Despite owning the fifth best record in the Midwest League and third best in the division after identical first and second half conclusions of 36-34, the ‘Caps were denied a playoff berth. Part of the problem may have lied in the fact that West Michigan had a difficult time staying healthy.
Injuries are simply part of the game and every team is going to experience them sooner or later, but the Whitecaps were victim of an excessive amount. 357 games were missed altogether by players on the disabled list which included the likes of offensive monsters and all-stars Dean Green and Steven Moya. The lofty injury rate resulted in lots of tinkering with the roster and lineup with guys moving all over the place. Roster transactions are something to be expected, especially in the minor leagues, but you can't argue the challenge continuous roster change presents to a team looking to garner consistency and momentum.
Despite struggles with consistency, the ‘Caps didn't have to worry about who they were going to plug in at shortstop. First year Whitecap Eugenio Suarez proved he belongs in the middle of the infield, possibly for the Tigers some day, and gave manager Ernie Young more than he could have ever expected.
Suarez was one behind the league leader in hits finishing with 147 to compliment his .288 average. He also seemed to dodge the injury bug appearing in 135 games, proving to be both dependable and durable. Though a small build at just six-foot, 180-pounds, the Venezuelan native showed the ability to make contact at the plate and at this point in his young career, the sky is the limit in how much he can improve offensively. The defense was there too as Suarez led his position in fielding percentage.
Aaron Westlake, the Tigers' 2011 third round draft pick, came around in the second half of the season after a sluggish start. Bouncing back following the all-star break, Westlake hit .311 thanks to a sizzling July where he tallied 29 hits including 11 doubles. Dean Green was having a spectacular year batting .306 with nine home runs despite an injury and then an eventual promotion to Lakeland. Green's absence in the lineup during the second half of the season was sorely noticed.
On the flip side of the ball, West Michigan boasted an improved pitching staff that not only showed consistency – four pitchers recorded at least 20 starts this year – but also shut down ability. Collectively, West Michigan's staff held a 3.45 ERA which was good for second best in the league. Starters Tommy Collier and Marcelo Carreno were largely in part to thank for the stellar team earned run average as each had impressive seasons.
Collier and Carreno registered a 2.74 and 3.23 ERA respectively while each notched nine wins. In addition to Collier and Carreno, the rest of the pitching force kept runs scored against them at a minimum by not issuing many walks. The ‘Caps led the league in fewest walks allowed and in turn gave their club a fighting chance in most games, evident in the 39 games decided by a single run.
Jade Todd emerged as one of the most reliable arms out of the pen this season. He wasn't used as a closer – though the Tigers' organization may reconsider for 2013 given what he showed this year – but sure acted like one. The 2008 seventh round draftee threw 60 innings appearing in 44 games accruing a glittering 1.65 ERA. He owned opposed hitters by only surrendering 39 hits while punching out 71 and issuing just 19 walks.
As a whole, the Whitecaps may have disappointed a bit by not making the postseason this year. Toting the talent that the Tigers' organization provided with a slew of recent high draft picks, the ‘Caps struggled to find that consistency and momentum on an everyday basis, quintessential to a winning season. An even 35-35 record at home is less than you want to see from your team as being able to win at home tends to play a key role in a successful season.
Questions develop when thinking about next year and those uncertainties start with team leadership. Manager Ernie Young was not asked to return for what would have been his third season in West Michigan, foreshadowing an offseason that could include multiple personnel adjustments. From a player standpoint, however, the Whitecaps demonstrated that they have a handful of players that the Tigers should keep a close eye on and feel excited about, which at the very least, is what any organization would hope for.