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
Larry Parrish may be entering his first season as skipper of the West Michigan Whitecaps, but he has plenty of experience under his belt. On Tuesday the Triple-A International League announced that Parrish will be rewarded for that experience, and success, by being inducted to their 2013 Hall of Fame class. Managing the Toledo Mud Hens, he won the IL Manager of the Year award in 2005, and is the teams’ all time leader in wins with 569. Parrish’s first stint in Toledo started in 1994, leading them to a 56-62 record. After being promoted to become the Detroit Tigers manager in 1998-99, he came back to the Mud Hens from 2003-06, and 2008-10. He guided the Mud Hens to back-to-back Governor’s Cup championships in 2005 and 2006. He has also served as the Atlanta Braves hitting coach in 2011. Parrish played in the majors for 15 seasons with the Rangers, Expos, and Red Sox. The International League Hall of Fame was originally created in 1947, and ran through 1964. It was then re-established in 2008, the leagues 125th anniversary, and went through a three-year transition period where 50 inductees were selected by a committee. Parrish, along with Mack Jones and Don Richmond, represents the third class to be chosen by the HoF’s current standard.
Photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
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.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
West Michigan Whitecaps alum Gustavo Nunez has returned to the Detroit Tigers in strange turn of events. The 24 year-old short stop was taken by the Pittsburg Pirates in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft in December of 2011. He was then claimed off waivers by the Arizona Diamondback in October, and is now back in the Tigers organization as the D-Backs have outrighted his contract to the Toledo Mud Hens. He spent the 2012 season on the disabled list for the Pirates, recovering from surgery to his right ankle. As part of re-hab, he did play twelve games between the Gulf Coast League Pirates, Single-A Bradenton Marauders, and the Double-A Altoona Curve, hitting a combined .273. Nunez had a solid year with the Whitecaps in 2009. Playing in 112 games, he hit .315, with 16 doubles, 10 triples, and five home runs. The Tigers needed some depth at middle infield in the system, so I’m glad to see him back, and hope he has a great year in Toledo.
Photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
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.”
Photo courtesy of Jim Hill
Three former West Michigan players cut their teeth on international competition recently. Ben Guez, who played with the ‘Caps in 2009, was invited to play for Team Isreal by former Tiger Brad Ausmus. Guez qualifies because his dad and both grandparents are jewish, though he was born and raised in Houston.
“I said ‘sure, why not,'” Guez stated. “I was going to tame some time off before I got married in October, so I had a full schedule. But it seemed like a good opportunity. It was really cool, to be able to play in something like the WBC and travel around the world and maybe play in San Fransisco was great. I love to play baseball. It’s something I’ve done since I was a kid and this would have been something different.”
Guez hit .167 for Isreal, who almost qualified before losing a 9-7 heartbreaker to Spain in the championship game. He split time between the Toledo Mud Hens and the Erie Seadogs this past season, going .289 with 24 doubles and 48 RBI’s between the two teams.
Playing for Team Canada are both catcher Chris Robinson and first baseman Jordan Lennerton. Robinson played for the Whitecaps in 2005, while Lennerton played in 2009 and 2010. Canada advanced by outscoring it’s opponents by a combined score of 38-9. Lennerton feels that playing in the minors and representing your country are very different.
“There is definitely a different kids of pressure”, Lennerton stated. “In the minor leagues it’s all about numbers and development. You’re playing for yourself, even though you want to win. The goal for the WBC is to win. It’s all about right now. Whenever you get the chance to play for your country you do it. I would always drop what I’m doing to play.”
Lennerton, a native of British Columbia, had a solid season at Double-A Erie, hitting .269 with 34 doubles, 21 home runs, and 82 RBI’s. I will be difficult for both he and Robinson to crack the Canada line-up next March, though, when the Major Leaguers are added to the roster, though. Good luck to all of these guys, and I hope they get their chance to play.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
The 2013 baseball season is starting to look a little brighter for us Whitecaps fans, as Larry Parrish was officially assigned to manage the team yesterday. It seems his managing career is coming full circle, though, after managing in the bigs and at the Triple-A level, he’s back in Class A baseball where he started. Parrish’s last job was the hitting coach for the Atlanta Braves, but took off the 2012 season after he was let go in 2011. Lucky he was still available when the Tigers organization called with the West Michigan job offer.
“The Tigers called to give me an opportunity and, for me, I really enjoy the minor leagues and the teaching aspect of it,” Parrish stated in a press release. “I talked to a couple of other clubs, but I’m comfortable with the Tigers. I was with the organization for a long time and was treated well, so it was a feeling coming back to work with your family.”
Parrish started his career with the Tigers organization back in 1992, taking the helm of the Class-A SS Niagara Falls Rapids, leading the team to a NY-Penn League championship. He worked as a roving minor league hitting instructor for three seasons before being assigned to the Double-A Jacksonville Suns in 1996. He also took the Suns to a Southern League championship. A year later, he was in the bigs, as the bench coach in Detroit. He took over the reigns as manager half-way though the 1998 season after Buddy Bell was relieved of duty. He had the privilege of managing the Tigers in their last year in historic Tigers Stadium in 1999, also. He also worked as a scout for the Tigers until he took over as manager of their Triple-A affiliate Toledo Mud Hens in 2003. He was named Minor League Manager of the Year in 2005 by the Sporting News after leading the Hens to the International League championship, a feat he repeated in 2006. Parrish named that Governor’s Cup championship is his favorite coaching achievement, also.
“I would think winning the championship in Toledo after they hadn’t won it in like 40 years. That was neat for the people there and to be a part of it. It’s always nice to win, ” he stated, but also recognizes the differences between the Triple-A and Class-A levels. “There you have guys who’ve either played in the big leagues a little bit or have gone though the system. At the A-ball level, you have to have more patience. They’re going to have some great games and they’re going to have games where you go ‘Oh, Lord’. But that’s part of it. But, to me, being able to coach and hopefully teach will have an impact. Experience-wise, having played and coached in the big leagues, I know what it takes to have to play at that level. That’s the whole idea.”
Parrish has visited the Grand Rapids area in the past after surgery in 2007 and was doing some roving instruction. He was very impressed with the stadium and fan support of the Whitecaps. The Tigers director of minor league operations is very pleased with their selection, also. As far as the rest of the Whitecaps staff goes, hitting coach Scott Dwyer will return next season, while pitching coach Mark Johnson will be assigned to Class-A SS Connecticut. As a player, Parrish was a two-time Major League All-Star in 1979 and ’87. He had a career batting average of .263 with 256 homers and 992 RBI’s. He played in Montreal, Texas, and Boston, before ending his pro career with two seasons in Japan.
I know the Tigers are in the playoffs, which is very exciting, but having a guy with this kind of resume’ taking over has me excited for next season. Hopefully this will not only mean possibly more championships in West Michigan, but better prepared players working their way up to Detroit.
Top photo courtesy of the West Michigan Whitecaps
Bottom photos courtesy of the Associated Press
Former West Michigan Whitecaps second baseman, and current Toledo Mud Hens outfielder Justin Henry has been named the International League’s ‘Batter of the Week’ for August 20-26. Hitting in the lead-off position for the Mud Hens, Henry had 14 hits last week with a .538 batting average. He collected hits in five different games in a Toledo five-game win streak. Henry had three consecutive three-hit games during his hot streak, with four games with at least one run scored. He was second in the IL with a .581 on-base percentage after collecting four walks, and adding a pair of stolen bases. Justin is now third in the IL with 135 hits this season. While with the Whitecaps in 2008, he hit .295 with 24 doubles and one home run. Henry was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the ninth round of the 2007 draft. I’m not sure why the Tigers would turn him into an outfielder, with so many in the system, and not having too many infielders. I’d like to see Justin get the call this weekend, but my gut feeling is that Detroit will go with Avisail Garcia from Erie. All the best to him, though!
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Fifth-Third Field–Toledo, OH: Last Saturday the Fox Sports Detroit Girls blessed Fifth-Third Field in Toledo with their presence (not to be confused with Fifth-Third Field in Dayton, Fifth-Third Ballpark by Grand Rapids, or Fifth-Third Bank Ballpark in Kane Country….my god…). The Girls were on hand to help root on the Detroit Tigers Triple-A affiliate and help support the military, who was being honored all week by the Mud Hens. It’s a pretty fair drive from the Canadian border straight down to Toledo, but if I would have known that the Girls were going to be there, we would have tried to make plans! My window of opportunity for the kids and I too meet them is running out quickly, with the Minor League regular season ending in less than a week. My only hope now is for the baseball Gods to smile upon me, with Lauren and Allison magically appearing at the West Michigan Whitecaps game this Sunday…our last outing of the 2012 campaign. My only other chance for removing the Fox Sports Detroit Girls from my baseball bucket list is if they make it to a Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL hockey) game this winter. The Girls were a lucky charm, too, as the Mud Hens beat the Louiville Bats 5-1.