The Miami Marlins had a successful season in Double-A, where the Jacksonville Suns affiliate won the Southern League championship and took home the title in sweeping fashion. With all the success that team had, you had to figure that the best and brightest of the organization's performers came from that team, and indeed two of their players were named Miami Marlins Minor League Pitcher and Player of the Year! The two awards went to starter Justin Nicolino and catcher J.T. Realmuto.
Both players had excellent seasons on the field for the Suns. For Nicolino, who had always ranked among the team's top pitching prospects since being acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays, some of the numbers pointed to sucess. He owned a 2.85 ERA and an accompanying decent 3.44 FIP and threw 170 1/3 innings of work, which is a career high and a number some of the Marlins' top big league starters have yet to reach before 2014. Nicolino finished the season off with a strong pitching effort in the clinching game of the Southern League Championship Series as well.
Realmuto dominated in Double-A at the plate when he played. He spent some time in the majors and lost some games to injury, but also hit a cool .299/.369/.461 (.374 wOBA) that was 32 percent better than the league average in the Southern League. And he did that while (likely) maintaining the athletic defense that had, for the last two seasons, been his calling card for success.
But while both players were excellent, their seasons were not without flaws. In Nicolino's case, a sharp decline in strikeouts was definitely a concern this year. He whiffed just 11.8 percent of batters faced this season, and while he limited the walks allowed as well to a career-best 2.9 percent, the trend of decreasing strikeouts is more worrisome. It is said that strikeout rates are more predictive of future prospect success than walk rates, and there may be concern that Nicolino's strike-pounding ways could get him in trouble if he cannot miss bats at the big league level.
As for Realmuto, this would be a flawless season if it were not the second time he played through Double-A. He repeated after a disappointing 2013 season in which he hit .239/.310/.353 (.308 wOBA), a line that was seven percent below the league average. At age 23, he was still young for Double-A, but having seen the competition level for an entire year and coming back and destroying it is less impressive than doing that for the first time.
Both players were deserving of their accolades, and these successful seasons have upped them on the prospect charts. Nicolino's position likely remains steady, though the work of Jose Urena in 2014 may have leapfrogged him, while Realmuto should shoot up the team's internal rankings and put him back into position as the team's "catcher of the future," a position which he lost last year. But neither is without problems that require work in 2015.