Here we are again at the beginning of July and once again, we find All Star games either past or looming. The Marlins’ minor league system has enjoyed a collective good first half, hitting .262 and holding down a 3.54 ERA. With midsummer classics right around the corner, here’s a look at those who contributed the most at each position. It’s our 2015 All-Farm Team.
C – Arturo Rodriguez
Yearly Stats: .300/.350/.422, 6 HR, 32 RBI, 28/19 K/BB
Rodriguez is a 23-year-old Mexican export who spent three seasons in his home country’s league. Before being purchased by the Marlins for what was sure to be a hefty price tag (as Mexican league players always garner), Rodriguez developed in to one of the best players in his league. In 2014, the Tijuanna backstop slashed .379/.421/.618 placing him in the top seven in all three categories. He also ranked in the top 15 in doubles (28) and RBIs (71). Looking at his advanced metrics, Rodriguez posted ridiculous numbers in Tijuanna, including a 28.5 wRAA and a 161 wRC+. The only knocks on the power hitter’s game that season were his 14.2T% K rate and the fact that he was slightly fortunate at the plate with a .408 BABIP. This season, Rodriguez made the transition to not only life in the United States of America but also to American baseball like a champ. He had one of the best Aprils out of anyone in the organization by slashing .406/.453/.609. As reports circulated on him, he struggled a bit with the strikeout in May but has responded well this month, starting it off by going .279/.324/.412. The strikeout rate in all has shrunk from his final season in Mexico to 10% and the BABIP has normalized to .313. Rodriguez has absolutely wreaked havoc on lefties, tuning them up to a .404/.448/.596 line. He has faced a bit more of adversity against righties, especially during the slump that made up his entire sophomore month of May, but he has started to refine his approach and adjust to the technological advances American pitchers enjoy when it comes to studying hitters. In 19 games this month, he has hit safely in 13 and reached base safely in 16. Rodriguez gets low in the box, cutting down what would be an enlarged strike zone and has a pull-first approach at the dish but he also crowds the plate advantageously, giving him good access to the outside part of it. He uses a prototypical uppercut power swing and when he connects the ball goes a long way. With continued imrpovement against righties and in the patience area (which he has begun to improve this month after struggling last month) Rodriguez could become a complete hitter. Behind the plate, the catcher once again uses his 6″0″ 235 frame to be a wall for his pitchers. Evidence of that fact can be found in his total career passed balls allowed: 4. When it comes to his throwing arm, Rodriguez may have the best one in the organization. In 2014, he threw out 40% of his runners. After making the trek across the border to a new style of play, he is still throwing out a very impressive 30%. He uses a quick crouch to pop transition and a nice short arm release that has cut down some of the league’s best runners. Rodriguez also has eligibility at first base where he has shown good range and footwork. At 23 in single A, it would seem as though Rodriguez is past the point of being able to contribute by age 25. But considering the price tag it took to acquire him from Mexico and the fact that he has experience at a level at or close to AAA, it would seem as though this season Rodriguez is getting his feet wet in America before moving on to bigger things next season. We would expect to see him make the jump to AA next season and, with a good year there, could contribute to a Marlins team in need of power production by 2017.
Honorable mention (HM): Rodrigo Vigil
1B – Austen Smith
Yearly Stats: .274/.378.493, 11 HR, 36 RBI, 74/33 K/BB
Smith is a Marlins draftee out of Alabama whose success in rookie ball in 2014 where he was the Gulf Coast’s league’s fifth best hitter with a .288/.406/.471/ slash line and the league’s second best home run hitter with seven has followed him in to his first full season with the Grasshoppers. This year, his big strong frame and big heavy swing have earned him 11 homers, second most in the Sally League. Sitting pretty in the runner up spot is also his .854 OPS. Hitting for power has come at a price for Smith as he has also struck out 77 times, third most in the league but there is plenty of room for improvement which he flashed last month when he walked 15 times to 26 Ks. Another encouraging sign Smith has shown has been his ability to stay healthy. In high school, he was hampered by quad injuries which depleted his draft stock. The Marlins took him near the end of the draft in round 33. He has rewarded them by playing in all 62 Hoppers games so far this season. Smith hits from a straight stance and when he squares up, has some of the best barrel exit velocity around. He has shown that he can hit to all fields by maintaining his looseness. Smith has had the tendency to press in pressure situations (.215 in late/close) and when behind in the count (.143, 28 K, 0 BB) but again, those are products of immaturity that will be tamed with more professional ABs. In the field, Smith shows good speed and reaction time especially for a guy his size. He makes good reads and good throws with a carrying arm that projects even better that it is at present. He has already contributed seven assists this year without having committed an error. While his prospect status is already two years from expiring with him playing in just single A, Smith has been a pleasant surprise for a late round sleeper pick. If he can cut down on the strikeouts while maintaining the power outside of the hitter friendly Sally League, he has a future in the majors.
2B – Derek Dietrich
Yearly Stats: .260/.357/.458, 7 HR, 27 RBI, 45/15 K/BB
Dietrich is a former top prospect turned organizational guy who finally came in to his own this season and earned the big league call up when Martin Prado went down with injury. He warranted the promotion by catching fire at the right time hitting in 12 of 17 games, going 18-59, and reaching in 14 of them leading up to Prado’s injury, outperforming Miguel Rojas who was 12-51 with a 9/3 K/BB over the same span. It has been Dietrich’s career MO to go from hot to cold at the drop of a hat but judging by the fact that he responded to his third career major league call up by OPSing .863 with 3 homers and 3 doubles in his first 15 games, Dietrich may have finally arrived. When he is on, Dietrich is a middle infielder with uncommon plus power for his position. Unfortunately, on the occasion that he isn’t which has been the story of his major league career thus far, he strikes out in bunches. In 414 MLB ABs, he has struck out 106 times to just 27 walks. This year though, he has found the barrell much more often, recording fifty hits, good for fifth most on the team and provided a spark for a struggling Marlins offense by OPSing near .900 through his first 41 ABs. Whether he keeps the pace or not remains to be seen (his history would suggest he won’t) but for the time being, it is great to see Dietrich finally succeeding at the major league level. If the hits keep coming, Dietrich should stick with the Marlins even after Prado returns and should an out of contention Miami team decide to offload Prado’s $11 million contract before the deadline, could climb in to the starting lineup for the rest of the season.
HM: David Adams
3B – Zack Cox
Yearly Stats: .302/.390/.410, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 46/28 K/BB
Cox is a guy from the same draft class as Dietrich, a class which he entered as one of it’s most highly touted picks. The Cardinals selected him with their first round pick, 10th overall and in his first full year of play, lived up to the hype, hitting .335/.380/.439 as a 22-year-old and making it all the way to AAA in just his second year as a pro. There, Cox struggled hitting just .254/.294/.421. The Marlins, looking to pounce on a weak moment with the hopes that the Cardinals were just rushing Cox, pounced on Cox, acquiring him from the competing Red Birds for pitcher Edward Mujica. Unfortunately, that proved to not be the case. The Marlins returned Cox to AA where he hit just .253/.321/.368 in his injury-limited first 95 ABs in the organization, followed by two more seasons barely above the Mendoza line in 2012 and 2013, also in Jacksonville, the latter of which saw Cox get waived at the end of spring training and go unclaimed by any other team. With a fire lit under him and under the watchful eye of fellow lefty coach Damon Minor, Cox completely redefined his approach and put together his best full season above A ball slashing .282/.344/.436 with 8 homers and 29 XBHs. Back in AA this season, Cox has used the same improved plate presence to put himself on a similar slash line pace which currently sits at .302/.390/.410. The .302 average is good for 11th best in the Southern League. What is most encouraging about his 67-game 2015 campaign thus far is that he has been able to total 28 walks, one less than he did all of last season, by far his best season patience wise. That isn’t to say Cox still needs to temper his strikeout total further especially considering he is a 26-year-old in AA but the improvement puts him back on the Marlins’ radar as a guy who could come up as an injury replacement ala his draft class buddy Dietrich or as a lefty hitting power bat off the bench. For a guy who couldn’t garner any attention even as a bargain bin giveaway a few years ago, Cox has to be proud of that current status.
HM: J.T. Riddle
SS – Miguel Rojas
Yearly Stats: .301/.343/.430, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 26/13 K/BB
Acquired this offseason as what was thought to be a throw-in to the trade that brought the Marlins Dee Gordon and Dan Haren, Rojas has proven to be quite the commodity and is now contributing to the MLB club along with his former Dodger organization mates. He reached the Marlins by totaling the PCL’s 18th best numbers in 249 ABs, a feat that looked to be a pipe dream a season ago when he hit .233 while spending most of his time in AA. With the BABIP translatable and his K rate down to 9.5%, his lowest since his days in A ball, Rojas’ success at the plate can be attributed to his exchanges of scenery and coastlines and once again the work of his coaches. Rojas has proven to be a slappy bat that plays excellently in a catalyst type role. Hitting near the top of the order for the Zephyrs, Rojas has collected 107 bases and scored 32 runs. Looking at his spray chart, Rojas has shown he can spread the ball around well and adjust to any pitch, a major improvement from last season and the bulk of his career when he really struggled with pitches on the inner half. Defensively, Rojas is and has always been fantastic. He is a natural shortstop but can play virtually anywhere in the field. He shows good range, great footwork and reaction times and makes good reads. He has a quick release and makes on line throws across the diamond. While his hot bat helped his cause, it was his infield glove that earned him the call up to the Marlins as a spot starter and late inning defensive replacement after Martin Prado went down with an injury. When Prado comes back, another stint in AAA is likely for Rojas but he has definitely put himself on the big league radar for next season with his excellent first half. Whether he translates that success to the MLB level still remains to be seen but for now, it is great to see the Marlins getting positive production out of all three products of their biggest offseason trade.
LF – K.J. Woods
Yearly Stats: .293/.380/.470, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 55/21 K/BB
Woods is the Marlins’ fourth round draft pick from 2013. After two sub-par seasons in rookie ball, Woods has begun to show exactly why he garnered that high a selection. This season, in his first 51 games in full season ball, the lefty hitting 6’3″ 230 pounder aged just 19 years is one of the Sally League’s best power hitters through it’s first half’s worth of games. He is a prototypical pull hitter with plus power from a strong uppercut swing. In a single offseason, Woods greatly improved upon his contact rate, especially when it comes to pitches on the outer half. Looking at his spray charts from last year to this, you’d swear you were looking at a completely different player.
This isn’t to say he could use to cut down on strikeouts but as is the case with every member of his brand of hitting and at just 19, there is plenty of room for improvement. The most exciting thing about Woods is that there is also room for him to improve upon his power as he progresses through the system. If that occurs, the Marlins could be looking at their own faster version of David Ortiz who also plays good outfield defense.
CF – Yefri Perez
Yearly Stats: .266/.302/.292, 0 HR, 18 RBI, 55/15 K/BB, 37 SB, 10 CS
Introducing the fastest man the organization may have ever seen: Mr. Yefri Perez. A third year pro out of the Dominican, Perez possesses nothing short of progidous speed. A switch hitter, Perez’s jets have garnered him 16 infield hits. Though he only has 7 XBHs on the season, 44 times he has wound up at at least second base thanks to a ridiculous 37 stolen bases, a number which leads his next closest Florida State League competition by eight. The total also already outnumbers his 2014 total by seven in over 100 less ABs. Unfortunately for Perez, his speed is all that has improved from last year in Greensboro. He is a scrappy hitter who makes good enough contact to get on the basepaths (which is all he needs to do to be effective) from both sides of the plate but he very much needs to improve upon his patience. His entire minor league career boasts a 133/50 K/BB. At 24 in just A+, it is questionable how much he will be able to improve. What isn’t questionable is that Perez is at present a fantastic candidate to be a late inning pinch hitter and defensive replacement at a number of positions. With the glove on his hand, Perez also makes the most of his blazing speed, utilizing it to cover all necessary ground and then some at all three outfield spots. He also has eligibility at second base and shortstop. Whether he makes any more strides at the plate in his final two years of prospect eligibility or not, Perez is an athletic guy who will at some capacity definitely contribute positively at the big league level at some point.
RF – Carlos Lopez
Yearly Stats: .288/.336/.391, 3 HR, 24 RBI, 44/21 K/BB
Lopez is a 2013 draftee from Cal State Fullerton. After a great college career, his success followed him to the pros where he was the Muckdogs’ best hitter and the Grasshoppers’ second best bat in his first full season last year, allowing him to skip past a stop in Jupiter and make it to AA Jacksonville as a 25-year-old. There, he has once again been one of his team’s best offensive weapons in it’s second most ABs and one of if not the best defensively sound Sun. With a free and easy repeatable line drive swing, Lopez has compiled a 24% line drive percentage, one of the highest in the entire organization. Though he has the tendency to press a bit in high pressure situations, Lopez usually maintains a good hitter’s eye which compliments his sound mechanics perfectly. On defense, Lopez plays a solid right field thanks to plus speed and an above average arm that has garnered him 19 outfield assists in his minor league career. He can also play left, center and first base. At 25, Lopez is a bit of a late bloomer but in an organization which has very little outfield depth, he could begin contributing to the big league club as early as next season.
SP – Kendry Flores
Yearly Stats: 14 GS, 5-3, 85.2 IP, 2.00 ERA, 0.9 WHIP, 61/23 K/BB
Flores is a 6’2″ 175 pound righty out of the Dominican who has dazzled in his seventh season as a pro. After beginning playing pro ball at just 17, Flores jumped a level with each passing season from 2012 to 2014. This season, he has jumped two levels all the way to the majors. After compiling a 2.06 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 42/15 K/BB in his first nine games with the Suns including a string of six straight quality starts, Flores was called up for an early season big league cup of coffee. He got in to 2 games, tossed 3.2 innings and didn’t allow a run more than earning himself a full time promotion to AAA. Through his first five games with the Zephyrs, Flores is holding down a 1.86 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP and a 19/8 K/BB. Three of his five outings have been quality starts and he has allowed a single run just twice and more than one run only once. Flores has four pitches: a 92-95 MPH heater, a low 80s changeup and a diving out pitch curve with sharp break and low 70s velo and he controls each one of them spectacularly, painting the black on both sides and changing hitters’ eye levels without getting hurt much at all, all while each one of his offerings is still developing. At just 23 and arguably the best pitcher in the minors right now, Flores is already more than on the Marlins’ radar for a rotation spot next season and has single-handedly won the Casey McGehee trade that brought him to the Fish in the offseason.
HM: Adam Conley
RP – Craig Stem
Yearly Stats: 23 G, 33 IP, 1.64 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 23/13 K/BB
For an organization that has had many issues with middle relief at the big league level this season, Stem is a breath of fresh air and one that isn’t that far away from an MLB berth. He is a tall lanky 6’5″ 215 pound righty who made it all the way to AA in the Dodgers’ organization before coming to the Marlins this season in a minor trade for outfielder Kyle Jensen. In his first extensive action in AA, Stem has been one of the biggest contributors to a Suns staff which holds down the Southern League’s best team ERA, limiting his damage to just six earned runs over 33 IP. He has the stamina and the stuff to go more than one inning when needed and can even spot start, making him the perfect candidate to be the first guy out of the pen. He won’t blow you away with velo but succeeds with a wide arsenal and a deceptive delivery. With five pitches to his credit (a low 90’s fastball with good sinking action, a mid 70s slurvy curve with good bite, a good running slider and a mix in mostly straight changeup), Stem keeps hitters guessing as to what is coming next. He is a contact first pitcher who draws it well by inducing off balance swings thanks to a crafty windup. Keeping the ball hidden well with his long limbs, Stem is quick to the plate with a snappy 3/4 arm action. He works quickly and repeats his delivery well, making him manager Dave Berg’s most reliable arm out of the pen and one of the most consistent arms throughout the Marlins’ minor league ranks. Unfortunately for Berg, Stem will probably be getting the call to AAA very soon. With success there, he will be invited to spring training next season and could win a spot in the Marlins’ pen as early as next Opening Day.
HM: Nick Wittgren