SCRANTON, PA—Tuesday night's Triple-A National Championship game will not just feature two of the best teams in the minor leagues this season. It will also feature prospects, both on the mound an in the field, of a high caliber, not often seen in this contest.
The 12th edition of the game features Memphis, the 90-game winner of the Pacific Coast League, and the International League's Governor's Cup champion, Durham. Righthander Dakota Hudson, the Cardinals' 2016 first-round pick out of Mississippi State, will start for Memphis, while lefthander Ryan Yarbrough is scheduled for Durham, the Rays' affiliate.
Yarbrough is in his first year with the Rays' system after being acquired in the offseason in the Drew Smyly trade and stepped right in, leading the IL with 159 strikeouts in his first Triple-A season. He picked up a cutter and threw more two-seam fastballs this year to complement his 88-91 mph fastball, fading changeup and slider, and the combination worked wonders for the 25-year-old lefthander, who went 13-6, 3.43 overall.
"I learned a little bit more of what kind of pitcher I am," he said at the Bulls' Monday workout at PNC Stadium in Moosic, Pa. "I have to pitch to contact, and I have to make the right pitch in the right situation . . . With the cutter and two-seamer, now I can pitch to both sides of the plate, get righthanded hitters off my changeup, and I also throw my changeup more to lefthanded hitters."
Yarbrough helped Double-A Jackson win a Southern League title last season as a Mariners farmhand and will face former Generals teammate Tyler O'Neill, now part of the Cardinals' system after a 2017 trade. O'Neill (31 home runs overall) helps power manager Stubby Clapp's lineup, which led Midwest-based PCL clubs in runs (714), homers (164) and on-base plus slugging (.795).
Clapp's club was expected to arrive later Monday after wrapping up the PCL title in El Paso on Sunday night, riding two homers in the finals by first baseman Patrick Wisdom. The potent Redbirds lineup will back Hudson, who finished 2016 in the Double-A playoffs, then spent 18 of his 25 regular-season starts back with Double-A Springfield before joining Memphis in August. He went 10-5, 3.01 overall in the regular season, albeit with just 5.7 strikeouts per nine innings
The Bulls led the IL with more than 1,400 strikeouts to set a league record, and Yarbrough will be followed Tuesday by hard-throwing righthander Brent Honeywell, one of the minors' top pitching prospects. Honeywell struck out 172 overall in 136.2 innings, including 152 in the IL in 136.2 innings.
"This is where I've wanted to be since I first got (to Durham)," said Honeywell, who opened the year with two Double-A starts. "Playoff baseball has been something different, it's something I wanted to see, and I hope we can cap off a great year.
"It's win or go home now, but if we win, we get to go home happier."
The two franchises met in 2009 for the title, with Durham winning, and that edition offers a bit of a preview in that it also had several prospects in both lineups.
Durham won the '09 edition 5-4 in extra innings with a lineup filled with fairly significant big leaguers, from starter Jeremy Hellickson (who threw five scoreless innings) to outfielder Desmond Jennings to infielders Elliot Johnson and Sean Rodriguez. Meanwhile, Memphis' lineup included key pieces of St. Louis' 2011 World Series title, including outfielders Jon Jay and Allan Craig plus third baseman David Freese.