The closing dinger
The home run off the bat of José Marmolejos for Triple-A Tacoma in the seventh inning didn't just cap the scoring for the Rainiers on Sunday, it capped all long balls for the 2021 Minor League season. The Mariners' farmhand launched an 0-2 pitch to left-center for his 26th tater of the year. It was the third roundtripper of the Final Stretch for the 28-year-old, who completed a stellar campaign with a .338/.439/.672 slash line with 75 RBIs and 66 runs scored over 83 games with Tacoma.
Brush it off
The play in center that Heliot Ramos made for Triple-A Sacramento for the first out of the seventh inning is worth a second look. And probably a third. The fourth-ranked Giants prospect didn't just come charging in on a diving line drive, but he lunged forward for the catch and went into a barrel roll to prevent injury. After popping right back up and throwing the ball in, the 22-year-old showed some swagger by casually returning to his position. What a lasting impression to end the season on. Ramos finished the year with a .959 fielding percentage over 32 games in center with the River Cats.
One for the road
A year that began in less-than-impressive fashion ended on a high note for Matthew Liberatore. The No. 2 Cardinals prospect closed out his first Triple-A campaign by allowing one hit while striking out four over 3 1/3 scoreless frames to earn the victory in relief during the Redbirds' season-ending win over the Knights. The performance capped a tremendous two-month stretch for Liberatore, who entered August with a 5.21 ERA in his first 12 appearances. Beginning with his Aug. 3 start, the 21-year-old didn't allow more than two earned runs in seven of his final 11 appearances, posting a 2.67 ERA and a 57-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 57 1/3 innings. The 16th overall pick in the 2016 Draft finished the season 9-9 with a 4.04 ERA, a 1.25 WHIP and 123 punchouts in 124 2/3 innings.
It was a fitting conclusion to a near-perfect first professional season for Spencer Torkelson. Last year's No. 1 overall Draft pick finished his rookie campaign at the highest level of the Minors and connected on his 30th home run of the year for Toledo. The 22-year-old mashed a game-tying solo shot to left-center in the fifth inning -- it was his 11th long ball with the Mud Hens. Torkelson opened the season with High-A West Michigan, where he hit .312/.440/.569 with five dingers over 31 games before being promoted to Double-A Erie. With the SeaWolves, the Arizona State product slugged .560 with 14 roundtrippers and 36 RBIs in 50 games. Torkelson joined Toledo on Aug. 16, and he scored 35 runs and drove in 27 over the final 40 games.
Finishing on a high note
After enduring a rough stretch in September, Sean Hjelle finished his season with one of his best outings of the year. The 13th-ranked Giants prospect worked around a pair of hits and two walks to post six scoreless frames for Triple-A Sacramento. The 24-year-old whiffed five and never allowed a runner to reach scoring position. The right-hander finished with a 5.74 ERA across 10 starts with the River Cats.
Flirting with history
Right-hander Daniel Gossett took a no-hitter into the ninth inning for Triple-A Worcester before yielding his only knock of the game. The Red Sox farmhand struck out seven and allowed one walk through the first eight frames. After getting ahead of Nick Maton, 1-2, the Lehigh Valley second baseman connected on the sixth pitch of the at-bat and hit a soft ground ball to a vacated hole at third because the WooSox were aligned in a shift. After coaxing Dalton Guthrie to fly out to left, Gossett exited the game -- he threw 71 of his 103 pitches for strikes. Righty Geoff Hartlieb completed the the one-hit shutout after working around a walk to record the final two outs.
Haven't we've seen this before?
Basically lined up at shortstop in the shift, third baseman Patrick Dorrian covered much ground on a tough play for Triple-A Norfolk. The 25-year-old ran out of real estate in foul territory and had to leap over the tarp to make the catch and record the out. Even though he didn't emerge with a bloody face, the other elements of the sequence feel a lot like something a former Yankees captain did against the Red Sox. Like something that a former Yankees captain did against the Red Sox. Dorrian is sporting a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage at third base for the Tides this season.
Third-ranked Pirates prospect Oneil Cruz is getting his call to The Show. The 22-year-old enjoyed a breakout season -- posting a .292/.346/.536 slash line with 12 homers, five triples, 15 doubles, 51 runs scored and 40 RBIs across 62 games with Double-A Altoona to start the year. Cruz was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis on Sept. 20 and continued to rake -- going 11-for-21 with five long balls in six games with the Indians. The Pirates have two games remaining at home against the Reds.
Dominating to the end
After an impressive outing in his debut with Triple-A Jacksonville last time out, Max Meyer ended his first professional season on a high note. The third overall selection in last year's Draft did not allow an earned run while scattering four hits and a walk over five frames for the Jumbo Shrimp. The third-ranked Marlins prospect fanned seven to bring his strikeout tally to 130 over 111 total frames this season. Meyer finished with a 6-3 mark and a 1.65 ERA in 22 starts between Double-A Pensacola and Jacksonville.
Just like how you dream it up as a kid
Sure, everyone always imagines hitting that walk-off home run late in the big game, but what about going back to the wall, timing the jump just right and taking a home run away? That's exactly what Gregory Polanco did to Brandon Drury, and his reaction said it all. The Blue Jays farmhand got to the wall in right for Triple-A Buffalo and used all of his 6-foot-5 frame to reach over the fence and take back what would have been a solo dinger. The 30-year-old's youthful reaction to the play seemed to indicate it meant a lot more than just saving a run in the game.
Showing off the cannon
A big reason why Adley Rutschman went No. 1 overall in the 2019 Draft is because he's a lot more than just a bat. The top Orioles prospect reminded everyone of that with an absolute dart to second base to catch Durham's Jordan Luplow attempting to steal the bag for Triple-A Norfolk in the third inning. Taylor Walls might not have gotten the memo, though, as he was thrown out while trying to swipe second in the sixth. The 23-year-old has caught seven of 26 attempted base stealers over 28 games behind the dish for the Tides. Rutschman caught 13 of 46 in 53 games with Double-A Bowie to start the year.
Notching another milestone
In his ninth start at third base for Triple-A Omaha, Minors' home run king MJ Melendez surpassed the 100-RBI plateau with a two-run double in the first inning. The extra-base knock capped a three-run frame for the Storm Chasers and brought the fourth-ranked Royals prospect's RBI tally to 101 on the year. It was the fourth two-bagger for Melendez since joining Omaha, his 22nd of the season.
Living the life of Riley
It's been a sensational first full season for Riley Greene. MLB's No. 7 overall prospect overcame a sluggish start with Double-A Erie only to be promoted to Triple-A Toledo, where he's hit even better. Now, Greene is on the cusp of capping his breakout campaign with a .300 average. While the 21-year-old has hit .307 in 38 games with the Mud Hens, his season average had not been .300 or better since May 6, the third game of the season. However, a 15-for-43 stretch -- including a 3-for-4 effort on Thursday -- while hitting safely in nine of his last 10 games has hiked Greene's average to .301 heading into the final weekend of the season.. The fifth overall pick in the 2019 Draft has put together a .301/.383/.528 slash line with 55 extra-base hits, 82 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 16 attempts.
Another Cruz around the bases
Oneil Cruz is making Triple-A look far too easy. The No. 3 Pirates prospect and the 52nd in baseball went deep for a fourth straight game for Indianapolis. The 22-year-old has hit safely in five of six since his promotion to Triple-A, going 11-for-21 (.524) with six extra-base hits, five homers and seven RBIs. Playing in his first full-season campaign, Cruz is batting .310 and left the yard 17 times, driven in 47 runs and swiped 19 bases despite playing in just 68 games. A right forearm strain in July cost the 6-foot-7 shortstop six weeks on the injured list.
Witt Jr. joins 30/30 club ... until he doesn't
Having already crossed the 30-homer threshold earlier this month, Bobby Witt Jr. appeared to become the first Minor Leaguer to join the 30/30 club in Triple-A Omaha's game against Iowa. MLB's No. 3 overall prospect walked and stole second in the third inning, seemingly giving him his 30th stolen base of the season. Mother Nature, however, had other ideas. With the game heading into the bottom of the third and heavy rain coming down, the umpires called for the tarp. Despite waiting out a lengthy delay, the game was eventually called and will not be made up, wiping away all stats from the first two-plus innings. So, the 30/30 season that was, is no longer, at least for now. Witt will have another opportunity to swipe his 30th base when the Storm Chasers face the I-Cubs on Friday night at Principal Park in Des Moines.
And the winner is....
With all but Triple-A games remaining, MLB Pipeline has officially handed out its Pitching and Hitting Prospects of the Year for all 30 organizations. As is always the case, familiar names abound -- Julio Rodriguez of the Mariners, Adley Rutschman of the Orioles -- but the longevity of a baseball season has a way of bringing about surprises and names less well known to fans. Which, of course, is part of the fun. It should be noted that players must have spent at least half of the year in the Minors and appeared on their team's Top 30 Prospects list to qualify.
Welcome to the club ... and then some
Sitting on 29 homers didn't exactly agree with slugger Oscar Gonzalez. So, after five days, the 23-year-old decided to do something about it. Gonzalez became the 11th Minor Leaguer to reach the 30-home run plateau, going deep twice in Triple-A Columbus' 13-3 win over Louisville. It's been an odd month statistically for the Cleveland prospect. Despite batting .191 with 27 strikeouts in 94 at-bats, Gonzalez has homered eight times and driven in 18 runs for the Clippers. With a handful of games remaining in the season, the Dominican Republic native has put together a strong .294/.330/.545 slash line with 54 extra-base hits and 82 RBIs across two Minor League levels this season.
A Juan-derful performance
Every now and then, a prospect emerges from the shadows to put himself on the map. The 2021 season has proven to be the coming out party for Juan Yepez. Wrapping up the best season of his six-year professional career, the No. 27 Cardinals prospect homered, doubled twice, scored three times and drove in two runs as part of a four-hit afternoon for the Triple-A Redbirds against the Knights. The 23-year-old stroked a pair of two-baggers in each of his first two plate appearances and left the yard for the 22nd time with the Redbirds. Overall, Yepez has batted .286 with a .973 OPS, 56 extra-base hits, 29 homers and 76 RBIs between Double-A Springfield and Memphis.
Twenty-something ... again
For the second time in his career, Kevin Smith is a member of the 20-home run club. The No. 9 Blue Jays prospect contributed two hits and two RBIs in the Triple-A Bisons' win over the Mets. Smith opened the scoring with a run-scoring double in the first inning and cleared the fence in left-center field in the third for his 20th long ball of the season. The 25-year-old left the yard a career-high 25 times in 2018 and missed busting through the 20-homer plateau by one dinger in 2019. The 2017 fourth-round Draft pick is the finishing touches on a productive season, batting .286/.367/.563 with 51 extra-base hits, 68 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 91 games with Buffalo, his first taste of Triple-A.
Anchoring the system
Julio Rodriguez, Cade Marlowe, and Matt Brash have earned the Mariners' highest prospect honors. Rodriguez, MLB Pipeline's second-ranked overall prospect, received the Alvin Davis "Mr. Mariner" Award for exceptional play on the field and leadership on and off of it. The 20-year-old posted a .347/.441/.560 slash line with career highs in homers (13) and runs scored (64) across 74 games between High-A Everett and Double-A Arkansas. Marlowe, the club's No. 27 prospect, was awarded the Ken Griffey Jr. Minor League Hitter of the Year award after amassing a .272 average while driving in 106 runs over 105 games with Low-A Modesto and Everett. Tenth-ranked Brash received the Jamie Moyer Minor League Pitcher of the Year honor after posting a 6-4 record and 2.31 ERA with 142 strikeouts over 97 1/3 frames between the AquaSox and the Travelers. All of the organization's Minor League award winners will be recognized in Seattle on Saturday.
After falling behind 2-1 in the best-of-5 High-A East Championship Series, Bowling Green rallied to earn its second title in three years with a 6-3 victory over Greensboro in Game 5 at Bowling Green Ballpark. The Hot Rods were powered all series by Jordan Qsar, who finished with three home runs and eight RBIs. His pivotal knock Tuesday night was a two-run single in the fourth inning that put Bowling Green ahead for good. Rays outfield prospect Grant Witherspoon made an impact with three homers and a triple while collecting eight hits, seven runs scored and six RBIs. He also played solid defense in center across five games. This was the Hot Rods' second title since their inception in the South Atlantic League in 2009. The franchise last won the championship in the Midwest League in 2018.
Already soaring high
The Orioles welcomed Adley Rutschman , Grayson Rodriguez and Kyle Stowers to Camden Yards on Tuesday. Rutschman and Stowers were named Minor League Co-Players of the Year, while Rodriguez took Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors. Rutschman, MLB Pipeline's top overall prospect, sports a .286/.399/.513 slash line with 23 home runs in 118 games across two levels of the Minors -- he is hitting .319 in 38 games with Triple-A Norfolk. The backstop boasts a .996 fielding percentage over 79 total games behind the dish. Stowers, the 11th-ranked Orioles prospect, made a quick ascension through the organization's system, playing at three levels this season. The 23-year-old has mashed a system-best 27 dingers across 120 games between High-A Aberdeen, Double-A Bowie and Norfolk. Second-ranked Rodriguez picked up his honor for the second consecutive year. The 21-year-old posted a 9-1 mark with a 2.36 ERA, an 0.83 WHIP and a .159 average against while racking up 161 strikeouts across 103 innings for Aberdeen and Bowie.
Responding with authority
After falling behind, 2-1, in the top half of the fourth in Game 5 of the High-A East Finals, Bowling Green erupted in the home portion of the frame -- sending 10 batters to the plate while scoring five runs on four hits and a walk. Jordan Qsar punched a ground ball back up the middle for a two-run go-ahead single with the bases loaded, Erik Ostberg followed with an RBI two-bagger down the line in right and Roberto Alvarez capped the inning's scoring with a base hit to center that drove in a pair.
Catcher Shea Langeliers and righty Bryce Elder took home the honors of Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year respectively for the Braves in 2021. Langeliers, Atlanta's second-ranked prospect, finished second in the Double-A South League with a career-high 22 long balls -- one off the top spot -- and third in slugging at .498. The 23-year-old batted .258 with 35 extra-base hits, 56 runs scored and 52 RBIs across 92 games with the M-Braves. The backstop also posted a .995 fielding percentage while throwing out 30 of 72 attempted basestealers. Elder, the 11th-ranked prospect, played at three levels of the Minors this year. The 2020 fifth-round Draft selection made 24 starts -- seven without allowing an earned run -- across High-A Rome, Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett. With 151 strikeouts in 133 2/3 total innings, Elder posted an 11-5 record, 2.76 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and .194 average against.
Older and wiser
Rays prospect Grant Witherspoon hit two home runs in the playoffs for the High-A Hot Rods as a 24-year-old. And now he's got his first as a 25-year-old. In the winner-take-all Game 5 against the Grasshoppers, Witherspoon got the scoring started with his third postseason long ball. He belted 22 over 99 games in the regular season.
But wait, there's more!
Bowling Green assured there would be a Game 5 in the High-A East Championship Series with a balanced attack. In addition to Jordan Qsar homering in his third consecutive game, Rays' No. 14 prospect Curtis Mead and No. 25 Alika Williams contributed three hits apiece. Mead tripled and collected an RBI single while Williams doubled twice, crossed the plate two times and drove in a run. The Hot Rods and Grasshoppers will face off one final time Wednesday night.
Good to see ya
In the last home game of the season for the Triple-A Bees, top Angels prospect Reid Detmers returned to the mound for the first time since pitching for Los Angeles against Cleveland on Aug. 21. In two frames vs. the River Cats, the lefty gave up one run on four hits and a walk with two strikeouts. Detmers exited after throwing 42 pitches, 28 for strikes.
Power dial on
For the third time this postseason, Jordan Qsar found the seats for High-A Bowling Green. The Rays outfield prospect demolished a two-run shot 427 feet to right in the third inning of Game 4 of the High-A East Finals. Qsar, who has driven in six runs so far in the series, belted 23 homers and plated 69 runs during the regular season for the Hot Rods.
These grass stains won't be easy to get out. Rays outfield prospect Grant Witherspoon comes charging in on a sinking line drive off the bat of fourth-ranked Pirates prospect Nick Gonzales, and the 25-year-old lunges forward to make the diving catch for the second out of the first inning for High-A Bowling Green. The Hot Rods -- facing elimination in Game 4 of the High-A East Finals -- escaped the frame unscathed. Witherspoon posted a .983 fielding percentage in center this season.
The week that was
Almost all the Double-A, High-A and Low-A championships were declared as Triple-A got into the heat of the 10-game Final Stretch. Durham and Nashville topped the early leaderboard with perfect 5-0 records while Indianapolis and Omaha started to pace the field for Homers That Help. For that event, all Triple-A teams receive $50 per long ball during the Final Stretch for the charity of their choice. Review the action here.