Thursday, September 10, 2009

MiLB Playoffs & September Call-ups

Labor Day signifies the unofficial end of summer in many ways, the most disheartening of which of me is the end of the minor league season. Almost every MiLB league began their playoff schedules early this week, and here's a look at some of the matchups.

International League, AAA:
Gwinnett Braves v. Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees
Durham Bulls v. Louisville Bats

The Braves had a fine first season in suburban Atlanta after the move from Richmond for the 2009 season, and they take on Scranton, who will look to defend their 2008 IL title. The player to watch in this series is Gwinnett outfielder Jason Heyward, who is ranked as the MLB's #3 prospect and has done well at three levels in the Braves' system this year, including 4-11 with 2 RBI since a recent promotion to AAA. The Bats have had a lot of their breakout players called up by a depleted Reds team before and after the September 1st roster expansions, including IL All-Star starter Justin Lehr and top prospect Drew Stubbs. They will struggle to piece together a solid rotation in this series against the hard-hitting Bulls.

Pacific Coast League, AAA:
Albuquerque Isotopes v. Memphis Redbirds
Tacoma Rainiers v. Sacramento River Cats

Every offense at all levels of Cardinals' baseball has done well this season, and four players on the Redbirds' everyday roster finished the season over .300. The Dodgers have had a lot of the same players at AAA the entire seasons because of the high volume of major league acquisitions over the past year, so they definitely have that familiarity going for them. The players to watch in the other series are the River Cats' two slugging 1st basemen, Tommy Everidge and Chris Carter. Everidge finished the season at .368, and Carter has 14 RBI in 13 games since being promoted from AA-Midland. The Athletics perennially have one of the best minor league systems and will be tough to beat.

Southern League, AA:
Birmingham Barons v. Jacksonville Suns
Huntsville Stars v. Tennessee Smokies

The Barons had the best season in their franchise's history, and were highlighted for most of the year by several propects that have since seen action with the White Sox, including Gordon Beckam and Tyler Flowers. The Suns seemed to be the hottest ticket in town this year, amidst rumors of the entire NFL Jaguars' home schedule being blacked out for the '09 season. Huntsville is going to be the lone representative for the Brewers in the playoffs at any level this season, and Tennessee is affiliated with the Cubs. The Brew Crew promoted 2008 first-round draft pick Brett Lawrie to AA a couple months ago as a DH to prepare him for international play, and he has flourished. The Stars' roster also features most of the Brewers' top organizational prospects, including 3B Taylor Green, C Jonathan Lucroy, and CF Lorenzo Cain.

Midwest League, low-A:
South Bend Silver Hawks v. Fort Wayne TinCaps
Great Lakes Loons v. West Michigan Whitecaps
Burlington Bees v. Kane County Cougars
Peoria Chiefs v. Cedar Rapids Kernels

The Midwest League Playoffs feature 8 of the 14 teams in the league playing three rounds. Fort Wayne will definitely be the team to beat. They enjoyed a 94-46 record at their new ballpark, including a 16-4 mark against their first-round matchup South Bend, and they had the best season of all minor league teams this year. The 2008 MWL champion Burlington Bees went a measely 64-79 this season, and are certainly enjoying the fruits of the large NBA-style playoff schedule as they look to defend their title. The players to watch in this postseason are batting champion Alexi Amarista of the Kernels, and league co-MVP Kyle Russell of the Loons, who led the MWL in homeruns and runs batted in.

Minor League playoffs are fun because they feature so many of MLB's rising stars, and are so hard to predict because of September call-ups. Players that remain on minor league posteason rosters are then often rewarded with a later call-up. Many of these players will just be bats off the bench or spot-relievers, but there are a few every year that make an immediate impact for contending teams, or fight for consideration for next year's roster on the teams that are out of the race. Some players, including ones I've listed, get called up even earlier out of necessity due to underperformance at the big-league level, or trades opening a roster spot. Tampa Bay's David Price last year, and then-Angel Francisco Rodriguez in 2002 immediately come to mind. Here's my potential 2009 class:

1. Alcides Escobar, SS, Milwaukee
2. Drew Stubbs, OF, Cincinnati
3. Matt LaPorta, OF, Cleveland
4. Cameron Maybin, OF, Florida
5. Kila Ka'aihue, 1B, Kansas City
6. Josh Thole, C, New York Mets
7. Garrett Jones, 1B, Pittsburgh
8. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco
9. Carlos Carrasco, P, Cleveland
10. Wade Davis, P, Tampa Bay

Brewers 66-73, -17.0, -13.5 wild card (3 @ Diamondbacks, 4 @ Cubs, 3 v. Astros)
Reds 63-76, -18.5, -16.5 wild card (3 @ Cubs, 3 v. Astros, 4 v. Marlins)
Twins 70-69, -5.5 (3 v. Athletics, 3 v. Indians, 3 v. Tigers)

Erik - 41 (+21 worked)
Peter - 58

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