What a difference a couple of years makes.
Just two years ago, having an Astros affiliate in your town meant you could forget about the playoffs. In 2011, no Houston farm club finished above .500, and four of them didn’t win even 40 percent of their games. It wasn’t a one-year fluke. From 2008-11, just two Astros minor league clubs finished the season with a winning record.
|New York Mets||4|
|San Diego Padres||4|
|San Francisco Giants||4|
|*Los Angeles Angels||3|
|Boston Red Sox||3|
|Tampa Bay Rays||3|
|Toronto Blue Jays||3|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||2|
|New York Yankees||2|
|Chicago White Sox||2|
|*Kansas City Royals||1|
|St. Louis Cardinals||1|
|*In contention for remaining playoff spot in Pioneer League|
Houston is sending six of its seven U.S. minor league clubs to the playoffs this year. All six playoff clubs finished with .559 or better winning percentages, better than any Astros affiliate from 2008-2011. They’re the only organization that has six minor league postseason participants, and the Astros baseball operations department found that no org had sent six teams to the playoffs since 2003.
Five clubs will send four teams to the minor league playoffs. Two titles have already been decided. The Giants won the Arizona League crown while the Nationals dominated the Gulf Coast League, going 49-9 during the regular season before winning all three of their playoff games to take home the title.
With 14 of the 16 minor league regular seasons concluded—with the typical exceptions of the New York-Penn and Pioneer leagues—all but three organizations had at least one team invited to the minor league postseason.
The Marlins, Phillies and Reds all were shut out. Cincinnati will finish the season without a single domestic affiliate compiling a winning record. At 69-75, Triple-A Louisville was the Reds’ most successful club. The Marlins did have three U.S. teams finish at .500 or better, but neither Double-A Jacksonville (73-63) nor short-season Batavia (39-34) snagged a playoff spot. The Phillies finished with two U.S. that finished at .500 (Triple-A Lehigh Valley and the GCL Phillies), but without a club with a winning record they had no real playoff contenders.
It’s worth noting that it’s much easier to make the playoffs in some leagues than others. The California League sends six of its 10 teams to the playoffs, while the South Atlantic League rewards four of 14 clubs and the Pacific Coast League sends four 0f 16.
Winning in the minor leagues does not correlate strongly with prospect depth or major league success. Less talented but more experienced players can often trounce younger, but more talented, teams. But as farm directors and other front office officials are quick to point out, they do see a development benefit in winning at the minor league level. And when you win with a young team, that is a good sign of organizational depth and talent.
The Astros are winning with young talent. Triple-A Oklahoma City finished with the PCL’s best record (82-62) with the youngest lineup in the league and a pitching staff that equalled Memphis as the youngest. Double-A Corpus Christi finished with the best record in the Texas League (83-57). It did so despite the fact that the average age of its lineup was nearly a year younger than any other team in the Texas League, and the pitching staff was also the league’s youngest. Only in the short-season New York-Penn League and the Rookie-level Appalachian League did the Astros make the playoffs with one of the older clubs in the league.
Correction: The charts initially credited the Dodgers with one too many and the White Sox with one too few playoff teams.
|R||Pio||!Great Falls||White Sox|
|R||Pio||To be determined||Royals or Angels|
|R||GCL||*GCL Red Sox||Red Sox|
|* Full-season division champion #First-half champion !Second-half champion ^Wild Card|