Triple-A National Championship preview
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- In the game of baseball, oftentimes it just comes down to whether good hitting can beat good pitching.
And that's likely what will unfold at the Triple-A National Championship at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and El Paso chase the final ring of the year.
Third-ranked Padres prospect Hunter Renfroe leads a booming Chihuahuas offense that bested all of Triple-A in average (.295) and home runs (156). The hot-hitting lineup also features San Diego's No. 2 prospect Manuel Margot and No. 20 Carlos Asuaje, who were tied atop the Pacific Coast League with 98 runs apiece.
"When we go up there, we hit with a purpose. It's not just guys up there swinging the bat and trying to hit homers, we have game plans," El Paso manager Rod Barajas said. "Obviously when you see guys go out there and be consistent, day in and day out because of the effort they put in in the cages, the stuff that nobody ever sees, it makes you feel proud of the commitment level that these guys have."
Renfroe, MLB.com's No. 41 overall prospect, tied Reno's Kyle Jensen for the league lead with 30 blasts. En route to being named the circuit's MVP, the right fielder amassed career highs with a .306 average, 105 RBIs and those 30 long balls.
"Most of the season, he was killing the ball. He was a middle-of-the-order guy, carrying our offense," said Barajas, who also briefly managed Renfroe at Double-A San Antonio last year. "That was the biggest key was trying to find a way to make this guy consistent day in and day out. This year, he was able to make that adjustment."
About three hours from his hometown of Crystal Springs, Mississippi and his alma mater of Mississippi State, Renfroe will get to play in front of friends and family in a ballpark where he has virtually grown up.
"This is the place is where I started in Triple-A, so it's an eye-opening experience after [making my debut] last year to be here ending this year. And maybe this is my last Triple-A game ever. You never know. It feels good," the 24-year-old said. "It's somewhere special, I've played here multiple times, in high school, college and throughout my Minor League career now. I feel real comfortable here and we'll see how it goes."
Tasked with stopping Renfroe and the powerful Chihuahuas will be RailRiders starter Jordan Montgomery. The Yankees' No. 19 prospect allowed three hits over seven frames in the Governors' Cup semifinals against Lehigh Valley, but he was chased in the Finals opener when Gwinnett put up six runs before he could get out of the first inning.
"Just going to be doing what I've done all year. I don't think I've given up many homers, so just going to do what I do," the 6-foot-6 southpaw said. "I was just trying to be consistent, really lock in on my delivery and know what I got to do to put the ball in the zone."
Following a strong start to the season with Double-A Trenton, Montgomery was promoted to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Aug. 1, maintaining a homer-less streak that dates back to June 22. The 23-year-old notched a 0.97 ERA with 37 strikeouts and nine walks in six starts for the RailRiders.
"[Montgomery has] thrown strikes, trusts in himself, using both sides of the plate with his fastball, change his speed, use his changeup, breaking ball and the one thing that's big about him is his composure," RailRiders skipper Al Pedrique said. "This kid's not afraid, he's poised, he's outstanding. It's like he's pitched in the game for a long time. ... He will challenge the hitters and he will throw a lot of strikes."
Along with Montgomery, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre staff led the level with a 2.98 ERA. Veterans such as Phil Coke and Chad Green complemented the young hurlers like Brady Lail and No. 24 Yankees prospect Dietrich Enns.
"The one thing was the preparation. We have the philosophy -- and I'm glad we're on the same page -- that we need to teach these guys how to prepare and believe that if you prepare yourself the right way, you have a chance to compete and win games," Pedrique said. "They won huge games for us and I think that was contagious. We kept the momentum going, and I think pitching and defense helped us to win a lot of games."
Both teams lost some big names to promotions -- Gary Sanchez and Tyler Austin headed to New York while Ryan Schimpf and Alex Dickerson went to San Diego. That only gives opportunity for others, such as Nick Torres in El Paso and Pete Kozma in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, to step up.
"We had a lot of others that got called up to the Major Leagues and that kind of held us to a standpoint, where we lost our feel for that," Renfroe said. "It was probably three months left, kind of hit a skid there and we had to try to figure out how to win without them. And we did that. We really finished strong there at the end and I just think we have to keep doing what we're doing. We have a lot of great hitters still on the team."
And now with just one final test, does Renfroe think those great hitters could get to the RailRiders' great pitchers?
Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.