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What we learned about Marlins prospects from their Arizona Fall League performance

Seven of the club’s minor leaguers competed in the desert...with mixed results.

Braxton Lee (left) and Ben Meyer (right) played major roles on the Salt River Rafters.
Courtesy of MLB.com

The Arizona Fall League is typically viewed as a graduate school for top MLB prospects. Its Hall of Fame alumni include many of the game’s best current players—perennial MVP candidate Mike Trout, three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, etc.—and several who are destined for Cooperstown (like Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols and the late Roy Halladay).

But this year, the Miami Marlins went against the grain. Rather than send their most highly regarded youngsters, they used the AFL to take a longer look at some wild cards.

Even die-hard Fish fans might be unfamiliar with these names. All seven rank outside the Marlins’ top 30 prospects, according to MLB.com, and only two of them (Peter Mooney and James Needy) have any career experience above the Double-A level.

2017 Regular Season Stats, Marlins AFL Pitchers

Name (MiLB Level) G IP HR BB K ERA WHIP BAA K/BB
Name (MiLB Level) G IP HR BB K ERA WHIP BAA K/BB
Miguel Del Pozo (Rk/A/A+/AA) 22 25.2 0 10 27 0.70 1.21 .219 2.70
Ben Meyer (A/A+) 32 111.1 3 23 134 2.02 0.93 .206 5.83
James Needy (A+/AA) 9 46.1 1 15 43 2.33 1.04 .202 2.87
Scott Squier (A+) 28 132.0 15 26 102 3.82 1.28 .280 3.92
Source: FanGraphs

2017 Regular Season Stats, Marlins AFL Batters

Name (MiLB Level) G PA HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS
Name (MiLB Level) G PA HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS
Braxton Lee (AA) 127 561 3 37 20 .309 .395 .384 .779
Peter Mooney (AAA) 116 455 4 34 2 .213 .290 .308 .598
Rodrigo Vigil (A+/AA) 65 239 0 15 2 .268 .315 .309 .624
Source: FanGraphs

The Marlins were one of five teams that sent talent to compete on the Salt River Rafters, along with the Diamondbacks, Orioles, Rockies and Brewers. The 27-year-old Mooney was the oldest player on the entire roster. Needy, 26, was Salt River’s oldest pitcher, while Braxton Lee, 24, was the oldest outfielder. Notice a trend?

Their season ended on Thursday. Here are the final stats:

2017 AFL Stats, Marlins Pitchers

Name G IP HR BB K ERA WHIP BAA K/BB
Name G IP HR BB K ERA WHIP BAA K/BB
Miguel Del Pozo 10 12.1 3 7 9 8.76 1.70 .286 1.29
Ben Meyer 10 15.1 0 5 18 4.11 1.63 .303 3.60
James Needy 6 17.1 2 7 17 4.67 1.38 .258 2.43
Scott Squier 9 15.0 1 6 9 5.40 1.47 .281 1.50
Source: MiLB.com

2017 AFL Stats, Marlins Batters

Name G PA HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS
Name G PA HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS
Braxton Lee 20 83 0 7 8 .347 .398 .400 .798
Peter Mooney 23 81 0 5 2 .278 .321 .306 .626
Rodrigo Vigil 9 27 1 7 0 .417 .444 .708 1.153
Source: MiLB.com

Lee’s strong performance was recognized with an AFL All-Star selection. He ranked among the league leaders in stolen bases (fourth among qualifiers), batting average (seventh) and on-base percentage (ninth), serving primarily as the leadoff hitter. The Mississippi native also had the distinction of being the only player to drive in a run against J.D. Hammer, arguably the AFL’s most dominant arm this year.

Nine strikeouts during a scoreless outing on Nov. 7 earned Needy Pitcher of the Week honors. He has quickly raised his profile since the Marlins signed him out of independent ball earlier this summer. The right-hander was flown out to the desert on short notice because Dillon Peters didn’t need the added workload, as the Sun Sentinel’s Tim Healey reported.

Courtesy of MLB.com

Other organizations handled the AFL more conventionally, so Miami’s representatives had opportunities to test themselves against some of the world’s best prospects. Ben Meyer passed this one with ease, carving up the East division-champion Mesa Solar Sox, including star-in-the-making Victor Robles:

Although the Marlins competed with low-profile players, they weren’t chosen at random.

Besides Meyer, the six others were approaching roster limbo heading into December’s Rule 5 draft. By Monday, the team must decide whether or not to “protect” them on the 40-man roster. They have already taken this step with Miguel Del Pozo. Maybe that’s why he left the AFL in a good mood? (MLB Trade Rumors covers all the basics of the Rule 5 draft for those with questions about it.)

Nov 4, 2017; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Miami Marlins outfielder Braxton Lee of the Salt River Rafters during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Salt River Fields. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Outfielder Braxton Lee seems likely to be protected.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Hypothetically, the Fish could add the rest of this group to the 40-man—only 34 of the 40 spots are currently taken. But in all likelihood, they’ll prioritize a few of them above the rest and maintain the flexibility to trade for/sign major leaguers in the coming weeks.