The West Michigan Whitecaps are celebrating their 20th season, and along with that allowed the fans to vote for their all-time favorite players. There have been more than 600 optomistic young men that have taken the field for the Whitecaps, with 102 of them breaking into the big leagues. The players were voted for by position in an on-line ballot, and here are the 14 that made the cut.
Relief Pitcher-Francisco Cordero (1997), Ed Clelland (2005, 2007)
You can read the full story HERE on the Whitecaps website. Of all the winners, only Castellanos and Clelland have not played in the Major Leagues. The results are not that surprising, though, knowing the popularity of some of these guys in West Michigan. One of the few positions I voted different was Eugenio Suarez (2012) at shortstop.
Promo photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
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!
Being a non-roster invitee to major league spring training, is like being in high school, and getting a birthday party invite from the prettiest girl in school. For six former members of the West Michigan Whitecaps, being invited to the Detroit Tigers camp must seem pretty sweet. The Tigers have 17 non-roster invites in all.
Of all the invitees, utility man Don Kelly has the most experience at the big league level. He recently re-signed with the Tigers, after being told after the World Series that there would not be room for him on this years roster. Kelly played for the Whitecaps back in 2002, batting .286. He had 21 doubles and 59 RBI’s, plus an impressive .728 OBS. Kelly only hit .186 at the major league level last season, but due to his versatility and experience he may have a chance to crack the roster. An obstacle in his way, though, is that the Tigers are looking for a right-handed hitter to platoon with Dirks in left field, and Kelly is a lefty.
Top prospect Nick Castellanos (pictured above with Lily) will be at the Tigers camp, also. He did his time in West Michigan in 2011, when he was just 19 years old. After a slow start, he really had a solid season, hitting .312, with seven home runs and 76 RBI’s. He patrolled third base at Fifth Third Ballpark, but was moved to the outfield last season, after Miguel Cabrera took over the hot corner in Detroit. Castellanos made 23 errors at third for the ‘Caps, and ended the year with a .917 fielding percentage. With his defense not being his strongest asset, the move could be good for him, but he just needs time to develop those skills, so I doubt that he’ll be making an appearance at Comerica this season. Be patient, though, his time will come. Castellanos was the Tigers Minor League Players of the Year in 2011, also.
Two of the three catcher invited to camp played for the Whitecaps, too. James McCann was the Tigers’ second round pick in 2011 after finishing his collegiate career at the University of Arkansas. He played nine games for the Whitecaps in 2011 also, hitting only .059, with two singles and one double. He only made one error, though, and threw out 4 runners out of 19 attempting to steal. Curt Casali was also drafted by the Tigers in 2011, after playing his college ball at Vanderbilt University. He played parts of two seasons in West Michigan, 2011 and 2012. In 2011, he played 25 games hitting .227, with two home runs and 14 RBI’s. He only made one error behind the plate, and threw out seven base runners. In 2012, his average increased to .288, with 12 doubles, eight home runs, and 25 RBI’s. He only allowed on passed ball, and threw out 20 potential base stealers. In my opinion, the Tigers are still a little weak at catcher, so if either of these guys has their bat catch fire, they have an outside chance of making the roster.
Kenny Faulk pitched for the Whitecaps back in 2010. His record was 5-4 with an impressive 2.16 ERA. He made 12 saves, giving up no home runs, and striking out 78. His ERA inflated last season at the Double-A level, so he’ll need to bring that down a bit before getting consideration. I’d have to gauge his fast ball, and see his secondary pitches before making an informed opinion on his chances to make the team, though. I look forward to seeing him in spring training, and hope he can earn a spot.
Another weakness in Detroit is at the short stop position. Last season, though, the Whitecaps’ Eugenio Suarez won the Golden Glove as the best short stop in the minor leagues. He played 119 games at short, and 15 at second base, so he does have versatility at middle infield. He had a .971 fielding percentage, with 257 put-outs and 349 assists at short. He had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage at second. At the plate, Suarez hit a very respectable .288, with 34 doubles, had 64 RBI’s, and stole 21 bases. Keep in mind, these are all in 2012 at the Single-A level. He’ll still need a few more seasons to develop, but the Tigers I’m sure are very happy with the way he’s progressing, and I’m confident he’ll be scooping ’em up at Comerica in no time. Just not this year.
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.
Bruce Fields is back with the Detroit Tigers organization as their new Minor League hitting coordinator. He got his start with the Tigers almost ten years ago, and is back after a stint with the Cleveland Indians as their hitting coach. After the change in management, Fields’ contract wasn’t renewed in Cleveland. The change brings him into a familiar situation, though, as he spent a good chunk of his playing career in the Tigers’ farm system. He made his Major League debut with Detroit in 1986. As a coach, he started with Class A Jamestown before being promoted to the Toledo Mud Hens. As manager of the Whitecaps, he coach current Tigers Omar Infante and Ramon Santiago. He sported an impressive 331-220 record in West Michigan, including three season with the league’s best record. Fields was twice voted the Midwest League’s Manager of the Year, and led the ‘Caps to MWL championship in 1998. He was inducted into the Whitecaps Hall of Fame in 2010.
Another perk to his job with the Tigers organization, is the opportunity to work with his son, Daniel, who is a 2009 draft pick of Detroit, and spent last season with the Double-A Erie SeaWolves. He’s currently the 7th ranked prospect in the system, behind plays such as Bruce Rondon, Nick Castellanos, and Avisail Garcia. Coaching your own son isn’t always easy, but it can always be very rewarding.
“It’ll obviously be a challenging situation–the father-son, coach-player dynamic,” he told MLB.com. “But our dynamic is strong. Whereas some people I know say they have a hard time coaching their children, my son listens. We might not see eye to eye on everything, but they’ll listen. Both my sons are good that way. There won’t be any issues that way.”
Last Monday the West Michigan Whitecaps’ season came to an end. Also coming to an end, was Ernie Young’s tenure as the ‘Caps manager, as he was notified after the game by the Detroit Tigers organization that his contract won’t be renewed. This news he handled with class, and kept to himself, until he was back home in Arizona the next day.
“They’re not going to renew my contract for next year,” Young stated to MLive.com over the phone. “I knew yesterday, I just didn’t tell anyone. They gave a reason (but Young did not state the reason). There are going to be some changes, but that’s the only one that I can tell you about. I can’t speak to or for anyone else.”
The ‘Caps went 72-68 this season, and 70-69 in 2011. Unfortunelty, they missed the playoffs both years even with winning records. At this point it’s unknown whether pitching coach Mark Johnson or hitting coach Scott Dwyer will be brought back, but both did their job well. Coaching in the minors is a tough gig, but I thought Young has done a pretty good job. Last season with top prospect Nick Castellanos struggling out of the gate, the coaching staff helped him turn his season around and lead the league in hits. West Michigan struggled at times this season more due to injuries than anything else. They lost power hitters Steven Moya and Dean Green to injuries, then a promotion to Green. They also lost catcher Curt Casali when he was promoted. Young is a former manager of the Class-A Kannapolis Intimidators in 2009-10. The 2009 team lead the South Atlantic League with a 82-57 record. He has also served as hitting coach for Great Falls in the Pioneer League in 2008 following his Major League career that included eight seasons with Oakland. His 142 wins is fifth all-time for the Whitecaps. He seems positive he’ll land with a new team, though.
“I’ll redo my resume’ tonight and tomorrow and get it out to the other teams and go from there”, Young said. “I’ll bounce back and I’ll be on my feet. I’ll tell you what, I enjoyed my time in West Michigan. The fans were great to me. I don’t have anything to be upset about because I know how hard I worked and what I gave to the organization.”
I wish Young all the best, as I think that he did well the last two seasons in West Michigan. Now, I guess, is the time to try to guess who the new manager will be, although we may not get an answer for several months. Back in February, I wrote that I thought that former Tigers infielder Brandon Inge would be a perfect fit in West Michigan. Some of my reasons included his 12 year stint with Detroit, and owner Mike Illitch’s reputation for taking care of his loyal players, and the fact that Inge still lives in Michigan and has his family here. His experience at various positions and the fact that his playing career may be coming to and are other factors. In fact, this season for Inge has already come to an end due to injury. Now, also playing for the Oakland A’s, Inge suffered a season ending shoulder injury on the first of the month. He originally dislocated it on August 11, and had just come off the DL when he injured it again.
“My damn shoulder came out again,” Inge told the Sporting News. “I gave it my best shot. I knew it was going to be rough coming into it. In a year like this, you don’t leave anything on the table. I literally gave everything I had to offer to this team. And I’m at peace with it.”
He also stated he was in pain before the re-injury, but wanted to help the A’s in their playoff push. In 74 games with Oakland, he hit .266 with 11 home runs and 52 RBI’s. Inge was brought in last April when fellow Whitecaps alumni Scott Sizemore went down with a season ending injury of his own. If Sizemore is good to go by next season, it will be unlikely that Inge’s contract will be picked back up, and courting a new time at this point in his career could prove difficult. Now, I like Brandon Inge, I really do. I love the fact that he wants to compete and contribute to his team, and I respect the hell out of that. At this point in his life, though, it may be time for a change. A job with the Whitecaps would put him very close to his family, and give him a stable environment. Inge is still very popular in West Michigan and has said nothing but good things about playing there. I’m sure if the Whitecaps themselves had a say in it, he might be a top candidate. It’s the Tigers organization, however, that will make that call. Honesty, I don’t see any other reason that Young would get the axe unless they really had someone else lined up to replace him. Hitting coach Scott Dwyer has head coaching experience, so he would be a solid candidate to get promoted also, with maybe Inge taking his job. If any of these bold predictions do come to pass, however, remember you read it here first: http://burrilltalksbaseball.mlblogs.com/2012/02/12/the-future-of-brandon-inge/
Kauffman Stadium-Kansas City, MO: Nick Castellanos has been the Tigers top positional prospect ever since he was drafted by Detroit in the first round of the 2010 Draft 44th overall. He seems to be doing his best in keeping up with the Motor City’s expectations, as seen last night at the All-Star Futures Game. Castellanos went 3-4 including a three-run homer, three runs scored, and three RBI’s. He was awarded the honor of being named the games’ MVP for his efforts. The 20-yr-old prospect from Florida kicked off a nine-run sixth inning with a single before being hit home by fellow Tiger’s prospect (and former Whitecap) Rob Brantly. Castellanos would bat a second time in the inning for Team USA, this time taking a high fast-ball deep into center field almost 406 feet! The U.S. team defeated the World team in a 17-5 blowout.
“I think I gave a couple of fist pumps rounding second, and I remember saying to myself, ‘That’s huge. That’s awesome.” Castellanos stated to MLB.com. “It was a great at bat. The pitcher pitched me really well. I worked a 3-2 count and he left, I think, a two-seamer that got in. And I was able to get the good part of the bat on it and it got enough to get out. That at-bat’s definitely up there with the greatest at-bats I’ve had in pro ball.” Also, on his bat going to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, he stated:
“The bat’s probably the coolest thing ever. That’s right up there with playing in this game. I don’t even think I’ve taken that in yet, that the bat I used is going to Cooperstown. I went to Cooperstown when I was 12 for a tournament and I was just walking around. The names that are in Cooperstown and that my bat’s going to Cooperstown, saying that out loud is pretty cool. …”
He is currently hitting .307 for the Double-A Erie Seawolves, and was hitting. 405 with the Lakeland Flying Tigers before his promotion. Last season in West Michigan, Nick hit .312 with 36 doubles, seven home-runs, and 76 RBI’s.
Brantly was also a 2010 draftee of the Tigers, and played with Castellanos most of last season with the Whitecaps before being promoted to Lakeland. He was a late injury replacement to the U.S. team, but contributed to the victory both offensively and defensively. He went 1-3 with an RBI after entering the game in the fifth inning. He also gunned down a steal attempt in the fifth inning. So far in this 2012 season, he has split time between Double-A Erie and the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens. Combined, he is hitting .300 with 19 doubles, three home runs, and 29 RBI’s. Last season with the ‘Caps, he batted .303, adding 16 doubles, seven home runs, and 44 RBI’s.
Getting lost in the World team pitching suffle, is Tigers prospect and former Whitecap Bruce Rondon. The Venezuelan born reliever pitched one inning in the Futures All-Star Game, pitching a scoreless inning in the eighth. He also hit the 102 mph mark on the radar gun…. Rondon was also split time this season, between Class-A Lakeland, where he was named to the Florida State League All-Star team, and Double-A Erie. He is 1-0 this season, with a 1.38 ERA, 23 saves, and 45 strike-outs. Last season in West Michigan, he went 2-2, with a 2.02 ERA, 19 saves, and 61 K’s.
Brantly stated to MLB.com about the possibility of facing Rondon in the Future’s Game:
“I think everybody was thinking about that at the beginning of the game. I don’t know if you guys saw the radar gun there, he didn’t throw anything below 101. Guys were coming out of their shoes early. They were looking forward to getting out of the box — single, home run, whatever. He pounded the zone, so kudos to him. I’m proud of him.”
I think it’s pretty cool that they all played together most of last season, and were able to share the experience of this game. Hopefully they’ll all be on the Tigers roster together in a few years. Sorry, no pic of Bruce, though…