The Erie SeaWolves have been the Detroit Tigers Double-A affiliate since 2001. Erie plays 140 games as a member of the Eastern League.
The SeaWolves are in the Western Division alongside the Akron RubberDucks (Cleveland), Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh), Bowie Baysox (Baltimore), Harrisburg Senators (Washington), and Richmond Flying Squirrels (San Francisco).
Erie begins their season on Thursday at Reading and then returns to UPMC Park on Friday, April 13 for their home opener against Altoona.
Former Tigers draft pick Andrew Graham takes over at the helm for the SeaWolves this year. Graham was a 19th round pick in 2003 and played for five seasons in the Detroit system. The native Australian represented his country in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.
Graham caught on as a coach with the Tigers in 2009 and took his first managerial assignment in 2011 with Short-Season Connecticut. After three seasons, Graham was promoted to Class A West Michigan, where he led the Whitecaps to three straight playoff appearances and the 2015 Midwest League title. Graham spent last season as the manager of High-A Lakeland.
A couple other former Tigers will join Graham in the Erie dugout this season. Willie Blair played for four seasons in Detroit in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and formed the battery with former Tigers skipper Brad Ausmus on the final Opening Day at Tigers Stadium. Blair enters his third season as the Erie pitching coach.
Mike Hessman joins the Erie staff in what will be his third season as a hitting coach in the system. During his playing career, Hessman set a minor league record with 433 home runs while spending time in the Atlanta, Detroit, New York Mets, Houston, and Cincinnati organizations. He’s spent the last two years with Connecticut and West Michigan.
Players to Watch
As per usual, Erie is loaded with a ton of the Tigers top prospects, especially on the pitching side.
C Jake Rogers (5th): Jake Rogers came over in the deal that sent Justin Verlander to the Astros. A third-round pick in 2016, Rogers had a solid season offensively last year, hitting .265 with 18 homers and 70 RBI between Class A and High-A.
However, anything he does with the bat is a bonus. MLB Pipeline rates Rogers as the best defensive catching prospect and raves:
"Few doubt Rogers’ ability to make it to the big leagues on his glove work alone. He is an outstanding receiver who moves well behind the plate and works well with pitchers. His plus arm, a combination of solid arm strength with a very quick release and uncanny accuracy, continues to cut down the running game, to the tune of a 46 percent caught stealing rate in 2017."
Pitchers to Watch
LHP Tyler Alexander (19th): Former second-rounder Tyler Alexander struggled for the first time in 2017. The lefty’s strikeout rate went up and walk rate stayed pretty much the same, so why did he struggle? Bad luck.
Alexander allowed a career-high .356 BABIP and had a career-low 62.8% strand rate, a recipe that led to a 5.07 ERA. A turnaround in luck should see Alexander bounce back and reach Triple-A at some point.
RHP Beau Burrows (4th): Beau Burrows reached Erie for the first time last year after dominating the Florida State League. A career 8.2 K/9 pitcher in the minors, Burrows is the closest of the system’s top starters to be ready for the big leagues.
RHP Kyle Funkhouser (6th): If Kyle Funkhouser’s first two professional seasons are any indication, he may not be far behind Burrows. Since he was drafted out of Louisville, Funkhouser has a 2.52 ERA and has struck out more than four times as many as he’s walked. Getting his first crack at Double-A is a great challenge for the righty.
The righty has yet to throw a pitch for a Detroit Tigers affiliate but was excellent with Houston. Between High-A and Double-A last year, Perez had a 3.02 ERA with about eight strikeouts per nine innings. The rate was the lowest of his three-year minor league career, as his average was in the double-digits in both 2015 and 2016. Let’s hope the Tigers top prospect gets healthy soon.