Greg Soto signed with the Detroit Tigers as an international free agent in December 2012. He started 2017 with the West Michigan Whitecaps and was promoted to the Lakeland Flying Tigers during the season. After going 12–2 with a 2.25 ERA and 144 strikeouts between the two teams, he was named the Tigers minor league pitcher of the year. In the 2022 season, Soto has continued his role as the primary closer for the Tigers. On July 10, Soto was selected to represent the Tigers at the 2022 All-Star game, his second consecutive All-Star selection. At the time of the selection, Soto had 17 saves in 19 opportunities, with a 2.67 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 30+1⁄3 innings.
A dominant closer on the 2015 championship team, saving 17 games, and striking out 61 in 43 IP with a 1.47 ERA. Joe was also dominant at all other Minor League levels. Currently the closer for the Detroit Tigers.
The Detroit Tigers selected Turnbull in the second round, with the 63rd overall selection of the 2014 MLB draft. After signing with the Tigers, he began his professional career with the Gulf Coast League Tigers. After brief stints with the Gulf Coast League and Connecticut Tigers, Spencer spent 2015 with the Whitecaps, where he was 11–3 with a 3.01 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 22 starts. He missed most of the 2016 season due to a shoulder impingement. Turnbull proceeded to spend the next two seasons in the minors before receiving his highly-anticipated call to the big leagues with the Tigers.
In 2019, the righty established himself as a Tigers rotation fixture in earning the start in the Comerica Park home opener and struck out a career-high ten Kansas City Royals in a 5-4 victory on April 4. A few weeks later, Turnbull earned his first career win in front of friends and family at Fenway Park as the Tigers beat Boston 4-2. In 2020, Turnbull posted a big-league best 3.97 ERA in 11 games, finishing with a 1.1 wins above replacement (WAR) score, ranking third-best among Tigers players.
A long standing phrase in baseball is that “You can’t tell the players without a scorecard.” Ruth Jacobson’s craft as the long-time West Michigan Whitecaps seamstress allowed Whitecaps fans to recognize the players even better with their name across the back of the jerseys. Truly a key “behind the scenes” member in the organization, Ruth not only enjoyed the annual ritual of sewing nameplates on the jerseys prior to Opening Day, but also doing the various other repairs on jerseys, pants, and mascot uniforms throughout the season—at times doing the work late at night or early morning due to new players coming to West Michigan. She was a dedicated and long-time Whitecaps fan who attended hundreds of Whitecaps games - giving her the opportunity to see her handiwork first-hand! Thanks to Ruth, the Whitecaps were one of the first Minor League Baseball teams to have nameplates sewn on the jerseys back in the late-1990’s.
After a neighbor introduced Ruth to chain stitch embroidery as a way to earn income while working from home, she turned it into business that became a successful 35-year career. Along with sewing for the Whitecaps, Ruth volunteered her skills at her local church, sewing costumes, mending and even sewing new items for the baby nursery. The Whitecaps loved Ruth for her incredible dedication, hard work and beautiful craftsmanship to ensure that the Whitecaps players and coaches always had the best looking uniforms in the league!
Ruth passed away at the age of 91 on September 4, 2020.
Buck Farmer was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 5th round of the 2013 MLB June Draft out of Georgia Tech. Buck pitched for the West Michigan Whitecaps in 2014, making 18 starts, going 10-5 with a 2.60 ERA and 116 Strikeouts/24 Walks before being promoted to Double A Erie Seawolves where he pitched two games.
On Tuesday, August 13, 2014, he made his Major League debut for the Detroit Tigers in a spot start against the Pittsburgh Pirates, earning a no-decision. Buck has spent the last two seasons working out of the bullpen for the Detroit Tigers and went 6-6 with 73 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings while posting career best 3.72 ERA in 2019.
Scott Lane was and is an original. Hired as the first General Manager for the West Michigan Whitecaps in September of 1993, Scott’s vision and experience led the Whitecaps to opening up the ballpark in April, 1994, then setting consecutive Class A attendance records three seasons in a row. Scott oversaw numerous upgrades, expansions and renovations to Fifth Third Ballpark throughout his tenure. Named President in 2001, Scott continued his leadership until retiring in December of 2018.
Prior to coming to West Michigan, Scott started his career as a radio newscaster in Rockford, IL before moving on to MiLB and spending time as Assistant GM with the Rockford Expos and the Kane County Cougars. It was with the Cougars that Scott met Lew Chamberlin and Denny Baxter and developed a solid working partnership. As a two-time Midwest League Executive of the Year winner (1994 and 1996), his guidance led the West Michigan Whitecaps to earn numerous awards such as Baseball America’s Team of the Year, MiLB’s President’s Award, MiLB’s Class A Outstanding Team, and Larry MacPhail Promotional Award.
Matt Joyce was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 12th round of the 2005 Major League Draft. He played for the West Michigan Whitecaps in 2006 where he batted .258 with 11 home runs and 86 RBIs as the Whitecaps captured the Midwest League Championship. He made his Major League debut in May of 2008 with the Tigers before being traded to Tampa Bay. Matt has played for five teams in total and made his first All-Star appearance in 2011.
Chamberlin, from Grand Rapids, was Michigan's Entrepreneur of the Year in 1996 and the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame's Warren Reynolds Lifetime Achievement Award winner in 2003. Baxter, from Muskegon, earned a CPA degree from Michigan State University before co-founding the Whitecaps, and was inducted into the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame in 2017. Both of these men serve on several boards, leadership councils and non-profit charities around West Michigan. Together, they brought the Whitecaps to West Michigan in 1994 as one of the only privately-funded sports teams in the country. The team was named the Minor League Franchise of the Decade in 1999 by Baseball America.
Regan managed the Whitecaps in 2002 and 2003. The Otsego, MI, native spent 13 seasons in the Major Leagues, six of which were with the Tigers (1960-1965). He began his coaching career at Grand Valley State University (1973-1982) and went on to manage the Baltimore Orioles in 1995. In addition to managing the Whitecaps, Regan has always been an advocate of the Whitecaps organization, using his ties and relationships in West Michigan to promote the team throughout the years.
Castellanos joined the Whitecaps in 2011 as a 19-year-old after being drafted as a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds in the 2010 MLB draft. He batted .312 with seven home runs , 76 RBI and a Midwest League-leading 158 hits (tying the team record). He was named the Tigers' minor league position player of the year as well as a Midwest League Post-Season All-Star. The 2018 season will be his fifth in the Major Leagues with Detroit.
Avila joined the Whitecaps after the 2008 amateur draft, and in his three months with the Whitecaps, he posted a .305 batting average with 22 RBI in 55 games as catcher. He made his debut with the Detroit Tigers on August 6, 2009, playing seven seasons with the Tigers before signing a one-year contract with the Chicago White Sox in 2016. He recently re-signed with the Tigers for the 2017 season.
Maybin was the Detroit Tiger's 1st round pick (10th overall) in 2005. He played in 101 games for West Michigan in 2006 with a .304 batting average and was named Tigers Minor League Player of the Year. Maybin made his MLB debut with the Tigers on 8/17/07. Moving into his 11th season, Maybin has had stints with the Tigers, Marlins, Padres, Braves and Angels.
While playing for the Whitecaps in 2002, Kelly posted a .286 BA while collecting 59 RBI and scoring 72 runs. Kelly made his Major League debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates in April of 2007 before re-signing with the Detroit Tigers in 2009. Kelly reached the milestone of having played every position on the field in his major league career on July 2, 2011.
Former Whitecaps pitcher Fernando Rodney is the lone 2015 inductee to the Whitecaps Hall of Fame. Rodney posted a 6-4 record and 2.92 ERA with 56 strikeouts for the Whitecaps in 2000. He made his Major League debut with the Tigers in May 2002 and is currently in his 15th season in the Majors. He has pitched for the Tigers, Angels, Rays and the Mariners, Cubs, Padres and Marlins.
Former Whitecaps pitcher Jon Connolly was inducted into the Whitecaps Hall of Fame on January 23, 2014 at the annual Whitecaps Winter Banquet. He is the lone Hall of Fame inductee for 2014.
Connolly made his lone season in West Michigan a memorable one. In 2003 the southpaw tied a franchise record by racking up 16 victories, and his ERA of 1.41 is the lowest for a starter in the history of the Whitecaps. He also holds the Whitecaps record for shutouts (5) and is second on the Whitecaps all-time leaderboard in winning percentage (.842). His dominating season also earned him a spot on the Midwest League Post-Season All-Star team.
After being drafted by the Tigers in the 28th round of the 2001 Draft, Connolly had a long Minor League career that included stops with eight different teams in the Tigers' and Cubs' organizations. Connolly finished his career in 2008 pitching for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.
Van Hekken pitched for the Whitecaps in 2000, putting up impressive numbers that still rank among the team's finest in its 19-year history. His 16 wins that season is tied with Jon Connolly's 16 in 2003 as the team record for wins; and he still ranks in the top 10 in team records for winning percentage (.727, 8th), ERA (2.45, 8th) and strikeouts to walks ratio (3.41, 10th).
A third-round draft pick by the Mariners in 1998, Van Hekken made his major league debut on September 3, 2002, for the Tigers, throwing a complete game shutout for a victory against the Cleveland Indians. He made five major league starts that month, going 1-3 with a 3.00 ERA in 30 innings pitched. He played in the minor leagues for the Tigers for the next two seasons, then spent the next two years with the farm systems of the Braves, Reds and Royals. In 2008 he signed with the Astros and played mostly for their AAA team for four seasons. He then signed with the Nexen Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization before the 2012 season.
Walbeck managed the Whitecaps for three years, from 2004 through 2006. He made a quick jump to a managerial career from a Major League playing career; he spent 10 years as a catcher in the majors from 1993 to 2003, building a career .233 average with the Cubs, Twins, Angels and Tigers. He spent his final two years with the Tigers before moving directly into his first managerial role with the Whitecaps in 2004. He led that squad to a Midwest League Championship as a rookie manager, then won the league championship again two years later, in 2006. He was named Midwest League Manager of the year in both 2004 and 2006. Walbeck posting an overall 238-181 record with the Whitecaps. He then was promoted to AA Erie, where he was named Eastern League Manager of the Year in 2007. In 2008 he was named third base coach for the Texas Rangers; the following year he returned to the Minor Leagues as manager of the AA Altoona Curve (Pirates). He won his fourth Manager of the Year honor in six years of managing in 2010, leading Altoona to the Eastern League Championship. In 2011 he managed the A Rome Braves (Atlanta) for the first half of the season before leaving the organization due to philosophical differences.
Grieve was the Whitecaps' first high-profile player, in 1995, after being the parent club Oakland A's first-round draft pick a year earlier. The outfielder was just 18 when he played for the Whitecaps, hitting .261 in not quite one full season. He rose through the ranks quickly, and broke into the Major Leagues with the A's in late 1997. In 1998, he hit .288 with 41 doubles and 18 home runs, was named to the American League All-Star Team, and won the American League Rookie of the Year title. He remained with the A's for two more seasons before being traded to Tampa Bay. He also played for the Brewers and the Cubs before wrapping up his big-league career in 2005 with a career .269 batting average in nine seasons.
Santiago earned mid-season and post-season Midwest League All-Star honors for his performance in 2000 with the Whitecaps. He missed most of August due to a shoulder injury, but was still named as the best defensive shortstop in the league by Baseball America and finished the season with a healthy .272 batting average. He quickly moved up the ladder and made his Major League debut with the Tigers in May of 2002. That season he was named to the TOPPS Rookie All-Star Team. Santiago was traded to the Mariners in 2004, then re-signed with the Tigers two years later. He remains with the Tigers as a veteran player and is known as one of the best defensive shortstops in the Major Leagues.
Nabozny was the first head groundskeeper in Whitecaps history, overseeing the playing surface that would earn raves from players and managers alike from 1994 to 1998. In March 1999, she became the first female head groundskeeper in Major League Baseball history when she was hired by the Detroit Tigers. Her first year with the Tigers was their last in Tiger Stadium; the following year the team moved to Comerica Park and its brand new field supervised by Nabozny. In addition to her duties with the Tigers, she was hand-picked to be part of the grounds crew for the Super Bowl in 2004 and has served at several Super Bowls since then. In 2006 the Michigan State University sports turf management graduate was named to Crain's Detroit Business 40 under 40 list of Detroit's most promising successful young businesspeople. Her attention to detail, work ethic and love of her work has made her one of the most highly respected experts in her field. The Whitecaps Hall of Fame will now have seven members, as this class joins 2008 inductees pitcher Francisco Cordero (1997), first baseman/catcher Robert Fick (1997) and catcher Brandon Inge (1999), and 2009 inductee manager Bruce Fields (1997-2000).
Hernandez, a native of Caracas, Venezuela, played on the 1996 Midwest League Championship team before breaking into the major leagues with the Oakland A's in 1999. While with the Whitecaps, the catcher hit .255 with a team-high 12 home runs and 68 RBI (second highest on the team), with 69 walks and only 62 strikeouts in 447 at-bats. His outgoing personality, in addition to his power hitting and team leadership skills, made him a fan favorite in West Michigan. Hernandez has gone on to a 12-year major league career, amassing 1,211 hits and 149 homers with a career .265 batting average. He has played for Oakland (1999-2003), San Diego (2004-2005), Baltimore (2006-2008) and Cincinnati (2009-current). Hernandez was named to the American League All-Star Team in 2003 while with Oakland. In 2010 he recorded the highest batting average of his career, a .297 average in 97 games with the Reds. He is known as a solid-hitting catcher with a steady defense and a stellar ability to mentor young pitchers.
Zumaya was a starting pitcher for the Whitecaps in 2003, at just 18 years old. He posted a 7-5 record with a 2.79 ERA, recording 126 strikeouts and just 38 walks in 90.1 innings pitched, and was named to the Midwest League All-Star Team. He broke into the majors as a relief pitcher for the Detroit Tigers in April 2006; that season he struck out 97 with only 42 walks in 83.1 innings pitched, logging a 6-3 record and a stellar 1.94 ERA. Zumaya is known for his fastball speed, which regularly tops a blistering 100 mph. He recorded a speed of 104.8 on a radar gun in a playoff game on Oct. 10, 2006, which was the fastest pitch ever recorded in MLB history. That record was broken by Aroldis Chapman of the Cincinnati Reds, who hit 105 mph on Sept. 24, 2010. Unfortunately, Zumaya has been plagued by injuries throughout his major league career; he has appeared in no more than 31 games per season since 2006. When healthy, Zumaya is known as one of the premier setup men in the game and one of the most exciting pitchers in the game because of his pitch speed.
Fields managed the Whitecaps from 1997 through 2000, compiling an impressive four-year record of 331-220. He was a two-time Midwest League Manager of the Year and won the league championship in 1998. In three of his four seasons, the Whitecaps posted the league's best record, including the astounding 1997 season when the team had the best record in all of professional baseball at 92-39 (.702 winning percentage).
After his stint with the Whitecaps, he went on to manage the AAA Toledo Mud Hens for two seasons, then joined the Detroit Tigers as hitting coach from 2003 to 2005. Before his coaching career, he played 13 seasons in the Minor Leagues (mostly in the Detroit organization) and appeared in 58 Major League games with Detroit and Seattle from 1986 to 1989.
During the 1997 season, pitcher Francisco Cordero had one of the most dominant seasons ever by a Whitecaps reliever. He amassed a 6-1 record with 35 saves, 67 strikeouts and a 1.00 ERA in 54 innings pitched. That season he set a Whitecaps single-season record for saves and had a streak of 23 1/3 innings without giving up an earned run while being named the Tigers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Cordero played 14 seasons in the Majors with the Tigers, Rangers, Brewers, Reds Blue Jays and Astros. He was an All-Star in 2004 and 2007 and has recorded 30 or more saves in five consecutive seasons from 2007 - 2011.
Robert Fick came to the Whitecaps in 1997 as a backup catcher. However, due to an injury to another player, Fick was able to play first base and had one of the best seasons a Whitecap has ever had. Fick helped lead the Whitecaps to their best regular season record by hitting .341 with 16 home runs and 90 RBI. That season, he was named a Midwest League All-Star as well as the League's MVP. Fick owns 12 Whitecaps single-season records including batting average, hits, longest hitting streak, runs and doubles.
Fick played 10 Major League seasons with the Tigers, Braves, Devil Rays, Padres and Nationals and was named to the 2002 American League All-Star team. He is also remembered for recording the last hit ever at Tiger Stadium when he belted a grand slam off the Royals' Jeff Montgomery in the 8th inning.
Brandon Inge played catcher for the Whitecaps in 1999, hitting .244 with 54 runs, 86 hits, 25 doubles, nine home runs and 46 RBI and 15 stolen bases. He was named as the best defensive catcher in the Tigers farm system by Baseball America with a .990 fielding percentage, 703 put-outs and only five errors. He was a leader on and off the field and gave much of his free time to community appearances.
Inge has played his entire eight-year Major League career with the Tigers since his debut in April 2001. He posted career highs of 27 home runs and 83 RBI in 2006, and hit .353 during the 2006 World Series. Inge has played catcher, third base and outfield during his career and is considered one of the best defensive third basemen in the American League.