Image credit: (Photo by Eddie Kelly)
The 2023 Minor League Baseball season wrapped up with the Norfolk Tides claiming the Triple-A championship.
Unlike recent years where the Rays dominated MiLB postseason play, no organization won two or more titles this year. The MLB teams whose clubs won one title were the Blue Jays, Braves, Brewers, Cubs, D’backs, Dodgers, Dodgers, Mariners, Marlins, Orioles, Rays, Red Sox, Tigers and Twins.
Here’s a look at how each championship was decided along with the stars of the MiLB postseason.
Champion: Norfolk Tides (Orioles)
Colton Cowser’s grand slam in the seventh gave Norfolk a three-run lead, but Connor Norby’s ninth-inning two-run home run proved to be vital insurance as Norfolk held on to beat Oklahoma City 7-6 in the Triple-A Championship game in Las Vegas on Sept. 30.
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The Dodgers entered the bottom of the ninth trailing by five, and after Jorbit Vivas walked, the next two batters flew out. Needing five runs to tie the game before one out was recorded seemed like an impossible task, but Oklahoma City gave it their all. Drew Avans singled to score Vivas and then Michael Busch homered to score Avans. Norfolk reliever Joey Krehbiel entered to try to squash the rally, but Miguel Vargas greeted him with a solo home run to cut the lead to one. Ryan Ward represented the tying run as he stepped to the plate, but Krehbiel struck him out to set off Norfolk’s celebration.
Star Of The Game: Norby went 3-for-3 with two walks, two runs scored, two RBIs and a home run.
International League (Triple-A)
Champion: Norfolk Tides (Orioles)
The Norfolk Tides hadn’t won a league title since 1985, but all season, this seemed like the team to end their title drought. Baseball America rated the Tides as having the most talented team in the minors at the beginning of the season. Seven different players who ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list played in Norfolk this year, including shortstop Jackson Holliday, the 2023 Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year.
Norfolk ran away with the first half International League title by 8.5 games, clinching a spot in the IL title series. The Tides tailed off in the second half, but still finished with a league best 90 wins and +152 run differential.
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In the playoffs, Durham took Game 1 of the best-of-3 championship series thanks to home runs from Tristan Gray and Ruben Cardenas.
But Norfolk bounced back with a 7-2 win in Game 2 thanks to a 3-for-3, three-run day with Kyle Stowers that included a home run.
In the deciding Game 3, third baseman Coby Mayo went 4-for-4 with a home run, double and four RBIs while lefthander Cade Povich and three relievers shut out Durham for a 7-0 win.
Star of the Playoffs: Mayo was 6-for-11 with two home runs, two doubles, five runs scored and seven RBIs.
Pacific Coast League (Triple-A)
Champion: Oklahoma City Dodgers (Dodgers)
In the regular season, Oklahoma City was clearly the class of the Pacific Coast League. With a 90-58 record the OKC Dodgers tied Norfolk for the most wins of any MiLB team.
And in the brief best-of-3 championship series, the Dodgers once again showed their dominance. They swept Round Rock and led for 17 of the 18 innings in the two games.
Drew Avans went 4-for-4 and Hunter Fedducia homered as Oklahoma City cruised to a 8-3 win in Game 1. Oklahoma City starter Kyle Hurt struck out eight in four innings.
In Game 2, Michael Busch and Jonny Deluca homered and Avans went 2-for-4. Deluca’s two-run home run in the second inning gave Oklahoma City an early lead and Busch’s three-run home run in the fifth inning blew the game open as the Dodgers rolled to a 5-2 win. Starter Gavin Stone struck out 10 while allowing two runs in 6.1 innings to pick up the win.
Star of the Playoffs: Avans was 6-for-8 with a walk and two runs scored.
Eastern League (Double-A)
Champion: Erie SeaWolves (Tigers)
Whether you consider Erie’s first six seasons in Welland (1989-1994) as the start of the franchise, or the team’s arrival in Erie in 1995 or the team’s ascension to the Eastern League in 1999, Erie has been a minor league fixture for many years. But until 2023, the team had never hoisted a championship trophy.
Thankfully for the sellout crowd assembled for Game 2 of the Eastern League championship series, the deciding game became a nine-inning celebration. Erie scored three runs in the second, paced by a Jake Holton home run. Holton added another home run and Gage Workman chipped in another homer as Erie widened the lead to 10-0.
Erie starter Brant Hurter held Binghamton to just three hits in seven scoreless innings of work and Adam Wolff and Andrew Magno finished off the shutout with a scoreless inning apiece.
Trei Cruz went 3-for-5 with two doubles, a triple and two runs scored in Erie’s 8-6 Game 1 win over Binghamton.
Erie had swept Richmond to advance to the championship series, while Binghamton knocked off Somerset in two games. Somerset had finished the regular season with the league’s best record.
Star of the Playoffs: Holton homered three times in the two games of the championship series. He hit .333/.411/.933 during the four games of the postseason.
Southern League (Double-A)
Champion: Tennessee Smokies (Cubs)
Cubs’ 2022 first-round pick Cade Horton made two postseason starts. In his first he threw five scoreless innings to pick up the win in the first game of Smokies’ playoff run. In the second, he allowed one hit and one run in five innings to pick up the win in the deciding game of the championship series. Two starts. Two wins. One ring.
Pretty much every Tennessee hitter contributed to the Smokies’ 8-4 Game 1 win over Pensacla. Eight of the nine hitters in the Smokies lineup had a hit. That set up Horton for Game 2 as Tennessee looked to sweep.
A three-run home run by B.J. Murray Jr. in the third inning of Game 2 gave the Smokies the lead, and Owen Caissie’s double was the big hit in a four-run sixth that put the game away. Tennessee ended up beating Pensacola 10-3.
Star of the Playoffs: Murray hit .357/.412/.643 in the postseason with four runs scored and seven RBIs in four games.
Texas League (Double-A)
Champion: Amarillo Sod Poodles (D-backs)
Camden Duzenack only had two hits in the championship series, but they were very well-timed. Duzenack had homered in Game 2, but it was his Game 3 blast that was the series’ biggest blow. Duzenack’s grand slam in the second inning of the deciding Game 3 gave Amarillo all the runs they needed to claim their first title since 2019.
The Sod Poodles rolled to a 9-1 Game 3 win, as Kristian Robinson also added a two-run home run. Amarillo starter Conor Grammes (4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 SO) and three relievers combined to hold Arkansas to five hits.
Arkansas had forced the Game 3 with a dramatic 6-5 win. Leo Rivas’ ninth-inning solo homer proved the game-winner. In Game 1, Deyvison De Los Santos’ RBI double in the sixth inning was the crucial hit in Amarillo’s 3-2 win.
Star of the Playoffs: Duzenack was only 2-for-13 in the championship series, but both of his hits were home runs including the grand slam.
Midwest League (High-A)
Champion: Cedar Rapids Kernels (Twins)
With an 82-50 record, Cedar Rapids’ .621 winning percentage was the best of any full-season minor league team in 2023. So fittingly, it was the Kernels who got to rush the field to celebrate the team’s first Midwest League title since 1994.
Cedar Rapids needed three games to claim the title, but it was a dramatic come-from-behind win in Game 1 that may prove one of the most lasting memories. The Kernels trailed by a run heading into the ninth inning. Carson McCusker hit a three-run home run and Emmanuel Rodriguez added a two-run shot to give Cedar Rapids a come-from-behind 10-6 win.
Great Lakes rallied to win a rain-suspended Game 2 to force a deciding Game 3. Rodriguez’s grand slam helped Cedar Rapids take a five-run lead. The Loons rallied as Dalton Rushing’s two-run home run in the ninth inning cut the lead to one, but John Stakiewicz induced a fly out to Rodriguez to ensure the 6-5 Kernels’ win and kick off the celebration.
Star of the Playoffs: Rodriguez had gone 0-for-13 in the Kernels’ first round series, but he homered three times in three games and drove in seven in the championship series.
Northwest League (High-A)
Champion: Vancouver Canadians (Blue Jays)
Vancouver and Everett were the only two teams in the Northwest League to finish with winning records, so it was fitting that the two battled through a back-and-forth championship series. The Canadians had finished the regular season with the league’s best record (77-54, .588) and they finished as champs as well, thanks to a well-rounded 10-run, 13-hit attack in the deciding Game 4, as they topped Everett 10-2.
Gabriel Martinez and Garrett Spain each had three hits and Cade Doughty added two doubles in Game 4, erasing the drama from what had been a back-and-forth series.
Adam Macko’s outstanding start (5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 5 SO) and Ryan McCarty’s 3-for-4 day helped Vancouver win Game 1 3-0. Everett evened the series with a shutout of their own, 10-0, as Victor Labrada hit a grand slam and Raul Alcantara and four Everett relievers shut down Vancouver’s lineup.
In Game 3, Gabriel Martinez’s RBI single in the sixth inning proved to be the only run as Vancouver stayed alive with a 1-0 win.
The win was Vancouver’s first Northwest League title since 2017 and its first since the league switched from short-season to a full-season High-A classification.
Star of the Playoffs: Martinez was 7-for-16 (.438/.471/.500) in the postseason.
South Atlantic League (High-A)
Champion: Greenville Drive (Red Sox)
After earning a playoff spot by finishing in first place in the Sally League’s Southern Division in the first half, Greenville was one of the worst teams in the league during the second half. The team’s .409 winning percentage in the second half dragged their overall record to 63-69, ninth-best in the 12-team league.
But come playoff time, that did not matter. The Drive got hot at the right time, winning all four of its postseason games with sweeps of Hickory and then Hudson Valley to claim the South Atlantic League crown.
The Drive relied on their offense to win Game 1 of the championship series. Kristan Campbell and Ronald Rosario homered as the Drive scored five runs in the later innings for a 7-3 win.
In the deciding Game 2, it was Greenville starter Luis Perales who took complete control. Perales allowed just one hit in six scoreless innings of work. The Drive bullpen allowed just one more hit to complete the two-hit shutout. Rosario and Campbell again provided the big hits, as they drove in the two runs of Greenville’s title-clinching 2-0 win.
The title was Greenville’s first since 2017.
Star of the Playoffs: Kristian Campbell hit .583/.643/.917 in the Drive’s four playoff games. He had a hand in five runs in the championship series while Hudson Valley was held to three runs in two games.
Champion: Modesto Nuts (Mariners)
The middle infield combination of Colt Emerson and Michael Arroyo made sure that the Mariners’ Low-A club went home with a championship ring. Emerson went 4-for-6 with 4 RBIs and Arroyo added three hits, three runs scored and a triple completed the sweep with Modesto’s 14-8 win in Game 2 against Rancho Cucamonga.
Jonny Farmelo’s three-run home run and Tatem Levins grand slam had paced the Nuts’ 9-2 win in Game 1 of the championship series.
Modesto also swept San Jose to earn its spot in the championship series. It outscored its postseason opponents 42-19 in four games.
Star of the Playoffs: Arroyo hit .563/.650/.938 in the postseason with eight runs scored and seven RBIs while Emerson hit .550/.591/.700.
Champion: Charleston RiverDogs (Rays)
Since the MiLB reorganization in 2021, the Carolina League has known just one champion. For a third consecutive season, the Charleston RiverDogs are the class of the Class A league.
The RiverDogs clinched this year’s title by scoring seven runs in the first inning of Game 2 of the championship series against Down East. A Cristopher Barete RBI triple and a Raudelis Martinez home run played big parts in the big inning. Down East tried to mount a comeback and managed to get the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but Charleston hung on for the 7-5 win.
Colton Ledbetter hit a two-run home run and drove in a third run with a bases-loaded walk as Charleston won Game 1 4-2.
The RiverDogs actually had a tougher time making it out of the first round. Myrtle Beach forced a deciding Game 3 with a 3-0 shutout win in Game 2, but the RiverDogs blew out Myrtle Beach in the deciding game. Xavier Isaac went 4-for-6 in an 18-4 series-clinching win.
Star of the Playoffs: Martinez went 4-for-10 with four walks, a triple and two home runs in Charleston’s five playoff games.
Florida State League
Champion: Jupiter Hammerheads (Marlins)
In the deciding Game 3, the big blow came without a hit. Jupiter scored two runs in the fifth inning thanks to a walk, error, hit-by-pitch, walk and ground-out. That proved to be the difference in Jupiter’s 7-4 win. The Hammerheads had jumped out to an early lead with four runs in the second, paced by Johnny Olmstead’s two-RBI double.
Clearwater had forced Game 3 thanks to the efforts of pitchers Jean Cabrera and Esibenzon Jimenez. Cabrera allowed one run in six innings and Jimenez threw three scoreless innings as Clearwater won Game 2 3-1.
Carlos Santiago’s grand slam capped off a five-run sixth-inning in Jupiter’s 8-7 win in Game 1.
Star of the Playoffs: Kemp Alderman scored five runs by going 5-for-16 with two doubles, a triple and six walks in Jupiter’s five postseason games. He hit .313/.478/.563.
Arizona Complex League
Champion: ACL Brewers (Brewers)
At 31-25 (.554 winning percentage), the ACL Brewers had the worst record of any team in the ACL playoffs. But in the playoffs, they rolled. First baseman Yeison Perez’s two home runs pushed the Brewers past the ACL Rockies in the semifinal game.
In the best-of-three championship series, second baseman Juan Baez’s two-RBI double provided all the scoring the Brewers needed to top the ACL D’backs Red 2-1 in the opener. The D’backs rallied back with a dominating 14-2 win in Game 2 thanks to two home runs by Kristian Robinson.
But in the clincher, D’backs pitcher Adonys Perez failed to get an out on back-to-back comebackers, allowing two runs to score. The first play was ruled a fielder’s choice while Perez was charged with an error on the second play. A double play then scored another run and an error by Ronny Polanco scored the fourth run of a wild four-run second inning where four runs scored without a hit driving in any of them. Baez’s sacrifice fly scored the Brewers other run in the fourth of a 5-4 ACL Brewers’ win.
Star of the Playoffs: Baez hit .417/.500/.583 with five hits, three walks, two doubles and three RBIs for the Brewers.
Florida Complex League
Champion: FCL Braves (Braves)
Rolando Gutierrez allowed one unearned run in six innings and Jose Ojeda threw three scoreless innings as the FCL Braves finished off a two-game sweep of the FCL Yankees with a 9-1 Game 2 win. Shortstop Diego Benitez tripled as part of a two-hit day for the Braves. In the opener of the championship series, Braves right fielder Douglas Glod homered off Yankees’ ace Henry Lalane as the Braves jumped out to an early lead and hung on for a 3-2 win.
The Braves had made it into the playoffs as the wild card entrant, but they then beat the FCL Mets 7-1 in the semifinal game to earn a spot in the championship. The Yankees beat the FCL Pirates 7-6 in the other semifinal game.
Star of the Playoffs: Center fielder Isaiah Drake hit .333/.538/.333 with three runs scored, two RBIs and five steals in the three playoff games.
Dominican Summer League
Champion: DSL Dodgers Bautista (Dodgers)
If anyone other than the DSL Dodgers Bautista team had won the Dominican Summer League title, it would have been a travesty of sorts. Dodgers Bautista posted the best record in the DSL this year with an almost hard-to-believe .792 winning percentage (43-11). It began the season by winning its first 20 games. It averaged 7.3 runs per game while allowing only 4.0 runs per game.
Dodgers Bautista was pushed by DSL Pirates Gold to a deciding Game 3 in the best-of-3 championship series. In Game 3, Dodgers Bautista shortstop Joendry Vargas homered and doubled in a three-hit game and righthander Jholbran Werder allowed just two hits and one walk in four scoreless innings as the Dodgers club took a 9-5 win.
Star of the Playoffs: Vargas, Dodgers Bautista’s shortstop, went 9-for-29 (.310/.355/.621) with a double, triple and two home runs in the postseason including his home run in the deciding game of the championship series.