The first half of the 2015 season saw the Jacksonville Suns have many ups and downs. While the Suns finished 29-40 and in next-to-last place in the South Division standings, there were still great achievements that will last with Suns fans for years to come.
As the Double-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins, the Suns coaches are charged with the task of preparing players to one day play in the major leagues. That day came earlier than expected for the ace of the Suns starting pitching staff, Kendry Flores.
Flores earned the first major league call-up to Miami of his career on June 2 after showing strong results in a Suns uniform. Flores is the first Sun to go directly to Miami in 2015, and the first to make the Jacksonville to Miami move since J.T. Realmuto at the end of the 2014 Southern League playoffs.
Flores made nine starts for the Suns, going 3-3 with a 2.06 ERA in 56 and two-thirds innings of work. Also during that time, he struck out 46 batters compared to 15 walks. At the time of his promotion, Flores was third in the Southern League in ERA (2.06), first in WHIP (0.85), first in batting average against (.172), and among starting pitchers - fewest baserunners per nine innings (7.94).
This is the first season for the Azua, Dominican Republic native in the Marlins organization. He was acquired by the Marlins as part of the trade that sent third baseman Casey McGehee to San Francisco last December.
Flores made his major league debut on June 6 at Coors Field, pitching two and a third innings against the Colorado Rockies. He followed that up two days later with an inning and a third scoreless innings against the Toronto Blue Jays before he was sent to Triple-A New Orleans where he is currently pitching.
While Flores was the only 2015 Sun to get a call-up to the majors in the first half, several current Marlins major leaguers made their way to Jacksonville in the first half.
Catcher Jeff Mathis was with the Suns on a rehab assignment from May 30 to June 5, recovering from a broken right hand that he suffered on April 13 in a major league game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Mathis played in five games for the Suns, hitting .294 (5-for-17) with two RBI.
2010 Suns relief pitcher Steve Cishek struggled in the first half for the Marlins, going 1-5 with a 6.98 ERA in 19.1 third innings pitched. Cishek also had three saves for the Marlins along with four blown saves. On June 2 he was optioned to Jacksonville to work on some pitching mechanics and with his confidence on the mound, and his time in a Suns uniform helped him get back on track.
Cishek pitched in five games in relief for the Suns, with no wins or losses and a spotless 0.00 ERA after not allowing a run during his six innings on the mound. He also collected two saves for Jacksonville, including June 12 where he had a 1-2-3 ninth inning against the Tennessee Smokies preserving a 2-0 Suns win.
The Suns also recently saw rehab assignments from Marlins Michael Morse and Jarred Cosart in late June, with Morse hitting .294 (5-for-17) with a homer and three RBI in five games in Chattanooga. Cosart worked five innings allowing only arun on three hits in five innings with six walks and six strikeouts on June 21.
The 2015 Southern League All-Star Game in Montgomery, Alabama on June 23 had a Suns flavor to the South Division roster. Pitchers Sean Donatello, Jake Esch, and Kendry Flores, along with catcher Sharif Othman, infielders Zack Cox and David Adams, along with outfielder Matt Juengel were all on the original South Division roster. Esch, Othman, Cox, and Juengel all saw playing time in the game on June 23, and the South Division was led by Suns manager David Berg's coaching staff.
Juengel had a strong end to the first half of the season. The Houston, Texas native and 24th round selection by the Marlins in the 2012 draft out of Texas A&M was Jacksonville's leading power hitter in the first half, with a .278 average along with team-bests 12 homers and 42 RBI.
He saw a power surge in the month of June, hitting seven homers and driving in 19 runs in the first 17 games of the month. As of June 20, those seven homers were the most of for any player in Minor League Baseball during the month. Coming into the second half of the season, Juengel is second in the league in homers (13), fourth in RBI (42), fourth in slugging percentage (.520), fourth in extra-base hits (27), third in total bases (118), and fourth-best in home run per at-bat ratio of one homer each 17.46 at-bats.
Unlike recent seasons, most of Jacksonville's roster will be unchanged from the first half to the second half, so fans can expect to see improvement as the Suns try to win a second straight second half South Division title.
As the 2014 run to a Southern League championship taught us, you can't predict baseball, but you can predict that the Suns will keep working hard to deliver an entertaining brand of baseball each night to Bragan Field!
The Suns look forward to teaming up with Fish Stripes all season long to give you these Jacksonville Suns reports. You can also find more information about the Suns by visiting our official website: jaxsuns.com, blog: sunsradio.com, Facebook page, Twitter page, and by listening to The Jacksonville Suns Podcast.