Major League organizations get only one chance to make the playoffs at the game's highest level, and although we're told ad nauseam that development is more important, they only get one chance at a ring at each level in the Minors. This all makes sense and might be a head-scratching way to start a playoff preview, but consider the following.
The Yankees have two Gulf Coast League affiliates and are the only organization with two Minor League teams with the opportunity to play each other in the same domestic league. Both clubs, called Yankees1 and Yankees2, have won their respective GCL divisions and could face off in either a sudden-death semifinal game on Saturday or the best-of-3 championship series, set to start Sunday.
If the latter is to occur, it could be a literal win-win for the parent club and an awkward situation for the pinstriped prospects involved.
The Yankees1 squad, with the help of shortstop Bryan Cuevas who leads the league with a .969 OPS, clinched the GCL Northwest Division while the Yankees2 took the top spot in the Northeast. The Red Sox and Cardinals affiliates topped the South and East standings, respectively.
Here are some players to watch from each of those teams:
Players of Note
Jorge Mateo, shortstop, Yankees1: Mateo is the type of player for which the GCL was designed. Only 19, the Dominican Republic native made his stateside debut this season after spending the previous two years in the Dominican Summer League and is already turning some heads for his speed. The Yankees' No. 18 prospect was given a 75 grade on his run tool by MLB.com this summer, and he's put it to good use in a big way in limited GCL time this season. In 15 games, he's reached base 23 times -- putting up a .276/.354/.397 line in that time -- and has still managed to swipe 11 bases. After missing a month-and-a-half between July and August for an undisclosed injury, he returned to the Yanks lineup Tuesday and could be primed to cause havoc from the top of the team's order.
Michael Chavis, shortstop, Red Sox: There are some who think the Red Sox got a steal when they selected the Georgia high-schooler with the 26th pick in June. Indeed, he was ranked as the No. 21 prospect in the Draft by MLB.com, ahead of Kodi Medeiros (12th pick, Brewers) and Casey Gillaspie (20th pick, Rays). Only time will tell if that statement stands, but he has flashed several of the hitting tools that led to those thoughts. After only going 7-for-56 (.125) in July, Chavis is batting .365 with a a homer, three triples, seven doubles and nine RBIs in 21 games this month, as of Wednesday, and could continue to do damage when it counts in the playoffs. The right-handed youngster was drafted as a shortstop but has seen plenty of time at third base and DH with Boston's GCL affiliate.
Nestor Cortes, left-handed pitcher, Yankees2: The 19-year-old southpaw posted a 4.42 ERA over 18 1/3 innings in the GCL last season after being taken in the 36th round of the 2013 Draft and has made some nice strides following a return to the level. He's struck out 38 and walked only five over 31 2/3 innings this season and owns a 2.27 ERA in that time. The Yankees have been lengthening the 5-foot-11 hurler's outings since the start of the season in June as he's pitched at least four frames in each of his last four appearances after having not reached that number in his previous 17 outings.
Jack Flaherty, right-handed pitcher, Cardinals: St. Louis grabbed the Southern California native with the 34th overall pick in June and enticed him away from being a two-way player at the University of North Carolina by going above-slot to sign him for $2 million. They've decided the 6-foot-4 right-hander's future is on the mound, and that's where he started his pro career in the GCL. In eight appearances (22 2/3 innings), Flaherty has allowed only four earned runs for a 1.59 ERA and has posted a 0.97 WHIP. He also boasts a 28-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In his last start on Monday, Flaherty gave up only one hit and fanned four over five scoreless innings. He could be in line to start for the Cards in the semifinals Saturday or in one of the championship games if the squad advances that far.