Dragons. It was a nice surprise to see these guys in the lineup on TV, and a chance to see them in action before our game next week. I’m hoping that this is an exciting year in West Michigan!
Photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press