The Miami Marlins have not had much to play for in the 2013 season, but a focus on their top prospects yields good results thus far this year. The team will continue to foster some of those players in the offseason, as the Marlins will send seven players from their minor league system to the Arizona Fall League and the team's affiliate, the Glendale Desert Dogs.
Among those players are two of the Marlins' top prospects, as the Fish will send 2012 first-round draft pick Andrew Heaney and 2013 first-round pick Colin Moran to the league. For Heaney, the Fish are looking to get him some extra experience against Double-A level competition, as he has only made five starts in Double-A Jacksonville since being promoted. Heaney has performed well at two levels this year, even putting up a decent 2.60 ERA and 3.63 FIP in those five Double-A starts. His performance in High-A Jupiter, however, has been the most impressive part of this season for him. In 12 starts, he posted a 0.88 ERA and 2.60 FIP with a 25.6 percent strikeout rate in 61 2/3 innings, and that work got him a nod as the 33rd-best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America's midseason update.
Heaney's target goal in this AFL stint should be to stretch out his outings. He averaged only 5.5 innings per outing in his five starts in Double-A and he was on similarly low innings / pitch limits in High-A as he recovered from a strained lat. The goal in the AFL should be to get him stretched out and ready to pitch Major League innings, and a good performance in the AFL could get him a fast jump to the majors as early as the middle of next year.
For Colin Moran, this will be the first time he competes against this level of competition. Moran spent a quiet 158 plate appearances in Low-A Greensboro, but after a slow start, he has heated up significantly. Currently, he is hitting an impressive .304/.361/.442 (.366 wOBA, 129 wRC+) with an expected impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio of just 1.5. Moran has yet to flash much power, as he has an ISO of just .138 in Greensboro, so it would be nice to see if the dry air in Arizona boosts those numbers.
Moran's goal should be to continue working on hitting his way against better competition, rather than focusing on generating more power or doing things differently. The Fish already know he may have a lower ceiling due to a lack of power, but the team would be happy if he continues to take his strong discipline and contact up through the higher minor league levels. Moran's other goal is to continue to work on his defense to maintain it at a big-league level, as the Fish would not like to have to move him off of third base.
Here are the other prospects who will be heading to the Arizona Fall League this offseason.
Edgar Olmos: Olmos had a brief stint in Miami before being sent back down to Double-A. After spending a few rough seasons as a starter, the team converted him to full-time relief this year, and the results have been better, but still not great. Olmos is 23 years old, so there does not seem to be a strong future for him outside of occasional bullpen work.
Colby Suggs: The Marlins drafted Suggs in the second round of the 2013 draft, and the University of Arkansas closer was expected to move fast given his college reliever status. Suggs moved briefly through two levels before settling in at High-A Jupiter. He struggled some more there, walking 18.4 percent of his batters faced (along with striking out 32.9 percent) in his 17 1/3 innings. The Marlins are expected to promote him to Double-A next year, so this is just a trial run for Suggs to face that level of competition as he makes his way to a potential Major League appearance next year.
Nick Wittgren: Wittgren is a college reliever, so like Suggs he should move a little faster through the minors. He has been dominant working out of the pen thus far, posting a 0.83 ERA with a 27.6 percent strikeout rate in 54 1/3 innings in High-A Jupiter. Midway into the year, he took over the closer's role there and saved 25 games along the way. Like Suggs, Wittgren is out there to face heavier competition for the first time en route to Double-A and hopefully the majors.
Derek Dietrich: We obviously saw plenty of Dietrich in the majors this season, but he struggle to get his plate discipline down after dominating a second stint in Double-A. Dietrich flashes some nice power (.191 ISO in the majors), but he needs to learn some plate recognition, and hopefully he can work on that during his AFL time. That may be the thing that holds him back from a consistent Major League job.
Brent Keys: Keys is a 23-year-old outfielder about whom we've heard plenty in our Minor League Reports. Keys is quietly having a fantastic season in High-A, batting .346/.418/.399 (.384 wOBA). He is boasting a ridiculous 6.0 percent strikeout rate and a 10.6 percent walk rate this year. Then again, he is 23 years old and working in High-A, so he should perform well. Keys has a chance at a fourth outfielder job in the future, but he clearly lacks the power needed to play an outfield role regularly. He can, however, play all three positions, which improves his chances of making it to the bigs.