With MLB rosters expanding in September, some players who will be called to major-league dugouts are spending a little extra time down on the farm, trying to bring glory to the minor-league cities and towns that cheered their runs all season.
Others are champing at the bit to get the last word in at the end of a long, hot summer against opponents they have been grinding against all season. Here’s the picture:
The Durham Bulls roll into the Governor’s Cup finals this week after winning the International League’s Southern Division and dispatching the Indianapolis Indians in the semifinals. Durham is led by a three-headed monster of starting pitchers, top prospects Brent Honeywell and Ryan Yarbrough complemented by the more under-the-radar Yonny Chirinos. The offense boasts the well-regarded shortstop Willy Adames and outfielder Jake Bauers, also receiving not-insignificant contributions from third baseman Patrick Leonard and centerfielder Johnny Field.
The Bulls will take on the defending champion Scranton-Wilkes Barre RailRiders, who are coming off a semifinal win over Lehigh Valley. The Yankees affiliate is led by star third baseman Miguel Andújar and a deep outfield led by prospects Billy McKinney and Jake Cave and the erstwhile big-leaguer Mason Williams. Standouts on the pitching staff include the Chance Adams, Domingo Germán, and Nestor Cortés. The series will begin with Tuesday and Wednesday night tilts in Durham, the remainder of the five-game set taking place in Scranton.
The Southern League will have two champions this year in anticipation of the effects of Hurricane Irma, the Chattanooga Lookouts and the Pensacola Blue Wahoos taking the honors. Chattanooga beat the Montgomery Biscuits, Pensacola taking down the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. The Twins-affiliated Lookouts were led by star shortstop Nick Gordon, son of former relief ace Tom and brother of Miami Marlins second baseman Dee. Pitchers Félix Jorge and Kohl Stewart and outfielder LaMonte Wade are also worth watching. Cincinnati-affiliated Pensacola boasted third baseman Nick Senzel, outfielder Aristides Aquino, and second baseman Shed Long.
Way up north, the Eastern League finals are set to take place, featuring the Yankees-affiliated Trenton Thunder and the Pirates-affiliated Altoona Curve. Trenton beat the Mets-affiliated Binghamton Rumble Ponies in the semis, Altoona taking care of the Bowie Baysox. Trenton is home to some of the more under-the-radar talent in the New York system, including shortstop Thairo Estrada and second baseman Nick Solak. The pitching staff is led by top tier prospects Justus Sheffield and the currently-injured Domingo Acevedo, with contributions from former first-round pick Dillon Tate and reliever José Mesa (son of the longtime big-leaguer). Altoona’s pitching corps is led by Mitch Keller and Brandon Waddell, the bats featuring second baseman Kevin Kramer and the injured shortstop Cole Tucker. The five-game set will begin in Trenton and wrap up in Altoona.
Both the Carolina and Florida State leagues were forced to name co-champions on account of Irma. Down in Florida, the Dunedin Blue Jays defeated the Tampa Yankees and the Palm Beach Cardinals beat Fort Myers to claim their share. The Jays were led by three scions of baseball royalty in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, and Bo Bichette.
The Lynchburg Hillcats and Kinston’s Down East Wood Ducks shared the Carolina League’s Mills Cup this season, the Cats defeating Frederick and the Woodies sinking defending champs Myrtle Beach. Lynchburg was led by top pitching prospect Triston McKenzie as well as shortstop Willi Castro and outfielder Andrew Calica. The Ducks’ lineup boasted standout Cuban defectors Yanio Pérez and Luis La O, promising lefty Brett Martin leading the arms.
The Kannapolis Intimidators beat the Greensboro Grasshoppers in the South Atlantic League semifinals and will take on the Greenville (South Carolina) Drive in the finals. The Red Sox-affiliated Drive are coming off a semifinal win over the Charleston Riverdogs, the Yankees affiliate. Noteworthy on the Drive offense are outfielder Lorenzo Cedrola and infielder Bobby Dalbec, while the pitching staff includes the intriguing Darwinzon Hernández and Bryan Mata as well as the currently-injured top pick Jay Groome. Kannapolis features high-round picks in first baseman Gavin Sheets and outfielder Luis González and first-rounders in third baseman Jake Burger and outfielder Blake Rutherford. The first two games will be played in Kannapolis, the remainder of the five-game set in Greenville.
The Elizabethton Twins claimed the Appalachian League title with a two-game sweep of the Pulaski Yankees. The emergences of the talented shortstop Wander Javier and outfielder Akil Baddoo bode well for the Minnesota organization. Elizabethton beat the Greeneville (Tennessee) Astros and Pulaski beat the Bluefield Blue Jays in the semifinals.