It was no secret that Ramon Garcia was the go to pitcher for the 'Caps starting out this 2008 season. By May 10, he was packing his bags for a promotion to Class-A Lakeland. Enter Alfredo Figaro, the 6'0" hurler out of Samana, Dominican Republic. No one quite knew who would fill Garcia's shoes, but Figaro rose to the occasion and provided enough flair and perseverance to pull out a 8-2 record to date. His 1.45 ERA is second among all Midwest League pitchers. With 66 strikeouts in 87.0 innings pitched, he proves he can dominate and go head-to-head with any pitcher that is up to the challenge. The Whitecaps feel at ease when Figaro takes the hill. He won the MWL Player of the Week for the week of May 5 and leads his team in shutouts with two.
Behind Figaro sit a compilation of pitchers who are no slouches to providing an abundant answer to the 'Caps' needs. Starter Jonathan Kibler compliments Figaro in the rotation, in ways no one knew was possible. The southpaw pitcher from Michigan State was honored with Midwest Player of the week for the week of May 19. He was also selected to the All Star game in Midland, June 17. And it's obvious why, his big 6'5" frame and powerful release give even the fearsest hitter doubts. His ERA of 2.37 is seventh to all Midwest League pitchers. And how could anyone forget his tedious pitching duel May 24, against Dayton's Matthew Klinker, which resulted in a 2-0 'Caps win.
Appointed closer Noah Krol leads the 'Caps in saves with eight and is tied for fifth in the Midwest League. Early in the season it was apparent there was a competition for the closer job, but with consistent finishes, Krol came out on top.
Rudy "The Arrow" Darrow is another go to guy from the 'Caps' bullpen. With a 1.62 ERA and even better 1.08 ERA pitching in night games, The Arrow gives little debate who's trusted most out of the 'pen. He has made 24 game appearances and has pitched in 33.1 innings, striking out 32 and allowing only eight runs.
Entering opening day, catcher Jordan Newton was not figured to be a permanent starter, seeing that former ‘Cap Joseph Bowen was waiting in the wings recovering from a hyperextended elbow. With great plate appearances and good game calling, Newton has found himself in the everyday lineup— whether it's at catcher, designated hitter or left field. He leads the 'Caps with a .305 average and eight triples. While sharing time with Angel Flores and Adrian Casanova— when he's assigned to their roster— behind the plate, it's clear Newton is a must somewhere in the lineup for the ‘Caps— predominately due to his offensive performances.
Without slugger Chris Carlson the ‘Caps' hitting would drop dramatically. His presence at clean-up alone gives West Michigan much confidence against any pitcher in the league. He is the straw that stirs the drink. He leads his team with seven home runs, 65 hits and 37 RBI. The Kansas native is the typical power hitting first baseman, with attributes most managers would die for. However, bad news came when during the All Star game— on which he was the lone ‘Caps starter— Carlson broke his left hand when hit by a pitch in the third inning of action. Within the next day, news broke out that Carlson would be on the disabled list for at least eight weeks.
"Losing Carlson is a big blow to the team, which makes clinching a playoff spot in the first half that much more important," Whitecaps manager Joe DePastino said.
Centerfielder Kyle Peter is having quite the season for West Michigan. If he's not swiping bags, the Washburn University alumni is managing the outfield with interesting range. Peter has proven to be a durable leadoff hitter, with tools that are really maturing as the season progresses. He's hitting .262 overall, but comes out huge with runners in scoring position batting .397. He is second in stolen bases in the Midwest League with 25, and leads his team in walks with 38.
It is shortstop Audy Ciriaco that Manager Joe DePastino believes is his most improved player. Why not? His arm accuracy was a problem the first month and a half of season play and his errors are a little high with 27, but he's hitting .270 and has knocked in 29 RBI, but he is most improved in the field. His work with second baseman Justin Henry to provide the one-two punch, pulling off the common 4-6-3 or 6-4-3 double plays is proof that Ciriaco has Major League talent.
The Whitecaps have seen their roster change more often than not throughout much of the season— losing key players— but Joe DePastino has done a great job in filling any holes left by the Tigers organization. DePastino has mixed power, speed and chemistry into one, creating an interesting 2008 Whitecaps team worthy of Minor League recognition.
And who could forget Roger Tomas? He wasn't a starter opening day, but it wasn't long before he was a ‘Caps starter. His big bat has helped the ‘Caps to win games they should have lost. His 13 game hitting streak, that was snapped June 15, was no fluke. His team leading .325 average gives no speculation why this 5'8" infielder is a three spot regular. The Miami alumni is the most consistent hitter West Michigan has had this season. His performances day in and day out are definitely pleasing the Tigers organization. May 22, In South Bend, Tomas hit the go ahead RBI in the top of the ninth to mark the ‘Caps 5-4 victory. The next night he would come up big again hitting a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth to bring in the winning run for a 3-2 ‘Caps win over Dayton. Having a monster week— hitting .550 (11-for-20) with six runs scored and five RBI— Tomas was honored with the MWL Player of the Week for the week of May 26.
The 2008 draft picks are here, and Joseph Tucker is back with the 'Caps from Erie to provide depth and more competition in the lineup.
"I don't know anything about the new players, but I'm happy to have them and I will throw them into the fire," DePastino said. The Whitecaps have clinched a playoff spot, but that doesn't mean the season is over for them. With new faces and a few roster moves, West Michigan will try and improve their first half results.
"I want them to do the little things right (sacrifice bunt, steal, move runners into scoring position with one out). When we have struggled this season, it's because we got away from doing the little things. We're not a power team and have to make sure we do the little things." DePastino said.