COMSTOCK PARK, MI - With baseball at Fifth Third Ballpark less than one week away, the West Michigan Whitecaps unveiled their Opening Day roster on Friday as anticipation continues to build for the franchise's 20th anniversary season.
Manager Larry Parrish's debut campaign in West Michigan will feature a club rich with prospects while also boasting a proven veteran presence.
Highlighting the roster are 19-year-olds Austin Schotts and Danry Vasquez, who are rated by Baseball America as the fifth and sixth best prospects in the Detroit Tigers' organization.
Schotts was the Tigers' second selection in the 2012 draft, taken in the third round out of Centennial High School in Frisco, Texas. The speedy and athletic center fielder hit .310 in 40 games for the GCL Tigers last summer, swiping 15 bases and scoring 31 runs in 40 games to help his club to the best record in the GCL before a brief late-season promotion to high Class-A Lakeland.
Vasquez, who was signed by the Tigers in 2010 for $1.2 million, began the 2012 season with the 'Caps as the youngest player in the Midwest League. Though he struggled to a .162 batting average in 29 games with West Michigan, he took off following a demotion to short season-A Connecticut. Vasquez went on to lead the New York-Penn League with 90 hits while batting .311 and clubbing 20 extra-base hits despite being on an offense that finished last in the league in hitting.
Schotts and Vasquez are two of five West Michigan players highlighted by Baseball America in their annual organizational prospect rankings, joined by right-handed pitching prospects Montreal Robertson (No. 18), Endrys Briceno (No. 22) and Edgar De La Rosa (No. 29). All three hurlers spent last season with Connecticut and are expected to be members of the Whitecaps' starting rotation.
While the two standout 19-year-olds will play the entire season as teenagers, the rest of the club has a decidedly veteran feel. The average age of the roster is 22.5-years-old and there are no other players aged 20 or younger. The group includes nine players that have seen action with the Whitecaps before.
The most notable of the returnees is also the oldest in 29-year-old Michael Hernandez. The Brooklyn native hit .278 with 13 home runs and 63 RBI to help the 'Caps to a Midwest League championship during his 2006 professional debut, a memorable year in which he became the only West Michigan player to hit for the cycle twice in a season and registered what was then a franchise record with seven RBI in a game. Hernandez hit 24 home runs with 106 RBI between two levels while reaching Double-A in 2007, but never got back to the high minors after being traded in the 2008 deal that brought Armando Galarraga to Detroit. He has spent the last four seasons in the independent Atlantic League.
The group is a strong one for Parrish, a baseball veteran with a long history in the Detroit Tigers' organization. The Whitecaps' new skipper is entering his 21st season in player development and his 38th season in baseball. His lengthy career began with 15 years in the Major Leagues, batting .263 with 256 home runs and 992 RBI for the Montreal Expos, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox. His extensive baseball resume also features 773 managerial wins at the major and minor league levels combined, with highlights including a managerial stint with the Detroit Tigers from 1998-1999, four championship rings in the minors, a franchise-record 569 wins for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens, and an induction later this summer into the International League (AAA) Hall of Fame.
The Whitecaps open the 2013 season - the 20th in franchise history - on Thursday, April 4, with a 6:35 p.m. first pitch against the Dayton Dragons at Fifth Third Ballpark. Promotions include a hat giveaway for the first 1,500 fans courtesy of Fifth Third Bank, a post-game fireworks spectacular presented by Family Fare, food and beverage specials on an Altogas Thrifty Thursday and a slew of jugglers, stilt walkers, face painters and more throughout the night. Group and individual tickets can be reserved by calling the Whitecaps front office at 616-784-4131 or visiting www.whitecapsbaseball.com.