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Riley Mahan Interview: Marlin on the Rise

Riley Mahan spoke with us about going to college, finding his power stroke, and helping the Marlins return to respectability.

Riley Mahan was Miami’s third round pick this season.

With Derek Jeter and Company taking over and remolding the Marlins’ future, we here at Fish Stripes are setting our sights on the future. The Marlin on the Rise series focuses on some of Miami’s best and brightest prospects. These are the guys that we’ll be getting to know in the coming seasons.

Riley Scott Mahan is a 21-year-old middle infielder from West Chester, Ohio. Born on New Years’ Eve, 1995, the 6’3”, 185 lb. lefty was initially picked in the 40th round of the 2014 amateur draft by the Cincinnati Reds, 1,198th overall. Here’s what the MLB Pipeline has to say about him:

One of the better high school hitters in Ohio's 2014 class, Mahan declined to sign with the Giants as a 40th-rounder in favor of attending Kentucky. He was one of the top performers in the Southeastern Conference as a junior, more than doubling the six homers he totaled in his first two seasons with the Wildcats. His breakout performance in college baseball's best league stood out in a thin crop of college hitters, and the Marlins were thrilled to find him still on the board in the third round.

Mahan has a nice left-handed swing, shows good feel for the barrel and uses the entire field. Previously viewed as more of a line-drive hitter, he added some loft to his stroke this spring and in turn tapped into his sneaky raw power with greater consistency en route to a team-leading 15 home runs.

Defensively, Mahan looked much more comfortable at second base this spring after making 30 errors at shortstop a year ago. While he may lack the soft hands required to stick at the keystone long term, Mahan, an average runner, is also capable of playing the outfield corners as well as first base, where he saw time in the Cape Cod League. However, any future moves down the defensive spectrum will come with increased offensive demands.

Mahan chose not to join Cincinnati’s minor league feeder system, opting instead to join the Kentucky Wildcats in the Southeastern Conference. The 2015 campaign would see him slash .232/.295/.337 with eight RBI in 39 contests. He also played in 47 games with the Amsterdam Mohawks, in PerfectGM, slashing .303/.411/.445, with 29 walks drawn and only 27 strikeouts. He stole 14 bases and knocked in 21 runs.

2016 would be better for Mahan, and would see him improve his slash line to .316/.348/.490 in 56 contests, with five round trippers and 32 RBI. He drew 11 walks and struck out 51 times, which moved him onto a lot of draft boards. He also played a little more semi-pro ball in the CapeCod League, with the Orleans Firebirds (.303/.331/.358, 17 RBI in 41 contests).

Mahan’s offensive output continued to blossom in 2017 for the Wildcats. In 66 appearances, he slashed .336/.392/.618, with 15 home runs and 67 RBI. His greater-than an RBI per-game pushed his draft stock even higher, and Miami chose him in the third round of the 2017 amateur draft with the 89th choice off the board.

After the draft, Mahan was assigned to the Greensboro Grasshoppers in the South Atlantic League on June 27th. He only got into six games (.259/.259/.407, one home run, four RBI) before he was placed on the disabled list with a a groin injury. He had played only at second base, and fielded 28 chances without an error.

I caught up with Riley for a little Q & A on Saturday afternoon:

Fish Stripes: Hi Riley. I’ll start at the beginning of your association with pro ball - your selection by the Giants back in 2014. Did you have a lot of reservations about turning that down to go play with UK?

Riley: I was greatly appreciative of the SF Giants for selecting me but at the end of the day it was clear to me that the situation was not right for me and my family. UK was the place I needed to be.

Fish Stripes: That decision seems to have turned out pretty well for you. We down here in Marlins country are glad of it. What was it like once you got to Greensboro? Did you have a pretty good reunion with old teammate Dustin Beggs?

Riley: Yes sir, looking back it was the right move. And yes, it was pretty comforting knowing Beggs was there. Also having Rindfleisch (Hoppers catcher Jarett) was exciting. I go back a ways with those two and they made my transition into pro ball pretty easy.

Fish Stripes: Can you tell us a little bit about your time in the Cape Cod League?

Riley: Absolutely. It was a tremendous experience. It’s a place where the best of the best go and it’s a huge test of your confidence, your abilities, and also your work ethic. I got a chance to meet a lot of great baseball players, including Brian Miller and Joe Dunand, who I am not fortunate enough to be teammates with.

Fish Stripes: If all goes well you’ll probably end up linking up with them pretty soon.

Sometime between 2016 and 2017, you seem to have developed quite a power stroke. You led the Wildcats with 15 home runs. You also averaged over one RBI per game. What changed in your approach to the plate at that time?

Riley: Well for starters, I had a lot of good hitters around me, so I saw some good pitches. On occasion throughout my career I’ve gotten into streaks where I try to force the ball to left field, which eliminated almost all power. So last year I finally decided to be more aggressive and attack the ball out front, which led to a more level/direct swing and all of a sudden those weak flyouts started to carry for me.

Fish Stripes: I understand it must have been frustrating with the groin injury last year after just a week and some change with the Grasshoppers. What are some of your challenges and goals going forward this season?

Riley: It certainly was. In going forward the goal is obviously to remain healthy throughout the year. Goals going forward is to give the Marlins a return on their investment and chase down some rings.

Fish Stripes: That sounds great. I’m sure we can all get behind that sentiment.

One last question for you. How do you like to spend your offseason. What kind of hobbies are you into right now?

Riley: I’ve been working out with a great group, and doing some lessons here and there. I’m just enjoying some downtime with the family. Been awhile since I was home for an extended period of time.

Fish Stripes: Thanks for saying so. Happy holidays and good luck this coming season.

Riley: Happy Holidays to you too.

Mahan should begin the 2018 campaign back in Greensboro, and we should reasonably expect to see him in Miami sometime in 2020.