The playoffs began this week throughout the Minor Leagues, and while trophies and team pride are on the line, many Major League clubs also see these playoffs as an integral part of the player-development process.
Astros director of player development Quinton McCracken made the playoffs once during his 12-year Major League career. He said if players can get that experience as Minor Leaguers -- as all four of the Astros' full-season affiliates and another two short-season squads will this month -- it will benefit them when they face similar situations in the Major Leagues.
"Playoff baseball is unique," McCracken said. "Having experienced that as a player, it's hard to describe. There's an intense wealth of emotions that go into playoff baseball, and the more a player can experience that environment, the better he can become."
Because nothing can replicate the atmosphere of 40,000 fans in a sold-out Major League stadium on a crisp October night, player-development officials know they can take only so much from the coming Minor League playoff performances.
"I don't know that there's a direct correlation between having the opportunity to play in a playoff atmosphere multiple years in your career," Nationals director of player development Doug Harris said. "But any time you have the opportunity to play in a pennant race and the playoffs, it does benefit the player to some degree."
The greatest advantage may come from experiencing the kind of tense moments that define October baseball. They still exist in the Minor League playoffs, a natural product of any short series with elimination on the line.
Seeing how players respond to these situations is useful to scouts and player-development officials.
"[The playoffs are] important to us in the front office, and I think the players know that," D-backs director of player development Mike Bell said. "It's almost like playing in Little League again, where stats don't count anymore, and all that matters is winning a baseball game. When all focus is on winning, they understand."
First baseman Jonathan Singleton, rated the Astros' No. 2 prospect by MLB.com, has played in the playoffs twice, and he is headed back with Triple-A Oklahoma City. In 2010, while playing in the Phillies' system, he won the South Atlantic League championship at Class A Lakewood.
Singleton said the experience stuck with him, and he's looking forward to another playoff run this season.
"Playoff baseball is just like any other game, but everything is moving faster and the game actually means something," he said. "You just go out there and compete."
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said last month that Singleton, along with other top Astros prospects at Triple-A such as George Springer and Asher Wojciechowski, will not be considered for September callups to the big leagues until Oklahoma City is done with the playoffs.
The Astros want prospects to learn from their playoff runs this year, McCracken said, so they will be better prepared to help bring a World Series title to Houston.
"The No. 1 goal is to win championships," McCracken said. "In order to win championships, you need championships players, and that's what we're trying to develop: championship players."