APRIL- All eyes were on first year manager Joe DePastino.
The former Mets catcher was taking over a club that had won back-to-back Midwest League Championships. West Michigan's organization felt good coming into the 2008 season knowing DePastino had the experience and tools to make a great manager in baseball.
Starting the season out strong, the 'Caps came out swinging in their first full week, going 6-1. The lineup's front four of Kyle Peter, Justin Henry, Casper Wells and Chris Carlson made the month of April very exciting for West Michigan fans.
Starters Ramon Garcia, Alfredo Figaro and Jonathan Kibler provided a heavy three-punch combo that was lights out for most Midwest League teams. If the starters couldn't do the job, then the bullpen made up for it. Rudy "The Arrow" Darrow proved to be a consistent reliever, pitching almost every other day, while Michigan native Andrew Hess cleaned up any leftovers. Though Darrow was promoted July 26th to Erie, Hess took command of the 'pen and finished the year with a respectable 3.19 ERA.
April 18, Detroit star Curtis Granderson came to West Michigan on a rehab assignment. In his first game he went 2-4 with a single and a triple to help the ‘Caps cruise past Burlington 3-0. Three days later, Granderson came back to the Whitecaps and provided yet again. He had an RBI triple and scored the go ahead run in the bottom of the third to give the ‘Caps the 2-1 win over Beloit. His visit alone gave the 'Caps good fire power for the rest of the month.
West Michigan ended April on top of the Eastern Division, and tied a team record winning 15 games (15-10).
MAY- May brought the ‘Caps back down to earth a little.
May 3, West Michigan's six-game home winning streak ended at the hands of Quad City in a 5-3 loss. However, May 5, they had their first of seven Player of the Week Awards when Alfredo Figaro was named for the week of April 28 to May 4. His 0.46 ERA was tops in the Midwest.
In the month of May, ‘Caps fans would also see Garcia's last hurrah at Fifth Third Ballpark. He threw two shutouts in one week and was named MWL Player of the Week before being promoted to High-A Lakeland, where he would stay for the remainder of the season. His promotion, however, would let West Michigan see the likes of a talented 19-year-old southpaw from Venezuela and a former 2007 first-round pick.
Mauricio Robles gave the Whitecaps plenty of options for their rotation in the months ahead. The Venezuelan prospered in almost every game he pitched, while the hard throwing right-hander Brandon Hamilton struggled to keep his head above water in game starts and in the 'pen. It wasn't long before the first-rounder would be sent down to short-season Onetona to sharpen his skills.
With Garcia gone, Kibler was another pitcher to rise to the challenge. After his two-hit performance May 18, the Michigan State alum garnished the MWL Player of the Week Award for the week of May 12-18.
Infielder Roger Tomas would also emerge from the roster to provide, not only another talented hitter, but an option for DePastino at the top of the lineup, and in the error heavy infield.
Then the bad came. The 25th through 31st, West Michigan would drop six straight games between Dayton and South Bend, ending the month on sour note and leaving the ‘Caps with a 12-16 record (27-26 overall).
JUNE (16-12)- June brought news stars, injuries and honors.
June 3, five ‘Caps were named to the Midwest All-Star team: Carlson, Wells, Joe Tucker, Figaro and Kibler. Carlson was selected to start at first base for the Eastern squad. At the time he was hitting .291 with nine doubles, seven home runs and led his team with 32 RBI.
The same day RHP Lauren Gagnier was promoted to Triple-A Toledo to make a spot start for the ‘Hens against Louisville. Though his record with West Michigan was 1-5 with a 4.07 ERA, to add on after 10 starts, the highly talented California native would end up going 3-3 in Toledo with a 5.66 ERA in 35 innings pitched. He would also be the only Whitecaps pitcher to pitch in four different minor league levels (Lakeland, Erie, Toledo) throughout 2008.
June 6, the ‘Caps said goodbye to Wells and Tucker. Both were promoted to the Erie SeaWolves, and played quite well at the Double-A level. Three weeks later, Tucker would return to West Michigan, but Wells would stay put and proved to be an essential star in Erie. With the promotion of the two, ‘Caps added 2006 draft pick outfielder Hayden Parrott and the switch-hitting Dominican Joaquin Guzman to the roster. Parrott's potential wouldn't really be shown until August.
With Wells and Tucker playing Double-A ball, center fielder Kyle Peter was added to the All-Star roster June 10. Peter was hitting .262 with 24 RBI and 38 runs scored. He was also third in the league with 21 stolen bases.
June 8, the ‘Caps played in a game that ended 20 hours after it's original start. There were two rain delays that totaled two-and-a-half hours, including an hour-and-a-half on Sunday. The seven-inning game was suppose to be apart of a double-header Saturday night, but was called in the bottom of the fifth inning, just two hours short of an official game. Audy Ciriaco went 3-for-5 in the game, with a solo shot to lead off the fourth and eventually win the contest 10-1 over Great Lakes.
Ciriaco has seen himself up and down the lineup all month; batting as high as three and as low as sixth. In the field he showed great range at shortstop, but his errors were quite high and led the team more often than not. He finished the year with an atrocious 41 errors. On the other hand, DePastino stuck by the young Dominican and has made claims that he truly is big league material. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Ciriaco will most likely be playing in a higher caliber class in the 2009 season.
Heartbreak struck June 18, in the All-Star game. During the fifth inning, Carlson broke his left hand when Western All-Star pitcher Steven Hirschfeld struck him with an inside fastball. Not only would DePastino lose his first baseman for almost two months, but he would also lose his first managerial All-Star game appearance 5-4 in extra innings.
On June 28, Roger Tomas broke his hamate bone (hand) and would be out as long as Carlson. At the time of his injury, Tomas was one of the top hitters in the Midwest League.
June 19, the Tigers organization assigned 2008 draftees, catcher Alex Avila, right-handed pitcher Brett Jacobson and outfielder Andy Dirks to the Whitecaps; a move that was just in time for their roster depth needs.
The ‘Caps finished the first half of the season 43-38, making them second in the Eastern Division and guaranteed them a playoff spot. But starting the second half of the season without Carlson and Tomas would leave a hole in the ‘Caps' lineup that was very noticeable in the weeks to come.
JULY (13-14)- In the heart of summer we would see new players step up and two pitchers dominate the Midwest.
The ‘Caps started out strong at the beginning of the month going 5-1 in their first week, then seemed to be inconstant from then on. Figaro came, he saw and he conquered. By the beginning of July, Figaro was no secret to the Midwest League. When he tossed his ninth win of the season, against Fort Wayne June 26, he not only became the league leader in wins, but news started to spread throughout the Midwest of this dynamic Dominican ace in West Michigan, who had a knack for winning games. Figaro was no stranger to going the distance either, averaging 8.1 innings per start.
When the once Los Angeles Dodger prospect gathered his 12th win July 19, talk of breaking the 'Caps' single season wins record, held by Andy Van Hekken (2000) and Jon Connolly (2003) with 16, became more prevalent. On July 29, Figaro was promoted to Lakeland to test his arm, once again, against higher level contenders. This indefinitely ended his play in West Michigan with 123.0 innings pitched, 30 walks, two shutouts, two complete games, 96 strikeouts and a 2.05 ERA. Figaro would finish the rest of the season with Lakeland and would not see nearly as much success.
Jonathan Kibler was the final pitcher, from the opening day's big three, to rise to the challenge and become the 'Caps' go-to guy in a rotation that was above average at most by July. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Kibler was a monster on the hill, but don't let his size fool you; it was his brain, not brawn, that kept batters guessing. When August 3rd rolled around, he made people forget all about Figaro's absence, as he was almost near perfect against the Great Lakes Loons-- holding them to only two hits. From July on, Kibler's streak of winning continued to flirt with the 'Caps' record.
July 13, Magglio Ordonez joined the team for one rehab game against Peoria. To a crowd of 10,592, the Tigers right fielder went 1-for-4 with a run scored in West Michigan's 10-2 stomp of Peoria. Ordonez's appearance made him the second Tigers player to join the team this season.
July 15, when Ciriaco was put on the disabled list, a 2008 draft pick named Brandon Douglas strolled into West Michigan to provide apparent depth to their roster. However, when he played his first game at shortstop, July 16, he was anything but depth. The 11th round pick finished the week winning the MWL Player of the Week award. He batted an eye-popping .619 going 13-for-21 with three doubles, a home run, five runs scored and six RBI. On the 17th, he went 4-for-5, just a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. The Northern Iowa product was the seventh Tigers draft pick to join the team in 2008. When Ciriaco returned, at the end of the month, Douglas was sent back down.
Could the Northern Iowa product be sporting the Whitecap jersey next year? Or are his skills advanced enough to play a higher level of ball? Stay tuned.
July 23, against Wisconsin, Robles pitched a two-hit winner in West Michigan's 6-1 dominance. The young southpaw pitched six shutout innings to become the only starter, other than Figaro and Kibler, to earn a victory since June 8th. Robles' performance from July on would show great signs of development and circulated much debate to whether he could be in Lakeland or Erie next season.
Justin Henry would end up being named the Midwest League Topps Player of the Month for July. He batted .396 with 17 runs scored, 11 RBI and five stolen bases.
AUGUST (18-12)- The dog days of summer played a heavy roll in West Michigan, but the 'Caps stayed strong and finished August respectable before heading into the playoffs.
The one ‘Cap that did make a much needed impact at the plate, however, was Jordan Newton. Newton started the season out strong behind the plate. But after his hand injury before All-Star break, he had found himself being used more as a designated hitter and left fielder. Once July rolled around, Newton was sharing time behind the plate with 2008 draftee Alex Avila and minor league journeyman Adrian Casanova. August proved to be one of Newton's best months as he hit .269 with 25 hits and 10 RBI.
Chris Carlson's heroics, August 8th, gave West Michigan fans some relief-- since his July 23rd return from the disabled list-- that he was in full health. The Great Lakes Loons were up on the 'Caps 2-0 in the top of the ninth. Loons pitcher Justin Miller was carrying no-hitter before Carlson stepped up to the plate. With two runners on, Carlson jacked a three-run shot that gave West Michigan the 3-2 win.
August 13, Kibler won his 13th game on his 22nd birthday. At this point he was three wins shy of tying the Van Hekken and Connolly record. Kibler expressed the record didn't matter though; it was the team winning that mattered most. August 18, he was named, once again, the MWL Player of the Week. The Michigan State product lowered his ERA to a MWL-leading 1.63, and led in wins at this point with 14 and innings pitched with 149.1.
August 26, the Midwest League honored Kibler, and once-'Cap Figaro, with the Post Season All-Star award. The award is traditionally awarded to a left and right-handed pitcher in the Midwest League. The award was Kibler's last before he was placed on the disabled list July 23rd.
West Michigan ended August over .500 and were eyeing the playoffs that lay in the weeks ahead.
SEPTEMBER- The End was inevitable.
The 'Caps finished their last game of the season September 1st, losing to Dayton 5-4. Then the playoffs came. Kibler was activated just in time for the first round against South Bend, but it wouldn't make a difference. In his first scheduled start, Kibler was wrapped eight times for five runs before Paul Nardozzi came in the fourth to finish the rest of the game. Nardozzi fanned seven and allowed only one run in the 'Caps' loss to the Silver Hawks 5-3.
Pitcher Thad Weber would claim the only playoff win for West Michigan, which appeared on September 5th. The 11-0 blowout would be a mere tease to the final outcome of the series. South Bend ended West Michigan's season 3 games to 1.
OFF-SEASON- September 3, the Tigers extended their Player Development Contract through 2014 with the Whitecaps. The Whitecaps have had more success recently in Detroit than most farm clubs. They have also claimed five Midwest League Championships since their start in 1994.
September 12, the Detroit Tigers named Jon Kibler their Minor League Pitcher of the Year. No one would have guessed this at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, the former 30th round pick didn't quite grab the wins record for the 'Caps, but has huge upside coming into next year.