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Minor league playoffs benefit the Yankees and their prospects

Somerset and Hudson Valley are giving players the chance to perform under pressure while the organization is watching.

MiLB: JUL 16 FCL Toronto Blue Jays at FCL New York Yankees
Brock Selvidge
Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jasson Domínguez spent the first half of last season in Low-A Tampa before a promotion to Hudson Valley. It made sense that he would finish the season there, considering he was in his first full year of Minor League Baseball at just 19. Instead, the Yankees chose to send Domínguez to Double-A Somerset on September 13th, as they were approaching the playoffs. The Martian’s response? A slash line of .450/.560/.950 in two playoff series, including a trio of homers and 10 RBI.

Call this a mutually beneficial decision. The Yankees didn’t merely get Domínguez some extra at-bats; they got to see him play in games that mattered with something on the line. Likewise, Domínguez got to perform under brighter lights against a higher level of competition and hoist a trophy at the end of it (the Eastern League title). There’s no telling how that experience factored into his rise to the big leagues in 2023, but it certainly did nothing to hinder his progress.

With Somerset heading back to the playoffs this week, kicking off in Binghamton against the Rumble Ponies on Tuesday night, and Hudson Valley advancing to the South Atlantic League Championship Series after defeating the Jersey Shore BlueClaws, the Yankees have two affiliates giving prospects a chance to have an experience like Domínguez did in 2022. Although Minor League Baseball these days is primarily about individual development and winning seems to take a back seat, competition cannot be divided from the game, and it can be assumed that any organization would greatly prefer its players to develop in successful environments. Winning can breed winning, and winning in the playoffs often means performing under pressure.

Take for example Hudson Valley’s series-clinching win on Friday night. Brock Selvidge, who recently turned 21 and has taken a great step forward this year as a prospect, took the mound for the Renegades in an elimination game rather than playing out the string with the Tampa Tarpons, where he pitched 14 times in 2023. When you see Selvidge pitch in person, he makes an impression with his competitive fire, and that intensity was put to good use against the BlueClaws.

The 2021 third-round pick gave Hudson Valley all they could ask for, surrendering only 2 runs and striking out 7 in 6.2 innings on 85 pitches. Selvidge succeeded in a high-stakes environment, which can only help a young pitcher’s confidence, and the Yankees have to feel good seeing one of their best pitching prospects shine in those circumstances.

The playoffs offer an opportunity for players who aren’t well-known prospects to make an impression as well. Perhaps the biggest moment in Friday night’s game came when another former Tarpon made his High-A debut in about as tight a spot as he could find himself.

Geoffrey Gilbert had made 38 appearances for Tampa before being called up with a handful of others to reinforce Hudson Valley at the completion of the Low-A season. The 22-year-old lefty entered Friday’s game with the bases loaded, one out, and the Renegades clinging to a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth. Hudson Valley manager Sergio Santos had elected to intentionally walk a batter to load the bases, meaning a walk or hit batter would tie the game. Gilbert posted a 5.1 BB/9 in Tampa, meaning the intentional walk was a real gamble, but there was a lefty at the plate in a matchup that could be favorable for a pitcher who also averaged over a strikeout per inning.

Not only did Gilbert proceed to punch out the next two batters, but he worked a perfect inning in the ninth to finish off the game and the series. The Clemson product pounded the strike zone, locating his fastball, breaking ball, and change, and he looked locked in from the first pitch. A performance like that leaves a mark on the player, and it has to mean something to the organization as well.

Who will be next to rise to the occasion? Spencer Jones has an opportunity to do what Domínguez did last year as a top prospect getting his first taste of Double-A. Zach Messinger is pitching in the Somerset rotation after a strong season in Hudson Valley that was overshadowed by starters like Drew Thorpe and Chase Hampton, neither of whom will be pitching again this season. Ben Rice could finish off his otherworldly offensive season on a bigger stage, while Agustin Ramirez hopes to leave no doubt in the minds of the front office that he belongs on the 40-man roster this offseason. Prospects like Trey Sweeney and T.J. Rumfield will also get a chance to make up for some lost time and end 2023 on a high note.

For Hudson Valley, the Yankees would love to see Jared Serna and Anthony Hall come through in big moments, or Jesus Rodriguez continue to demonstrate that his bat will not slow down as the competition level increases. They’ll get to see a pitching staff made entirely of pitchers who spent much of the year in Low-A go after the Greenville Drive—a Boston affiliate and a top-three offense in the league—and try to hold them down like they did Jersey Shore. This could be a time for pitchers like Yorlin Calderon, Cam Schlittler, Osiel Rodriguez, Jackson Fristoe, or Luis Velasquez to have a moment like Gilbert did and raise their prospect profiles heading into 2024.

Regardless of the outcome, the Yankees and their minor league prospects benefit from the experience of meaningful games in September, but having Somerset in the Eastern League championship series a week from now after seeing Hudson Valley pop some corks this week would be the way they’d all like it to go. Everyone wins.