Free MiLB.TV for all: 10 series to watch
It’s been a long and enjoyable return to play. Minor League fans deserve one final treat.
MiLB.TV will be free for the rest of the 2021 regular season and playoffs as part of Fan Appreciation, beginning Tuesday.
Now, anyone can watch the game’s top prospects make one final push for glory in the postseason (set to begin at Double-A, High-A and Low-A a week from now) or attempt to end on a high before the campaign ends. The Triple-A Final Stretch -- the new end-of-season format that runs from Sept. 21 to Oct. 3 -- is also included for free viewing.
Consider this a handy viewing guide before the curtain closes on the 2021 Minor League Baseball season:
Iowa Cubs (Cubs) vs. Omaha Storm Chasers (Royals)
Sept. 14-19/Sept. 29-Oct. 3
Four Top 100 prospects will be on display at Werner Park in the final week of the regular season and at Principal Park in the second week of the Triple-A Final Stretch. The Storm Chasers claim three of them in No. 3 Bobby Witt Jr., No. 67 Nick Pratto and No. 69 MJ Melendez. Witt and Melendez, in particular, have milestones to chase. The former has 33 homers and 24 steals on the season, leaving him six shy of joining the 30-30 club, which no Minor Leaguers have reached in 2021. The latter leads all of the Minors with 37 homers and is trying to hold off Marlins prospect Griffin Conine (36) in the category. Notably, stats from the Triple-A Final Stretch will count toward the regular season, so Witt and Melendez will still get chances to pad their numbers in the weeks to follow as well. Over on the Iowa side, the Cubs just added No. 14 overall prospect Brennen Davis. The 21-year-old outfielder gave Chicago fans a taste of his potential when he clubbed two homers during the All-Star Futures Game in July -- he won MVP for that effort -- and he grades out as above average to plus for all five tools.
Durham Bulls (Rays) @ Norfolk Tides (Orioles)
Sept. 29-Oct. 3
You’ll have to wait for the final week of the Triple-A Final Stretch for this one, but it’ll be worth it. Orioles fans and prospect heads everywhere will want to tune in to get one last glimpse of top overall talent Adley Rutschman in his concluding turn with the Tides, at least for 2021. The switch-hitting catcher has had little issue with adjusting to the Minors’ highest level with a .323/.415/.495 line in his first 28 games. But he’ll face pretty stiff competition in Durham, led by No. 20 overall prospect Shane Baz. The 22-year-old right-hander has shoved everywhere in 2021, but especially in Triple-A, where he owns a 1.76 ERA with 64 strikeouts in 10 starts (46 innings). Add in No. 22 overall prospect Vidal Bruján and No. 75 Josh Lowe -- both back with Durham after brief stints with Tampa Bay -- and this Final Stretch is officially loaded.
Toledo Mud Hens (Tigers) @ Louisville Bats (Reds)
Detroit fans have likely been tuning in to MiLB.TV for some time, given the organization’s rebuilding efforts, and a lot of that time of late has been dedicated to Toledo. The Mud Hens boast Top 10 overall prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, and both have provided plenty of thump since joining the Triple-A roster on Aug. 16. The pair could get into a high-octane matchup against top Reds prospect Hunter Greene in the first week of the Final Stretch. The 22-year-old right-hander routinely throws triple-digits with his heater and features a promising slider and changeup in an arsenal that racks up K’s everywhere. It won’t just be the sluggers worth watching in Louisville.
Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals) @ Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Marlins)
St. Louis’ Triple-A affiliate have two Top 100 prospects in Nolan Gorman and Matthew Liberatore, and both appear to be ending their seasons on impressive notes. Gorman has a .912 OPS with eight homers in 36 games since the start of August, while Liberatore has thrown a quality start in five of his last six outings. In the first week of the Triple-A Final Stretch, they’ll face a Jacksonville club filled with Marlins Minor Leaguers out to prove they deserve roles in the future of the rebuilding franchise. It’s also possible notable Double-A prospects like Max Meyer and JJ Bleday make the jump to get in more work following the conclusion of the Pensacola season.
Arkansas Travelers (Mariners) @ Wichita Wind Surge (Twins)
Heading into this week, there are few hotter hitters anywhere than No. 2 overall prospect Julio Rodríguez. The top Seattle talent is hitting .416/.504/.604 with four homers in 26 games since returning from the Olympics, where he helped the Dominican Republic win bronze. The Travs also feature George Kirby, the No. 34 overall prospect who has hit triple-digits himself recently and throws his whole four-pitch mix with elite control. He has pitched Saturdays for Arkansas of late and will likely do so again this week. On the Wichita side, keep an eye out for Jordan Balazovic’s next start after he tossed six no-hit innings last Friday. Both clubs are firmly in the Double-A Central playoff picture, so lots will be on the line at the new Riverfront Stadium.
Reading Fightin Phils (Phillies) @ Binghamton Rumble Ponies (Mets)
Pay attention to the dirt here. No. 47 overall prospect Brett Baty and No. 55 Ronny Mauricio opened the season sharing the same infield at High-A Brooklyn, and following the latter’s promotion last week, they’ll end it together as well. Both have plus power potential and are capable of putting on impressive slugging displays on a nightly basis. On the other side, Philadelphia’s Double-A club features newly minted Top 100 prospect Bryson Stott, owner of a .371 average and 1.022 OPS in 30 games since Aug. 1.
Frisco RoughRiders (Rangers) @ Amarillo Sod Poodles (D-backs)
At 61-51 entering the final week of the regular season, Frisco is very much in competition with Wichita and Arkansas for one of the two Double-A Central postseason spots. Luckily, it has some big boppers in Justin Foscue, Sam Huff and Josh H. Smith -- the prospects ranked fourth through sixth in a burgeoning Texas system. Furthermore, No. 3 Cole Winn is slated to take the ball Thursday in an attempt to build on his 2.40 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 75 Double-A innings. Amarillo will hope to play spoiler, led by Geraldo Perdomo who is 15-for-33 (.455) during an ongoing eight-game hitting streak.
Greensboro Grasshoppers (Pirates) vs. Hudson Valley Renegades (Yankees)
Greensboro owns a three-game lead over Hudson Valley for the final spot in the High-A East playoffs, so every matchup between the two sides this week will have major implications. There are some pretty good prospects involved too. Top Yankees prospect Anthony Volpe hasn’t slowed down a lick since joining High-A, where he is hitting .295/.392/.600 in 49 games. With 25 homers and 32 steals on the season, he too has an outside shot at a 30-30 campaign, though it’ll take a massive final week to reach that mark. Top 100 prospects Quinn Priester, Nick Gonzales and Liover Peguero dot the Greensboro roster and give the Grasshoppers plenty of pep of their own. Priester, who has fanned 38 in 28 innings over his last five starts, is scheduled to start Wednesday.
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Brewers) @ Great Lakes Loons (Dodgers)
Dodgers and Brewers fans both know a little about a playoff hunt right about now. There will be similar vibes in this final series of the regular season, though they’ll be felt primarily on the Great Lakes side. The Loons sit one game behind Cedar Rapids for the second High-A Central playoff spot. They also just happen to have a hot bat in No. 5 Dodgers prospect Andy Pages, who has gone deep four times in his last three games. What Wisconsin lacks in postseason chances it makes up for in outfield talent with No. 2 Brewers prospect Sal Frelick and No. 9 Joe Gray Jr. both roaming the grass.
San Jose Giants (Giants) vs. Fresno Grizzlies (Rockies)
Sept. 14-19/Sept. 21-26
These two sides are about to get real comfortable with one another. The Giants and Grizzlies have each punched their ticket to the Low-A West playoffs already. But before they match up for the title, they still have another six-game regular-season series this week. Top Rockies prospect Zac Veen has been a human highlight machine in his first full season, with a .303/.402/.509 line, 15 homers and 36 steals over 101 games. He’ll be matched in the outfield by No. 3 Giants prospect Luis Matos, who has nine hits in his last nine at-bats and has reached base in each of his last 13 plate appearances.