While the Major League season begins to wind down, and teams begin calling up their top prospects as rosters expand to 40, their minor league affiliates are gearing up for the playoffs. Over the next few days, we will take a look at what to expect at the single-A, double-A and triple-A levels, starting with triple-A today.
Triple A Playoff Procedures – divided into the International and Pacific Coast League, this playoff format allows for eight berths (four from each league). The International League portion consists of three division winners and one wild card winner. The Pacific Cost League portion comprises of four division winners. In the first and second rounds, the teams face off in best-of-five formats, which is then followed by the National Triple-A Championship, a one game winner-take-all finale that pits the IL and PCL champions against each other.
International League: The Pawtucket Red Sox (BOS), the Durham Bulls (TB), and the Indianapolis Indians (PIT) earn the top three seeds for the IL, clinching their respective divisions. The Bulls and Indians clinched with ease, winning their divisions by ten and eleven games, respectively. The Bulls own the best record in all of Triple-A with a record of 86-56 with two games remaining. Thanks to clutch hitting from Vince Belnome (.302/.410/.449 in 441 ABs) and lights out pitching from J.D. Martin (16-4, 2.75 ERA, 116 Ks in 160.1 IP), the Bulls own the IL’s top seed.
The wild card race in the International League has come down to the wire, with the Norfolk Tides (BAL) leading the Rochester Red Wings (MIN) by a single game heading into the final two games of the regular season. With their Magic Number down to two, the Tides can clinch tonight with a win over the Bulls and a Red Wings’ loss. Norfolk sends Steve Johnson to the mound tonight (1-3, 4.54 ERA) against visiting Durham, while Rochester calls on stud Pat Dean (2-2, 2.19 ERA) in their game against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Top Prospect to Watch: Jameson Taillon (our 22nd ranked prospect) – Indians: Recently promoted to Triple-A, the former second-overall pick has posted decent numbers in five starts (3.77 ERA, 1.355 WHIP in 31.0 IP). He needs to cut down on the walks (4.4 BB/9 at AAA) but this hasn’t been a lingering problem, so he should be okay. Expect him to play a big role in the upcoming weeks. He should be with the Pirates by June of next season.
Prediction: While the Bulls finished with the best regular-season record, they’ve hit a skid as of late. Expect the Indians to pull of the upset in the IL Championship, winning the series against Durham 3-2.
Pacific Coast League: Three of the four division winners have clinched so far, leaving the fourth berth up to a hotly contested race between two teams that won’t finish above the .500 mark. With two games to go, the Memphis Redbirds, (STL) at a 69-73 record, lead the 68-74 Omaha Storm Chasers (KC) by one game with two games remaining. Memphis can clinch tonight with a win and an Omaha loss, which would mark their first playoff berth since 2010. Omaha on the other hand is trying to win its third straight American Northern Division Title. The Storm Chasers’ depth has been depleted in recent years with the promotions of top prospects like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain. Despite this mass exodus, Omaha is somehow still contending.
Meanwhile, the Las Vegas 51s (NYM), Oklahoma City RedHawks (HOU), and Salt Lake Bees (LAA) have all clinched their divisions. Although the 51s have the best record among the division winners, they did not clinch until last night when the Sacramento River Cats (OAK) lost. Furthermore, the 51s have also had somewhat of an exodus this season, with top prospects Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud earning promotions to Flushing. Still, the 51s have received solid pitching behind guys like Rafael Montero and Jake deGrom.
Top Prospect to Watch: Jonathan Singleton (26th) – RedHawks: After an early season promotion to Oklahoma City, Singleton has struggled throughout the Triple-A season, hitting at a .216/.340/.343 clip in 236 ABs. While he has been walking enough (46 BBs) for a guy hitting just above the Mendoza line, it will be interesting to see if Singleton can rebound for the playoffs, and with a good series or two, hopefully he can restore his name to top prospect status.
Prediction: The 51s should be able to win the PCL Championship with relative ease, especially if they face one of the below-.500 teams in the first round. Despite Montero and deGrom reaching their team-imposed innings limits, they should have enough left in the tank to propel Las Vegas to glory.
Triple-A National Championship Game: Las Vegas 51s 5, Indianapolis Indians 3.