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AZL playoff preview: Tribe's title to lose
Indians, Mariners, Rangers affiliates primed to battle for league title
08/28/2014 12:51 PM ET
Seattle outfield prospect Alex Jackson has 16 RBIs in 24 Arizona League games. (Vincent Rinaldi/Rinaldi Photos)

The complex leagues are the point at which the Minor League melting pot begins to boil, as teenage imports from Latin America get their first exposure to stateside baseball and recently drafted American teenagers leave home and venture into adulthood in a more controlled environment than what they'll see once they jump to the higher levels. Winning at that level is secondary to other developmental factors, but that doesn't mean the players, coaches and front-office folks don't value a little postseason play.

The Arizona League makes room for six postseason entrants, with the top two teams earning first-round buys. The AZL Indians -- backed by the league's best offense -- have already locked up one such free pass, and the battle for buy No. 2 is coming down to the wire between the Giants and Mariners.

The Angels, Rangers and a to-be-determined squad from the AZL's Central Division will round out the field.

Cleveland's affiliate is the favorite. The team features three of the league's top four hitters by batting average and OPS, and the team has scored nearly 30 more runs than its closest competitor. The squad is also second in ERA at 3.56.

Here are some players to watch in the postseason:

Players of Note

Bobby Bradley, 1B, Indians: Reports have Cleveland's No. 20 prospect destined to be a first baseman only, so the Indians must have had high expectations for his stick when they selected him in the third round of the 2014 Draft. The Mississippi native is making good with the bat so far. In 38 games, the 18-year-old is hitting .371 with eight home runs and a 1.105 OPS, all tops in the league. The AZL Indians are leading the league in runs scored, and Bradley's presence in the middle of the lineup is a big reason why.

Justus Sheffield, LHP, Indians: Cleveland fans are hoping that the 2014 first-rounder (31st overall) can turn into a swing-and-miss pitcher at the highest level, and so far, the 18-year-old is off to a fine start in that regard. Sheffield has struck out 29 hitters in 20 2/3 innings, including 10 over four frames in an Aug. 16 outing against the Padres. The seventh-ranked prospect in Cleveland's farm system has a 4.79 ERA but has yet to allow a home run and walked only nine batters -- numbers that paint a prettier picture than the ERA suggests.

Alex Jackson, OF, Mariners: Jackson has only played four games since returning from a facial fracture suffered after losing a ball in the lights and taking a line drive to the face. When he's been healthy, the sixth overall pick in the 2014 Draft has hit well, though, posting a .274 average and an .801 OPS. The Mariners' No. 2 prospect was a catcher as an amateur but has played strictly in the outfield with the AZL Mariners thus far.

Ti'Quan Forbes, 3B, Rangers: The Rangers have a pretty clear plan in place when it comes to amateur talent acquisition and development: if they're going to spend money, it's going to be on premium athletes, and then they'll take their chances on developing baseball skills in those players. The 2014 second-rounder fits the profile perfectly, as reports note he has immense physical projection but was less refined coming out of high school than many other top talents. Texas' No. 12 prospect has struggled at the plate so far (.241 average, .619 OPS) but is still one of the biggest names on the Rookie-level circuit.

Yeyson Yrizarri, SS, Rangers: Yrizarri checks in at No. 16 on the Rangers' top prospect list, and like Forbes, he's more projection than polish at this point. A 17-year-old signed in 2013, Yrizarri has taken an accelerated path to stateside ball. He's hit .237 with a .603 OPS in 49 games while manning short for the Rangers. The Venezuelan could be an impact player defensively, with MLB.com's prospect team grading his arm as a plus-plus tool.

Jake Seiner is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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