Texas League playoff preview

Springfield takes on Tulsa, while Corpus Christi faces Frisco

By Todd Traub / Special to MLB.com | September 4, 2012 12:23 PM ET

With the 2012 season winding down, follow along with MiLB.com as the Minors' best teams face off in an attempt to take home their league's crown.

Now it's time for the third half.

The Texas League playoffs get under way Wednesday, pitting the first-half champs against the second-half winners of each division in a pair of best-of-5 semifinals.

In the North, the Springfield Cardinals will travel to play first-half champs Tulsa Drillers in Games 1 and 2 before returning home to close out the set. The Corpus Christi Hooks took the South second half and head to Frisco to face the first-half champion RoughRiders.

Springfield is making its fourth playoff appearance since entering the league in 2005, while Tulsa is making its 34th, a run dating back to 1935. Corpus Christi, members of the circuit in 1958-59 and 2005 to the present, is making just its third playoff appearance, while Frisco is back for a seventh trip since its inaugural year in 2003.

Springfield is seeking its first league championship; Tulsa is trying to win its ninth and first since 1998. Corpus Christi won championships in 1958 and 2006; Frisco is trying to add to the lone title it won in 2004.

Springfield Cardinals (77-61, North Division second-half champions) vs.
Tulsa Drillers (75-64, North Division first-half champions)

Tulsa won the season series, 16-15

Game 1 at Tulsa, Sept. 5, 8 p.m. ET
Game 2 at Tulsa, Sept. 6, 8 p.m. ET
Game 3 at Springfield, Sept. 8, 8 p.m. ET
Game 4 at Springfield (if necessary), Sept. 9, 8 p.m. ET
Game 5 at Springfield (if necessary), Sept. 10, 8 p.m. ET

Mike O'Neill is in the midst of a breakout season with the St. Louis Cardinals organization. After tearing up the Florida State League with a .342 average and .442 on-base percentage, the outfielder hasn't slowed down since joining Springfield.

"The Florida State League was a great league and I was fortunate enough to get promoted," O'Neill said. "I'm doing all I can for this team up here to help them win, and I'm having a good time doing it."

O'Neill, a USC product, went 10-for-13 in the clinching series against Arkansas on Aug. 25-27 after he was promoted from Class A Palm Beach on Aug. 18.

"For the first time, I didn't have any injuries," said O'Neill. "I played a full season and was able to get in a good rhythm. Everything kind of went my way, and I just want to keep progressing and continue as a better ballplayer."

While Palm Beach was closing in on a third-place finish in the second half to match its first-half fate, O'Neill was joining a loaded Cardinals team that features Texas League batting leader Oscar Taveras and top second base prospect Kolten Wong.

"It helps you rise to your teammates," said O'Neill. "They're all putting out 100 percent, and you just want to contribute and be able to go on the field and show the team what you can do."

Though the lefty-hitting O'Neill batted .563 in 13 games for Springfield, hitting in Double-A isn't as easy as it looks, he said.

"The pitching here, they're a lot finer," O'Neill said. "They hit their spots more and you have to be selective. When you get your pitch, you can't miss it, and fortunately in that series in Arkansas I didn't really miss them."

O'Neill is still seeking his first home run of the year, but his success so far has not surprised him.

"I expected to do well up here, and I felt I could hang with the Double-A," O'Neill said. "And further on down the road I just want to keep progressing as a ballplayer."

Slated for the Arizona Fall League at season's end, O'Neill is also gaining valuable experience in a pressure situation like the playoffs.

"I'm ready for the postseason," he said. "Back in Palm Beach we weren't going to go to the postseason. I was promoted to help this team win. And I'm going to do whatever I can to help them win."

Corpus Christi Hooks (81-59, South Division second-half champions) vs.
Frisco RoughRiders (80-60, South Division first-half champions)

Corpus Christi won the season series, 18-14

Game 1 at Frisco, Sept. 5, 8 p.m. ET
Game 2 at Frisco, Sept. 6, 8 p.m. ET
Game 3 at Corpus Christi, Sept. 8, 8 p.m. ET
Game 4 at Corpus Christi (if necessary) , Sept. 9, 8 p.m. ET
Game 5 at Corpus Christi (if necessary), Sept. 10, 8 p.m. ET

Corpus Christi did its part for the parent Houston Astros this year. Now the Hooks are trying to do a little something for themselves.

Hooks manager Keith Bodie, who notched his 1,000th career victory this year, liked his team's chances in the first half -- the Hooks finished four games behind Frisco -- but after numerous transactions that were designed to help the struggling Astros, Corpus Christi is right where it wanted to be when the season began.

"There's been a change this year with the new ownership and new direction they're going in," Bodie said. "It's a rebuilding phase, and I'm excited to be a part of it."

The Hooks started the season 12-19 -- a stretch that included losing streaks of five and nine games -- before righting the ship as the summer wore on.

"I think we ran out of time in the first half," Bodie said. "We've got a good team. It just took them time to figure out how to play a little bit better fundamental baseball."

More than 100 player moves affecting the Hooks have been made this year, with several key players who began the year in Corpus Christi now playing for Houston.

"We've had tremendous contributions throughout the season from different players," Bodie said. "Some of them are no longer here. Brandon Barnes [.317 in 44 games] contributed a lot; he's in the big leagues. Jonathan Villar [.261 in 86 games] played all the way up to July 13 and made tremendous strides while he was here."

The Hooks finished the year hitting .268, good for second in the league, and had four players in the top 10 in batting average. Of the four -- Austin Wates, Jake Goebbert, Jose Martinez and Andrew Simunic -- only Martinez, who hit .304 and is now with Oklahoma City, is no longer with the team.

Despite the revolving door, the Hooks wound up with a franchise record for victories.

"We had a big turnover," Bodie said. "All of our starting pitchers who started here are no longer here -- they're all up in Triple-A. And it's been a great year for development and winning."

In brief

Profar, so good: It was unfortunate timing for the Frisco RoughRiders but no doubt a good time for shortstop and Texas Rangers prospect Jurickson Profar. The Rangers called up Profar to the parent club just as Frisco was gearing up for the playoffs. Profar, 19, a Texas League All-Star, was promoted when roster expanded Sept. 1. The 19-year-old shortstop batted .281 for the RoughRiders with a team-high 26 doubles, 14 home runs, 62 RBIs and 16 steals. In his big league debut against Cleveland on Sunday, Profar homered in his first at-bat and doubled to finish 2-for-4.

New look: Corpus Christi had the worst record in the Texas League last year at 50-90, but its 81 victories this year set a franchise record.

Recent history: The last time Tulsa reached the Texas League postseason in 2007, it was swept in the division series by this year's opponent, Springfield. However, in a late-season playoff preview, the Drillers gave fans reason to hope, taking all three games in Springfield on Aug. 28-30 and outscoring the Cardinals, 24-12.

Todd Traub is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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