PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — After winning two of their first three games to open the 2022 season against the Great Lakes Loons, the West Michigan Whitecaps returned home Tuesday to play the home opener at LMCU Ballpark.
With the weather turning out nice to kick off a six-game series against the Lansing Lugnuts (1-2), manager Brayan Pena and his squad are ready to get it going for the home crowd.
Here are some key factors to look for while following the Whitecaps in 2022.
TY MADDEN STARTS STRONG
It didn’t take long for Ty Madden to make his presence felt at the High-A level.
The Tigers 2021 32nd pick overall started his first game on Sunday, going four innings while allowing just one run on one hit, adding an impressive six strikeouts to just one walk.
The one hit that Madden did surrender was a home run, while his early season ERA starts at 2.25.
Pena likes what he sees already from the 22-year-old.
“For being the first time he pitched at the pro level, he went out there and gave us everything he had,” Pena said. “It looked like he belonged to this level and higher, he has the confidence and trust in his stuff. It’s very exciting for us to watch him grow and help him (move through the minor leagues).”
Pena, a former catcher in the major leagues himself, didn’t take long to see that Madden does a good job mixing all of his pitches, mainly his slider and fastball.
“Obviously it was one start, but the way he goes about his business says a lot about his character,” Pena said. “We definitely expected that. His pitches really complement each other. We really want him to understand it takes a little time, but so far … he looks really good and we are happy to have him.”
The 6’3″, 215-pound starter should see the mound again this week at home.
PARKER MEADOWS BREAKOUT SEASON?
Everyone knows the talent is in there, but for Parker Meadows, it’s been about having that breakout campaign on offense since he was drafted 44th overall by the Tigers in 2018.
He has had parts of seasons in the minor leagues where he has hit well over .300, but his time in West Michigan doesn’t reflect that. Overall, his batting average comes out to .224 as a minor leaguer.
To improve his game, Parker Meadows wants to stay within himself and not listen to the outside noise.
“I just want to play my game really,” Parker Meadows said. “Control what I can control. Wherever they want to put me is their decision and I am just going to keep playing my game.”
The Atlanta, Georgia native has shown plenty of ability to roam center field in West Michigan, making many diving plays over the years. He has a .955 fielding percentage with the Whitecaps.
With a good coaching staff in place, Parker Meadows likes what this team has to offer.
“Our chemistry is there and we are starting to click fast,” Parker Meadows said. “Like I said, Pena our manager, is really electric and fun to be around.”
Parker Meadows’ brother, Austin Meadows, was sent to Detroit in a trade with Tampa Bay just before the season started. He is thrilled to have him in the organization.
“It still kind of hasn’t hit me,” Parker Meadows said. “Seeing him in a Tigers uniform is kind of surreal. It’s pretty cool knowing he’s up there helping the big league team.”
FEWER COVID-19 PROTOCOLS
Last season there were times when the stadium had a 25% capacity limit, which limited how interactive the Whitecaps could be with their fans.
Zoom calls for press conferences, masks in the clubhouse and many other restrictions made it hard to always just focus on baseball.
Pena believes that this offseason has been a lot more straightforward and simple.
“We feel like we can really enjoy our fans and make sure they know that we appreciate them,” Pena said. “Last year was difficult. We are very excited to get things rolling this year and tonight should be emotional with it being opening night, this is what we love to do.”
PENA’S GOALS FOR 2022
Since he was hired as the manager of the Whitecaps in November of 2019, Pena wants to make sure of one thing: “This isn’t about Brayan Pena.”
Every season he wants to see players advance as quickly as possible from West Michigan and be a key piece in helping the development of future MLB players.
Last season, with guys like Spencer Torkelson and Dillon Dingler moving up so quickly, it felt like a success to the Whitecaps. This season is a new set of players Pena is excited to work with on a day-to-day basis.
“When our players get to Detroit, they are ready,” Pena said. “Obviously it’s not just me. It’s the front office, it’s our general manager, it’s our player development crew, we are all in this together. We want to help with the ultimate goal, which is winning the World Series.”