There was a different feel this time around for Tigers' Single-A West Michigan affiliate as the first half of the season came to a close on Sunday. Second-year manager Andrew Graham was dealt a young, enthusiastic and talented roster this season, including 14 members of the 2014 MLB draft class with Derek Hill, Ross Kivett and Michael Gerber among them.
For Hill, Detroit's top pick in last year's draft, the season didn't begin as smoothly as he would have liked. He was struck with injury issues almost immediately, and finished the first half on the disabled list with a quad injury. Regardless, Hill had no trouble living up to his reputation for speed on the base path, finishing the first half with 23 stolen bases, seven above his closest teammate, landing him top-three in the Midwest League. He batted .227 with 42 hits, including six doubles, four triples and 11 RBI.
A sixth round pick (190th overall) out of Kansas State, you'll find that it's a harder task to get Ross Kivett to sit still for longer than five minutes than to ask him to produce. The high energy and fun loving nature of the 23-year-old centerfielder has quickly escalated the Ohio native into a force to be reckoned with, serving as half of an offensive machine alongside fellow outfielder Michael Gerber. Kivett closed the first half hitting .302, posting a team-high 47 runs (second-highest in the Midwest League), 80 hits (second in team and a second-place tie in the Midwest League), led the team in doubles with 21 and came second to teammate Derek Hill in stolen bases with 16. Need we say more?
Outfielder Michael Gerber is quite possibly one of the most unassuming and soft spoken human highlight reels to ever cross your path. The 15th round pick (460 overall) out of Creighton University will be the first to tell you that he really doesn't give much thought to records or streaks, but something is clicking for the 22-year-old and the league has been forced to take notice. The level of production has launched Gerber to land on the Tigers' Top 30 prospects to watch in 2015. Gerber closed out the first half with the Whitecaps hitting a league-best .335, a league-best 83 hits, a two-way tie for a league best in runs with 38 as well as leading the team with an .881 OPS. Oh, did we mention being added to the 2015 Midwest League All-Star roster?
Despite the level of talent boasted by this year's squad, a combination of injuries and the departure of many of last season's big names led to a less than favorable conclusion for Graham and the Whitecaps.
West Michigan closed the first half at 33-36, dropping eight of their last 12 outings; landing them in a sixth place finish in the Midwest League Eastern Division.
The second half of the season kicks off on Thursday and hopes to welcome back a healthier version of Derek Hill, as well as pitcher Adam Ravenelle, who has yet to take the hill this season.
The Whitecaps will begin the second half on the road to face the Lansing Lugnuts, who claimed the division in the first half, going 42-28 as the start of a four-game road series for West Michigan.