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How the minor league playoffs prepare the Yankees’ hopes for the majors

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There won’t be a playoff this year for the Yankees, but there will be for some future Yankees.

And no, we’re not talking about Cody Bellinger, Kevin Kiermaier or any future free agents this offseason. We’re talking about the minor league playoffs.

The Yankees’ High-A affiliate, Hudson Valley, and Double-A affiliate, Somerset, made the playoffs in their respective leagues this month.

Is it important?

In almost all cases, development is more important than winning in the minor leagues. But can winning – or at least playing in meaningful games like the playoffs – be a tool in this development?

“I always think it’s part of growing up,” Yankees bench coach Carlos Mendoza, a former minor league coach and manager, said this week. “Yes, it’s a long season and the guys work on different things throughout the year. But winning makes it better, especially playing meaningful games, playoffs, that atmosphere. I remember going back a few years when I was in the minor leagues, not only as a player but also as a coach, manager, playing those games means a lot. I think the work you do day in and day out, especially in the minor leagues, is so hard. Being able to have this experience is huge.

Kyle Higashioka made his Yankees debut in April 2017 after a memorable postseason run at Triple-A the year before.
Getty Images

Winning seasons in the minor leagues are not always a sign of strong potential talent. Sometimes the winningest teams are made up of older journeymen who may not be destined for the big leagues.

But for prospects who end up on winning teams, playing postseason baseball can provide a taste of playing in high-pressure games — as much as there can be in the minors.

It’s one thing to be at bat or pitching in a meaningless July game. It’s another to do it when it’s win or go home.

“In the minor leagues, you can kind of get caught up in, ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter if we win or lose,’” Kyle Higashioka said. “But at least when I came in, we did a great job of instilling that mindset: ‘We’re trying to win and develop.’ For me, it was very helpful to play these must-win games and at least be in pressure situations where it was like win or go home. … Because when you come here, you don’t want to have to flip a switch and say to yourself, ‘Oh, now I’m doing whatever it takes to win, but I’ve never done that in my career before.’

“It was really important for us to come in – me, (Aaron) Judge and Sevy (Luis Severino) and all those guys we found. I think it’s still very important. You don’t want the first time you’re really trying to win at all costs (to be) in the big leagues.


Yankees prospect Spencer Jones warms up with High-A Hudson Valley.
Yankees top prospect Spencer Jones, after starting the season with High-A Hudson Valley, made the playoffs this week with Double-A Somerset.
P.A.

Last week, Hudson Valley — featuring prospects Brock Selvidge, Jared Serna and Anthony Hall — won a best-of-three division series against the Phillies’ High-A affiliate before falling in the championship series to the Reds’ affiliate Sox.

This week, Somerset faced the Mets’ Double-A affiliate in an Eastern League Division Series, with prospects such as Spencer Jones, Trey Sweeney, Ben Rice and Richard Fitts getting postseason reps.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, top pitcher Drew Thorpe missed the Series due to an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.

“Those are extremely valuable and memorable,” said Clarke Schmidt, who along with Michael King and Greg Weissert won an Eastern League championship in 2019 with then-Double-A Trenton. “It’s not some kind of crazy, end-of-the-world high pressure. But you try to go out there and win these games. You are very proud of it. To be able to win this, I have a ton of memories with these guys. A lot of the guys that were on that team are guys that are on that team or guys that I still keep in touch with. These memories last forever. I think just being in that atmosphere where it’s like, ‘You have to win this game,’ is definitely good for kids’ development.

Nothing can fully prepare prospects for the pressure that comes with playing in the major leagues – let alone major league playoff games. But until they get there, playing some bigger games in the minors can’t hurt.


Clarke Schmidt pitches for the Yankees.
Clarke Schmidt considers his minor league playoff exposure “extremely valuable.”
Getty Images

“When you play in these games, it’s usually as high a pressure situation as you can feel (in the minors),” Weissert said. “It’s really nice to have these representatives when the game means so much more than a regular season game. I think it’s definitely beneficial.

And sometimes there’s even a secondary benefit to be gained in the minors, beyond what it can do for development.

Higashioka has won a few rings during his time in the Yankees minor league system, most notably in 2016 when Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre won the National Championship (a series between the winners of the International League and the winners of the Pacific Coast League). Wednesday marked the seventh anniversary of that game, and the RailRiders returned home the next day with a surprise.

“I received a plaque from the Lackawanna County Commissioner signifying September 21 as ‘Kyle Higashioka Day,’” Higashioka said. “He gave one to each member of the team. So that day is everyone’s day. But the plaque says it’s “Kyle Higashioka Day.”

“I mean, it’s pretty hilarious,” he added with a laugh. “It’s like ‘OK’.”


Do you want to watch a match? The Yankees schedule with links to purchase tickets can be found here.


it must sting


Aaron Boone returns to the Yankees dugout after an expulsion on September 20, 2023.
There are specific losses in this wayward Yankees season that continue to eat away at Aaron Boone.
Robert Sabo for the NY Post

While sitting in the visitors’ dugout Sunday morning at PNC Park, with his team having won 14 of its last 19 games to fall to the outskirts of the wild-card race, Aaron Boone was asked if he had already played the what- if it was a match, given the state of the standings at the time.

The Yankees have had some deep-rooted issues exposed this season, but if even a handful of overturned results had gone through 162 games, they still could have given themselves a real chance at making the playoffs.

“I think sometimes you look back on a game here or there and say, ‘Man, we had that,'” Boone said. “But you can kind of do that every year, usually, in a 162-game season where you’ve had a crushing loss or, ‘We got this game.’ So I don’t do it very much, but this happened the other day.

Boone didn’t specify which games in particular he was thinking about during this exercise, but when asked if the Yankees’ brutal loss to the Marlins in mid-August was included, he said, “Of course.” .

This is certainly among the five most excruciating losses the Yankees have suffered this season, five games that slipped away and contributed to their elimination from the playoffs as of Friday night.


Jake Burger takes a Gatorade bath after the Marlins defeat the Yankees.
There was a Gatorade bath for Jake Burger and the Marlins and misery for the Yankees after an Aug. 13 game in Miami.
Getty Images

Here’s a look at those five games, by our count:

May 7: Rays 8, Yankees 7 (10 innings)

The Yankees led this game 6-0 in the fifth inning with Gerrit Cole on the mound and a chance to win the series against the red-hot Rays at Tropicana Field. Instead, Cole’s out was derailed in the sixth — with Boone guessing he hadn’t pulled him earlier — before the Rays walked Albert Abreu in the 10th.

May 24: Orioles 9, Yankees 6

The Yankees led 5-1 entering the seventh inning, putting them nine outs from extending their winning streak to six games. But their momentum was abruptly halted as the Orioles scored eight runs in the top of the seventh – three off Nestor Cortes, four off Jimmy Cordero and one off Abreu.

July 9: Cubs 7, Yankees 4

Despite a rocky first half, the Yankees were poised to enter the All-Star break on a high note with a series victory. They led 4-1 entering the seventh inning when Domingo German walked first and, at 74 pitches, was retired by Boone. A defensive error by Gleyber Torres helped the Cubs tie the game against Ian Hamilton and Tommy Kahnle before taking the lead for good in the eighth against Ron Marinaccio and Clay Holmes.


Yankees closer Clay Holmes is depressed after giving up a home run to Rockies' CJ Cron.
Clay Holmes’ mistakes led to some of the Yankees’ most devastating losses of the year, including a post-All-Star collapse at Colorado.
P.A.

July 16: Rockies 8, Yankees 7 (11 innings)

The first series out of the break didn’t end much better. Once again, the Yankees had a chance to win the series and led the rubber match 3-1 until the bottom of the eighth. Kahnle loaded the bases before Holmes allowed his first home run of the season, a grand slam. The Yankees tied it with two runs in the top of the ninth, then took the lead with two runs in the top of the 11th, only to lose it in the bottom of the inning when Nick Ramirez and Marinaccio each gave up home runs.

August 13: Marlins 8, Yankees 7

This game marked the beginning of the end for the Yankees. They took a 7-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth in — you guessed it — a rubber match and blew it. Holmes did most of the damage, with his throwing error intensifying the inning before Kahnle came in and allowed the winning run to score from third. The game turned into a nine-game losing streak that effectively killed the Yankees’ season.

Pirate treasures


Oswaldo Cabrera is congratulated in the Yankees dugout after hitting a home run in Pittsburgh.
Oswaldo Cabrera headed to the heart of Pittsburgh after an evening visit to the Roberto Clemente Museum.
Getty Images

When the Yankees visit Pittsburgh again in 2025, take note of who is going to the Roberto Clemente Museum and holding one of Clemente’s old bats.

Last year, Higashioka did it. He then homered in his next game.

Late last Friday night, Oswaldo Cabrera visited the museum — on a private tour organized by hitting coach Sean Casey — and held one of Clemente’s bats. He then went deep on Saturday for his first homer since June 3.

“When I got to the dugout, I was with (Estevan) Florial, and Florial said to me, ‘The bat! The bat !’ ” Cabrera said. “I was like, ‘The bat? Oh, the bat! »

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