While a late-inning rally and a mammoth walk-off home run kept the Salt River Rafters from taking home the 2018 Arizona Fall League title, Marlins fans should still come away from this year’s AFL season extremely encouraged.
The Marlins’ participants included a few of the higher-profile prospects such as Monte Harrison, Jordan Yamamoto, Bryson Brigman and Brian Miller. Also getting the opportunity to begin making a name for themselves were relievers Tommy Eveld, Kyle Keller, and Chad Smith.
As the season just wrapped up, let’s summarize what happened in the desert and what their performances could mean for 2019 and beyond.
Monte Harrison, OF
The obvious place to begin is with Harrison, the team’s #2 prospect. An in-depth look into his mammoth potential, as well as his struggles, can be found in my previous article comparing him with Marlins #1 prospect Victor Victor Mesa.
Since then, Harrison has continued to make strides with his approach at the plate, finishing the AFL season slashing .290/.383/.348, with only 19 strikeouts and 10 walks in 79 plate appearances. I’ll do the math for you—that’s a 24% K rate, down significantly from his 36.9% rate during this past regular season and 35.1% rate last fall. If he can maintain that rate in the big leagues while flashing his other considerable tools, he will be a productive big leaguer in the Marlins outfield for a long time.
On the flip side, take note that the .348 slugging percentage Harrison posted was a good deal lower than the .399 SLG% with Double-A Jacksonville. He also did not hit a home run, while only collecting three extra-base hits. His 19 home runs during the regular season was good for fourth in his entire league. It was clear that he was making a concerted effort to shorten his swing to make more contact in the AFL, which was something the Marlins specifically challenged him to do.
The best example of this was his RBI single in Saturday’s championship game (below), where he turned around a 97 MPH fastball on a 1-2 count back up the middle with a short, compact stroke. He then proceeded to immediately steal second and advance to third on the errant throw.
That approach at the plate may come at the expense of some power, so it will be up to Monte to find a balanced approach that works for him.
Jordan Yamamoto, SP
The 22-year old posted one of the most impressive showings among all of the AFL participants this year, finishing with a dazzling 2.08 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP with 27 strikeouts in 26 innings. For some comparison, that ERA is better than what Forrest Whitley posted, who is widely considered the best SP prospect in the entire sport. Armed with a truly knee-buckling curveball and slider to pair with excellent command of an otherwise underwhelming fastball, Yamamoto uses his fastball command to get into favorable counts, where he can get plenty of strikeouts with his hammer of a breaking ball.
After solidifying his place in the Marlins organization with a stellar 2018 where he posted a 2.31 FIP, held opponents to a .191 batting average against, and an outstanding 12.18 K/9, the key for Jordan will be to continue to develop the changeup. It provides a different look when changing speeds to hitters—particularly left-handed hitters—as well as gaining even more consistency with his fastball command. If he is able to make these improvements, it would not be out of the question for Marlins fans to see him as part of the Miami rotation at some point in 2019.
Brian Miller, OF
While Harrison and Yamamoto garnered most of the attention from Marlins fans in the AFL, the speedy outfielder out of North Carolina definitely held his own among the game’s best prospects. His .269/.349/.299 slash line isn’t eye-popping, but Miller was able to swipe nine bases in 13 attempts, good for fourth in the league, while also displaying outstanding bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline. Miller had as many walks as strikeouts (8 of each) in 75 plate appearances. That 10.7% K rate was among the best in the league, and even better than the stellar 11.7% K rate he posted during the regular season. He posted a .296/.339/.356 line with 40 steals between Jupiter and Jacksonville.
Miller’s contact/speed combo could make him a force at the top of the Marlins lineup in the relatively near future. Expect an initial assignment at AA.
Bryson Brigman, 2B
One of the most recent additions to the Marlins farm, Brigman has done nothing but impress since entering the organization. After being acquired in the Cameron Maybin trade with the Mariners along with international slot money, he went on to hit .338 in his first 17 games in the organization, earning a quick promotion to AA. He continued to hit .310 in his final 12 games.
Despite hitting a modest .257 during this year’s AFL season, Brigman continued to show the type of plate discipline needed to compensate for fringy power. He struck out only 7 times in 77 plate appearances.
The 23-year-old is known as a guy who makes solid contact at the plate to go along with strong intangibles. He can do a little bit of everything on the baseball field. Look for Brigman to rise through the organization quickly, and even make an appearance in Miami as soon as 2020, likely as a versatile utility type of infielder.
Tommy Eveld, RP
One of the more interesting acquisitions last season was that of Tommy Eveld, who was acquired in the Brad Ziegler trade with Arizona. A converted QB, Eveld has been impressive since he decided to turn to baseball full time.
Although he struggled mightily in 7 2⁄3 AFL innings, posting a 9.39 ERA and 1.36 WHIP, he has still managed to impress the Marlins in his short time with the organization. In only 10 regular season appearances following the deal, he posted an eye-popping stretch on the mound: 0.93 WHIP, 1.71 FIP, and a 13.03 K/9. A candidate to be added to the Marlins bullpen as soon as 2019, Eveld features a mid-90’s fastball and a power slider, to go along with a curveball and changeup.
We’ll give Eveld a pass on his sub-par AFL showing though, as he may have been a bit distracted. He did have to leave to attend his own wedding and honeymoon, after all (scheduled long before the Marlins informed him that he’d participate in fall ball).
Kyle Keller, RP
One of the lesser-known members of this group, Kyle Keller is nonetheless someone to keep an eye on. Armed with a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball and slider, Keller put himself on the map with the Marlins in 2018, where he began in high-A, and ended the season all the way up in AAA, posting a 1.65 FIP and 13.50 K/9 to close out his stellar season.
Keller had his share of struggles in the AFL, posting a 4.76 ERA, but still showed the ability to miss bats (14 strikeouts in 11 1⁄3 innings). A 2019 campaign that’s similar to his 2018 would likely result in some major league service.
Chad Smith, RP
The former 11th-round pick out of Ole Miss is another power arm has a shot to arrive in Miami over the next year or two. He offers a fastball that sits mid-90’s and has reached 98 to go with a power slider. He still has strides to make in the control department, however, as he posted 5.80 BB/9 during the regular season. Those results continued in the AFL, where he walked 6 in only 9 2⁄3 innings, while posting a 7.45 ERA.
With his power arm, Smith’s ceiling could be near the back end of a major league bullpen, but he will need to address the aforementioned control issues in order to ever reach that ceiling.