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IL Preview: Columbus has been the team to beat

The Columbus Clippers enter 2016 looking for their fourth International League title in seven years after beating the Indianapolis Indians, 3-0, in the fifth and deciding game of last season’s Governors’ Cup championship series.

Some faces return and new ones emerge as the IL enters its 133rd season.

North DivisionLehigh Valley IronPigs

Affiliation: Philadelphia Phillies

Manager: Dave Brundage

2015 Finish: 63-81, 5th in North

Top prospects: Catcher Andrew Knapp hit .360 in 55 games in Double-A last year and was the Phillies second-round pick in 2013. Outfielder Nick Williams hit .320 after coming to the team via a trade with Texas.

Pawtucket Red Sox

Affiliation: Boston Red Sox

Manager: Kevin Boles

2015 Finish: 59-85, 6th in North

Top prospects: First baseman Sam Travis split last season between Class-A Carolina and Double-A Portland. In 65 games with Portland he hit .300 with a .436 slugging percentage. Travis is rated Boston’s No. 7 overall prospect by Baseball America. Left-handed pitcher Henry Owens split 2015 between Pawtucket and Boston, making 11 starts with a 4-4 record and 4.57 ERA with the big club.

Rochester Red Wings

Affiliation: Minnesota Twins

Manager: Mike Quade

2015 Finish: 77-67, 2nd in North

Top prospects: Outfielder Max Kepler was the Twins Minor League Hitter of the Year in 2015 and the Double-A Southern League MVP, hitting .322 and driving in 71 runs for Chattanooga. Jose Berrios was the Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year the last two seasons and started the last two Futures Games.

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

Affiliation: New York Yankees

Manager: Al Pedrique

2015 Finish: 81-63, 1st in North, Lost in Governors’ Cup Semifinals.

Top Prospects: Catcher Gary Sanchez and second baseman Rob Refsnyder established themselves with strong campaigns in 2015. Outfielder Ben Gamel won Rookie of the Year honors in the International League.

Syracuse Chiefs

Affiliation: Washington Nationals

Manager: Billy Gardner, Jr.

2015 finish: 66-78, 4th in North

Top prospects: Shortstop Trea Turner played with both the Chiefs and Nationals last year with some rankings having Turner as one of the top 10 prospects in baseball. Acquired from San Diego in a three-team deal in 2014, he has hit .322 with 52 stolen bases in 185 minor league games. Righty Austin Vorth was the Nationals’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2015 and has a 2.70 ERA over three years.

West Division

Columbus Clippers

Affiliation: Cleveland Indians

Manager: Chris Tremie

2015 Finish: 83-61, T-1st in West, Won the Governors’ Cup

Top Prospects: Righty Mike Clevinger ranks No. 7 on the Indians prospects list by MLB.com. He started, and won, two deciding games in the playoffs last year, pitching 15.2 shutout innings including 7.2 innings of no-hit ball in the first-round series finale against Norfolk. Shortstop Erik Gonzalez is the organization’s 12th-ranked prospect.

Indianapolis Indians

Affiliation: Pittsburgh Pirates

Manager: Dean Treanor

2015 Finish: 83-61, T-1st in West, Lost Governors’ Cup finals

Top prospects: Right-handed pitcher Tyler Glasnow and first baseman Josh Bell highlight the roster. Glasnow made 12 starts for Double-A Altoona with a 2.43 ERA and made eight starts for Indy with a 2.20 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 41 innings. Bell hit .307 in 96 games with Altoona then batted .347 in 35 games with the Indians.

Louisville Bats

Affiliation: Cincinnati Reds

Manager: Delino DeShields

2015 Finish: 64-80, 3rd in West

Top prospects: Righty Robert Stephenson continues to climb the organizational ladder. The 2011 first-round pick has been the Reds’ top prospect for the last three seasons according to Baseball America. He led the organization in strikeouts in 2015 with 140. Outfielder Jesse Winker was the Reds’ Minor League Hitter of the Year last year, hitting .282 in Double-A Pensacola.

Toledo Mud Hens

Affiliation: Detroit Tigers

Manager: Lloyd McClendon

2015 Finish: 61-83, 4th West

Top prospects: Michael Fulmer is expected to be in the starting rotation. He is Detroit’s top-ranked prospect by Baseball America and was MVP of the Double-A Eastern League last season. Shortstop Dixon Machado was a postseason all-star after batting .261 in 127 games, while outfielder Steven Moya hit 20 home runs and drove in 74 runs last season for Toledo.

South DivisionCharlotte Knights

Affiliation: Chicago White Sox

Manager: Julio Vinas

2015 Finish: 74-70, T-3rd IL South

Top prospects: Shortstop Tim Anderson is the top-ranked prospect for the White Sox by Baseball America. He was a first-round pick in 2013 and led the Double-A Southern League in hits (160), runs (79) and stolen bases (49) to earn all-star honors. Matt Davidson led the IL last season in home runs with 23 and ranked second in walks.

Durham Bulls

Affiliation: Tampa Bay Rays

Manager: Jared Sandberg

2015 Finish: 74-70 T-3rd South

Top prospects: Lefty Blake Snell was named the 2015 Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America and USA Today. Snell went 15-4 with a 1.41 ERA pitching in three levels last year. Taylor Motter returns after being named the utility player on the IL postseason all-star team. He batted .292 and played in 127 games for the Bulls in 2015.

Gwinnett Braves

Affiliation: Atlanta Braves

Manager: Brian Snitker

2015 Finish: 77-67, 2nd South

Top prospects: Aaron Blair will likely be in the starting rotation after being acquired in an offseason trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He split last season between Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Reno. He went 7-2 with a 3.16 ERA with Reno. Outfielder Mallex Smith has totaled 144 stolen bases in his past two minor league seasons.

Norfolk Tides

Affiliation: Baltimore Orioles

Manager: Ron Johnson

2015 Finish: 78-66, 1st South, Lost in Governors’ Cup semifinals

Top prospects: Trey Mancini led all of minor league baseball with 182 hits last year. He split the season between Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, batting .341 with 21 home runs and 43 doubles while driving in 89 runs. Christian Walker led the IL in home runs in the second half of the season.