COMSTOCK PARK, MI - The Detroit Tigers today announced that former Whitecaps catcher Mike Rabelo will become the West Michigan Whitecaps' 2017 manager.
This marks the second straight former Whitecaps catcher to become team manager, and only the second former player in the Whitecaps' 23-year history to go on to manage the team. Former catcher Andrew Graham, who managed the team for the past three seasons, has been promoted to Class A Lakeland for the 2017 season.
Rabelo, a fourth round draft pick by the Tigers in 2001, played two seasons (2002 and 2003) with the Whitecaps. He went on to make his Major League debut with the Tigers on September 23, 2006, then played 51 games with the Tigers in 2007 as backup catcher to Ivan Rodriguez. In December 2007, he was part of the blockbuster trade that brought Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers from the Florida Marlins. He spent part of the 2008 season with the Marlins, then became a free agent in 2009. He re-signed with the Tigers and, battling injuries, played his final season (2010) with the AAA Toledo Mud Hens.
Rabelo's career immediately transitioned to coaching, as the Tigers took note of his leadership abilities and understanding of the game and named him as the rookie short-season Gulf Coast League Tigers' hitting coach in 2011. In 2012, he advanced to the Connecticut Tigers (short-season New York-Penn League) as hitting coach, and in 2014 he was named that team's manager. After spending three seasons impressing the Tigers front office as Connecticut's manager, where he accumulated a 118-107 record, he joins the Whitecaps as manager in 2017.
The Tigers also announced that Mike Hessman will join the Whitecaps as hitting coach and Jorge Cordova will join the organization the Whitecaps as pitching coach for the 2017 season.
Hessman is best known as the all-time Minor League home run leader. He was the Atlanta Braves' 15th-round draft pick in 1996 and spent parts of five seasons in the Major Leagues (2003- 2004 with Atlanta, 2007 - 2008 with Detroit and 2010 with the New York Mets). But it was his Minor League career, spanning 19 seasons and five organizations, where he made his mark. On August 3, 2015, while playing for the Tigers' AAA Toledo Mud Hens, he hit his 433rd career homer, fittingly a grand slam, to take the all-time Minor League home run lead, surpassing the 78-year-old record set by Buzz Arlett in 1937. It was Hessman's final career homer, as he retired after the 2015 season at age 37.
Hessman was the Connecticut Tigers' hitting coach in 2016 and makes the transition to West Michigan with Rabelo.
Cordova, a Venezuelan native, was signed by the Yankees in 1996 at the age of 16, playing first in the Dominica Republic and Venezuela before advancing to the U.S., where he played six seasons in the Minor Leagues for three organizations: the Marlins, Reds and Tigers (including the 2000 season in the Midwest League with Kane County and Clinton). He was a week away from a 2003 mid-season call-up to the Tigers when he suffered an injury that prevented the call-up. After being plagued by injuries in 2004, he retired after that season. He posted a 33-23 career record with a 3.79 ERA over 200 games, both as a starter and a reliever.
Cordova went on to serve as Detroit's Venezuelan Summer League pitching coach from 2006 to 2008, then spent the next several years between the GCL Tigers and Connecticut Tigers before being promoted to Class A Lakeland as pitching coach, where he spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
Joining former Whitecaps manager Graham at Lakeland next season will be Mark Johnson, who spent seven of the last nine seasons as the Whitecaps pitching coach.
Tigers Vice President of Player Development Dave Littlefield said Rabelo's promotion is well-deserved.
"Mike Rabelo brings a competitive and high energy managerial style to the ballpark every day. With three seasons as manager at Connecticut (Short Season Class A) under his belt, we know that he is prepared to take on the promotion to West Michigan. Being a former Whitecap, Mike knows what the expectations are and he is excited to get back to Fifth Third Ballpark."
The Whitecaps open the 2017 season at home on Thursday, April 6 at 6:35 p.m. against the South Bend Cubs. Season tickets and mini plans will go on sale October 25 and can be purchased by calling the Whitecaps at 616-784-4131. Tickets for groups of 20 or more, including private party areas, will go on sale in November.