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Toolshed's best of the decade: Teams

Ranking the top award-winning Minor League clubs of the 2010s
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders won the 2016 Triple-A National Championship in Memphis. (Memphis Redbirds)
December 1, 2020

There was no Minor League season in 2020 and, unfortunately, that means there will be no MiLBY Awards this year either. In their stead, Toolshed is taking the next couple weeks to look back at MiLBY winners from the major categories in the 2010s. The series will rank all the

There was no Minor League season in 2020 and, unfortunately, that means there will be no MiLBY Awards this year either. In their stead, Toolshed is taking the next couple weeks to look back at MiLBY winners from the major categories in the 2010s. The series will rank all the winners from 10-1 to evaluate which players truly had the most standout Minor League seasons in the last decade. (Note: The 2010 MiLBYs were chosen by level, instead of Minor League-wide, so Toolshed has taken some license in selecting that year's winner for consideration in this column.) Previous editions covered Offensive Players, Starting Pitchers and Relievers. This edition covers Teams.

10. 2010 Brooklyn Cyclones

Record: 51-24 (.680)

Fate: Lost New York-Penn League Finals to Tri-City, 2-0

Affiliation: New York Mets

Overview: If you want to discount an incredible season because of two games in September, be our guest. Instead, we'll point out that the Cyclones had the best record in stateside ball at the start of the decade, and it wasn't even close. Not only was their .680 winning percentage highest among non-complex clubs, but their closest competition was Great Lakes at .647. Brooklyn's run differential of 116 would have been tops in the Pacific Coast and Carolina Leagues, each of which are full-season circuits. The Mets affiliate was also incredible at home on Coney Island, going 30-8 at MCU Park. It was an all-around effort as well. Brooklyn led the New York-Penn League in hits, homers, total bases, batting average, slugging percentage and OPS, while its pitching staff was tops in ERA and WHIP. Don't look for big names here, however. The club boasted only four future Major Leaguers, the most notable being Dodgers left-hander/World Series-winning reliever Adam Kolarek, who made 17 appearances out of the Brooklyn bullpen. But putting that aside, this level of beachside dominance deserves one more moment in the sun 10 years later.

9. 2019 Delmarva Shorebirds

Record: 90-48 (.652)

Fate: Lost South Atlantic League semifinals to Hickory, 2-0

Affiliation: Baltimore Orioles

Overview: We don't know how this team will age just yet because there has been no Minor League Baseball since the Shorebirds claimed the 2019 crown. Unsurprisingly, no one on the Class A club has played in the Majors yet. There are still a pair of names that will make prospect lovers' ears perk up, Grayson Rodriguez and Adley Rutschman. The top two Orioles prospects could be the building blocks for Baltimore's next contender. As a club, Delmarva thrived last season due to its pitching, led by Rodriguez. Shorebirds hurlers led the Sally League with a collective 3.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 10.3 K/9. Those numbers would be great for an individual. They were put up by an entire staff. Delmarva's .652 winning percentage was the highest among full-season clubs in 2019, but it wasn't enough to help them avoid a two-game sweep against Hickory in the postseason. Nonetheless, the MiLBY is a long-haul award, and this batch of Orioles prospects, led by those on the mound, put in a season to remember. Check in in three years to see how it holds up.

8. 2012 Asheville Tourists

Record: 88-52 (.629)

Fate: Won South Atlantic League Finals over Greensboro, 3-1

Affiliation: Colorado Rockies

Overview: "There were some nights when we could have competed with Double-A and Triple-A teams." That quote came from Tourists manager Joe Mikulik in a review of his team's MiLBY-winning campaign eight years ago. Tough to blame him. Asheville won its division by 13 whole games in 2012 and didn't leave much room for mercy in the playoffs either. In their three wins over Greensboro in the Sally League Finals, the Tourists scored 10, nine and 10 runs, respectively. That shouldn't have come as a huge surprise. Asheville, aided by hitter-friendly conditions back home, led the Class A circuit in hits, runs, home runs, average, slugging and OPS. You may have heard of the club's star that year. It was 19-year-old shortstop Trevor Story, who hit .277/.367/.505 with 18 homers and 15 stolen bases. There were some notable pitchers as well in Tyler Anderson and Dan Winkler. No clear indication of how the club could have truly done against higher competition, but given the bonafides at the time and the way the talent aged, it's probably not worth betting against Mikulik and crew.

7. 2018 Bowling Green Hot Rods

Record: 90-49 (.647)

Fate: Won Midwest League Finals over Peoria, 3-1

Affiliation: Tampa Bay Rays

Overview: As manager Craig Albernaz noted after his team captured the MiLBY, the focus around the Hot Rods going into 2018 was squarely on 2017 fourth overall pick and two-way talent Brendan McKay. "He was only there for a month, if that," Albernaz said. Those who stuck around enjoyed quite the ride. The Hot Rods led the Minors with 90 wins, finished 9 1/2 games ahead of their closest Midwest League foe and went 7-1 in the postseason on their way to a MWL title. The club featured a breakout performance from current No. 41 overall prospect Vidal Brujan, who hit .313 and stole 43 bases in 95 games, and catcher Ronaldo Hernandez, who slugged 21 homers. McKay and left-handed pitcher Josh Fleming are the only two players from this group to reach the Majors, but given the Rays' player-development successes of late, expect that number to grow in the years to come.

6. 2014 Kane County Cougars

Record: 91-49 (.650)

Fate: Won Midwest League Finals over Lake County, 3-0

Affiliation: Chicago Cubs

Overview: Fresh off getting taken fourth overall in the 2014 Draft, Kyle Schwarber hit .361/.448/.602 with four homers over 23 games, and it wasn't even the biggest thing to happen to Kane County in 2014. The Cougars represented the only 90-win club in the Minors that season and had the best full-season record in their own Midwest League Western Division by a full 18 games. It didn't get any tougher in the playoffs either as Kane County won all seven of its games over three rounds. It probably helped that the club entered September on a high note: The Cougars won 13 games in a row from Aug. 10-23. (For the record, Schwarber left the club following a promotion in July, so even he didn't lead this late-season charge.) In 2014, the Cubs were 73-89, their last losing season on record. Before the good times came to Wrigleyville a year later, Chicago fans just needed to travel about an hour west to see a club waving the W.

5. 2015 Fresno Grizzlies

Record: 84-59 (.587)

Fate: Won Pacific Coast League Finals over Round Rock, 3-2; Won Triple-A National Championship over Columbus, 7-0

Affiliation: Houston Astros

Overview: The allure of the Triple-A National Championship is always strong in this category. No, Fresno didn't have the best record in Minor League Baseball in 2015, nor did it have the best record in its own league. That belonged to the 86-58 Oklahoma City Dodgers. But it did come back from a 2-1 deficit in the PCL Finals to beat Round Rock -- 2013 first overall pick Mark Appel struck out 10 and earned the win in the clincher -- and demolished Columbus in the national title game in El Paso to leave a good taste in voters' mouths. That final victory also featured an all-time Triple-A National Championship performance from Chris Devenski, who struck out nine and allowed only one hit over seven scoreless innings. Aiding the Grizzlies' case was that they an Astros affiliate at a time when Houston's focus was on turning its rebuild into a contender. Carlos Correa -- a Fresno player for all of 24 games in 2015 -- was a good example of this. As Houston won 86 games (its highest total since 2008), fans were looking to Triple-A for the next wave of talent, and that wave, which also boasted Tony Kemp, Matt Duffy and Tyler White in solid years, was winning big games.

4. 2017 West Michigan Whitecaps

Record: 91-45 (.669)

Fate: Lost Midwest League quarterfinals to Dayton, 2-1

Affiliation: Detroit Tigers

Overview: You can't get 20 words into an overview about the 2017 West Michigan ballclub without mentioning its pitching. The Whitecaps as a staff posted a 2.77 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, both the best marks in the Midwest League that season. West Michigan pitchers also combined to throw 28 shutouts, 12 more than anyone else in the Class A circuit and a MWL record that broke the previous mark of 23 set by Quad Cities in 1974. No one who threw more than 33 innings for the Whitecaps in 2017 had an ERA higher than 3.22. Just incredible numbers. Sure, there were a few bats that fans might recognize as well in Isaac Paredes, Derek Hill and a late-arriving Daz Cameron. But it was clear that the pitching is what helped the Whitecaps coast to MiLBY glory three seasons ago.

3. 2013 GCL Nationals

Record: 49-9 (.845)

Fate: Won Gulf Coast League Finals over GCL Red Sox, 2-0

Affiliation: Washington Nationals

Overview: It's not often that MiLBY voters recognize complex-level clubs. With a shorter schedule and lack of a spotlight, such teams have to really be special to stand out as a collective. How does an .845 winning percentage do for everyone? That number was, in fact, the best ever by a domestic Rookie-level or Class A Short Season club, and it has yet to be rivaled. From July 17 to Aug. 14, the club went on a 25-1 run that included 16 straight wins on the back half. If the case needed to be sweeter, the GCL Nats got bonus points for navigating a treacherous playoff schedule that included a one-game, winner-take-all semifinal and best-of-3 Championship Series. Lucas Giolito made eight starts for the club as well coming off Tommy John surgery the previous year. We won't draw a straight line from this to Washington's World Series run six years later, mostly because Wilmer Difo and Wander Suero were the only players to feature for both title winners. But something was certainly brewing at the lower levels of the Nats system in 2013, something that's still held up in the Minor League record books since.

2. 2011 San Antonio Missions

Record: 94-46 (.671)

Fate: Won Texas League Finals over Arkansas, 3-0

Affiliation: San Diego Padres

Overview: How many boxes can we check off here? The best record in Minor League Baseball that season. One of two clubs with 90 or more wins. (The other was San Jose with exactly 90.) The first-half title in the Texas League South Division, followed by the second-half title. The most runs and highest OPS in the Texas League. The lowest ERA and WHIP in the Texas League. A three-game sweep of the Finals and only one total loss in the postseason. If you wanted the blueprint to MiLBY dominance, the Missions produced it in 2011. For a nice cherry topping, there were 53 players to suit up for the Missions in 2011, and 30 of those saw at least some time in the Majors. The most prominent name at the time was top-50 overall prospect Casey Kelly, who led San Antonio with 142 1/3 innings in his first season as a San Diego farmhand following a trade from the Red Sox. There are plenty of others whom Minor League followers should recognize like Miles Mikolas, Cody Decker, Matt Buschmann, Jaff Decker and Jedd Gyorko. Remembering San Antonio isn't hard with a one-year resume like this.

1. 2016 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

Record: 91-52 (.636)

Fate: Won Governors' Cup Finals over Gwinnett, 3-1; Won Triple-A National Championship over El Paso, 3-1

Affiliation: We'll get to the team accomplishments shortly, but this is one of the teams where the names have aged pretty well. Aaron Judge and Gary Sánchez combined to hit 29 homers before they moved to the Majors for the first time. Kyle Higashioka slugged .514 in a breakout year. Clint Frazier made his debut as a pinstriped prospect. Chad Green posted a 1.52 ERA as a starter. Luis Severino struck out 78 in 77 1/3 innings. OK, last one: even recent Hall of Fame nominee Nick Swisher appeared in 55 games in his final professional season. For all the points about this being a team category, this squad might have the most notable collection of individual players on the whole list. As a team, the RailRiders accomplished plenty. They were six games better than anyone else in the International League. Their .636 winning percentage and 2.98 team ERA were each best among all full-season clubs. As was the case with Fresno above, the two trophies at the end of the season helped the case, too. That remains Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's only Triple-A national title as well. But for anyone looking back at this club's accomplishments, the roster itself might be the biggest thing to stand out.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.