Minor League Postseason in Review

The minor league postseason concluded this weekend. Most prospects are now free to join a major league club, head to Instructional League, or wait for their winter league assignments. For complete coverage of the minor league postseason, I recommend milb.com’s coverage. Today, I would like to take a page from Dave Studeman’s playbook and share 10 things I learned from following this season’s minor league playoffs.

Hidden Tigers

The Tigers farm system doesn’t get a lot of attention, but the organization has recently developed a handful of big leaguers that are contributing to the major league club’s successful 2006 season. Their minor league players also experienced a good deal of success this September. Tigers’ affiliates earned championships in the Midwest League and the International League.

Elliot Johnson Steps Up

Four months ago, I noted that Reid Brignac was a relatively unknown minor leaguer poised for a breakout year. Brignac has had a fine season, but Montgomery teammate Elliot Johnson is also having a noteworthy season.

Johnson was as good as ever during the Southern League playoffs. He drove in six runs in seven games, and hit for the cycle in the final game of the postseason. The 22-year-old might not make the cut for many “top 100 prospects” lists this winter, but he could emerge as a useful big leaguer as soon as late 2007.

Devern’s Reemergence

Devern Hansack was missing in action after his release from the Houston Astros organization in 2003. Last winter, a Red Sox scout spotted Hansack pitching for the Nicaraguan national team, and eventually landed Hansack a job with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs.

Hansack took advantage of the opportunity. He was a reliable starter for Portland all season long and got better with more experience; he struck out 23 batters and only walked one in his final four outings of the regular season. He went on to play an important role in Portland’s championship. In Game 1 of the final series, Hansack retired 21 of the 25 batters he faced. Six days later, Hansack struck out eight batters without walking anyone to earn the win in the final game of the series. Portland Sea Dogs manager Todd Claus reported that Hansack earned a promotion and will join the Boston Red Sox later this week.

Greinke’s Bumpy Road Back

Zach Greinke left the Royals spring training camp for personal reasons in late February and quitely returned to their Double-A affiliate in June.

The early going was rough. Greinke would struggle to get out of the fifth inning versus the Midland Rockhounds in one start and then pitch a 9-inning, 12-strikeout gem versus the Springfield Cardinals one week later. By August, however, Greinke was routinely dominating Texas League hitters. John Sickels witnessed one of Greinke’s August starts and shared an encouraging pitch-by-pitch breakdown.

Greinke’s playoffs starts suggest his battle with inconsistency is far from over. He started the first game of Wichita’s postseason and only surrendered one run on a solo home run over six innings. In the final round of the playoffs, however, Greinke surrendered six runs on 12 hits and two walks in six innings versus the Corpus Christi Hooks.

Greinke was promoted to the Royals after Wichita’s postseason concluded. He will pitch out of the bullpen in September, but his future with the Royals is uncertain. He looked good during the second half of the 2006 season, but his final start of the season is a reminder that we should not expect a smooth return to the big leagues.

Perkins Blossoms

Glen Perkins experienced mixed results in Double-A New Britain, but his late-season promotion to the International League was a huge success. Perkins combined with Francisco Liriano for a complete game one-hitter in the first round of the playoffs. In Game 3 of the next round, Perkins delivered another win by striking out 10 batters in seven innings.

Perkins, a native of Minnesota, will join the Twins this week and serve as their second left-handed reliever for the rest of the season.

Trevor Crowe is Comfortable in Center Field

The Indians want to move Trevor Crowe to second base. They initiated the transition in August, but Crowe struggled on the field and at the plate. They moved him back to center field for the playoffs and he was performing like a top prospect again. He batted .349 during the postseason and was a difference-maker in the field. In the ninth inning of Game 4, Crowe made a leaping catch at the wall to rob the Sea Dogs of what looked like a walk-off hit to clinch the series win. Akron went on to win that game in extra innings and force yesterday’s Game 5.

Crowe will continue the transition to the infield in the Arizona Fall League. It’s possible that Crowe will succeed in his new role, but Crowe’s recent performance may inspire second thoughts among some people in the Indians organization.

Future is Bright in Arizona

The Tucson Sidewinders were as good as expected. The Diamondbacks affiliate swept the Round Rock Express in three games. Pitchers Dustin Nippert and Micah Owings were outstanding in the final two games of the Pacific Coast League postseason.

Alex Gordon Can Do It All

… even hit into triple plays. Alex Gordon may be the best prospect in baseball right now, and he did not disappoint in the playoffs. Despite a ninth inning triple play in the final game of the Wichita Wranglers’ season, Gordon launched three home runs in the postseason and Royals manager Buddy Bell quipped that Gordon “officially did it all this season.“

Mark Teahen had an outstanding season in 2006, but the Royals should find a way to get Gordon in the lineup next April.

Hot Moss

Brandon Moss hit .342/.414/.495 in the second half of the regular season and his hot hitting continued during the past two weeks. The right fielder was Portland’s best hitter during the Eastern League playoffs. On Saturday, Moss celebrated his 23rd birthday with a pair of home runs.

Moss will start in Pawtucket’s outfield next year and could be next in line to join Boston’s outfield behind David Murphy.

The Strangest Ending?

The Carolina League’s Kinston Indians (Cleveland Indians Single-A Advanced affiliate) clinched the Mills Cup when a Frederick Keys baserunner was called out on an 11th-inning runner interference call.

The strange series of events began when Paco Figueroa hit a two-out groundball to third base. As Frederick’s Morgan Clendenin barreled toward third base, infielder Rodney Choy Foo bobbled the ground ball and failed to record the final out of the game. It appeared that the bases were loaded for Frederick when Kinston manager Mike Sarbaugh left the dugout to argue that Clendenin interfered with the play.

The umpires held an on-field conference and Clendenin was eventually called out on interference. Has anyone witnessed a stranger ending to a playoff series? The finish was understandably disappointing to the hometown Frederick fans, but Kinston’s postseason success was hardly surprising. The Indians featured the most potent offense in the league and their pitching staff included capable arms such as 20-year-old southpaw Chuck Lofgren and September surprise Randy Newsom.

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