The Columbus Clippers may have finished the regular season with an extra-innings loss on Monday, but they also clinched their division title and ended with a tie for the best record in the International League, setting them up for their second consecutive playoff run under the helm of manager Chris Tremie.
The Cleveland Indians’ Triple-A affiliate finished with an 83-61 record, matched with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Indianapolis Indians. The Clippers banished the Triple-A Indians to a Wild Card spot, thanks to an 11-10 head-to-head record against their Western Division rivals.
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Columbus will begin their first playoff series on Wednesday, taking on the Norfolk Tides behind left-hander Ryan Merritt. Merritt is 2-0 since being called up to the Clippers, sporting a 4.20 ERA over 30 innings and five games. He’s struck out just 16 batters, but has only walked six and given up one home run, so he should be able to provide a quality start for Columbus.
The Tribe’s Triple-A team has certainly been impressive this season, with the Clippers tied with the Durham Bulls for the third-highest team OPS in the league, at .715. They also had the third-most home runs, with 112, and the fourth-best walk total, at 486 for the season.
To be fair, the Clippers had a bit of an advantage over many of their counterparts. Big-leaguers Lonnie Chisenhall and Jose Ramirez crushed the ball during their month and a half in the minors, and Francisco Lindor and Giovanny Urshela did similar damage to opposing pitchers before their own major league debuts. With all four of those players currently regular players with Cleveland, it’s no surprise that the Clippers’ offense was one of the best in the International League.
Of course, there were plenty of minor leaguers and prospects who were made just as big of an impact on the season. Outfielder Tyler Holt batters .302/386/.370, swiping 25 bases in the process. Jerry Sands, who has spent considerable time with the major league club as well, had a .948 OPS with Columbus. Veteran utility man Michael Martinez played so well that he got a September call-up.
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But perhaps most notable was Jesus Aguilar, who was recently selected to the postseason International League All-Star team. The last time someone in the Indians’ organization won the award was in 2012, when Cord Phelps took home the honor. While that particular achievement recognized his offensive abilities, he isn’t solely a hitter anymore. Aguilar was also named in Baseball America’s 2015 Triple-A Best Tools list, which recognized him as the best defensive first baseman in the International League. Aguilar, who has had several chances to earn a roster spot with Cleveland, hasn’t been able to stick at the major league level yet. However, this has been one of his most consistent seasons, so that could be a good sign.
The Clippers have a long road ahead of them to the International League title, but with their current lineup, it’s absolutely possible for them to win. On Tuesday, they added Double-A pitchers Michael Clevinger, Jeff Johnson and Nick Maronde, as well as infielder Ronny Rodriguez. The Columbus roster is a bit depleted as their major-league club works to salvage their season using September call-ups, but there is still plenty of talent left in the system. Regardless of whether they win the championship or not, so much minor league success is certainly a good sign for the Indians’ organization.