By Andrew Johnson

COMSTOCK PARK – West Michigan Whitecaps first baseman Blaise Salter has been around baseball his entire life, and has been picking up knowledge of the game from some true experts.

Whether he’s learning from family members – he’s the grandson of former Detroit Tigers great Bill Freehan –  or current Tigers, he’s always trying to improve his game, particularly at the plate.

Salter has obviously been a quick study. In his third season of professional baseball, he’s been terrorizing Midwest League pitching, and raising some eyebrows in the Tigers’ organization.

In the first half of the season, he was second in the league batting race with a .330 average and led the league with 29 doubles and 53 RBIs.

Salter’s bat helped the Whitecaps overcame a slow start to the season, win the Eastern Division first-half championship, and sew up a postseason playoff spot in the process.

He was one of six Whitecaps who represented the team in the league’s All-Star game earlier this week. He was 1-for-2 at the plate.

Blaise Salter gets ready for the pitch at first base for West Michigan. Photo/Bob Campbell

The Whitecaps will open the second half of the season on Thursday night at home against the Lansing Lugnuts.

“His numbers speak for themselves,” said Whitecaps hitting coach Mike Hessman. “He’s done a heck of a job for us. He’s been in the middle of the lineup and he’s a big RBI guy. He really takes it up a notch with guys in scoring position.

“He thrives in those situations. and it’s hard to find guys for those spots. It’s been fun to watch him progress in the last year and a half of working with him.”

Salter specializes in hitting liners to the gaps, which explains his explosion of doubles this season.

“I try to shorten up and have the pitches come to me so that I can drive it in the gap,” said Salter. who played at Michigan State University before being drafted in the 31st round by the Tigers in 2015.

“In a big park like this (the Whitecaps’ Fifth Third Ballpark). you know trying to hit home runs is tough. So I just try to hit the ball as hard as I can and try to put good swings on pitches in hitter-friendly counts.”

Salter comes from baseball royalty, as far as Tigers fans are concerned. Freehan had 200 home runs and 758 RBIs in his 15-year big league career, and is best remembered as the star catcher for the Tigers’ 1968 World Series championship team.

Salter said Freehan, and his father John Salter, were his two biggest baseball influences.

“I learned everything about baseball from him and my father,” said Salter, whose dad was a college baseball player at Brigham Young University. ”They taught me the game and the ins and outs of it.”

Salter has also studied the hitting styles of several current Detroit Tigers, who he was lucky enough to be around while he was in the Tigers’ minor league training camp in Lakeland, Florida the past two years.

One Tiger he particularly admires is another first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, who also has a knack for hitting a lot of gappers for extra-base hits.

“I think he’s the best hitter of our generation,” Salter said about Cabrera “He makes the game look so easy. I try to do things like he does, but he’s a tough guy to duplicate.

“I usually don’t get star struck, but when I saw guys like him and Ian Kinsler in the weight room and batting cages, it made me step back and think ‘Wow, this is really cool.”