The West Michigan Whitecaps had a strong core of young, talented players assigned to the team for 2007. The addition of former Detroit Tigers champion third baseman, the scrappy Tom Brookens, only added to the high hopes for the year. The Whitecaps certainly didn't disappoint, finishing the season with their second straight Midwest League Championship.
West Michigan's birth into the playoffs came from a solid first half season in which they went 38-32 and secured a wild card spot. Securing the spot didn't come easy though, as they lost seven straight games in the final week of the first half before finally clinching on June 16th. The Whitecaps were rewarded for their success by having eight players named to the Midwest League All-Star team. One of those players, southpaw soft-tossing pitcher Chris Cody, was all but lights out for the 'Caps in the first half. Cody compiled a 1.77 ERA over 14 starts for West Michigan while striking out 92 batters to lead the league. His performance earned him a promotion to Lakeland, but after only two starts with the Flying Tigers, he was traded to the Brewers' organization for relief pitcher Jose Capellan.
Another surprise first-half performer who earned himself an all-star spot and a Lakeland promotion was Deik Scram. After a slow start, the left-hander caught fire at the plate and brought his average up over .300. At the time of his promotion in late July, he was batting .327, good for third in the league. A fixture near the top of Brooken's lineup, he consistently got on base. He had 14 doubles, six triples, 14 stolen bases and 45 runs scored in 73 games, including an 11 game hit streak for which seven of the games he had multiple hits.
Other first half highlights included pitcher Duane Below striking out 14 batters over six innings on May 11 with Tigers' President and General Manager Dave Dombrowski at the ballpark, former Tigers' teammates Brookens and Lance Parish facing off as managers for the first time when the Great Lakes Loons came to town, and Kenny Rogers making a rehab start with the club on June 15th in front of a sold-out crowd.
The second half of the season brought continued success and improvement for West Michigan, as they went on to have the best Midwest League regular season record at 45-25.
Talent continued to shine and let its presence be known: Gorkys Hernandez began to show some of the raw talent that has many believing he will be patrolling the outfield at Comerica Park one day. The 19-year-old Venezuelan batted .293 with 25 doubles and 50 RBI as he was moved throughout the lineup for much of the year. His 54 stolen bases easily topped the Midwest League. For his efforts, Hernandez was the starting center fielder on the All-Star team, played in the Major League Baseball Future's game in San Francisco, was named to the Post-Season All-Star roster and awarded as the Midwest League's Most Valuable Player.
James Skelton emerged as the organization's top catching prospect. He led the team with a .309 batting average, along with 52 RBI, 24 doubles, 7 home runs and 18 stolen bases, all within his 5'11", 165 pound frame. Whenever there was an offensive rally, Skelton seemed to be a part of it, thriving on the opportunity. He was also named to the All-Star team and the Post-Season All-Star team.
Another batter who always seemed to come through with ducks on the pond was left fielder Brennan Boesch, who slugged 86 RBI, good for first on the team and fifth in the league. Jonah Nickerson pulled out of an early funk to be nearly unstoppable throughout July and much of August. His highlight came on July 28, when he two-hit Cedar Rapids over nine innings with no walks and seven strike outs, part of a streak of 26 consecutive innings without allowing a run. Nickerson came back to Earth in his final three starts, however, allowing 16 earned runs over 13-1/3 innings.
Below collected the most wins for a Whitecaps pitcher with 13 and the most strike outs with 160 over 145-2/3 innings pitched with a 2.97 ERA. He was named to the All-Star team. Brett Jensen was Mr. Automatic this year, collecting 23 saves with a 1.79 ERA in an all-star season. 2007 fourth-round draft pick Charles Furbush went 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA for the team after joining them from the Gulf Coast League in mid-July, a promising start for the 21-year-old southpaw.
The 2007 class of the West Michigan Whitecaps will be a group to watch as they make their way through the Tigers' organization. Make sure to also keep an eye on Brookens, as his no-nonsense yet easy-going managerial style, along with years of Major League experience, made him a favorite amongst players and organization officials. Expect to see a rise through the ranks in much the same way as former Whitecaps' skipper Matt Walbeck, perhaps all the way back to the Major Leagues. There is a chance many of his Whitecaps players will be there as well.