2004 West Michigan Year in Review

If there was ever a team that fit the description "Cinderella Story", the 2004 West Michigan Whitecaps were it. The Whitecaps started off the season without a high number of top prospects – and seemed doomed for sure when they lose their top prospect, SS Tony Giarratano, to a promotion. But the team persevered, and in the end walked away as champions of the Midwest League.

It was just one of those seasons where somewhere along the line, something clicked, and the entire team awoke. A scorching hot August sky-rocketed the team up the division standings, and earned them a playoff bid, despite finishing near the bottom in the first half of the season, and still not having a winning record for the season.

But the team came together when it mattered, winning three playoff series en route to being crowned Midwest League champs.

After the team lost Tony Giarratano to high-A Lakeland, they didn't have one go-to hitter. Instead, a number of players that had been plagued by inconsistency throughout the season stepped up, although rarely all at the same time.

Kelly Hunt had a big year as a little-known prospect, as the 23-year old hit .275 with 21 Home Runs and 102 RBI – incredible power numbers for cavernous Fifth Third Ballpark.

SS Juan Francia had a breakout season as well, recording a .320 average, including 37 stolen bases.

C Danilo Sanchez also stepped up with a strong second half at the plate, raising his average up to .294, including a .798 OPS. 3B Kody Kirkland regressed in many ways as a prospect, but still was 2nd on the team with 61 RBI. Garth McKinney also had his struggles, but continued to showcase his power potential with 19 Home Runs.

The offense wasn't spectacular, and while the pitching wasn't either, they certainly were a big reason for the team's success.

The team's ace, Virgil Vasquez, certainly lived up to his billing as the #1 starter. Vasquez led the team with a 14-6 record, while being a mainstay in the rotation all season long.

But Vasquez wasn't the only starter that carried his weight. Jordan Tata had a very strong 2nd half to the season, including leading the starters that spent all year with the team in ERA at 3.35.

Cristhian Martinez was impressive as well after his promotion from Oneonta, going 5-2 with a 2.44 ERA down the stretch.

Much like the Tigers, the defense and bullpen were shaky at times, but again in the end the team came together and pulled out victory after victory down the stretch to lead them all the way to the crown.

And while there are still just as many questions with a lot of the players as there were coming into the season, somehow this group was able to come together and make it work in West Michigan. Much like the Detroit Pistons showed the world this past summer, a great team can come together, even without the best players.

They may not bode well for a number of these players who are trying to establish themselves as future Tigers – but it certainly made for an entertaining summer for Whitecap fans in '04.

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