2012 Minor League Playoff Wrapups
With the Triple-A Championship game slated for tonight to finish off the 2012 minor league season, here's a look at who won each domestic minor league.
The Diamondbacks were the most successful organization in the playoffs, as Arizona's teams won the Pacific Coast League, Southern League and Pioneer League crowns. No other organization won more than one minor league title this year.
After posting the best regular season record in minor league baseball, the Charlotte Knights playoff run came to abrupt end against the Pawtucket Red Sox in the Governors' Cup Finals. Thanks to strong efforts from the starting rotation and bullpen, the PawSox secured their first International League title since 1984 and trailed in just one half-inning. The White Sox affiliate was unable to get much going against Pawtucket's Game One starter, Steven Wright. The knuckleballer allowed just two runs over seven strong innings, and home runs from Danny Valencia, Tony Thomas, and J.C. Linares allowed Pawtucket to cruise to a 7-2 victory. Zach Stewart, acquired in the Kevin Youkilis trade, stuck out four in six shutout innings to pick up the win as the PawSox took the second game 2-0. In Game Three, Pawtucket turned to veteran Nelson Figueroa. The 38-year-old allowed just one run and struck out five in six innings to pick up his second win of the postseason. Pawtucket's bullpen worked eight innings in the series and did not yield a hit or run.
Pacific Coast League
Buoyed by the Pacific Coast League's best offense in the regular season, the Reno Aces continued their hot hitting in the playoffs to capture their first PCL title. Matched up against the Omaha Storm Chasers and Minor League Player of the Year Wil Myers, it was Reno outfielders A.J. Pollock and Tyler Kuhn that provided the punch to sink the Royals affiliate in four games.
Kuhn and Pollock helped Reno clinch the PCL title with strong offensive performances in Game Four. Kuhn went 4-for-5 with three doubles and Pollock went 2-for-6 with a triple and a homerun as Reno jumped out to a 5-0 lead and went on to take home the hardware with an 8-2 victory in the deciding Game Four.
Akron rallied from a 2-games-to-none hole in its semifinal series with Bowie before taking care of Trenton in four games to win its fourth Eastern League title in the last 10 seasons.
The Aeros dropped the first two games of their opening series in Bowie but pulled out a pair of one-run wins in games three and four at home to level the series. Game five didn't feature as much drama, as the Aeros opened up a 4-0 lead after two innings and went on to win 5-2 behind 6 2/3 strong innings from righthander Brett Brach.
Righthander Paolo Espino tossed seven shutout innings in the opener of the final series with Trenton, a 3-0 Aeros win. Akron took game two as well before Trenton extended the series with an 11-7 win in game three. The Aeros closed it out in game four though with a 6-1 behind 6 1/3 quality innings from Japanese righthander Toru Murata and a solo homer from J.R. Murphy.
Mobile won its second straight Southern League crown after dispatching Jackson in four games in the SL finals.
The BayBears won the Southern Division first-half title but went just 29-41 in the second half. They reversed that momentum though by taking out Montgomery in four games in the first round of the playoffs. They faced Jackson, which posted the best regular season record in the SL at 79-61, for the championship and dropped game one 8-1, but then the dramatics began.
Mobile tied the series with a 7-2 win in game two, but in game three in Mobile, the BayBears had to rally for two runs in the bottom of the eighth to tie the score. The night was capped off by third baseman Matt Davidson's walkoff two-run homer in the 10th, giving Mobile a 2-1 lead in the series. The next night, the BayBears got a solo homer from first baseman Jonathan Griffin in the third inning and their pitching made it stand up. Righthander Mike Bolsinger tossed seven scoreless innings and combined with two relievers to shutout Jackson for a 1-0 win to clinch the title.
Springfield rode a dominant pitching staff through the Texas League playoffs, knocking off Frisco in the TL Championship Series. The Cardinals claimed their first TL title since coming to Springfield in 2005.
Before they got to the finals though, the Cardinals had to survive a tense five-game series with Tulsa in the first round. The Cardinals outslugged Tulsa 8-6 in the opener, but pitching dominated the rest of the way as the teams traded wins. In the decisive fifth game, Springfield righthander Boone Whiting allowed only one run on one hit in seven innings to lead the Cardinals a 3-1 win and a berth in the finals with Frisco.
Righthander Carlos Martinez picked up where Whiting left off with seven shutout innings in the finals opener, a 5-0 Springfield win. Four nights later in game four, righthander Scott Gorgen finished the job with six scoreless innings, as he and three relievers delivered the title in a 2-1 victory.
If not for Billy Hamilton's 155 stolen bases, Delino DeShields Jr.'s amazing 2012 season would have drawn more notice. He turned in only the third 100-steal season in the past decade (Hamilton has the other two), and he did while becoming the first minor league to hit 10 or more home runs in the same season he stole 100 bases.
And now, he has a championship ring to go with it. DeShields and the Lancaster JetHawks swept Modesto in the California League finals. In the clinching game, DeShields led off the first with a home run, stole a base (his fourth of the playoffs) and scored another run in the JetHawks 3-2 win over the Nuts.
DeShields was named the playoff MVP. It was Lancaster's first-ever California League title.
Nick Ahmed saved his best for last.
finishing the regular season with a nine-game hitting streak, the
Lynchburg shortstop hit .357 (10-for-28) in the playoffs. His last game
of the season was his best, as he went 4-for-5 as the Hillcats edged
Winston-Salem 5-4 in 11 innings of Game Four of the championship series.
The win was Lynchburg's second Carolina League title in four years.
the mound, the playoff heroes for Lynchburg were righthanders John
Cornerly (2-0, 1.42) and Gus Schlosser (2-0, 0.00). Schlosser threw 15
scoreless innings in two playoff starts while Cornerly struck out 13 in 6 1/3 innings, including three scoreless innings to finish off the deciding
Florida State League
After falling behind Jupiter two games to one, Lakeland rallied to win the final two games to claim the Florida State League Championship. It was the Flying Tigers' first FSL title since 1992.
The Tigers affiliate shutout Jupiter 2-0 in the deciding game as 22-year-old righthander Warwick Saupold pitched seven shutout innings and 22-year-old righthander Melvin Mercedes, a late-season callup from the Midwest League, finished it out with two scoreless innings for the win.
Hernan Perez scored the winning run in the eighth inning when he stole third and catcher Jake Realmuto's throw sailed into the outfield, allowing him to score. Tyler Collins added an RBI single later in the inning.
Despite seeing 11 members of their first-half Western Division title promoted, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers managed to capture the Midwest League championship after defeating the Burlington Bees, Clinton LumberKings, and Fort Wayne TinCaps. Wisconsin was leading their best-of-five series with Fort Wayne 2-1, but were tied 2-2 in the seventh inning of Game Four until first baseman Nick Ramirez came through with a two-run double and propel the Brewers affiliate to a championship-clinching 4-2 win.
Wisconsin and Fort Wayne both received solid efforts from their respective starting pitchers (Joe Ross for Ft. Wayne and Jacob Barnes for Wisconsin) in Game One before Wisconsin's Rafael Neda scored on a Luis De La Cruz wild pitch in the bottom of the tenth. Fort Wayne evened the series with a 5-1 win thanks to a seven strong innings from starting pitcher Colin Rea and homeruns from third baseman Duanel Jones and first baseman Lee Orr, who led the league with four postseason homers. In Game Three, home runs from Nick Ramirez and Brandon Macias in a five-run fourth-inning allowed Wisconsin to hold on to a 10-8 win, and Ramirez's double secured the Rattlers' first league title since 1984, when they were known as the Appleton Foxes.
South Atlantic League
After falling behind 1-0 in a best-of-five series, the Asheville Tourists used timely hitting to rip off three consecutive victories and claim its first outright South Atlantic League championship since 1984. The Greensboro Grasshoppers won Game One 6-3 behind a decent outing from 2012 first-round pick Andrew Heaney and homeruns from Josh Adams and Matt Smith. However, Asheville responded quickly, as 20-year-old shortstop prospect Trevor Story blasted a leadoff homerun in Game Two and starting pitcher Daniel Winkler struck out 12 in seven shutout innings to even the series with a 10-3 win. Asheville's Game Three starter, Tyler Anderson, Colorado's first-round pick in 2011, also shut out Greensboro over seven innings and Story, Jared Simon, and Ryan Casteel all homered en route to an easy 9-0 victory. Simon's hot bat helped Asheville clinch the championship, as the outfielder went 3-for-5 in the Tourists' 10-4 Game Four win.
New York-Penn League
Hudson Valley did it the hard way, dropping the first game in both of its best-of-three New York-Penn League playoff series. But the Renegades rallied each time and took home their first NYPL championship since 1999.
The Renegades posted the NYPL's best regular season record at 52-24 but promptly found themselves behind the eight ball after a 4-0 loss in their playoff opener against Brooklyn. Hudson Valley's pitching took over from there though. After an 8-1 win in game two, righthander Taylor Guerrieri, a first-round pick in 2011, and two relievers combined on a one-hit shutout in game three, a 2-0 Renegades win.
History repeated itself in the NYPL finals. The Renegades lost game one against Tri-City and found themselves trailing 2-0 after five innings in game two, but they rallied to tie the game in the sixth and then won it on a three-run homer by third baseman Richie Shaffer, the Rays' 2012 first-rounder, in the bottom of the eighth. The decisive third game was more anticlimactic, as the Renegades scored four runs in the first inning and cruised to an 8-3 win.
Vancouver didn't clinch its playoff spot until the second-to-last day of the regular season, but the Canadians got hot when it mattered most. The Blue Jays affiliate took out Everett and Boise in the Northwest League playoffs to claim their second straight NWL title.
The Canadians won the title largely on the strength of their offense. They edged Everett 1-0 in the opener of their first-round series, but their lineup carried them the rest of the way. Art Charles hit a three-run homer in the first inning of game two and the Canadians went on to win 7-4 to complete the sweep.
In the first game of the championship series with Boise, the Canadians actually trailed 7-3 after six innings before exploding for seven runs in the bottom of the seventh. Charles hit a two-run homer in the inning and Balbino Fuenmayor's two-out, two-run single put Vancouver in the lead on their way to a 10-7 win.
After Boise took game two of the finals, game three followed a similar script to game one. Boise led 7-5 through seven innings before Vancouver had another seven-run outburst in the top of the eighth, with Charles in the middle of it again with a bases loaded triple that capped the scoring. The Canadians held on from there, winning 12-9.
The most thrilling championship series in
the minors happened in the Appy League. All three games of the
Burlington-Elizabethton series went to extra innings. All three games
ended on walk-off hits.
And the clincher for the E-Twins came on a
grand slam, courtesy of outfielder D.J. Hicks. Hicks, who had scored the
winning run in the 11th inning of Game Two of the series, cranked a
Julio Morales pitch over the left field fence for a 10-6 title-deciding
Hicks' grand slam was only the second most thrilling moment of
the deciding game. Burlington entered the bottom of the ninth with a 6-1
lead, needing only three outs for the title. The score was still 6-1
with only one out to go, but with the bases loaded, Hicks was hit by a
pitch to score Jhonathan Arias. A wild pitch by John Walter then scored
Romy Jimenez. Adam Walker followed with a three-run home run that sent
the game into extra innings.
There wasn't a lot of drama when the Missoula Osprey wrapped up the Pioneer League title.
Missoula scored five runs in the top of the first against Ogden, then kept adding additional insurance runs while righthander Yoimer Camacho and three Missoula relievers shut out the Ogden lineup. The final score was 10-0, as Missoula's players had plenty of time to plan their dogpile.
Third baseman Jake Lamb hit his second home run of the playoffs as part of a 3-for-5 night for Missoula. Designated hitter Yosbel Gutierrez added another home run and right fielder Socrates Brito went 2-for-4 with a triple.
The complex leagues playoffs are always a little
compressed compared to the rest of the minors. So with a one-game
championship series, one hot pitcher, or one great hitting performance
can be the difference between celebrating or sulking.
In the case of
the AZL Rangers however, a pretty strong case can be made that the
league's most talented team claimed the crown. Boasting a lineup that
included first-rounder Lewis Brinson, second-rounder Nick Williams and
highly paid Latin signings Ronald Guzman and Nomar Mazara the AZL
Rangers won the Western Division crown during the regular season, topped
the AZL Dodgers in the one-game semifinal then beat the AZL Athletics
3-1 in the championship game.
Lefthander Aliangel Lopez threw five
scoreless innings for the win in the title game. Shortstop Luis Marte
went 3-for-4 for the AZL Rangers.
Gulf Coast League
The Gulf Coast League Pirates defeated the Red Sox Rookie-level affiliate 5-2 in two straight games to complete a sweep and lay claim to the organization's first GCL Championship in its 44-year affiliation with the league. In Game One second baseman Dilson Herrera and third baseman Eric Wood led the way for the Pirates' offense. Herrera was a single shy of the cycle and had 3 RBI while Wood knocked in one run and smacked two doubles. Andy Otamendi picked up the win with two scoreless innings of relief. In Game Two, Pirates starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow struck out seven and allowed just one hit before being pulled after four innings. Wood's bat played an integral role again, as the sixth round draft pick went 2-for-5 with a double and two runs. Pittsburgh's second round pick, catcher Wyatt Mathisen, also had two hits.