Pipeline preview: Jacksonville eyes Southern League title

Marlins No. 4 prospect Nicolino gets call as Suns go for sweep of Chattanooga

Pipeline preview: Jacksonville eyes Southern League title

For the past month, Jacksonville has been one of the hottest teams in the Minor Leagues. The Marlins' Double-A affiliate finished the regular season on a 10-game winning streak, clinching a playoff spot in the Southern League on the final day of the season.

Once the playoffs began, Jacksonville didn't slow down. It won its best-of-five semifinal series against Mobile in four games to advance to the finals against Chattanooga. The Suns won the first two games of the series on the road and will have a chance to capture the championship at home Friday. Game 3, which begins at 7:05 p.m. ET, can be seen on MiLB.TV.

With a chance to win the title, Jacksonville turns to left-hander Justin Nicolino, the Marlins' No. 4 prospect. The 22-year-old was named Southern League Pitcher of the Year after going 14-4 with a 2.85 ERA during the regular season. Nicolino struck out 81 batters and walked 20 in 170 1/3 innings.

Like the rest of the team, Nicolino has been hot of late. Including his start during the semifinals, he has won his past four starts, posting a 3.12 ERA during the streak.

Friday, Nicolino will be facing a Chattanooga lineup that includes Corey Seager and Scott Schebler, the Dodgers' No. 1 and 9 prospects. Both were impressive in the regular season, but they have struggled so far in the playoffs.

Seager, ranked No. 15 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, began the year with Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga and earned a promotion in July. He hit .345/.381/.534 in 38 regular-season games for Chattanooga. But in seven playoff games, Seager is hitting .250/.280/.375 with one home run and 10 strikeouts.

Schebler led the Southern League with 28 home runs in 135 games during the regular season. During the playoffs, however, the 23-year-old has been held homerless in seven games. After going 2-for-4 Thursday, Schebler is hitting .200/.231/.280.

Three other teams will have a chance to capture their league's championships Friday. In the International League, Triple-A Durham leads Pawtucket, 2-1, in the Governors' Cup. In the South Atlantic League, Class A Asheville holds the same advantage over Hagerstown in the finals. And in the Eastern League, Double-A Binghamton is attempting to sweep Richmond after taking the first two games of the series on the road. All three games begin at 7:05 p.m., and fans can watch the Governors' Cup on MiLB.TV.

Game 3 of the Eastern League finals features an intriguing pitching matchup, as left-handers Ty Blach and Steven Matz will face off. Blach, the Giants' No. 6 prospect, hasn't allowed a run since Aug. 26, a streak of 13 1/3 innings. Matz, the Mets' No. 9 prospect, was promoted from Class A Advanced St. Lucie in June and went 6-5 with a 2.27 ERA in 12 starts at Double-A. Now the 23-year-old Long Island native will have a chance to guide Binghamton to its first Eastern League championship since 1994.

Top prospect probables
Blach (Giants' No. 6), Richmond at Binghamton
Matz (Mets' No. 9), Binghamton vs. Richmond
Lance McCullers (Astros' No. 6), Lancaster at Visalia
Mike Montgomery (Rays' No. 17), Durham vs. Pawtucket
Nicolino (Marlins' No. 4), Jacksonville vs. Chattanooga
Eduardo Rodriguez (Red Sox's No. 8), Pawtucket at Durham

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.