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TWitM: Naturals and River Bandits are champs!

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This Week in the Minors: Northwest Arkansas and Quad Cities bring home division titles, Omaha hitters mash up and down the lineup.

MJ Melendez and Bobby Witt, Jr. in the Omaha dugout.
Minda Haas Kuhlmann

‘This Week in the Minors’ is our weekly look at notable performances from all over the system, from big-name prospects and less-heralded guys alike. The mission is to answer this simple question: “Who had a good week?”

Today, we’ll cover results from Tuesday, September 21 through Sunday, September 26.

AAA Omaha Storm Chasers (69-56)

schedule | roster

The Storm Chasers won three in the first half of the 10-game “Final Stretch,” which is not the postseason but MLB has put up a cash prize for the Triple-A team who finish with the best record in this set of games that was not originally on the schedule. It was also the final home series of the season.

All three of the top prospects hit really well this week, so let’s start with them. Bobby Witt, Jr. went 8-for-22 with a double and a homer. He also stole three bases, leaving him just one shy of a 30/30/30 season with five games remaining.

MJ Melendez hit an impressive milestone, smacking home run #40 (and then #41 later in the same game!) on the season. Melendez has hit in 8 straight games, with 12 hits and 12 RBI in that time. Nick Pratto was all power this week, with a .947 slugging percentage courtesy of two doubles and three dingers. Pratto and Witt both have 33* dingers on the season.

*except that one of Witt’s that left the park but wasn’t counted. Remember that?!

Outfielder Dairon Blanco went 7-for-19 on the week with a home run. Gabriel Cancel had four hits that included two doubles and a homer, and he played his first career game in right field on Friday. Infielder Angelo Castellano hit two dingers that included a grand slam.

Infielder Lucius Fox has been tasked with playing center field some games lately, but the position switch has not been a hindrance on his hitting. Fox is on a 7-game hit streak, during which he’s had a dozen hits, including four doubles and a homer.

AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals

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The Naturals swept the Wichita Wind Surge (MIN) to capture the Double-A Central championship!

RHP Jose Cuas closed out all three games.

Catcher Meibrys Viloria finished his season as he spent so much of it: on the bases a whole bunch. He reached base eight times in 13 plate appearances, via four hits and four walks.

Center fielder Brewer Hicklen played big roles from both the plate and the field. He hit a late homer that contributed to the Game 1 win, a go-ahead grand slam in Game 3, and made this catch.

And check out Seuly Matias hitting the catcher on the fly from right next to the foul pole:

Adv-A Quad Cities River Bandits

schedule | roster

The River Bandits made it dramatic, going all five games in their championship series against Cedar Rapids, but they too would up as champions.

Shortstop Maikel Garcia finished 2021 with a solid week at the plate, going 6-for-18 with a double and a homer, plus five walks and four (!) stolen bases. Center fielder John Rave also put up six hits while playing all five games of the series.

Nick Loftin finished strong as well, hitting a first-inning homer in Game 2 as part of a 6-for-21 effort from the top third of the order.

First baseman Logan Porter provided the heroics to force Game 5:

Right-handed reliever Will Klein had an outstanding series, starting with a perfect 9th inning to close out Game 2 on Wednesday. He struck out two that day, and then followed up with six (!) strikeouts in 2.2 innings one-hit, shutout in Saturday’s dramatic Game 4 win.

The River Bandits pitching staff put together two shutouts in the series. Lefty Anthony Veneziano, right-hander Nathan Webb, left-hander Zack Phillips, and Klein combined for the first one on Wednesday.

Righty A.J. Block, LHP Zach Haake, lefty Caden Monke, and Webb slammed the door on the Kernels with 15 strikeouts and no runs allowed in the championship game on Sunday.


Also this week, Omaha manager Brian Poldberg announced he’ll be retiring at season’s end. That made Sunday his final home game, so he was honored with a pregame ceremony. The Royals gave him a free 7-day trip, as well as a gift card to Camping World. The Chasers put together this really lovely video.

The Storm Chasers will head to Des Moines for a five-game series against the Iowa Cubs to complete the 2021 MiLB season. MiLB.tv is free at this juncture, so you can watch every game if you don’t happen to be in Des Moines!