O's Holliday, Dodgers' Busch meet in Triple-A National Championship

October 1st, 2023

LAS VEGAS -- At Triple-A, the only constant is change. With hundreds of transactions a season, the roster can be a revolving door.

But when a club is a part of one of the best farm systems in baseball, it’s a lot of top prospects replacing top prospects.

As affiliates of the Orioles and Dodgers, respectively, Norfolk and Oklahoma City took advantage of the solid pipelines to clinch their respective leagues. On Saturday, the Tides and Dodgers will meet in the Triple-A National Championship game at 10 p.m. ET at Las Vegas Ballpark, airing on MLB Network and streaming on MLB.com.

“It's been a great group of guys all year,” said Oklahoma City manager Travis Barbary. “Had a lot of guys come through our clubhouse this year that aren't with us anymore. And [winning the Pacific Coast League title] meant a lot to this team.”

The Orioles and Dodgers entered the season as the top two farm systems in baseball, with Baltimore keeping its crown for the midseason re-rank. And while Los Angeles graduated a lot of talent to the bigs, the farm system still remains in the Top 10 at No. 6.

Since Opening Day, Norfolk has been considered one of the top rosters in the Minors, given the constant churn of players on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list. The Tides started the year with then-No. 7 overall prospect Grayson Rodriguez, and now they’re led by baseball’s top phenom, Jackson Holliday.

After being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 Draft, Holliday has reached all four full-season levels in 2023. A finalist for the Hitting Prospect of the Year, the 19-year-old features a 70-grade hit tool, 60-grade speed and grades out overall at 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. A left-handed batter, Holliday slashed .323/.442/.499 with 12 homers, 75 RBIs and 24 stolen bases during the regular season.

“Guys talk about him in the clubhouse, and I think everyone is impressed by how fast he's risen to Triple-A, given that he was in high school just over a year ago,” Barbary said. “It would be fun to see him and what he's capable of.”

Since his promotion to Triple-A on Sept. 1, Holliday bats leadoff for a lineup that boasts Colton Cowser (MLB No. 14), Coby Mayo (MLB No. 27) and Joey Ortiz (MLB No. 50). Seven of the Orioles’ top 11 prospects (and eight of the Top 30) are on the Tides' roster.

“It's been an incredible season,” Norfolk manager Buck Britton said after sealing the International League title. “But to have our young prospects deliver us the championship here at the end is special.”

Several Top 100 prospects have called Oklahoma City home as well, including Bobby Miller and Ryan Pepiot. Currently, Michael Busch (No. 44) and Gavin Stone (No. 79) are on the Triple-A roster after spending time in the Senior Circuit. In total, seven of the Top 30 Dodgers prospects – and six of the top 12 – are currently on the Oklahoma City roster.

Barbary was signed by the Dodgers in 1994 as a player, and has spent most of the past 29 years a part of the organization, taking over as the Oklahoma City manager in 2019.

“The scouts do a tremendous job of getting the right people in the organization as far as the talent and the makeup of the player,” said the Triple-A skipper. “And the player development group does a great job of taking the skill sets that the players have and developing them to help them get the most out of their potential.

“I just felt like overall as an organization, players are allowed to be themselves. I think the players appreciate that, and they're able to go out, feel relaxed each day and know that with the resources that we have, we're going to help them develop to the best of their potential.”

Oklahoma City clinched the first half of the Pacific Coast League title in June with a 50-23 record and went on to secure the best winning percentage in Triple-A by going 90-58 (.608 overall). The Dodgers led the pitcher-friendly circuit with a team 4.58 ERA, 1,394 strikeouts and a 1.42 WHIP. Oklahoma City swept Round Rock in two games to claim the PCL championship. They’ll rely on a variety of arms with a bullpen game in the National Championship.

Norfolk won the first-half title and finished with the second-best record at Triple-A, going 90-59 (.604) for the most wins in franchise history. The Tides yielded the fewest runs in the International League at 724 and tied for second in the Minors with a +154 run differential.

After forcing and then winning a decisive Game 3 in the International League Finals against the perennial IL champs Durham, Norfolk will give the ball to Justin Armbruester. The Orioles’ No. 19 prospect went 6-6 with a 3.56 ERA, 109 strikeouts and 51 walks in 121 1/3 frames across Double-A and Triple-A this season. He will be called back up the Tides prior to Saturday’s contest.

The championship will also feature Jen Pawol, the first woman to umpire a Triple-A game in 34 years, behind the plate. As the final Minor League game on the calendar, baseball’s future will be on display for a national audience.

“I know the guys are excited to be on the big stage,” said Barbary. “A lot of guys have been in the big leagues before, but some of these guys are still trying to get there. So being able to be on a network like [MLB Network] for a championship game probably is a pretty big deal for some of those guys.”