The West Michigan Whitecaps – the Detroit Tigers’ Midwest League (A) affiliate who play in Metro Grand Rapids, MI – begin their season today with an Opening Day road game vs. the Dayton Dragons (Cincinnati Reds). Here’s a cursory look at the roster that the Caps will open the season with.
These six pitchers are listed on the Whitecaps’ official website as being part of the rotation. Six is an interesting numbers, but perhaps not in the lower levels of the minor leagues with a bunch of guys beginning their first full season of professional baseball. All six of these pitchers were selected in last year’s draft, with Crawford, Ziomek, Thompson, Kubitza, and Farmer coming in rounds 1-5 respectively (Corey Knebel , who will be in Erie, was selected in an compensatory round between rounds one and two).
Crawford, the Tigers’ top pick last June, should prove to be the star of the show here. He’s highly ranked in the Tigers’ system by Baseball Prospectus (#2), FanGraphs (#4), MLB.com (#5), Baseball America (#6). The Tigers took it easy on Crawford after the draft last season, but he put up impressive numbers in the New York-Penn League: 19 IP, 21 SO, 9 BB, 1.89 ERA.
Kevin Ziomek also appears to be a reasonable prospect, he was ranked #14 in the system by MLB.com and #11 (ish) by Tigers Prospect Report. Jordan Gorosh had a nice write up after seeing Ziomek down in Florida this spring.
Ziomek has a funky delivery, and hides the ball well, especially from left handers. He works from 88-91 T 92 with the FB, but his comfort zone is 88-89 with a bit of two seam run.
It’s hard to get a read on guys that are destined for the bullpen even at these lower levels, but Zac Reininger will be an interesting name to follow.
Schotts began the 2013 season in West Michigan but struggled to a .192/.248/.249 line in 213 plate appearances before being demoted (though I don’t love that term) to short-season Connecticut. He was better in Connecticut, but still managed just a .607 OPS for the rest of the season. Austin will be looking for a good 2014 to re-establish himself as a potential future MLB center field option.
Rounding out the outfield mix are Raph Rhymes, Wynton Bernard, and Tyler Gibson. Rhymes and Bernard look like organizational fodder, but Gibson was a raw, toolsy prospect outfielder (in a lottery ticket sense). He hasn’t yet put it together at the plate, but he won’t turn 21 until June so he’s not old (even though it seems like he’s been in the system forever).
None of the infielders on the Whitecaps’ official roster are listed as a first baseman, so we could see some moving around there. Or, perhaps, an outfielder like Ben Verlander will get time at first base as well.
Javier Betancourt appears to be the top position player to follow this season. He posted an .847 OPS as a 17-year old in the Venezuelan League in 2012 and then an .819 OPS as an 18-year old in the Gulf Coast League in 2013. It’s a big jump from the GCL to full-season ball, but the won’t-be-19-until-May year old has hit at every assignment so far. He played primarily shortstop in the GCL last year, but he also saw time at third base and second base. I’m interested in seeing how he is defensively. Betancourt was ranked as the #19 prospect in the system by MLB.com.
Jose Zambrano is also an interesting, young (20) infielder from Venezuela, but he didn’t have the GCL success last year that Betancourt had. Zambrano has played both shortstop and second base in the minors, but figures to see most of his time at second base with the Whitecaps.
Curt Powell, Brett Harrison, and Dominic Ficociello fill out the infield roster. They’re mostly utility-type organizational players. I’m going to call Ficociello the nominal starter at third base, but that’s pretty much just a guess.