The smell of spring lingers in gently over Fifth Third Ball park, while West Michigan fans prepare for the 2009 season. However, this season—compared to seasons of the past—is much different. No, it's not the arrival of that ridiculous Fifth Third burger. It's actually the first time since 2005 that the ‘Caps aren't defending their title.
Last season West Michigan went 72-65, though above .500, it was a disappointment for manager Joe DePastino, who is now entering his second year with the team. There could be a lot of things said about the 2008 season. Was it their pitching? Once Alfredo Figaro left, Jonathan Kibler took control of the rotation. But with holes in the bullpen, the ‘Caps would see for-sure wins depleted, and sketchy starter showings lost in forgettable games that are hazy at most now. Was it their performance at the plate? The team hit .257 overall. And with constant promotions in the roster, the ‘Caps would suffer. Justin Henry, Kody Kaiser and Jordan Newton would have to lead a sub-par roster through times of doubt. But lets not hang our heads about last season—there was hope. And this hope has led us to the new ‘Caps of 2009.
Mauricio Robles. The 20-year old fireballer spent most of the year with West Michigan last season—gaining valuable experience that will come in handy in 2009. His breaking pitches were a big help for turning double plays. Don't let this small-framed southpaw fool you; he has the tools to rise to the occasion.
Jordan Newton. The consistent hitting catcher returns to West Michigan. Last season, Newton hit .267 with 97 hits and 48 RBI. Injuries would plague the Kentucky native for some of the season. But now he comes into this year leading the team in the offensive category. Newton hopes to fix his high strikeout problem, and bat more runs in, rather than send them back to the bench scoreless. His experience behind the plate will also help the young pitchers develop.
Ronnie Bourquin. Ok, he might not be a Major League product, but he can be better known as "Ole Reliable". Borquin was an average hitter at best last year—batting in the thick of the lineup. He played 118 games and switched between third and first base. Expect to see the same this year. He also will need to solve his strikeout problem if he expects to have a big bat for West Michigan in '09.
Brandon Douglas. Fans are excited to see the Northern Iowa product back in town. When Audy Ciriaco went down last season, Douglas was promoted from GCL, and hit his way for respect in the farm system. The shortstop ended up winning the MWL Player of the Week award before being sent back down. He even was promoted to Erie for a bit. Of all the ‘Caps this season, Douglas is the most likely to lead the team at the plate. It's going to be exciting to watch him flourish this year.
Brandon Hamilton. Not many people remember that Hamilton was a first round selection. His pitching last year in West Michigan was forgettable, but he gained experience that will carry with him into this year. Remember, the kid is only 20 years old. If anything, he was not ready to pitch in Mid-A ball. Hamilton is a hard-throwing righty with potential most managers would kill for. At 6-2, 215-pounds, the Alabama native will use his power pitching to impress any doubters. The kid has a year of experience under his belt and is ready to play at this level.
The West Michigan Whitecaps took the field April 9th before 7,598 fans. Great for opening day, but it seemed that dang burger was more of an attraction. However, the ‘Caps gave fans the price of admission, winning against Southbend 5-2. Casey Crosby picked up the win, going five innings with nine strikeouts. In other news, the first person to finish that calorie-hound burger was 16-year-old Steve Landis of Grand Rapids… Hate to say it, but it was pretty impressive.
In their first week of play, strong pitching performances by Robles, Matt Hoffman and closer Tyler Stohr led the ‘Caps to a 8-3 record to start the season off strong. The big sticks are coming through for West Michigan, and it looks to be a good summer underway. It's baseball season ladies and gentlemen!