West Mich MLN: Lots to Build On in 2nd Half

The first half of the 2011 Midwest League season has come to a close for the West Michigan Whitecaps, and although they find themselves 8.5 games out of the division lead, it's impossible to say that this team hasn't shown a plethora of positive signs going forward.

After taking four of their last five series—three of which came by way of the sweep—the 'Caps were able to pull their record up to an acceptable 32-37, putting them at sixth in the division at the break.

When searching for first half MVP's for West Michigan—both at the plate and on the mound—it's hard to look past two of West Michigan's three All Stars, catcher Rob Brantly and closer Bruce Rondon (2-1, 2.08, 11SV).

In regards to Brantly, who started the season as TigsTown's eighth-best prospect in the organization, domination came as no surprise in 2011. His first year with the 'Caps saw him hitting a pretty impressive .255, and being a consistent threat to drive in runs for the team. This year, though, has been much more impressive, as Brantly leads the team in batting average (.309), and is near the top in every major hitting category.

Though Brantly has arguably been this team's offensive MVP, it's hard to look past Detroit's first round pick from last year, third baseman Nick Castellanos.

Castellanos, who started the season fairly slowly, has burst onto the scene as of late. He leads the team in runs batted in with thirty-nine, has moved his average up to .291—nearly forty points higher than what it was a month ago—and leads the team in triples and doubles. While his defense is still as shaky as expected, Castellanos has to be an exciting prospect for the Tigers going forward, as TigsTown has him ranked just behind pitching phenom Jacob Turner as the organization's best prospect.

In terms of pitching, Rondon has to be considered the MVP of the first half for West Michigan. He's third in the Midwest League in saves, and is one save away from pitcher Kenny Faulk's twelve saves, who led West Michigan in that category at the end of the season. While Faulk didn't have an entire season in the closer role, and while Rondon has been in the role from the beginning, one has to be impressed with the stuff being shown thus far. He also has yet to give up a home run this season.

Though this year's starting rotation hasn't necessarily been as prolific as last year's, we have seen more than just a glimmer of talent from the starting staff, especially from starter Kevin Eichhorn (5-3, 3.59). His sixty strikeouts are good for a team-best, and are accompanied by only seventeen walks.

Following the All-Star Game in Iowa, the Whitecaps will start the second half of their season on Friday in a six game series against South Bend. The first three games will be played in South Bend, and the final three will be played in Comstock Park.

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