A look at the league Finals for all three Double-A circuits. Eastern and Texas League action starts Tuesday night; Southern League begins Wednesday night.
Binghamton (83-59, Eastern Division runner-up; last league title: 1994) vs.
Richmond (79-63, Western Division winner; last league title: None)
Binghamton won the season series, 6-4
Game 1 at Richmond, Sept. 9 at 6:35 p.m. ET
Game 2 at Richmond, Sept. 10 at 6:35 p.m. ET
Game 3 at Binghamton, Sept. 12 at 7:05 p.m. ET
Game 4 at Binghamton (if necessary), Sept. 13 at 7:05 p.m. ET
Game 5 at Binghamton (if necessary), Sept. 14 at 6:05 p.m. ET
The discussion for this series has to start with the Richmond rotation, which will boast four of the Giants' top eight prospects. These are the probables the Flying Squirrels have lined up, with their Eastern League regular-season stats included:
Game 1: Clayton Blackburn (SF No. 7, 5-6, 93 IP, 3.29 ERA, 85 strikeouts)
Game 2: Adalberto Mejia (SF No. 4, 108 IP, 7-9, 4.67 ERA, 83 strikeouts)
Game 3: Ty Blach (SF No. 6, 141 IP, 8-8, 3.13 ERA, 91 strikeouts)
Game 4: Jack Snodgrass (unranked, 131 1/3 IP, 11-6, 3.56 ERA, 86 strikeouts)
Game 5: Chris Stratton (SF No. 8, 23 IP, 1-1, 3.52 ERA, 18 strikeouts)
Besides Pawtucket in the International League, no remaining playoff rotation can boast that many top organizational arms in its ensuing Finals, and there's plenty of cause for optimism beyond just the rankings. Blach, the workhorse of the group, showed no wear-and-tear from the long season when he allowed only two hits over 6 1/3 innings in a 1-0 win over Akron in Game 3 of the semifinals. Even Mejia, who posted the highest ERA of the rotation, and Stratton, who only joined the club in late July after a promotion from Class A Advanced San Jose, kept the RubberDucks to one run or fewer in six-plus frames. This, of course, doesn't include top prospect Kyle Crick, who has moved to the bullpen and struck out the side in his one relief inning last series.
If there is a playoff weakness to the Flying Squirrels, it comes in the batter's box. They finished ninth in the Eastern League in runs per game (4.13), and they collected only 10 runs in their four-game win over Akron last round. Second baseman Kelby Tomlinson (7-for-16, one triple, two doubles, one RBI) was the only Richmond batter to hit above .250 in the series, and that comes after he put up a .268/.340/.323 line during the regular season.
Binghamton, the regular-season league leader with 5.06 runs per game, brought plenty of bats in their down-to-the-wire five-game series win over Portland. Despite hitting from the bottom of the order, Wilfredo Tovar led all EL hitters in batting last round by going 8-for-15 (.444) with two doubles and three RBIs while Darrell Ceciliani provided some pop with leagues bests with six doubles and seven RBIs.
The most noteworthy hitting performance by a B-Met, however, might have been by Mets No. 3 prospect Brandon Nimmo. The 21-year-old outfielder batted only .238 following a June promotion from Class A Advanced St. Lucie but rebounded at the right time, going 8-for-22 (.364) with three doubles, an RBI and six runs scored as Binghamton's leadoff hitter.
The Mets best pitching hope lies with No. 9 prospect Steven Matz, who broke out in a big way this season and finished 6-5 with a 2.27 ERA and 69 strikeouts to only 14 walks in 71 1/3 innings. The 23-year-old left-hander faces fellow southpaw Blach in Game 3.
Jacksonville (81-59, South Division second-half champion; last league title: 2010) vs.
Chattanooga (61-77, North Division first-half champion; last league title: 1988)
Jacksonville won the season series, 8-7
Game 1 at Chattanooga, Sept. 10 at 7:15 p.m. ET
Game 2 at Chattanooga, Sept. 11 at 7:15 p.m. ET
Game 3 at Jacksonville, Sept. 12 at 7:05 p.m. ET
Game 4 at Jacksonville (if necessary), Sept. 13 at 7:05 p.m. ET
Game 5 at Jacksonville (if necessary), Sept. 14 at 7:05 p.m. ET
With Rockies top prospect Jon Gray shut down for Tulsa (below) due to shoulder fatigue, Corey Seager is without a doubt the most promising (and exciting) prospect left playing in the Double-A playoffs. The 20-year-old shortstop climbed up to No. 15 in MLB.com's overall ranking after putting together a .349/.402/.602 slash line with 20 homers and 97 RBIs between Chattanooga and Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga.
He didn't quite carry that success into the semifinals against Huntsville though, finishing 3-for-17 with no extra-base hits and six strikeouts in the five-game series. Seager batted .354 with a .947 OPS in the last month of the regular season, so there was no indication that a drop in production was coming. In fact, it's more likely that a bounceback could follow in the Finals, which should worry Jacksonville.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Suns, who won their final 10 games of the season to earn their playoff berth, had yet to announce their rotation for the best-of-5 series, but Southern League Pitcher of the Year Justin Nicolino is certain to feature prominently and could start either Game 2 (on five-days rest) or 3. The 22-year-old left-hander went 14-4 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 28 starts (170 1/3 innings) and carried his winning ways to Game 3 against Mobile, when he earned the victory after giving up three runs on eight hits over seven frames.
A name to watch in the Jacksonville lineup should be first baseman Viosergy Rosa. The 2010 29th-round pick earned his first Double-A promotion last month after putting together a .292/.355/.439 line with 13 homers and 78 RBIs at Class A Advanced Jupiter. His line stood at .292/.416/.458 in 20 regular-season games with the Suns, and he built upon that by going 5-for-16 (.313) with two homers, a double and a league-best six RBIs in the semis.
Midland (77-63, South Division runner-up; last league title: 2009) vs.
Tulsa (71-68, North Division first-half champion; last league title: 1998)
Tulsa won the season series, 9-3
Game 1 at Tulsa, Sept. 9 at 8:05 p.m. ET
Game 2 at Tulsa, Sept. 10 at 8:05 p.m. ET
Game 3 at Midland, Sept. 12 at 8:00 p.m. ET
Game 4 at Midland (if necessary), Sept. 12 at 8:00 p.m. ET
Game 5 at Midland (if necessary), Sept. 13 at 5:00 p.m. ET
This could be Eddie Butler's time for redemption. Things looked pretty good for the Rockies' No. 2 prospect back in June, when he was called up for his Major League debut. But then the right-hander gave up six runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Dodgers on June 6 and didn't pitch again for a month due to a rotator cuff strain. He hasn't been able to find much of the form that saw him post a 1.80 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 149 2/3 innings a season ago and finished the 2014 regular season with a 3.58 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 5.3 K/9 in 18 starts for Tulsa.
Despite earning the loss, he was solid in his Game 1 semifinal start against Arkansas, giving up two runs on six hits with three strikeouts in five innings. The Drillers turn again to MLB.com's No. 28 overall prospect in Game 1 of the Finals. Texas League Pitcher of the Year Tyler Anderson (7-4, 1.98 ERA) gets the ball for Game 2, and Carlos Hernandez (9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K against Arkansas) will start Game 3.
The club would love to see second baseman Taylor Featherston carry his semifinal production (7-for-15, one homer, one double, five RBIs) to the Championship Series as well.
On the Midland side, A's 2014 first-rounder Matt Chapman played just one game with the RockHounds during the regular season but was their best hitter last round. Known more as a defensive wizard, the former Cal State Fullerton star owned just a .246/.291/.401 line with five homers and 20 RBIs in 54 Minor League contests during the season but went 4-for-10 with a homer, a double and a stolen base in three games against Frisco last round.
In that same vein, A's top prospect Daniel Robertson was brought up to Midland after his Class A Advanced Stockton team was eliminated from the California League playoffs last week. The 20-year-old slugger went 1-for-7 in two games while playing at second base (away from his usual position, shortstop) but could be a force in the finals after hitting .310/.402/.471 with 55 extra-base hits and 60 RBIs in 132 games with the Ports.
Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com.