The Great Lakes Loons, the Dodgers’ Class-A affiliate in the Midwest League, opens their 2016 playoff schedule on Wednesday night at home against the Bowling Green Hot Rods (Rays).
The Loons (36-34) were the second-half wild card team in the Eastern Division of the Midwest League, their fifth postseason appearance in the last eight years.
The Hot Rods (47-23) won the Eastern Division in the second-half, and had the choice of picking which home game(s) they wanted for the best-of-three series, either the first game at home or the final two at home. Bowling Green opted to start on the road, with the final two games at their ballpark.
That gives the Loons Game 1 at home on Wednesday, and they will start 20-year-old phenom Yadier Alvarez in the series opener. Alvarez, signed in 2015 out of Cuba to a $16 million bonus, plus another $16 million in overage penalties, and the right-hander so far has been every bit as advertised.
After five starts with the Arizona rookie league to get his professional feet wet, Alvarez moved to Great Lakes, and in nine starts the right-hander put up a 2.29 ERA with 55 strikeouts and only 11 walks in 39⅓ innings.
From a rising prospect standpoint, this series is full of fun, especially in the rotation. Great Lakes is tentatively scheduled to have piggyback outings in the final two games, with Jordan Sheffield, the Dodgers’ compensatory first-round pick (No. 36 overall), and Dennis Santana in Game 2, followed by 2015 fist-round pick Walker Buehler, just back from Tommy John surgery, and Leo Crawford in Game 3, if necessary.
Two more Loons to keep an eye on are middle infielders Omar Estevez and Brendon Davis. On the surface, they hit just .255/.298/.389 and .241/.295/.334, respectively, but both are just 18 years old and both showed improvement as the season wore on.
Estevez, the $6 million man also signed out of Cuba in 2015, over the season’s final two months plus hit .308/.358/.473 with 16 doubles and seven home runs in 56 games, including a 13-game hitting streak in July. He saw an increase in his walk rate from 3.8 percent over the season’s first three months to 6.6 percent over the final 56 games.
Davis, the Dodgers’ fifth-round pick in 2015 out of Lakewood High School, was limited in 2015 with a broken wrist suffered in his senior year of high school. He hit .279/.327/.379 over his final 36 games, including six steals in six attempts after getting caught three times in his first five attempts in 2016.
Division quarterfinal schedule
Game 1: Wednesday, Sept. 7 - Bowling Green at Great Lakes, 4:05 p.m. PT
Game 2: Thursday, Sept. 8 - Great Lakes at Bowling Green, 3:35 p.m.
Game 3*: Friday, Sept. 9 - Great Lakes at Bowling Green, 3:35 p.m.
The winner of this series moves on to play another best-of-3 series, this time between the winner of the Eastern Division first-half division winner and wild card — South Bend (Cubs) and West Michigan (Tigers), respectively.
The Midwest League championship series follows, a best-of-5 tilt between the finalist from the Eastern and Western Divisions.