Last year, the Miami Marlins had an easy time naming their organizational players of the year, having nailed Double-A stalwarts catcher J.T. Realmuto and starting pitcher Justin Nicolino after having outstanding seasons. Those two players helped carry a talented Double-A team to the playoffs.
This year, the club's minor league is significantly more barren, and it shows in who was chosen for this year's organizational player and pitcher of the year by MLB Pipeline (MLB.com's official prospects group). The group chose their prospects of the year on the pitcher and position player side for each team, and for the Fish, starting pitcher Kendry Flores and shortstop J.T. Riddle earned those honors. Flores was the fifth-ranked prospect on the Marlins, behind more highly-touted names like Jarlin Garcia, Tyler Kolek, and Adam Conley among players who still qualified for their prospect status. Riddle was the 15th-ranked prospect on the team as of the latest list by MLB Pipeline. Neither player was a top-100 prospect or particularly close to that list.
The Marlins are notoriously low on minor league depth after having traded a large amount of it in various offseason deals this past year. This was no more evident than in the choice of Riddle, who had a decent campaign in 2015 but nothing to write home about. Unlike his J.T. predecessor Realmuto before him, Riddle at least struggled at one level before being pushed to Double-A and hitting better once reaching the higher level. Riddle hit just .270/.311/.314 (.300 wOBA, 92 wRC+) at High-A Jupiter before earning a Double-A promotion. In Jacksonville, Riddle perked up, batting .289/.323/.422 (.343 wOBA, 109 wRC+) with five homers. This performance at least carried on his work from Low-A Greensboro last year, when he was a 22-year-old and probably slightly older for a prospect at that level.
Riddle has a potential future as a utility player in the majors most likely, and the Marlins are appropriately training him as such by letting him play shortstop despite second base being his natural position. He has the possibility of being a utility infielder like Derek Dietrich but without the offensive power.
Flores was picked up as part of the Casey McGehee trade to San Francisco and has been an absolute steal for the team. After struggling in High-A last year, Flores cruised through parts of three different levels and made it briefly to the majors. His stuff is low-upside, with a fastball that only touches mid-90's and average or fringe-average secondary offerings to his name. Even in having a fantastic season in Double- and Triple-A, in which he posted a 2.06 ERA (3.41 FIP) and 2.61 ERA (3.60 FIP) respectively, he still showed that he struggled making the larger transition to higher levels. His strong 25.1 percent strikeout rate from 2014 in High-A dropped to 19.9 percent in Double-A and 18.0 percent in Triple-A. He was not able to hold onto as many of his strikeout gains, like a milder problem that Nicolino went through in his moves up the levels.
Neither player made the top 100 prospects, and rightfully so. Only one Marlin made that top-100 list, and that was high-upside 2014 first-round pick Tyler Kolek, who landed 56th despite an altogether poor year in Low-A Greensboro. Kolek put up a 4.56 ERA and 4.87 FIP with a horrendous 12.2 percent walk rate and no strong corresponding strikeout mark. The advantage is that he is young, as he was about two years younger than the average prospect at that level. Time will tell where Kolek goes from here after an ugly first full year, and he still has plenty of time to develop and skills to lean on. However, it is still not promising that the Marlins' only top talent was mired in an experimental horrible campaign.
Congratulations to Flores and Riddle, who played well for their expectations and earned these awards. However, competing with other Marlins farm hands clearly is not what it once was, as the competition was very light in 2015.