From the Whitecaps Media Department:
COMSTOCK PARK, MI – Talented arms and premium draft picks highlight the West Michigan Whitecaps’ initial 2014 roster that was unveiled by the club in conjunction with the Detroit Tigers on Saturday.
The Whitecaps open the 2014 season on the road with a four-game series in Dayton beginning on Thursday. The highly-anticipated home-opener is scheduled for a 6:35 p.m. start on Tuesday, April 8 against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers with a retrospective Fifth Third Ballpark lithograph giveaway presented by Fifth Third Bank for the first 1,000 fans, a spectacular post-game Family Fare fireworks show and a variety of jugglers, stilt walkers, face painters and more throughout the night.
Headlining the newest squad of West Michigan Whitecaps are pitchers Jonathon Crawford and Kevin Ziomek, the Tigers’ first- and second-round selections in the 2013 draft. Joining them is outfielder Ben Verlander, the younger brother of Tigers’ star and 2011 American League MVP Justin Verlander.
Crawford and Ziomek are among five Whitecaps ranked by Baseball America as top-30 prospects in the Detroit Tigers’ organization. Crawford, Detroit’s top pick at 20th overall, is already rated No. 5 while Ziomek, the 58th overall pick, checks in at No. 10. Other highly-regarded prospects according to Baseball America include 18-year-old infielder Javier Betancourt (#14), 2013 Big East Pitcher of the Year and returning Whitecap Jeff Thompson (#24), and hard-throwing right-hander Zac Reininger (#25).
The Whitecaps are reaping the benefits of a Tigers’ 2013 draft class that loaded up on pitching prospects with college experience.
Seven pitchers drafted by Detroit in the top 10 rounds last summer will open the season in West Michigan, including five of the Tigers’ top six picks and 11 players selected in the first 15 rounds. In addition to Crawford, Ziomek and Thompson (3rd round), the Whitecaps’ starting rotation will also feature Austin Kubitza (4th), Buck Farmer (5th) and Chad Green (11th).
The impressive pitching staff will be complemented by an exciting offense.
An intriguing outfield includes Verlander, a 2013 All-Star in the New York-Penn League, in addition to 2012 NCAA batting champion Raph Rhymes and speedy center field prospect Austin Schotts. Roaming the infield will be Betancourt, the nephew of former Major Leaguer Edgardo Alfonzo, who boasts a career batting average of .333 and was named the GCL Tigers’ Player of the Year last season. The 18-year-old phenom will make his full-season debut alongside infielders Dominic Ficociello and Curt Powell, who are among 10 players on the roster that saw time in West Michigan last season.
The club will be guided by new manager Andrew Graham, whose history with the Whitecaps’ organization includes a Midwest League championship as a player in 2004. Graham’s coaching staff consists of another new addition in hitting coach Nelson Santovenia, while second-year pitching coach Mike Henneman – a former All-Star closer at the Major League level – will be tasked with developing some of the brightest pitching prospects in the Detroit Tigers’ organization.