The Governor’s Cup is ready to be hoisted. The Durham Bulls look to defend their crown against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
Do not adjust your televisions. Yes, this is the same exact International League championship series as last year pitting the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays systems against each other. In fact, it’s the last two IL champions facing each other, with the RailRiders defeating the Gwinnett Braves for the title in 2016.
Despite the Yankees and Rays being amongst the best farm systems in baseball, for the most part, these two clubs are depleted from some of the star prospects that started (or were expected to start) the season there. Brent Honeywell was injured before we even found out where he would start, while on the Yankees side Clint Frazier has dealt with concussion symptoms all season long. Rays’ Minor League Ball favorites Willy Adames and Jake Bauers are both big-leaguers, while some familiar faces for the Yankees, like Tyler Austin and Billy McKinney, found new homes at the trade deadline.
That said, there is still plenty to watch. Let’s take a look at three from each team to keep an eye on.
How much of a “prospect” McBroom actually still is is a question in itself, but so is his is place as a big-leaguer. McBroom strikes out quite a bit and this season he’s doing it at an all-time high. Seemingly allergic to walks, somehow, McBroom is making better contact than he has in the past, batting over .300 for the first time since 2015. His power has seemingly diminished, so where he fits in as a first baseman is very curious, which is why I suppose he’s been playing outfield this season.
Adams looked sharp in relief in the first round, coming in and firing a perfect one-inning save while striking out two. We know the deal with Adams by now. The closer turned starter has nice stuff, but inconsistencies in command. He regressed from his breakout 2017, but the 24-year-old righty has allowed just one run while striking out seven and walking two since moving back to the bullpen on August 26. He had his taste of the bigs in 2018, and for those of us who always saw him as a quality reliever, we’ll likely get to see him again after the playoffs conclude.
The 23-year-old righty out of Boston College is one of the biggest breakouts in the minors this year. From basic obscurity to a Yankees minor league cult favorite, King has jumped from the Florida State League to the International League without missing a step at any stop. He has modest stuff, and could benefit from missing bats a bit more, but he commands the zone and doesn’t walk many. He’s allowed just 14 earned runs since July and pitched the series clincher against Lehigh Valley.
Others on the radar: Justus Sheffield (obviously; he’s been moved to the bullpen and is completing his audition for later this September); Mike Ford.
There is some of the most exciting young pitching prospects in the Rays system. Some are injured waiting for 2019, others are down lower on the farm. While there are some pitching prospects on the Bulls who have worn out their welcome in the rankings — Andrew Moore and Chih-Wei Hu, for example — Poche is an intriguing one.
The 24-year-old left-hander reliever came to the Rays from the Diamondbacks in May. He was Arizona’s 14th-round MLB Draft pick in 2016 and has consistently kept runners from scoring no matter which level or team he played for. He’s allowed four runs since June primarily behind a fastball-slider combo that definitely gets the job done. Poche does have a worrisome fly ball rate (over 50 percent) but he strikes people out in bunches, doesn’t allow many hits.
No matter what level you’re on in the Rays system, you’re likely watching a Lowe. Brandon Lowe and his big left-handed bat found his way to the big leagues. Josh Lowe is in Charlotte, and his older brother, Nathaniel, is in Durham.
Nathaniel climbed three levels this season, his left-handed swing showing the ability to make contact, whether it’s base hits, doubles into the gap, or displaying his over-the-fence pop. He’s been a much better hitter against righties throughout his career, but his narrowed the difference between lefties, showing he may just be capable of handling full-time MLB duties soon.
McCarthy came into the season with a lot of buzz, but an injury-plagued campaign never showed us what he could do at the minor’s highest level. He has a nice left-handed bat, known for contact, although his power is much more to the gaps than out of the park. With an advanced feel for the strike zone, it’s much wiser to pass judgement on his Double-A 2017 season than 2018, but he is certainly a bat to watch now that he’s healthy. McCarthy went 4-for-15 against Toledo with a home run, so he’s starting to get back to himself.
Others to watch: Austin Meadows.