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Things We Love to See Season Recap: Greensboro Grasshoppers

Recapping the Marlins final year in Greensboro and looking ahead to the future in Clinton.

José Devers at the 2018 SAL All-Star Game
Photo by Khadejeh Nikouyeh/Greensboro News & Record

Next up in my series of season recaps is the Marlins (now former) Low-A affiliate, the Greensboro Grasshoppers. The affiliate relationship between the Marlins and Hoppers was not renewed when it expired this year, and so the Marlins will be moving on from Greensboro, where they had been since 2003.

The Marlins new Low-A affiliate is the Clinton (Iowa) LumberKings, who were previously affiliated with the Seattle Mariners. Their franchises have traded with one another several times recently—Bryson Brigman, Pablo López, Nick Neidert and Brayan Hernandez are all former LumberKings.

Obviously, the biggest headline for the Grasshoppers in 2018 was the arrival of the Marlins early-round draft picks in the back end of the season. We should see them start the 2019 season at this level, with the new affiliate in Clinton. We’ve discussed their performance in my previous post. Give that a read if you haven’t already.

Then, let’s continue by exploring several other key storylines that you may have missed from this year in Greensboro.

Trevor Rogers Impresses in Debut Season

For me the biggest headline out of Greensboro this season was the impressive debut of Trevor Rogers, who the Marlins used the 13th pick in the 2017 draft to select. Rogers projected as another high school left-handed project that the Loria regime was very prone to take a chance on, causing me to be very skeptical about him coming into the year. My skepticism was well warranted when Rogers first made his debut in May, as he got off to an aggressively mediocre start to his pro career. While his surface numbers (ERA, win/loss record, batting average against, etc.) may suggest I still have plenty of reason to be skeptical, when taking a deeper look at Rogers’ year I think you can find plenty of reason to be optimistic about his development going forward.

It starts with the strikeouts. Rogers’ season peaked in mid-late July when he put up three straight starts where he 19.2 IP and racked up 27 strikeouts, including a 7.2 IP 1H 12 K performance that was the climax of his debut season. Without a doubt the most intriguing thing we saw from Rogers this year was his ability to get swings and misses and by all reports he was very effective at doing so with his offspeed stuff, something that will be a major factor in his development. His K/9 this season was 10.53, a mark that would land him at 11th amongst major league pitchers for 2018, and struck out batters at a 26% clip, good enough to land in the top 20 amongst major league pitchers.

The other reason I was intrigued by Rogers’ numbers is because there are plenty of other factors that go into stats such as win/loss record and ERA, and a lot of them have to do with the team around you. Based on these stats, Rogers got little to no help from the team around him which cause his stats to look somewhat inflated. Rogers’ ERA on the year was 5.82, but his FIP—a stat that “measures what a player’s ERA would look like over a given period of time if the pitcher were to have experienced league average results on balls in play and league average timing—was a very solid 3.04. Along with his incredibly high .392 BABIP, these numbers suggest that Rogers had a lot of bad luck behind him which caused his numbers to be hurt and his outings to be shortened.

Whatever the case may be, his analytics and strikeout numbers were very intriguing for his development going forward. His 2018 should definitely be looked at as a success in the eyes of Marlins fans.

Top Performer: José Devers, SS-We talked a ton about José Devers in the “Things We Love to See” series and rightfully so. Devers did most of his damage this season with Greensboro before finishing up the year in High-A Jupiter. For those who haven’t been following along, Devers projects as a glove-first shortstop with a leadoff hitting profile. He was tremendous with the glove this year, as to be expected, but his was his work at the plate that caught the eye of many in and around the Marlins organization. Devers hit .273 as an 18-year-old in Low-A, and while it’s not an eye popping average it is a very intriguing start for a kid that young who doesn’t project as a great hitter.

The next step in his development at the plate is going to be working on getting on base more, his OBP sat just .313 and he tallied just a 4.1 BB%, something that must improve if he is going to be a legitimate threat in the leadoff position in the future. Devers is a work in progress but there is no denying that he got off on the right foot in 2018, and we now wait to see if it continues at the next level with High-A Jupiter in 2019.

Under the Radar Guy: Brady Puckett-SP-An imposing figure standing at 6’8” 220, Brady Puckett was the Marlins 15th round draft pick in 2017. The 23-year-old right hander had a very solid 2017, getting most of his work as a reliever, and followed up with a dominant 2018 across two levels. He started the year in Greensboro, but actually made more starts with High-A Jupiter, and was just as impressive there. He had a 1.99 ERA in Greensboro, put up solid strikeout numbers (8.70 K/9) and barely walked anybody either with just a 0.72 BB/9.

When talking to Alex Carver of Fish on The Farm, he said his size is what impresses him most: “Dude is massive. Have to think there’s room for him to grow. May just be being held back a bit.” He included that his “mechanics are good, he commands the lower half, and generates lots of groundouts.” His strikeouts dipped and his walks increased in Jupiter, something to be expected against tougher competition, but his ERA was still very impressive at 2.33, as was his FIP which sat at 2.96. Puckett seems to be a guy that can eat up innings, he averaged 6 IP in 21 starts this year and 12 of those 21 starts lasted 7 innings or more.

The big thing to watch going forward will be if he can add more velocity, and if he can get his strikeout numbers back up to what they were in Low-A. If he does that, he has a good chance of moving up to and making an impact AA Jacksonville at some point 2019.

Guy That Let Us Down: Thomas Jones, RF-Jones is the Marlins #19 prospect currently, but after yet another disappointing campaign in 2018, there is a good chance he falls in the next update. I can pretty much let his MLB Pipeline profile do the talking here for a second so that you can understand why a guy with a .209 career average still sits in the Marlins top 20:

Jones is an elite athlete with a projectable frame and the potential for five tools. He has a quick right-handed bat, but a swing that can get long at times and results in too many whiffs. However, scouts expect his hitting aptitude to improve, and for him to develop some power, now that he’s strictly focused on baseball. A plus-plus runner, Jones’ wheels aid him in center field, where he shows good range, but lacks instincts. His arm is strong enough to profile at all three outfield spots.

Pipeline goes on to say that Jones could be the best athlete in the Marlins system, and while I usually love holding out hope guys based on their athleticism and tools, it’s hard to do so with Jones. He followed a 2017 campaign in Batavia that saw him hit .181 with a .222 average in Greensboro in 2018. Even Jones’s walk-rate, which had been the highlight of his offensive profile, plunged this season from 11.6% in 2017 to just 5.7% in 2018. With the Marlins continuing to add depth in the outfield and more expected this offseason, time is quickly running out on the Thomas Jones experiment, but a change at the plate in 2019 could turn that around considering his elite athletic skill set and projectability.

2019 projects as another exciting year at the Low-A level for the Marlins, and it starts with the move to a new home. There is no doubt we’ll be seeing more players that project to be a big part of the Marlins future move through Clinton next year, and there’s a real possibility that prized Cuban outfielder and the Marlins’ newly minted #1 prospect Víctor Víctor Mesa could begin his pro career with the LumberKings next season. Trevor Rogers should start in High-A as well, and we could even see the return of 2016 first round pick and the Marlins #10 prospect Braxton Garrett come April next year.