The Arizona League wrapped up regular season play on Monday and will start it’s abbreviated play-off schedule Tuesday night. The Arizona League is considered the rookie level of the minor leagues and features teams from 14 of the 15 teams who spend Spring Training in Arizona (the Rockies don’t have a team) with four franchises having multiple teams.
Because of this, there are 18 teams in the league, of which six make the play-offs. The first three teams selected are the first half winners (the Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Indians 1) with the other three being either the second half winners (Cubs 1) or the next best overall record (Rangers in the West, Indians 2 in the Central) with two spots denoted for each division.
This season, the amount of incredible talent has been the highest I’ve ever seen in the Arizona League. Not only did the first hitter reach double digit home runs since 2012 (Joey Gallo – 18), but two players reached that plateau. In addition, four regulars overall had an OPS above .900, three of whom are on play-off rosters. On the other side, eight starting pitchers held a qualified ERA under 3.00 including two from the Cubs 1 alone.
The play-off order is decided by overall record, with the top two teams receiving a bye in the first round. The first two rounds of the play-offs are single elimination with the winner playing the following day. Once all but two teams are eliminated, the finals will be a best of three taking place from August 30th through September 1st. All games will begin at 5 PM in Arizona (8 PM ET) and will be played at the home team’s Spring Training facility.
#6 Rangers at #3 Indians 1
August 28th, 5 PM at Goodyear Ballpark
The Indians primary squad was hurt by the weather this year as they played two fewer games than Cubs 1 and one fewer than the Dodgers, leaving them tied in losses, but behind the other two squads in winning percent. Because of this, the Indians 1 will take on the Rangers to begin the 2018 post-season instead of taking a night off.
The Indians have been one of the top pitching teams in the league this year with a 3.40 team ERA, although the loss of staff ace Yeffersson Yannuzzi (as well as a few great relievers) to Mahoning Valley makes that a bit less significant. They still have a few great pitchers left behind including Ignacio Feliz (originally with Indians 2) and Raymond Burgos in the rotation as well as Aaron Pinto and Kellen Rholl in the bullpen.
Offensively, the Indians have also been near the top as they finished third in runs scored (despite missing two games) behind Indians 2 and the Diamondbacks. Their offense features the league leader in home runs, Miguel Jerez, as well as the recently added Steven Kwan.
The Rangers’ pitching staff was one of the worst teams this year with a 4.66 ERA, but they survived thanks to a weak division that didn’t have a team above .500 miss the play-offs (the Central had two miss, the East three). They were able to make up for their lack of pitching with the third best slugging percent in the AZL leading to the sixth most runs scored.
Leading the way for Texas is first baseman Maxwell Morales, who is in the running with Jerez for league MVP. He hit seven home runs this year with 15 doubles, good for a .547 slugging percent. Morales is playing in his first season in the US after two years in the Dominican Summer League where he hit 18 home runs total.
Third round draft pick Jonathan Ornelas has also had a huge offensive season for the Rangers with 10 doubles, four triples and three home runs while splitting time between third, second and short. A high school pick, Ornelas has had the luck of playing his home games in Surprise, just a few miles from his home town of Glendale, Arizona.
#5 Indians 2 at #4 Diamondbacks
August 28th, 5 PM at Salt River Fields
The DBacks won the first half in the AZL East with an 18-11 record, but fell back some and finished third in the second half behind Cubs 1 and Giants Black. Arizona had a solid base of both pitching and hitting, finishing second in runs scored behind Indians 2 and fourth in ERA.
They will be missing high impact short stop Blaze Alexander, who has been promoted to Missoula, but they still have their own MVP candidate in first baseman David Garza. Garza was a 38th round pick this year and is already 23, but had a very impressive line of .307/.416/.488. While this team doesn’t have the home run power of any of the other three teams playing today, they did have three players with at least 10 doubles. Unforunately, in addition to Alexander, Kristian Robinson has also been promoted to Missoula, leaving only Garza.
For the Indians 2, it has been all about offense and power in particular. In addition to a poor ERA of 4.32 that surpasses only the Rangers among play-off contenders, they have allowed 50 unearned runs. Despite this, they kept ahead of the White Sox and Cubs 2 in the AZL Central by leading the league in runs scored, home runs, average, on base percent and slugging percent while coming in third in steals. Given the make-up of both teams, this one could be a barn-burner.
Leading the way for Indians 2 offensively is the trio of Billy Wilson (10 HR, 14 SB), Raynel Delgado (.409 OBP, 10 2B, 10 SB) and Brayan Rocchio (10 2B, 14 SB, .343 AVG). Beyond them, however, Johnathan Englemann and Yainer Diaz are each slugging above .500 while first round pick Bo Naylor has been crushing the ball since his first game, even if his stats don’t show it.
Following these two games, the team with the worst record of the two winners will go on to face the #1 seeded Cubs 1 in Mesa (Sloan Park) Wednesday night at 5 PM. The team with the better record will face the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona.
The winners of these two games will face off in the finals playing at the top seeded team’s park on Thursday night at 5 PM, the under-dogs park on Friday and back at the favorite’s field on Saturday night should the series be tied.