Possibly the most exciting part of each new minor league season is a new set of players taking the field. However, there had to be mixed feelings for the Whitecaps' fans, saying goodbye to almost all of the members of the 2004 championship club, which came together over the final two months to result in the title.
Unfortunately, the stars didn't quite emerge as the go-to guys the team was looking forward to. Both Frazier and Ramirez struggled mightily out of the block, showing flashes but never stepping up as the consistent studs they were expected to be.
It was an especially big letdown for Frazier, who after losing most of his 2004 season to a broken hand, didn't get off to the start he hoped, making many question if he was truly worthy of his selection as a third round pick in '04.
Ramirez on the other hand missed all of 2004 with a shoulder injury, and then was thrust directly into full season action at West Michigan, where he went through the struggles you'd expect from a then 18 year old playing at that level.
Instead, it was guys like Brooks Colvin and Nick McIntyre that stepped up to carry the load, along with sixth round pick Brent Dlugach. Colvin stepped up to grab the second base job, while Nick McIntyre forced Ramirez to the designated hitter's role more and more as the season rolled on.
A pleasant surprise in '05 was Dlugach, who after a putrid 2004 in Oneonta made it clear that '04 was the exception, and he is indeed a more noteworthy prospect than the .213 average he put up in '04 showed. Of course, it's important to not get too excited about Dlugach, as a .283 average is nice, but means very little without corresponding power and patience.
Power and patience, the two characteristics that slowly crept their way into Frazier's head. A slow start gave way to a huge turnaround, in which Frazier emerged as one of the top hitting prospects in the entire Midwest League, as well as re-justifying his place among Tiger prospects.
Frazier wasn't the only one that set himself up as one of the Tigers' top prospects. Jair Jurrjens emerged as the Whitecaps' ace at just 19 years of age. Not only did he bring a solid arsenal to the table, but he possessed remarkable control and in turn established himself as one of the top prospects as well.
Jurrjens got some help from another youngster; Dallas Trahern. Trahern didn't get same support Jurrjens did, but proved to be able to make it deeper into games on a more consistent basis. The only concern with Trahern emerged to be his puzzling loss of strikeouts, as he struck out just 3.75 batters per nine innings.
The ‘Caps also had the luxury of getting a midseason talent infusion, as they added four impressive relievers, at the top of that list being Kevin Whelan. The Tigers fourth round pick in 2005, Whelan made a quick jump to West Michigan from Oneonta, where he proved to be absolutely unhittable. Whelan converted all 11 of his save opportunities for the ‘Caps, walking just two batters while striking out 22.
The ‘Caps got an influx in the field as well, adding centerfielder Clete Thomas. Thomas never truly met expectations in college at Auburn, but has always possessed the talent, conceding that he likely didn't show the necessary patience in college. He apparently learned quickly, averaging a walk once every nine plate appearances.
The ‘Caps closed it out with a wild card berth and an opening round win against Fort Wayne, before falling to eventual champ South Bend. Nevertheless, it was another successful summer at Fifth Third, for the fans and organization alike.