Pacific Coast League Finals Preview: Memphis

TheCardinalNation.com looks at the Pacific Coast League Championship Series from the Memphis Redbirds perspective.

The Memphis Redbirds play in one of the best Minor League parks in all of baseball. Nestled in the downtown area, AutoZone Park has consistently been listed at the top of the charts since its opening in 2000. Unfortunately, the play on the field has not always matched the aesthetics of the ballpark.

The 2009 season marks the team's first post-season appearance in nine years when an unknown commodity by the name of Albert Pujols led the Redbirds to the St. Louis Cardinals franchise's only Pacific Coast League Championship.

Though there may not be a future Hall-of-Famer on this team, the Redbirds have used the league's best ERA, 4.05, and a well-rounded offense to set itself up to vie for a second league championship pennant.

A look at key contributors to the 2009 Memphis playoff run follows.

Pitching

Game one starter should be 23-year-old lefty Jaime Garcia, who picked up the win in the playoff opener against Albuquerque. In 5.1 innings, the southpaw fanned six Isotopes and allowed one run on one hit. One of the top pitching prospects in the Cardinals' system is coming back from undergoing Tommy John surgery during the 2008 season.

Former first round pick Adam Ottavino will presumably get the call in game two. Expectations were high for the 23-year-old after a fantastic World Baseball Classic. Pitching for Italy, he tossed three shutout innings against a Venezuelan lineup that featured Magglio Ordonez, Melvin Mora, and Miguel Cabrera. Unfortunately, Ottavino could never find any consistency and finished his first Triple-A season with a record of 7-12 with 119 strikeouts and 89 walks in 144 innings.

Evan MacLane made 24 starts for Memphis after being picked up from the Arizona Diamondbacks' minor league system in April. He finished the season with a 3.75 ERA while striking out 92 and walking just 20 in 151 innings. In the first-round clincher, the southpaw tossed seven shutout innings. He is tentatively scheduled to start game three.

It was a roller coaster of a ride for 2007 Cardinals Minor League Pitcher of the Year P.J. Walters. He made his major league debut but was sent down after eight games and an ERA approaching 10. In the month of June, the right-hander posted an ERA of 7.71 but rebounded with a red-hot July. During the month, the finesse pitcher struck out 35 hitters in only 25.2 innings or 31% of his total 113 strikeouts on the year.

Walters lasted only 4.2 innings in game two at Albuquerque but limited the damage to only one earned run on nine hits and four walks.

Independent league find Pete Parise logged two saves during the first round of the playoffs. The 24-year-old took over the closer's role for the Redbirds after Jess Todd was sent to Cleveland as the PTBNL in the Mark DeRosa trade. He finished the regular season with eight saves and a 2.39-to-1 groundball-to-fly ball ratio.

The Redbirds bullpen also creates quite a challenge for left-handed hitters. Relievers Royce Ring and Charlie Manning have been solid all season for Memphis. Ring particularly has shined, holding lefties to a batting average of .208 and reportedly earning himself a big league promotion at the conclusion of the Redbirds' Triple-A playoff run.

Offense

The Redbirds were led offensively this season by infielder/outfielder Allen Craig. The 25-year-old finished third in the Pacific Coast League with 26 home runs and total bases, 258, while finishing fourth in the league in average, .324, and fifth in OPS, .921.

The Topps PCL Player of the Month for July logged only one at-bat in the first round due to a groin injury suffered on the final Friday of the regular season but should be ready to go against Sacramento.

Tyler Greene is a toolsy shortstop that impressed the parent club in his limited big league debut. The Georgia Tech product hit .417 in the first round after hitting .291/.369/.482 with 15 home runs during the regular season. Greene showed his excellent speed with 31 stolen bases, the seventh best total in the league. The 26-year-old is prone to the strikeout with 86 whiffs in 340 at-bats in 2009.

First baseman Mark Hamilton was on a torrid streak to end the season and continued the trend into the postseason. Though he sat out game one, the Tulane product reached base seven times in the final two games along with driving in a pair of runs.

David Freese hit only .250 in the first round of the playoffs but he made his contributions count. The third baseman's solo home run was the lone tally in Memphis' series-clinching victory in game three against Albuquerque.

Freese, acquired from San Diego in return for Jim Edmonds prior to last season, was our 2008 Scout.com Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year. The St. Louis native was pegged to be the Cardinals starting third baseman but an ankle injury limited him to only 19 big league at-bats while costing him most of the minor league season. Freese returned to Memphis in late July and hit .331/.407/.620 with eight home runs in 35 games.

The Redbirds play solid defense up the middle with Greene and centerfielder Jon Jay. A product of the University of Miami, Jay got off to a slow start after shining in big league spring training. Jay made his contributions felt in a big way down the stretch with a line of .356/.378/.544 in August. The 24-year-old finished second on the team with 20 stolen bases.

Unexpectedly, the undersized second baseman Jarrett Hoffpauir finished third on the team in home runs. Hoffpauir had 32 career home runs in close to 2000 minor league at bats before hitting 14 in 358 at bats this season. The Redbirds' other second baseman, Daniel Descalso, is inactive for the playoffs as he is with Team USA in the World Cup tournament.



Dustin Mattison can be contacted at dustin@whiteyball.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter.

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