World-Herald staff writer Rob White previews the players to watch in the Triple A National Championship Game.
* * *
LHP Chris Dwyer: He's barely pitched since posting a clutch win on the next-to-last day of the season. The Chasers swept their first-round playoff series before Dwyer's turn came up, then his Game 1 start in the PCL championship series was suspended by rain after 1½ innings. He's pitched two innings since Sept. 1. He and veteran Brian Sanches have arguably been Omaha's most reliable and consistent starters all season.
1B Ben Broussard: Maybe he isn't showing the power he used to when he averaged 18 homers per year at the big-league level from 2003 through 2006, but the 36-year-old who not only started the year in Mexico, but in the Mexican minor leagues, posted a .391 playoff average (9 for 23) while drawing five walks for a .483 on-base percentage. He hit .343 after July 23 to close the regular season.
3B Rey Navarro: A second baseman by trade, he split time between second and third with Class AA Northwest Arkansas and has struggled with some of his throwing while playing third for the Chasers in the playoffs. But there's no doubting what he's done offensively, posting team bests with a .409 average (9 for 22) and five RBIs. Most of his hits have been clutch, too, and manager Mike Jirschele moved him up to fifth in the batting order the last two games of the PCL championship series.
SS Irving Falu: The veteran had the worst of his five full seasons in Omaha, batting just .256. But he's looked a lot more like the guy who hit .301 in 2011 and .329 last year since the playoffs started, posting a .320 average and .370 on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot. He's also played solid shortstop, taking over for the promoted Pedro Ciriaco.
C Manny Pina: An excellent defensive catcher, particularly at shutting down opponents' running games with his strong arm, he's always had a penchant for delivering clutch hits. He's hitting .357 this postseason, and during the team's run to the 2011 PCL title, he hit .368 while sharing the team lead (with Kila Ka'aihue) with eight RBIs.
RHP Jake Odorizzi: The right-hander has made two playoff starts but hasn't gotten a decision despite pitching 14 scoreless innings and allowing just five hits and four walks while striking out 16. In fact, he has a six-start dominant streak that extends back to Aug. 13 and includes an Aug. 29 big-league start against the Angels during which he's given up two earned runs in 39 innings for a 0.46 ERA.
IF Vince Belnome: A former 25th-round draft choice who constantly has to prove himself, the versatile infielder posted excellent numbers in his first season in the Tampa Bay organization. He ranked in the IL's top 10 in on-base percentage (second, .408), runs (second, 77), walks (third, 84), doubles (third, 35), hits (fourth, 133) and batting average (seventh, .300). He's drawn 11 postseason walks, contributing to a .531 on-base percentage.
OF Brandon Guyer: A fifth-round pick from the University of Virginia in 2007, the 27-year-old is a former Cubs farmhand who played briefly in the majors with the Rays in 2011 and 2012. He's a former all-state running back and linebacker who stole 22 bases this season — the fourth time he's had between 22 and 30. He ranked fifth in the IL with a .301 average and fourth with 73 runs.
OF Jason Bourgeois: After slow start for Omaha last year, he wound up hitting .243, spending time in big leagues, and then signed with Rays as a minor-league free agent. Had a more typical 2013 with .290 average and 22 steals in 90 games while again getting some major-league time. The right-handed hitter typically wears out left-handed pitchers (starter Chris Dwyer and several of Omaha's top relievers are lefties) but had a flat platoon split (.292 vs. lefties, .290 vs. right) in 2013.
RHP Kirby Yates: He's a little (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) right-hander, so the 26-year-old who signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009 (he was drafted in the 25th round by the Red Sox in 2005 but didn't sign) will always have to impress to keep moving forward. And he has, posting a 1.90 ERA with 20 saves (tied for third in the IL), 93 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings (second among relievers with a career-best 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings) and a .175 opponent batting average (fourth among IL relievers). In four playoff appearances, he's pitched four innings for four saves while striking out eight and allowing one hit, though he's walked six.