By Chris Jackson
Special to Baseball America
ALBUQUERQUE—The Omaha Storm Chasers and Columbus Clippers began the 2011 season as two of the more prospect-laden squads in the minor leagues.
By the end of the year, though, most of those prospects were up with their big league affiliates. Omaha lost first baseman Eric Hosmer, second baseman Johnny Giavotella, third baseman Mike Moustakas, catcher Salvador Perez and lefthander Danny Duffy, who all ranked among the Royals’ top 20 prospects.
Columbus lost second baseman Jason Kipnis, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, lefthander Nick Hagadone and righthanders Alex White (via the Ubaldo Jimenez trade) and Zach Putnam, who all ranked in the Indians’ top 20 prospects
Through all those transactions, however, both Omaha and Columbus kept right on winning, eventually claiming the Pacific Coast League and International League titles, respectively. That pitted the two teams against each other in Tuesday night’s Triple-A National Championship Game in front of 9,569 fans at Isotopes Park, who saw the Clippers roll out to an 8-3 victory and their second straight title.“I think that we’ve kept the nucleus together from the standpoint of Luke Carlin, Paul Phillips, some of our veterans,” Columbus manager Mike Sarbaugh said. “Nick Johnson was huge in the clubhouse. They were a big influence on our younger players.
“The players did a great job. It’s a credit to our player development and our scouting department. They came in and we didn’t miss a beat.”
Omaha manager Mike Jirschele echoed those words in regards to his club.
“You look at the amount of guys (11) we sent to the big leagues and ended up staying there, it just goes to show the depth we have in the organization,” Jirschele said. “The guys who came in did a great job. We’ve been in first place since about mid-April. We held on right to the end.”
Righthander Joe Martinez settled down from there for the Clippers, scattering three hits over six shutout innings following the first. The former Giants and Pirates big leaguer picked up his third victory of the postseason.
“We just tried to really keep the ball down, throw a lot of sinkers,” Martinez said. “Obviously, they’re a very good hitting team over there. We used their strengths against them a little bit. We kept the ball on the ground, got a lot of outs that way.” In seven innings of work, Martinez struck out three, walked three and induced 13 groundouts compared with two flyouts.
Mills later added a solo home run in the eighth inning to cap his resurgent year at the plate. The 2007 first-round pick hit a combined .289/.347/.513 with 18 home runs and 67 RBIs between the Clippers and Double-A Akron.