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
Sometimes being a top prospect is a good thing, and sometimes it simply makes you a target. Just one day after earning his first Major League victory, Jacob Turner is packing his bags and heading south. Instead of wearing the classic English ‘D’ of the Detroit Tigers, Turner will now have to don the gaudy Miami Marlins unis and put up with crack-pot manager Ozzie Guillen. Welcome to the real world, kid. Also going to the Miami organization are catching prospect Rob Brantly, who just participated in the All-Star Futures Game, and pitcher Brian Flynn. In the deal, the Tigers acquire starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez and former Tiger and West Michigan Whitecaps infielder Omar Infante. Sanchez gives the Tigers that extra man in the rotation, and Infante will fill the second base role that has never been successfully filled since the departure of Placido Palanco. In all, Sanchez is the only player in this deal who did not play for the Whitecaps at some point. Turner pitched for West Michigan in 2010, going 2-3 with a 3.67 ERA in ten starts. Brantly and Flynn both suited up for the ‘Caps last season, with Brantly hitting .303 in 75 games. Flynn, a seventh-round draft pick in 2011, started 13 games with a 7-2 record and 3.46 ERA. Infante played in West Michigan as an 18 yr-old way back in 2000, playing in only 12 games and hitting .229. He was traded to the Cubs in 2007, only to be traded to Atlanta shortly after. In 2010 he hit .321 for the Braves, with eight home-runs and 47 RBI’s. Infante was traded to the Marlins in 2010, and is having a solid year batting .287 with eight home-runs and 33 RBI’s. I think the player the Tigers will miss most out of this deal, actually, is Brantly. I like Alex Avila behind the plate, but he’s struggled this season at the plate, and still has to prove that last years’ All-Star performance wasn’t a fluke. However, if the deal does help Detroit get into the post-season and excel there, then I’m all for it. All the best to Turner, Flynn, and Brantly, though!
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
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…
Top photo courtesy of the Associated Press
Bottom photos property of Minoring In Baseball
West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Cedar Rapids Kernels: Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI
It was a beautiful day for baseball, so I packed the kids up and took the long trip back down to Grand Rapids to give Brian his first taste of Whitecaps baseball. This was a little new to him, with a bigger crowd, so I decided to get a harness so the little guy couldn’t just run off on us. He did pretty well, but wasn’t real happy that he couldn’t run free when he wanted to. A couple of the pics will show him pouting a bit, but he has happy to watch baseball, as were Lily and Trevor. I was Sunday, so we were able to get onto the field, but opted to play catch rather than stand in line for autographs. The kids liked playing catch with me and their Papa (three kids at a ballgame is tough, so I’m glad my dad was there to help out, too). It was fun to be on the field, but they wanted to play on the playground there, too, until the game started. It was pretty hot by our standards, so we ended up pouring cold water on each other and the kids had some ice cream to cool them off, too. We got seats at the very top row on the isle because I knew we’d be getting up and around a lot with the little guy. I hate it when people are constantly getting up and interrupting the game, so I wanted to show some courtesy. Even though we were higher up, there’s no bad seat in the house, and kept us out of the sun under the over hang. It was Autism Awareness day also, so the ‘Caps wore special jerseys that were auctioned off after the game. The Whitecaps’ bats were as hot as the weather, as they pounded out sixteen hits in the game. The kids were a little too tired to run the bases after the game, but we had a great time and look forward to more game together. Next month is Star Wars night, so that should give us a memorable night. Final score: Whitecaps 10, Kernels 3.
Anyone thinking that being a grounds keeper at a professional ball park is an easy task, think again. After a freak snow storm dumped over three inches on Fifth Third Ball Park on Monday, first year head groundskeeper Adam Ferrell and his crew took action. Actually, more than 20 staff members, including front office personnel, the grounds keepers, and salesman all chipped in to remove the snow. It was a three hour process, with snow ball fights, snowmen, and Christmas music keeping the mood light. Even a Christmas tree was placed on the Whitecaps dugout.
Ferrell told the Grand Rapids Press: “I was a little nervous when I first woke up and it was coming down good, but we got some manpower behind it and everybody chipped in. We removed the snow off the tarp, flipped it over, and let Mother Nature do her thing. It melted by 3 p.m.”
With eleven forign-born players on the West Michigan roster, some were seeing this type of weather for the first time. Outfielder Luis Castillo from Panama and Clemente Mendoza from Venezuela are two of them.
“I was like, oh my God,” Castillo told the Press. “This was the first that I’ve seen this and couldn’t believe it.”
Mendoza chimed in, “It’s really depressing, and nobody from the Latin countries have seen this before. I didn’t think we would be playing baseball, I thought they would cancel the game because of the snow on the field.”
Ferrell, an intern with the Whitecaps in 2008, though, was up to the task. He worked under Heather Nobozny and the Detroit Tigers in 2009, and was head groundskeeper for the Spokane Indians of the Northwest League last season. He was named the NWL Sports Turf Manager of the Year for 2010.
The ‘Caps were able to play Monday’s game, but were rained out Tuesday night. They were able to beat the Fort Wayne TicCaps by the score of 7-3, much due to the return of designated hitter Billy Nowlin. Nowlin drove in four runs including a two-run homer to lead the way for West Michigan. After being hit in the head and sustaining a concussion in spring training, he was just activated from the DL on April 14. In his four game so far this season, he’s hitting .400 with two home runs and six RBI’s. Nowlin was a Midwest League All-Star in 2009, and split last season between High-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie.
“I’m just going to keep going out and playing hard, playing with my team here and see what happens,” Nowlin told the Press. “It’s always nice coming back to a place where you already know the ins and outs and stuff like that. Being familiar with a place is always a good thing.”
Manager Ernie Young seems happy to have Nowlin on the roster as well, “He swung the bat very well tonight. Billy being here is definately a good thing because it solidifies the middle of the order.”
Catcher Rob Brantly also drove in two runs in the game, and Hernan Perez scored three runs. On this hill, Jeff Ferrell picked up his first win of the season.
Photos courtosy of the Grand Rapids Press
Heading downstate, I wasn’t very optimistic about this game actually taking place, as all the weather reports called for thunder storms. The baseball gods must have felt generous, though, and after the first three games of the season were postponed from Lansing, the Whitecaps and Lugnuts were finally able to kick the season off in Comstock Park. The sun was shining as I packed the kids kid in the car. The boys stayed back at my sisters due to illness, so I got to spend the day at the ball park with my favorite girl (my daughter, not Avril Lavigne). The weather was sunny as we played catch in the parking lot before the gates opened at 11:00 a.m. When we were finally let into the ball park our sences were overloaded with the smells of popcorn, hot dogs, and freshly cut grass as we recieved out free hats and found our seats. Lily played at the park for a bit before we got in line for autographs on the field at 12:15 p.m. They only allowed about fifteen minutes on the field, so we had to hustle to get her baseball and cards signed. Lily did get to meet the Tigers number two prospect Nick Castellanos and former Major Leaguers Ben Oglivie and Ernie Young. The rest of the day was perfect for baseball, topping low 80’s (a record high for the ‘Caps openers) with a nice breeze for us to enjoy the action.
The game itself was a real pitchers duel, with the Whitecaps winning 13-12 with a walk-off hit in the ninth. Trailing 12-7, they scored the last six runs of the game for the win. West Michigan battled back with a seventh inning two-run homer by Luis Castillo, and a three-run shot by James Robbins to even the score in inning eight. In the ninth inning, Dixon Machado stole second and scored the winning run on a two-out base hit by Rob Brantly. Machado was 4-5 on the day with a stolen base and three runs scored. Brantley went 2-4 with the home run and a two-run double. Bruce Rondon came on in the ninth to close the door and earn the win.
I simply can’t wait for the next ball game we can make it too. Just another month until our trip in May, which will include a Whitecaps game, too.
Photos property of M.I.B.
First Half Report: The Whitecaps finished last in the Midewest League East Division with a record of 26-43, the worst in the team’s history. The club is on pace to score it’s fewest runs in a season (currantly 570 in 2003) and to have the highest ERA (4.04 in 1999). Offensively, the only standout is third baseman Wade Gaynor (pictured) who hit .269 with 20 extra-base hits. On the mound, Giovanni Soto led the way with a 5-4 record and 2.05 ERA. Pitching prospect Jacob Turner and first baseman Jordan Lennerton have been promoted to the Lakeland Flying Tigers of the Florida State League, and made room for some 2010 draft picks on the ‘Caps rosters. Coming to West Michigan are infielder Tony Plagman from Georgia Tech (where he hit 21 homers), catcher Robert Brantly from Univ. of Cal-Riverside (hit .373 with 20 doubles and 11 homers), and first baseman Clay Jones from Alabamba (hit .313 with 17 homers and 66 RBI’s for the Crimson Tide). Hopefully these guys an contribute and help to aviod the Whitecaps falling on their face again in the second half.
2010 Midwest League All-Star Game: Representing the Whitecaps in this seasons All-Star game were 19 year old pitchers Jacob Turner and Giovonni Soto. Turner pitched the third inning, giving up one double and retiring the other three hitters. “Whenever you make an all-strar team, it means you’re doing something right,” Turner told the Grand Rapids Press. “It felt all right. It was one inning. Nothing spectacular and it wasn’t terrible. I just went out there and did my thing. That’s what you have to try adn do.” The lefty Soto came in to pitch a shutout inning in the sixth. He gave up one infield single and struck out one. “I felt proud because I’ve never been on an all-star team”, stated Soto. “And I feel I pitched well.” Their efforts help lead the East Division to a 6-2 victory over the West for the second year in a row, and fifth time in the last six years.
Whitecaps Hall of Fame: Voting has now started for the 2011 class of the Whitecaps Hall of Fame. This years ballot features current Detroit Tigers Joel Zumaya and Ramon Santiago, as well as Detroit’s head groundskeeper Heather Nabozny. Heather is the first female head groundskeeper in Major League history, and used to run things at Fifth-Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids. You can cast your vote HERE.
Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press