The West Michigan Whitecaps announced their Opening Day roster on Friday, and fans will be quick to notice names such as Kaline and Leyland in addition to a host of exciting prospects and promising top picks from the 2011 draft.
As the Detroit Tigers wrap up Spring Training in Lakeland, Florida, the Whitecaps are set to open the 2012 season in Dayton on Thursday, April 5, before returning home for the Fifth Third Ballpark opener against Bowling Green on Monday, April 9. Fans will have a chance to meet the team before the start of the season at an open workout on Tuesday from 11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Four players on the 25-man roster have noteworthy big-league roots.
Infielder Colin Kaline is the grandson of Hall of Famer Al Kaline, whose 22 seasons in the Major Leagues were spent entirely in Detroit and included a World Series victory in 1968 and 15 appearances as an American League All-Star. Infielder Marcus Lemon is the son of Chet Lemon, who played nine of his 16 seasons in the big leagues with Detroit and was part of the 1984 World Series championship. The younger Lemon, who was a fourth-round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2006, was recently signed by the Tigers as a Minor League free agent in late February.
Whitecaps' catcher Patrick Leyland, the son of current Tigers' manager Jim Leyland, continues his climb through the system since being selected in the eighth round of the 2010 draft. He will be catching right-handed reliever Nick Avila, who is the cousin of Tigers' catcher Alex Avila and the nephew of Tigers' Vice President/Assistant General Manager Al Avila.
In addition to the impressive pedigrees, the Whitecaps will open the 2012 season with seven of the top 10 players selected by the Tigers in the 2011 draft. The group is led by slugging first baseman Aaron Westlake (3rd Round), who along with shortstop Brandon Loy (4th) and third baseman Jason King (5th) represent three of Detroit's top four picks from last summer.
Powerful outfielder Steven Moya and crafty left-hander Kyle Ryan are two of 10 players on the roster that spent at least part of the 2011 season in West Michigan. Despite the fact that both players are just 20-years-old, fans can expect a more experienced and veteran squad this year. Whereas last year's Opening Day roster featured six teenagers and 12 players that were aged 20 or younger, the 2012 club will break camp with just one teenager and five 20-year-olds.
The lone teenager, Danry Vasquez, is one of four members of the Whitecaps' highlighted by Baseball America as a Top-30 prospect in the Detroit Tigers' organization. Signed for $1.2 million in 2010, the 18-year-old Venezuelan outfielder is rated No. 18 on the list despite having played just one professional season. Other prospects listed by Baseball America include Westlake at No. 14 and a pair of shortstops in defensive standout Loy at No. 19 and 20-year-old Venezuelan Eugenio Suarez at No. 28.
The Whitecaps open the 2012 season on the road with a 7:00 p.m. contest on Thursday, April 5, against the Dayton Dragons. The home-opener at Fifth Third Ballpark will take place on Monday, April 9, with a 6:00 p.m. first pitch against the Bowling Green Hot Rods. Gates will open at 4:00 p.m. and the first 1,000 fans will receive a Micro Fleece Winter Hat presented by the Fifth Third Riverbank Run, while the ballgame will be followed by a spectacular fireworks show. Group and individual tickets can be reserved by calling the Whitecaps front office at 616-784-4131 or visiting www.whitecapsbaseball.com.