Baseball America released its minor league All-Star teams across all minor league levels on Monday and four prospects from the Cleveland Indians farm system claimed spots on the annual rosters.
The biggest winner was 19-year-old right-hander Triston McKenzie, who was not only named as one of the five starting pitchers selected to the roster, but was announced as the Baseball America Short-Season Pitcher of the Year for his 4-3 record in nine starts while with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
A three-run seventh inning proved to be the difference in the Mills Cup Championship Series on Wednesday as the Myrtle Beach Pelicans came back to defeat the Lynchburg Hillcats by a 5-3 final.
The win gave the Pelicans a 3-1 series win and their second consecutive Carolina League championship as they celebrated on the Hillcats’ home turf, Calvin Falwell Field at City Stadium in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Just two batters into the bottom of the first, the home team held the early lead. It would not last for long as the Hillcats twice on the night surrendered a slight one-run lead.
Against Pelicans starter Preston Morrison in the first, Tyler Krieger singled and scored on a double to center by Francisco Mejia. They would add a single by Yu-Cheng Chang and Anthony Santander was hit by a pitch, but Bobby Bradley went down swinging before a double play grounder from Dorssys Paulino.
The High-A Lynchburg Hillcats had clinched a guaranteed playoff berth by winning the first-half Northern Division title in the Carolina League.
The team fought valiantly to win the Northern Division second half title. That victory would insure all three divisional series games be played at Calvin Falwell Field in Lynchburg.
Alas, the Hillcats finished the second half with the identical 39-31 record of Potomac. With Potomac holding the tiebreaker – head-to-head wins – this meant the first game of the Northern Division Championship would take place at Pfitzner Stadium in Potomac.
Lynchburg’s bats were silenced again on Tuesday night as the Hillcats were blanked 7-0 by the visiting Myrtle Beach Pelicans in Game 3 of the best-of-five Mills Cup Championship.
Myrtle Beach used a pair of doubles from its first three batters to take an early 1-0 lead off of Lynchburg lefty Luis Lugo. Charcer Burks doubled to right and after a strikeout from Donnie Dewees, David Bote doubled to center to put the Pelicans on the board. He was erased at third by catcher Francisco Mejia to defuse the rally, and Cubs top prospect Eloy Jimenez grounded to short to end the inning.
A five-run fifth inning by the Pelicans was too much for the Lynchburg Hillcats to overcome as Myrtle Beach evened up the Mills Cup Championship Series with an 8-3 win on Sunday night.
Three straight Hillcats hits to start the game put the club in position for an early lead against Pelicans starter Jeremy Null. Tyler Krieger, Francisco Mejia, and Anthony Santander each reached on grounders before Bobby Bradley grounded into a double play. Krieger scored to give Lynchburg a 1-0 lead, but the twin killing derailed the early threat.
Myrtle Beach tied it up in the home half of the first against Lynchburg’s Brock Hartson. Charcer Burks walked to start the frame and advanced to second on a passed ball by Mejia. Donnie Dewees sacrificed him to third and after a walk by David Bote, freshly called up 19-year-old prospect Eloy Jimenez grounded to third to tie the game on the out at first.
With two on and nobody out in the top of the 12th inning, an error by Myrtle Beach allowed the go-ahead run to score for Lynchburg and the Hillcats held on in the bottom half of the frame to claim a 4-3 victory in the Mills Cup Championship Series opener on Saturday night.
The Hillcats never trailed, but let the Pelicans back into the game several times throughout the night before clinching the contest for good in extras
Lynchburg took a 1-0 lead in the second against Myrtle Beach starter Erick Leal. Three straight singles from Yu-Cheng Chang, Connor Marabell, and Yonathan Mendoza pushed Chang across with the first run of the game. Those names would all come up big much later on in the night.
More than five innings of shutout baseball from starter Sean Brady and a two-run home run from Yu-Cheng Chang late pushed Lynchburg past Potomac, 3-1, to win the Carolina League’s Northern Division Championship Series.
The Hillcats advance to the Mills Cup Championship and will face the Myrtle Beach Pelicans on Saturday. The Pelicans knocked off the Salem Red Sox late on Friday night, 2-1, to clinch their third consecutive Southern Division Championship Series victory.
Staring down elimination from the Carolina League playoffs, Lynchburg needed extra innings to extend its season at least one more day as Bobby Bradley’s 14th inning single to right with the bases loaded and two down gave the Hillcats a 6-5 walk-off victory in a dramatic postseason win over the Potomac Nationals.
P-Nats reliever Neil Holland was on for his second inning of work to start the 14th when Yonathan Mendoza singled to left to start the inning. Taylor Murphy dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move the runner up before Tyler Krieger grounded sharply off of Holland, who lost his glove but was able to recover the ball in time to throw Krieger out at first for the second out. With the winning run standing at third base, the Nationals elected to intentionally walk both Francisco Mejia and Anthony Santander, setting up force plays around the diamond, but bringing up the Carolina League MVP Bradley. As his award might suggest of his abilities, he came through with the clutch liner into right field, scoring Mendoza with the winning run.
Rains stopped the start of Game 1 of the Carolina League Northern Division Championship Series on Wednesday and the Potomac pitching staff stopped the Lynchburg offense as the Nationals defeated the Hillcats, 7-0, in the rain-shortened opener of the best-of-three series.
A delay of one hour and 13 minutes slowed the start of the Carolina League playoffs and both offenses were quiet through the first two innings, with the Hillcats getting a leadoff single from Tyler Krieger to start the night before he was erased on a double play ball by P-Nats starter Boone Whiting. Lynchburg would get just one more hit the rest of the night, a leadoff single from Connor Marabell to start the third.
It’s playoff time in the minor leagues and three Indians affiliates will begin their chases for postseason crowns on Wednesday night.
The Triple-A Columbus Clippers, Double-A Akron RubberDucks, and High-A Lynchburg Hillcats all punched tickets in their respective leagues behind solid 2016 seasons. The Clippers won the International League’s West Division with an eleven-game lead at year’s end. The RubberDucks clinched a playoff berth on Sunday and won the Western Division title outright on Monday. The Hillcats won the Carolina League Northern Division first-half crown and tied the Potomac Nationals for the division’s second-half title with a 39-31 finish.
For most players, a repeat assignment to a minor league level is not a sign of team commitment or individual progress. For High-A Hillcats pitcher Luis Lugo, this is not the case.
The 6’5”, 200 lb. left-hander out of Barquismento, Venezuela, turned 22 just before the season began. This leaves him on the younger side of the ledger for players in the High-A Carolina League and with his experience, he has surpassed his performance of last season.
“My work ethic has been a lot better this year,” said Lugo about where he has made the most strides in improving his overall game. “I’ve been focusing on mechanics and keeping my body in shape to be able to compete and be successful. My delivery has gotten better, and working with Rigo Beltran [the Hillcats pitching coach], has been a foundation for me to figure out what I need to work on and then apply in the game.”
Any chance that Bradley Zimmer breaks camp with the Cleveland Indians at the end of spring training in 2017 may come down to how well he performs in Arizona this fall.
Zimmer, the Indians’ top prospect in the farm system, was one of eight minor leaguers named by Cleveland to participate in the annual Arizona Fall League as members of the Mesa Solar Sox. Joining Zimmer in the Mesa outfield will be Double-A Akron’s Greg Allen. High-A Lynchburg’s Yu-Cheng Chang will be on the roster at short. Three relievers – Trevor Frank (Lynchburg), Cameron Hill (Akron), and David Speer (Akron) – will get additional work in the Solar Sox bullpen, while right-handed starter Michael Peoples (Akron) will also be on the roster.
Akron’s Eric Haase is also on the club as one of the taxi squad members, activated just twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays.