There's been one constant in the Florida State League the past six seasons, although South Division teams would just as soon forget about it. The North Division has claimed every title in the 12-team Class A Advanced circuit since St. Lucie won the South's last championship in 2006.
Since the streak began, Daytona and Tampa have won two titles apiece and Clearwater and Lakeland have won once. Jupiter almost broke through last year for the South but dropped the final two games of the best-of-five championship series to the Flying Tigers.
Byron Buxton, MLB.com's No. 1 overall prospect, already has more than conquered both levels of Class A. Before he moves on, the 19-year-old Miracle center fielder has one more thing to accomplish.
"We talk about it all the time in the clubhouse," said Buxton. "We want that ring."
The Miracle, though, need a turnaround to get it. Fort Myers is in the playoffs because of the team's record-setting start in the first half. Even with the addition of Buxton, the second half was a struggle at times after fellow top Twins prospects Migues Sano, ranked No. 3 in the MLB.com Top 100, and Eddie Rosario moved up to Double-A.
If Fort Myers does win the Florida State League title, it would be Buxton's third championship in just a little more than a year. He hit, and pitched, his Georgia high school to a 2012 state title, then helped Elizabethton to the Appalachian League championship after signing with the Twins. The Miracle take on the Charlotte Stone Crabe at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Charlotte in the South Division series.
Buxton didn't put up eye-popping stats at the Rookie level last season, but that certainly hasn't been the case this year. The speedy right-handed batter hit .341 with 33 extra-base hits, 53 RBI, 32 stolen bases and a .990 OPS in 68 games for Cedar Rapids of the Class A Midwest League and didn't slow down after being promoted to the FSL.
Buxton was batting .330 with 23 stolen bases and an .899 OPS in 56 games, as of Sunday, from the leadoff spot for the Miracle, closing red hot with a .402 average in August and leading the Minors with 18 triples across his two stops.
Still, there were some adjustments to be made.
"They pitch you backward," Buxton said of the FSL. "They don't start you with fastballs, and the curveballs are sharper and the changeups better."
Buxton handled the better pitching and will be challenged again in teh Arizona Fall League as the Twins fast track him toward Minnesota.
Although Fort Myers couldn't come close to matching its 45-22 first-half record in the second half, they still go into the playoffs with more than just Buxton to count on.
Left-hander Taylor Rogers, 11-6 with a 2.55 ERA, designated hitter Kennys Vargas, who has 18 homers and 91 RBI, and catcher Matt Koch made the All-Star Team. Vargas was at his best against first-round opponent Charlotte, hitting .339 with three homers and 15 RBI.
Dunedin (62-48) takes on Daytona (62-68) in the North Division series.