Its playoff time as Myrtle Beach, South Bend and Eugene start their title chases on Wednesday night. Here's a look at the first round match ups.
Carolina League—Myrtle Beach Pelicans vs. Salem Red Sox
Myrtle Beach didn’t have much success agains Salem in the first three meetings, dropping seven of the nine games. But top prospects Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benitendi are no longer on the roster and both have made their MLB debuts. The Pelicans split four games at Salem in late July and won two-of-three the last time the two squads faced off in mid-August.
Carolina League Pitcher of the Year Trevor Clifton takes the mound in Game 1 on Wednesday night in Myrtle Beach. The 21-year-old right-hander blanked the Red Sox over six innings back on Aug. 10 and ended his year at 7-7 with a league best 2.72 ERA. Clifton fanned 129 over 119 innings with a .225 BAA and a 1.16 WHIP.
Preston Morrison will get the ball in Game 2 when the series returns to Salem. The eighth-round pick in 2015 out of TCU started the season in South Bend (9-4, 2.24 ERA) and has been even more impressive in six starts since joining the Pelicans (3-0, 1.77 ERA) in late July. If a deciding Game 3 is needed, the Pelicans will send Duane Underwood to the hill. Underwood started the season in AA (0-5, 4.91 ERA) but an arm injury landed the right-hander on the DL. The Cubs second-round pick in 2012 has pitched in Mesa and South Bend since coming off the DL, including one start for the Pelicans.
The Red Sox will send hard-throwing Michael Kopeck to the hill in the opener. In 11 starts, the former first-round pick of Boston (2014) is 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA and 82 K in 52 innings. Another first-round pick (2013), Trey Ball, will face the Pelicans in the second game of the series in Salem. The 6-foot-6 left-hander went 8-6 with a 3.83 ERA in 23 starts with a 1.61 WHIP. Matt Kemp (10-7, 3.89 ERA) will pitch Game 3 if necessary.
At The Plate
Ian Happ and Gleyber Torres were the talk of the town to start the year but Happ was promoted to AA and Torres was shipped to the Yankees as part of the Aroldis Chapman deal that also plucked CF Rashad Crawford from the Pelicans lineup. Their replacements have been better. IF David Bote is hitting a team best .337/.410/.518 in 72 games with 6 HR, 41 RBI and 55 runs scored. CF Donnie Dewees joined MB from South Bend (.282/.337/.414) and has kept it going in High A, batting .289/.339/.423 in 35 games. IF Bryant Flete sports a slash of .285/.395/.415 in his 34 games with the Pelicans and LF Charcer Burks (.247/.356/.407, 124 games) has moved into the leadoff spot.
The Pelicans most productive hitter is 1B Yasiel Balaguert (.263/.316/.424), who set a franchise record with 96 RBI and the Cuban native led all Cubs minor leaguers with 19 homers.
Salem is paced by 19-year-old 3B Rafael Devers (.282/.335/.443) with a team-high 11 homers and 64 runs scored. 1B Nick Longhi (.282/.349/.393) led the Red Sox with 71 RBI and OF Danny Mars hit .293/.353/.401 in 108 games.
Midwest League—South Bend Cubs vs. West Michigan Whitecaps
Cubs and the Whitecaps split their 14 games this season with West Michigan taking two-of-three in the final week of the season. Cubs went 2-4 at Fifth Third Ballpark as the open the best-of-three series on the road on Thursday. The final two games will be played at Four Winds Field.
Considered one of the Cubs top pitching prospects, 21-year-old Oscar De La Cruz gets the start in the opener at West Michigan. The right-hander went 1-2 with a 3.25 ERA in six starts for the Cubs, including two starts against the Whitecaps—blanking West Michigan for five frames on Aug. 23 and giving up three runs over five innings on Aug. 31.
Jose Paulino is in line to get the ball when the series returns to Four Winds Field on Thursday night. The 21-year-old lefty dominated the NWL league (4-0, 0.51 ERA) before getting promoted in late July. In seven starts for the Cubs, Paulino is 3-1 with a 3.15 ERA, including holding the Whitecaps to one run over five innings with 7 K on Sept. 1.
If the Cubs keep their same rotation, Adbert Alzolay will take the hill in a deciding game three. In 20 starts for the Cubs, the 21-year-old Venezuelan is 9-4 with a 4.34 ERA and tossed five shutout frames against the Whitecaps on Sept. 2.
The Whitecaps will likely go with Kyle Dowdy in the opener, who surrendered seven hits and five runs against Cubs back on Sept. 1. The 23-year-old right-hander is 10-3 with a 2.84 ERA in 107.2 innings and sports a 1.24 WHIP. 2015 first-round pick Beau Burrows is expected to get the ball in the Game 2. The 19-year-old went 6-4 with a 3.15 ERA in 20 starts.
At the Plate
OF Eloy Jimenez was named the MWL’s top prospect and the awards keep coming the 19-year-old who hit .329/.369/.532 with 14 homers and a league bets 40 doubles.
2B Carlos Sepulveda (.310/.366/.373) and C P.J. Higgins(.283/.389/.355) have set the table the entire season, batting at the top of the order. C/1B Tyler Alamo (.243/.283/.330, 5 HR, 50 RBI) has turned in his best minor league season and OF Eddy Martinez (.254/.331/.380) has steadily improved at the plate. 1B/3B Matt Rose (.235/.317/.420) is second among Cubs minor leaguers with 17 homers. The Cubs will also be playing with 17-year-old SS Isaac Paredes as Andruw Monasterio was placed on the DL the final week of the season.
The Whitecaps are led by all-star infielder Will Maddox, who hit .339/.380/.401 in 127 games with 58 RBI and 59 runs scored. OF Cam Gibson led WM with six homers and the son of former big leaguer Kurt Gibson hit .221/.302/.330
Northwest League—Eugene Emeralds vs. Hillsboro Hops
Eugene may have had the best winning percentage (.711) in all the minors but went 5-7 against the two-time defending Northwest League champs, including getting swept three games to end the regular season. Eugene hasn’t won an outright NWL title since 1975 and haven’t been to the finals since 2000.
Eugene will start left-hander Manuel Rondon, who was named the Northwest league Pitcher of the Year on Monday. Acquired in a trade with the Angels last summer for catcher Rafael Lopez, the 21-year-old went 6-1 with a 1.10 ERA in 12 starts, fanning 49 in 57.1 innings. He faced the Hops back on June 20, blanking Hillsboro for five innings on one hit. The Hops will counter with their own NWL post-season all-star—21-year-old RH Anfernee Benitez (7-5, 3.48 ERA), who gave up 10 runs over nine innings in two starts against the Ems.
The Cubs third-round pick last year, LH Bryan Hudson will take the hill in Game 2 when the series heads back to PK Park. In 13 starts this season, the 6-foot-8 19-year-old is 5-4 with a 5.06 ERA. RH Erling Moreno (2-1, 0.90 ERA) is expected to pitch the deciding Game 3 if necessary.
At the Plate
3B Wladimir Galindo led the Ems in runs (46), homers (9) RBI (40), total bases (114), walks (33) strikeouts (81) and slashed .243/.337/.462 in 66 games. The 19-year-old Venezuelan also made great strides with his defense as the year progressed.
CF Darryl Wilson led the Ems with 21 stolen bases and overcame a very slow start to end the year batting .257/.320/.371 in 64 games. 2B Yeiler Peguero made the jump from the DSL to the NWL in his second pro season and the Dominican Republic native led the team in games played while hitting .260/.326/.336 with 25 RBI and six steals.
Both drafted in June, infielders Zack Short (.236/.401/.323) and Trent Giambrone (.292/.404/.433) have both had a big impact since arriving in Eugene. OF Kevonte Mitchell (.243/.337/.462) and 1B Chris Pieters (.222/.320/.329) have both been key contributors to the Ems success this season.
The Hops offense is led by NWL All-Star catcher Luke Lowrey, the D-Backs 14th round in 2015 out of East Carolina. The 22-year-old hit .264/.334/.379 with five homers and 34 RBI in 67 games.null