The Detroit Tigers have named Joe Jimenez as their Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and outfielder Mike Gerber Player of the Year. Both players laced up their cleats in West Michigan this season, and both were instrumental in the Whitecaps winning the Midwest League Championship. The 20-year-old Jimenez posted a 1.47 ERA in 40 games with the ‘Caps this season, earning five wins and 17 saves. He struck out 71 batters in 43 innings of work, with a 0.79 WHIP. His 97-98 mph fastball and nasty slider made him the ‘Caps ‘go-to’ guy in late innings, especially in the playoffs. Jimenez was the Tigers’ lone representative at the All-Star Futures game this past July in Cincinnati, and will head back to his home of Puerto Rico to play winter ball.
Gerber hit .292 this season in West Michigan, smacking 13 home runs and 76 RBI’s. He also added 31 doubles, 74 runs scored, and swiped 13 bases with a .822 OPS playing in 135 games this season. He also played eight games with the Whitecaps in 2014, hitting an impressive .387 with five RBI’s. Gerber, 22, was drafted by the Tigers in last seasons’ MLB Amateur Draft out of Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, in the 15th round. Ranked number 18 on Detroit’s prospect list, he’ll join fellow Whitecaps’ alums Austin Kubitza (last season’s Pitcher of the Year), Montreal Robertson, Dominic Ficociello (recently awarded a MiLB Gold Glove with a .996 fielding %), and Adam Ravenelle in the Arizona Fall League. JaCoby Jones will also be representing the Tigers as a member of the AFL’s Scottsdale Scorpions. It was fun to watch Jimenez and Gerber play for West Michigan this season, and I’ll enjoy watching them climb the latter up the organization.
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.
West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Beloit Snappers (Midwest League)
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Well, this was our first ballgame of the season, and the Michigan weather treated us about as well as can be expected. I want to make a statement, too, that I loathe the Weather Channel. They are complete liars, and I will never trust them again. Never. Despite what mother nature through at us, though, we had a fun time together at the Whitecaps game, and I still was happy just to be watching live baseball. The kids had a fun time, and the game was part of their Papa’s birthday present. I was still impressed at how good Fifth Third Ballpark looked after the fire in January, too. They did a good job of rebuilding it and getting it ready for the season. We settled in and grabbed some hot dogs and pop for the kids, and a beer for my dad and I. The boys and I went down to the field level to watch pitching coach Mike Henneman work with some of the staff, and see some of the warm-ups. The game was off to a good pace with lots of action early on. I really like how Andrew Graham is working this team; lots of movement on the base paths, bunting, and smart baseball. Lily took Brian to the park for a short time, and he was able to meet the new mascot, Roxy, a female River Rascal. The rain hit us about the third inning, but we toughed it out until the tarp came out after the top of the fifth.
The game was a good one for the Whitecaps, as they produced four runs before the delay, and four after for the win. The ‘Caps racked up a season high 15 hits to go along with the season high of eight runs. Raph Rhymes led the way offensively, going 3-5 with two RBI. He was helped out by both Brett Harrison and Wynton Bernard who were each 3-4. Javier Betencourt was 2-4 with and RBI, and Ben Verlander was 2-5 to pitch in, also. On the mound, Buck Farmer earned the win, only giving up one run, striking out six, and issuing one walk. He pitched himself out of trouble at times, leaving the bases loaded in the first inning, and eight Snappers runners on base. Montreal Robertson and Will LaMarche kept Beloit in check the rest of the game. A good outing, and good work by this team all around. It will be interesting to see which players make the All-Star squad here in June, as there are a handful of candidates so far in the early going. We had planned on maybe hitting a Great Lakes Loons game, also, while down state, but the Weather Channel stated it would be raining all day (they ended up playing a double-header on a beautiful day…). We’ll see the Whitecaps again early next month down in Lansing as they take on the Lugnuts. Final Score: Whitecaps 8, Snappers 1.
And the tarp comes on the field:
Video from my YouTube channel:
All photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball
The West Michigan Whitecaps successfully held their home opener on Tuesday night. Was there ever any doubt? Apparently, there was, as the organization coined the phrase ‘never in doubt’, when stating that Fifth Third Ballpark would be ready, willing, and able to host baseball after the fire back in January. Co-owners of the team Lew Chamberlin and Denny Baxter addressed the crowd before the game, welcoming them back for a new season. The two business partners became fast friends, and together brought baseball to West Michigan in 1994. They both had the same feeling about Tuesday as they did 21 years ago.
“I’m so glad to see all you here tonight because this is why we do this,” Baxter stated to the rabid Whitecaps fans. “This is your team. This is your facility. Lew and I are so proud to be the stewards of this franchise for you folks.”
The season is underway, but there is still some work to be done. Most notably the home clubhouse and suites on the first base side.
As for the game, the Whitecaps hung on to beat the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 3-2. Jeff Thompson was the starter, pitching 4-plus innings, striking out six and did not get scored on. Julio Felix earned the win, despite getting into trouble a few times. Montreal Robertson earned his second save of the season in the win. Offensively, Dominic Ficociello knocked in the winning run, going 1-3. Ben Verlander also went 1-3 with two RBI’s, and Javier Betancourt singled and scored a run. The ‘Caps improved to 3-2 on the young season, but dropped game two to the T-Rats, and are now 3-3. The home stand continues over the weekend, and we’ll finally get to see them play on Saturday. Manager Andrew Graham seems to know there’s some work to be done, but is also confident in this team.
“We’ll be a scrappy team,” Graham stated to MLive. com. “We’re going to have to fight for those 27 outs every game.”
Photos courtesy of MLive.com/West Michigan Whitecaps
2013 Roster: The West Michigan Whitecaps, along with the parent Detroit Tigers, set and released the opening day ‘Caps roster yesterday. Well travelled manager Larry Parrish will take the helm of a more veteran club than we’ve seen in West Michigan the last couple of seasons. Every player on the roster is over 20, with the exception of top prospects Austin Schotts and Danry Vasquez, who will be 19 for the entire season. Schotts was the Tigers second pick in the 2012 draft, and is ranked as their fifth overall prospect by Baseball America. Last season with the GCL Tigers, he hit .310, stealing 15 bases, and scoring 31 runs in just 40 games. Schotts has the speed and athleticism for center field, which earned him a brief promotion to the Lakeland Flying Tigers late in the season. Vasquez, also and outfielder, started the 2012 season with the Whitecaps as the youngest player in the Midwest League. He struggled early, but excelled after being sent to the Connecticut Tigers in the NY/Penn League, where he hit .311, racking up a league leading 90 hits, and slugging 20 extra-base hits. Vasquez is ranked the sixth overall prospect for Detroit by BA. Joining the outfield duo from last seasons C-Tigs roster are pitching prospects Montreal Robertson (ranked 18th), Endrys Briceno (22), and Edgar De La Rosa (29). All three are expected to be part of the ‘Caps starting rotation this season, although no opening day starter has been named. The grandpa of the team will be returning outfielder Michael Hernandez, who suited up for West Michigan back in 2006, helping the team win the Midwest League Championship. He hit for the cycle twice that season, and set a record at the time with seven RBI’s in one game. The Tigers re-signed Hernandez, after trading him away in 2007. He’s played the last four seasons in the independent Atlantic League. Also returning from last season team are pitchers Brennan Smith (3-4, 3.86 ERA), Chad Smith (0-2, 4.38 ERA), Slade Smith (1 sv, 3.59 ERA), infielder Jeff Holm (.254 BA), and Lance Durham (.238, 4 HR).
Although this is his first season with the Whitecaps, Larry Parrish has managed the Tigers, Toledo Mud Hens, and has been the hitting coach in Texas. He’s joined on the bench by first year pitching coach, and former Tiger Mike Henneman, and returning hitting coach Scott Dwyer. This looks like it could be a special season for the Whitecaps…I’m hoping so anyway!
Open Workout: Whitecaps fans can meet and greet the new players and coaches, and catch up with the returning ones on Wednesday, April 3. The team will be holding an open workout where fans can watch practice, and get some autographs afterward. The event starts at 1:00 p.m., with the team practicing at 1:30, and the meet and greet from 2:30-3:00. The event is free for the public, as is the parking! If I was living a little closer, I’d be there for sure, as it was a big hit last season. The ‘Caps take the field for Opening Day on the 4th, hosting the Dayton Dragons.
Whitecaps on TV: For all the games I can’t make it down from the Upper Peninsula for, the Whitecaps have signed a deal to have all of the their home games broadcast on MiLB.tv. I bought this last season, and loved it. It’s also very cheap if you buy it along with the MLB.tv package. They join all Triple-A teams, along with select Double and Single-A teams who are broadcast on the network. They join fellow Tiger affiliate the Toledo MudHens, and fellow Michigan team the Great Lakes Loons also. Living so far away from the ballparks, this is really a great deal for me, so I can keep up on all my teams. I wish the MiLB.tv would be compatible with the online streaming devises for my regular TV, though, like the MLB.tv is. Watching on computer or iPhone is ok, but doesn’t compare to watching them on the big screen!