However, unlike the 2010 season, the 'Caps were unable to make a postseason push, losing to the Fort Wayne TinCaps in the final game of the season and missing out on the playoffs by a game in the standings.
In a season that featured a new skipper in Ernie Young, as well as a new roster that had arguably less expectations placed upon them than the 2010 team, it would've been easy for West Michigan to collapse after the slow start the team had.
The 'Caps were led by future major leaguer, third baseman Nick Castellanos.
Castellanos had a monster season in the Midwest League, leading the team with a .312 batting average and 76 runs batted in, while showing a little power in the form of seven home runs. Though he did struggle in fielding his new position—he had 23 errors on the year—he did show improvement at the position as the season rolled on, and is expected to continue to climb the ranks within the Tigers' organization.
The Whitecaps were hoping to see 2011 top pick James McCann take off after replacing catcher Rob Brantly, but it did not happen. After batting just .059 in nine games, McCann was replaced by a revolving door of catchers that never really filled the gap left by Brantly after his promotion. When in West Michigan, Brantly shined, hitting .303 with seven home runs and 16 doubles in a little more than half of a season.
Outside of Castellanos and Brantly, first baseman James Robbins was probably the most impressive player from an offensive standpoint. The first-year Whitecap led the team with 16 home runs, and was a consistent contributor on offense throughout the season, while providing a stable power hitter in the lineup.
Second baseman Hernan Perez, who spent his second season in West Michigan, started the season on a hot streak, but seemingly took his foot off of the gas after the All Star Break. Perez ended the season with a .258 average, while leading the team in errors with 24.
From a pitching standpoint, coming into the season, the Whitecaps really didn't have a consensus number one starter. However, as the season progressed, it was clear to see that Kevin Eichhorn was the ace in the rotation with an 11-5 record and a 3.61 ERA. Although he fizzled a bit late—a common theme for this pitching staff in 2011—he did finish the season with a solid stat sheet.
Alex Burgos (6-5, 2.19) also had a strong season on the mound, debuting for the Whitecaps mid-year, though his win-loss record does not reflect it. Burgos provided a solid number two arm in the rotation as he struck out nearly one batter per inning and complemented Eichhorn nicely in the second half of the season.
Kyle Ryan (6-10, 3.15) was also better than his record indicates. Despite losing ten games, Ryan was relatively consistent on the mound, as his 3.15 earned run average reflects that. Unfortunately, he was not able to get the run support needed for a better record.
The bullpen—which was arguably the high point in the Whitecaps organization this season—was led by closer Bruce Rondon (2-2, 2.03, 19SV), who led the league in saves for most of the season before succumbing to a season ending injury in the middle of August. The loss of Rondon left the Whitecaps without the consistent closer that had preserved many wins for the team throughout the season.
Ramon Lebron (3-1, 1.83, 1SV), who was converted from a starter to a setup man this season after starting for the 'Caps in 2010, also had a huge year out of the 'pen. The two-headed monster of Rondon and Lebron in the back of the bullpen was the most impressive facet of the 'Caps this season, and the loss of Rondon may have been the difference between a postseason birth and ending the season earlier than hoped.
Overall, the West Michigan Whitecaps have given the Tigers a lot to look forward to. Outside of Castellanos, there were a number of players that shined for the club and have a bright future ahead of them. That combined with a successful debut from first year manager Ernie Young, and there are plenty of encouraging signs to pull from this 2011 campaign.