The Whitecaps have dominant starting pitchers

Rick Porcello pitches on June 15 against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park - Leon Halip

West Michigan's pitching staff is dominating the league. Can the Tigers replace free agency losses from within?

Last week we looked at the top three levels of the Tigers' minor league system and found short-term options for spot starters in Toledo, and possible dominant starters developing in Lakeland. This week we look at Low-A West Michigan for hope in 2017 and beyond. If Rick Porcello is lost to free agency, there will be another hole to fill.

The Whitecaps are having an excellent season with a record of 47 wins and 33 losses, due to a strong pitching staff. Among the 16 teams in the Midwest League, the Whitecaps' 2.98 ERA is the lowest. But the Whitecaps have a big ballpark where pitching typically dominates. The best pitchers in recent seasons have barely made a blip on the major league radar. Casey Crosby had 10 wins and over 10 strikeouts per nine innings in 2009. Alfredo Figaro won 12 games with a WHIP of 1.05 in 2008. Duane Below won 13 games and struck out nearly 10 per nine innings in 2007. Burke Badenhop won 14 games with an ERA of 2.84 in 2006, and is the best of the bunch.

The Whitecaps' pitching staff is easily leading the league in strikeouts. The team is averaging 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings. On the Midwest League individual strikeouts leaderboard, the Whitecaps occupy four of the top six positions.

Name R/L Age Height W L G GS ERA BB/9 K/9 WHIP
Buck Farmer R 23 6' 4" 7 5 14 14 3.20 2.5 11.0 1.21
Austin Kubitza R 22 6' 5" 6 1 14 14 2.37 3.4 10.1 1.12
Kevin Ziomek L 22 6' 3" 6 5 13 13 2.40 4.9 9.6 1.29
Chad Green R 23 6' 3" 2 2 14 14 3.33 1.9 8.1 1.17
Jonathon Crawford R 22 6' 2" 4 2 13 13 2.60 3.2 6.8 1.14
Jonathan Maciel R 21 6' 2" 3 3 16 9 3.03 2.1 6.6 1.20
Joe Mantiply L 23 6' 4" 5 2 26 0 1.72 2.2 9.3 0.90

Buck Farmer was drafted in the fifth round last year out of Georgia Institute of Technology. Buck leads the league with 100 strikeouts. Farmer turned 23 in February, and age is his weakness. The batters he is facing are mostly younger than he is.

Austin Kubitza was drafted in the fourth round last year out of Rice University in Houston. Austin's overall performance may be the most impressive of the group. Kubitza is due for a promotion to Lakeland. Let's hope that is in store for July, rather than a trade to his hometown Astros for Jose Veras.

Kevin Ziomek was drafted out of Vanderbilt in the second round last year. He is the only southpaw among the starters. With a walk rate needing improvement, he needs to avoid the Casey Crosby / Andy Oliver career path. He is originally from Springfield, Massachusetts. I was there a couple weeks ago and stopped at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site. Note to self, do not buy a paperweight-sized souvenir musket and fail to tell TSA when flying home.

Chad Green was drafted in the eleventh round of the 2013 "pitchers' draft", from the University of Louisville. He may have entered the season with less attention than the other starters, but is fitting in with comparable performance.

Jonathon Crawford was the first round pick in the pitchers' draft, from the University of Florida. Crawford is having success in a more Porcello-like fashion, striking out fewer but not allowing too many hits.

Jonathan Maciel was drafted in the 18th round last year and is the youngster at 21 years old. The swingman could be due for a larger starting role.

Joe Mantiply was not drafted until the 27th round last year, out of Virginia Tech, where a 3.99 college ERA and low strikeout rate did not indicate much potential. When you look at the Whitecaps' statistics however, Mantiply jumps out the lowest ERA and WHIP. Joe could follow Phil Coke's career path, as the fellow southpaw also pitched at the Low-A level at age 23 after being drafted in the 26th round.

So the Whitecaps are dominating with tall pitchers, drafted last year out of college, who are mostly old for the league. I could see one developing into a mid-rotation starter. A couple should be promoted to Lakeland this summer, and Maciel and Mantiply could move into the rotation. It could be fun though to promote them all as a group one level per season, in a semi-controlled study of pitching development.

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