There’s only one minor league game left to be played this year, and that’s the Triple-A National Championship Game this evening between the Pacific Coast League Champion Reno Aces (Diamondbacks) and the International League Champion Pawtucket Red Sox. Triple-A is the only level that features a championship game across its entire level where the winners of the two leagues meet. The one game playoff will feature Diamondbacks prospect Trevor Bauer in the hill for the Aces and is being broadcast on the NBC Sports Network. I won’t get into a full preview on the game because MiLB.com has a full preview here.
The Aces get to trot their ace out to the mound only because they took care of business in the PCL Championship series in four games instead of five. The Aces’ lineup backing up Bauer doesn’t feature a ton of prospects, although lead off man A.J. Pollock did get a cup of coffee in the majors with the Diamondbacks. Otherwise, they’ll be trotting out a lineup of minor league veterans like Mike Jacobs and busted prospects like a Josh Bell.
Bauer will be going up against a Pawtucket lineup that offers even less in the way of,prospects after being decimated by promotions. Will Middlebrooks started the year as the Red Sox third baseman and ended up on the major league disabled list. Jose Iglesias spent the majority of the season as the Pawtucket shortstop, but is now getting a look at Fenway to see if he’s ready to take over in the majors next season. The only prospect left in Pawtucket is Bryce Brentz, who spent most of the season at Double-A Portland hitting .296/.355/.478 before a late-season promotion.
Like the rest of the minor leagues, the Double-A level leaves its championships up to each individual league. The Eastern League just crowned their champion, the Cleveland Indians affiliate in Akron. The Aeros were helped down the stretch by two late-season additions Jesus Aguilar, who manned first base in the playoffs and despite going just 3-for-17 in the series, did hit a game three home run. He was big down the stretch, however, posting a .902 OPS for the Aeros in 20 games down the stretch after his promotion.
In the Southern League, the Mobile Bay Bears (Diamondbacks) had to overcome a prospect-laden Jackson Generals (Mariners) lineup for their championship victory. The Bay Bears sport plenty of prospect power of their own, however, including third baseman Matt Davidson and shortstop Chris Owings in their lineup, as well as game two winner David Holmberg. Davidson’s 10th inning two-run walk-off homer provided the excitement for the series after the Generals wasted a dominant start from Taijuan Walker.
The Cardinals may not be set to repeat their title in the majors this year, but they got one in the Texas League, as their Springfield affiliate overcame a deep Rangers affiliate from Frisco to earn their title. Carlos Martinez earned a game one victory by out-pitching prospect Cody Buckel, and the Cardinals needed all the pitching help they could get given that their top two hitting prospects Kolten Wong and Oscar Taveras hit .143 and .235 respectively in the series.
The Lancaster JetHawks (Astros) ran away with the California League title, literally. Series MVP Delino DeShields, Jr. Led the way, capping a breakout season in which his 101 stolen bases were largely overshadowed by Billy Hamilton‘s record run. The second base prospect hit .318 including a home run in the clinching game.
In the Carolina League, the the Carolina Hillcats (Braves) crowned their title behind some stellar pitching performances, including yet another strong outing from breakout pitcher Gus Schlosser, who earned a 1-0 victory in game three after throwing seven strong innings. Offensively, the Hillcats were led by shortstop prospect Nick Ahmed who collected three doubles in game four alone.
Finishing up the High-A level in the Florida State League, the Lakeland Tigers overcame having to face the dynamic pitching duo of Jose Fernandez and Adam Conley as well as hot hitting Christian Yelich to win their crown. The Tigers were led by outfield prospect Tyler Collins who hit .367 in the series?
The Brewers may not be able to complete their major league comeback this season, but their Low-A affiliate in their back yard were able to complete the deal. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers won the Midwest League title, proving once again that the team with the most prospects doesn’t mean anything when it comes to winning. Their opponents from Fort Wayne (Padres) featured 2012 first rounder Travis Jankoswki, shortstop prospect Jace Pederson, outfield prospect Yeison Asencio and catching prospect Austin Hedges. Ultimately it didn’t matter, however, as the Timber Rattlers were led by solid pitching and first baseman Nick Ramirez on offense.
Rounding out our championships is the South Atlantic League, where the Ashville Tourists (Rockies) took care of the Greensboro Grasshoppers, who would have been an entirely different team had it not been for mid-season promotions. The aforementioned Fernandez and Conley, who finished the season in the Florida State League, began the year with Greensboro and helped get them to the playoffs in the first place. Unfortunately, they weren’t there to finish the job. The Tourists were led by short stop, prospect Trevor Story, whose breakout season ended with a .310 average in the finals.