2009 West Michigan Whitecaps Season in Review

There are two things to be said about West Michigan at the end of the '09 campaign: 1. In 17 years of the club's existence, they have proven to be a town worthy of successful Minor League team. 2. They're the only Detroit farm team to make a playoff appearance this year.

With a season-ending record of 81-59, it was quite a journey behind this team's topsy-turvy season. Prospects grew into household names, injuries stopped momentum and a second year manager gained another year of solid success.

The beginning of the ‘Caps' season started out with a couple familiar faces, such as Jordan Newton and Ronnie Bourquin. While Newton's return was more for game count in Low-A ball, Bourquin's return was more for polish and character improvement. It wasn't long before Newton was called up to Lakeland. Bourquin on the other hand would split time between Erie — on which he played 37 games there.

While some may think Brandon Hamilton had another down year, it was really an improvement year for the hard-throwing right-hander. His record of 5-5 with a 7.09 ERA showed he wasn't a game-stopper, but watching him play, it's easy to see he has gotten used to playing at this level now; his confidence and mechanics have greatly improved. It's going to be interesting to see how Detroit will handle him next season. Will he return to West Michigan for a third year, or does he have the arm to promote him to the next level? Only the off-season will tell.

This year, the ‘Caps' rotation had more depth than in year's past. With the promotions of Matt Hoffman and Mauricio Robles, the ‘Caps depended on the arms of Casey Crosby, Mark Sorensen, Anthony Shawler and Luke Putkonen to get them by. The three pitchers combined for 32 wins out of 449.6 innings of play. Sorenson was a true unsung hero, piling on an 8-2 record out of only 14 game starts. He started the year in the lower half of the rotation, but would emerge as a top-pitching prospect in Detroit's system. He was promoted to Lakeland as well.

Casey Crosby was the quintessential number one ace of the Whitecaps this season. His 2.41 ERA was practically a league best. The former 2007 draftee was a home game monster going 8-3 with 1.68 ERA. Don't be surprised if this southpaw starts in either Lakeland or Erie in 2010.

Now if we're talking MVP of the Whitecaps, look no further than Billy Nowlin. His 77 RBI were seventh in all of the Midwest League. Usually playing DH, the California native batted in the cleanup slot where he and third baseman Bryan Pounds and first baseman Jordan Lennerton delivered quite the hassle for opposing pitchers in the thick of the lineup. The three combined for 349 hits this season. Nowlin's mechanics and growth this year have assured him a spot in a higher caliber league in 2010.

Don't forget the dynamic infield combo of Gustavo Nunez and Brandon Douglas. It's safe to say that Nunez and Douglas could be considered the best shortstop/second base combo for West Michigan in years. Though Nunez's 23 errors led the team, he had the quickness and arm to turn the classic 6-4-3 most days. Nunez also ran into trouble in July when Detroit suspended him for undisclosed matters. He moved on from those circumstances and returned to the leadoff spot of the lineup, where he led the team with an outstanding 146 hits. His 45 steals and 10 triples were a team best as well. If you're a stats-hound, Nunez would be a clear MVP.

Douglas had a solid year, but was limited to 83 games—due to injuries. The former 11th rounder was a 2008 All-Star for West Michigan and will likely see a higher league next year too. However, he might be in Newton's position and play enough games next year in West Michigan to promote him to Erie or Lakeland. Whatever way it goes, Douglas is a versatile infielder with huge upside as a hitter. His .352 average before all-star break gave insight to what this infielder is all about.

In the outfield, Ben Guez and Brent Wyatt were consistent starters who provided stellar performances in the field as well as the plate. Wyatt struggled in post-season play going 2-10 with just two hits. His counterpart, Guez, only managed two hits and a run in West Michigan's last two playoff games. While the two switched between leadoff and the three-spot, the team missed their crucial hits that provided the ‘Caps with run support all year long. But their season numbers helped West Michigan claim a Midwest best 1,311 hits with an overall average of .274 (second best).

West Michigan fans will see many new faces next year, but one face they will be able to recognize will be that of Joe DePastino's. The former New York Met will be coming up on his third season as a professional baseball manager. This season DePastino won 11 more games during the season than in 2008. This was also his second straight trip to the playoffs. The manager said he hopes to do even better next season and possibly bring home the Midwest title.

When West Michigan made the playoffs they were for sure rendered as under-dogs. They lost the first game to Great Lakes 7-2, and then came back the next day, shutting the Loons out 7-0. But all good things must come to an end, and by the end of September 11th the ‘Caps would lose an extra innings battle, 3-2, to send them packing.

As the Whitecaps embark on their 17th season, next year will look a bit different in the Midwest. Two new teams: Lake County (Ohio) and Bowling Green (Kentucky) will join the league.


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