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Weekly Farm Recap: Memphis Wins it All, Peoria Falls to Bowling Green

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Wrapping up the seasons of the Cardinals’ minor league affiliates.

Memphis won back-to-back Pacific Coast League titles en route to the Triple-A National Championship.
(Kelsie Heneghan/MiLB.com)

Welcome to the final edition of this year’s weekly farm recap. It’s been a fun year, full of breakout prospect performances and remarkable playoff pushes. Two affiliates played in the championship series of their league and fell short. One team won it all. The names that filled the top of this list early in the season slowly disappeared, heading to St. Louis to contribute to a sensational second half.

This series was never meant to be a deep dive into prospect analysis, but instead a somewhat arbitrary ranking of performance. Good weeks don’t really matter, in the grand scheme of things. Seven days is an incredibly small sample size. Ultimately, these recaps were supposed to be fun. Maybe introduce you to a prospect you’ve never heard of; someone who doesn’t typically post big numbers, but went off over a seven-game span. I would be lying if I said they didn’t teach me quite a bit as I was writing them. I’ve had a lot of fun writing these entries this season, and I hope you’ve had fun reading them. Either way, thanks for sharing your Sunday mornings with me.

There are only two games to cover in this edition, so it will be very, very short. Check out A.E. Schafer’s newest entry in the System Sundays series. Also, make sure to check out the VEB Minor League Awards—I’ve linked them here before, but it’s fitting in this final post.

Memphis Redbirds (83-57)

American Conference Championship: (3-1)

PCL Championship: (3-1)

Triple-A Championship: W, 14-4

Greg Ratliff did an excellent job of reviewing the Triple-A Championship game—and the season as a whole—in his recent addition to the Happenings Down South series, so I won’t create any redundancies by going over the game here as well. All I will say is that there was a ton of offense. It was pure dominance from the Redbird lineup. Our old friend Alex Mejia was the star with a 5-for-5 night. Putting up 14 runs in a single-game playoff for the Triple-A crown was the perfect cap to a remarkable run by this team, especially given the roster turnover they experienced. Congrats to Memphis.

Peoria Chiefs (76-63)

Division Quarterfinal: (2-0)

Division Championship: (2-0)

League Championship: (1-3)

When we left off last week, Peoria was down 1-2 in the league championship series, looking to even the series with a win. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. It would be nice to say it was a close one all the way through, but it wasn’t; Bowling Green jumped out with an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, then piled on five more runs in the bottom of the second. The final score was 7-2, with the Hot Rods taking home the Midwest League championship.

Still, it was a fantastic season for Peoria. Finishing second in the league is nothing to frown about, particularly given how they steamrolled their divisional competition in the previous two series. Four of nine hitters in the Chiefs’ final lineup were drafted earlier this summer.

Pitcher of the Game

Ben Yokley (RHP): 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K

Yokley was featured here last week as well, the Air Force Academy product who, before this season, hadn’t pitched professionally since 2015. He put on quite a show in the Midwest League playoffs. Yokley’s appearance in last Sunday’s game was as the final pitcher of the contest, where he was electric, striking out five and allowing just one baserunner over three innings. Yokley’s final postseason line goes like this:

3 G, 6.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 10 K

He was lights-out. Yokely’s regular season line isn’t as impressive, pitching to a 3.86 ERA and 4.05 FIP over 21 relief innings for the Chiefs. His strikeouts were way down and he was walking over five batters per nine innings. It seems Yokley made some sort of change before the start of the postseason, because he was a completely different pitcher. It’s good that Yokley ended the year on such a high note, because the now-26-year-old righty has a long climb ahead of him.

Players of the Game

Dennis Ortega (C): 2-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI, 0 BB, 0 K

Ortega collected two hits on the night. His double in the sixth inning drove in Peoria’s only two runs of the contest. Ortega is somewhat of a postseason vet at this point in his young career, getting at-bats in the playoffs over the last three seasons. He went 6-for-19 with two walks and two strikeouts in 2018’s postseason run, with his sixth-inning double coming as his lone extra-base hit.

Ortega got a 24-PA taste of the Midwest League after a late promotion from State College in 2017, but this was his first full season for Peoria. He did pretty well, especially for a catcher, with 99 wRC+ over his 270 PA. He hit six home runs for the Chiefs, something he hadn’t done in his entire professional career before 2018. I don’t mean that he had never hit six home runs, I mean that he had never hit one over the wall at all. Ortega also did a nice job of limiting Ks, striking out under 20% of the time. On the glove side, he caught 39% of runners attempting to steal.

Yariel Gonzalez (1B): 2-for-4, 1 R, 0 BB, 1 K

Gonzalez did in this game what he’d done for the entirety of the 2018 postseason: get consistent hits. He laced a pair of singles on the night, moving into scoring position both times. He scored in the sixth, one of Peoria’s two runs on the night. Gonzalez finished 11-for-32 with one walk and six strikeouts in the Chiefs’ postseason run. Only one of his hits was for extra bases—a double—but Gonzalez showed excellent contact skills in some very high leverage situations. The 24-year-old first baseman had a great first year for Peoria, finishing with a .311/.357/.458 line and eclipsing his previous home run total by nine. One would expect Gonzalez to start next season at Palm Beach at the least.

Nolan Gorman (3B): 1-for-3, 2B, 0 BB, 0 K

Gorman had a throwing error in the bottom of the second that contributed to the Hot Rods’ big inning. He made up for it pretty quickly, smacking a double into left field. The hit came with one out in the top of the third, setting up a potential run scoring situation for the Chiefs, but no one could capitalize.

Gorman had a pretty quiet postseason. He went 3-for-30 with one walk and a whopping 16 strikeouts. Important to remember, though, is that Gorman is 18 years old and had just made his Peoria debut on August 8. His regular season stint with Peoria was a bit of a struggle, striking out over 36% of the time and posting 97 wRC+ in 107 PA, but it’s impressive that he’s playing at this level at all. Elehuris Montero just lit up Peoria in his age 19/20 season before earning the call-up to Palm Beach and he has us all clamoring; Gorman won’t turn 19 until next May. His 183 wRC+ in 167 PA for Johnson City, combined with 17 total home runs in his first taste of professional ball, are very promising.