At The Ballpark – The future is now in West Michigan

Last week, I had the pleasure of taking in my first game at beautiful Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps. The Whitecaps have played some very good baseball so far this season. They have the best record in the Midwest League, sitting at 31 – 14 (as of May 24th). While my visit was one of their few bad outings, it was still an enjoyable time. I visited on 5/17 when the team hosted the Bowling Green Hot Rods, the Tampa Bay Rays Class A affiliate. The Whitecaps lost the game, losing 10-1.

I was privy to a couple of stand out performances. For the Hot Rods, #11 prospect Jesus Sanchez, had a day. He went 3 for 5, with a home run and 3 RBI. He looked very much a top #10/15 prospect. I was also impressed with their starting pitcher, #23 prospect Travis Ott. He went 7 innings, giving up 1 run, and striking out ten. For a team that has been as hot as the Whitecaps, he shut them down.

For the ‘Caps, the big performances of the day were from #34 prospect Cam Gibson and #49 prospect Jacob Robson. A Gibson triple set up the only run after a single by Robson. I also thought relief pitcher Zac Houston looked pretty good, but still did allow 2 runs in his 2.1 innings.

Beyond that, it was a disappointing day for the Whitecaps, with Alfred Gutierrez laying a dud, giving up 5 runs in his 5 innings pitched. Gutierrez beyond this start has had a good start to the year and could sneak in a Top 50 update later in the year.

With all that said, West Michigan has had a large amount of standout prospects to start the season. Some of these players are in my Detroit Tigers Top 50 Prospects and the others may sneak in my next update after the MLB Draft. Let’s take a look at these prospects specifically. I’ve included some video and photos from my trip as well.

#3 Kyle Funkhouser

Kyle was one player I really wanted to see. Much to my disappointment and joy, Kyle has been promoted to Lakeland. For the Whitecaps, Kyle compiled a 3.16 ERA over 31.1 innings. He started 7 games and had a 4 – 1 record. He also compiled 49 strike outs (to lead the team still), 13 walks, and had a WHIP of 1.37. I’m excited to see what he can do in Lakeland. That is probably where I would expect him to end the year. In his first start with Lakeland, he went 7.2 innings, giving up 2 earned, and striking out 10. So far in my humble opinion he has been the steal of the 2016 draft and warrants this high of a ranking. If you can snag and stash him, I would do so immediately. If he keeps it up, he’ll be a big part of the Tigers future, forming a formidable rotation with Beau Burrows and Matt Manning.

#26 Bryan Garcia

Bryan is another player who started the year off well, earning a promotion to Lakeland with Funkhouser. He was still in West Michigan during my visit, but the team was not in a position for him to come in as a closer. During his time with the Whitecaps, he compiled a 3.14 ERA over 14.1 innings of work. During that time, he had 3 saves, 27 strikeouts, and a WHIP of 1.12. I’m very impressed with his work as the closer and he could be another steal from the 2016 draft. He has made 3 appearances since moving up to Lakeland on the 17th, not giving up a run and getting a save in his 3.1 innings of work.

#27 Austin Sodders

Austin has been the most impressive prospect in West Michigan so far. For me, he really has come out of nowhere, as he was not on my original Top 50 in January. Over his 7 starts to start the year, he has compiled a miniscule 0.73 ERA, 5 wins, 42 strike outs, and a WHIP of 1.00. He has done all of this over 39.1 innings. He is another of the 2016 picks (7th round) of the Tigers and he is someone I think could sneak his way up my Top 50 over the next couple years. He is definitely someone to keep a close eye one. I actually picked him up in a deep fantasy league myself. I think he’ll be close to a promotion mid-season as well.

#30 Gregory Soto

Gregory has looked good to start the year as well. He is right up there with Sodders for his start to the year. He has pitched similar numbers to Sodders, in his 7 starts going 4-0, with a 1.26 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 43 strikeouts. He has definitely been a good signing for the Tigers so far and I look forward for him to continue this. He could be another mid-season promotion if his numbers continue.

#34 Cam Gibson

Cam has had an excellent start to the season. Cam is hitting .262, has an OBP of .344, has stolen 7 bases, and hit 7 home runs. I feel like his bat is finally starting to mature a bit. From his walk below, I was impressed with his eye and his composure. I feel like in years past, he would be more prone to swing at pitches out of the zone. If he can build upon his strong start, he may earn a ticket to Florida to end his year.

#47 Spenser Watkins

Spenser is one of my disappointments for the year. This poor kid can’t catch a break and was a demotion from Lakeland after the promotion of Funkhouser. For the year, his overall numbers don’t seem bad, but for someone that is 24 and 3 years in the Tigers system, being in Low-A is a big red flag for me. Based on his performance to start the year, I can’t see how some of the young arms in West Michigan don’t push him out of the Top 50. He is a player I would ignore in all fantasy formats for now.

#49 Jacob Robson

Robson has had a fantastic start to 2017 and based on this performance will be moving up not only my Top 50, but others lists as well. Robson, the Tigers 8th round pick in 2016, has a knack for getting on base. He hasn’t displayed much power, so if he makes the majors, I wouldn’t bank on him being a high homerun/power hitter. So far this year he has a .341 average, with a .408 OBP, and 3 SB. He has been caught stealing 7 times as well. I’d like to see if he can continue these numbers and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is another promotion later this year.


After the game, there were a couple other players who I’ll be keeping my eye on. Those players included Blaise Salter, Anthony Pereira, Eudis Idrogo, Alfred Gutierrez, Jason Foley, and Eduardo Jimenez. These players have had impressive starts to the year, but I want to see if they can keep this up before promoting them into my Top 50. So these would be some sleepers in the Tigers system, but I would hold off on adding them in all leagues at least until the off season.

Next month, I’ll be heading to the Tigers AAA affiliate in Toledo, so stay tuned to Prospects 1500 for my look at the Tigers of tomorrow. As always, feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me on Twitter (@firedupchippewa) if you have questions!

Article featured image of Cam Gibson – courtesy of Bowman baseball (2015 Bowman Chrome Draft Pick Autograph card)

Nick Bradford is a writer for Prospects 1500 covering the Detroit Tigers. He resides in southeast Michigan with his wife and daughter. He is an avid fan of the Tigers, the Mudhens, and anything baseball (fantasy or MLB). He is a graduate of Central Michigan University and works as a support manager for a software company. Follow me on Twitter at @firedupchippewa.

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