Minor league baseball player is one of the world’s most unique and stressful professions. You’re always pursuing individual promotions within the confines of a team sport, and many of the factors that dictate those opportunities are outside of your control. Every game can feel like a glorified exhibition designed only to help MLB executives project how somebody with your abilities would perform at the highest level. Oh, and the salary sucks.
In constructing this 2019 Marlins All-Minor League team, I tried to simplify things. A lot. Fish Stripes is rewarding the most productive players in the organization at each position, regardless of age, tools and prospect rankings.
There are 20 spots on this year’s AML team:
- One position player at each of the eight standard defensive positions
- Two “flex” players who saw heavy playing time at multiple positions in 2019
- Five traditional starting pitchers
- Three starter/reliever hybrids who split time between both roles
- Two traditional relief pitchers
The Marlins farm system is loaded with elite talent. You will find plenty of honorable mentions below who didn’t quite make the cut, but I also had to draw a line somewhere. To be considered, position players needed a minimum of 250 plate appearances during the regular season; the minimum for starting pitchers was 75 innings. These thresholds created obstacles for some 2019 MLB Draft picks and for those who suffered significant injuries. In determining close races, I favored players who competed at higher MiLB levels as well as those experiencing their levels for the first time (rather than repeating).
Listed in parentheses after each player’s name, you’ll see their age during the 2019 season (as of June 30), which levels they played at (excluding rehab assignments) and how the Marlins originally acquired them.
C Will Banfield (age 19, Low-A, drafted by Marlins in 2018)
I went back and forth a few times on this, but ultimately felt most comfortable with Banfield despite the offensive struggles. Nobody else came close to the Georgia native in innings caught this season. Paired with right-handed pitchers the vast majority of the time, he gunned down more than 50% of attempted base-stealers in the Midwest League during the first half, and then, opponents just...stopped trying. His blocking and game management skills are advanced beyond his years, too.
Banfield picked his spots to hit for power, including a go-ahead grand slam that ranks as one of the most satisfying-to-watch home runs by any Marlins prospect.
WILL BANFIELD GRAND SALAMI @will_banfield pic.twitter.com/hHTkhvJj8k— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) July 19, 2019
Honorable Mention: Nick Fortes (age 22, High-A, drafted by Marlins in 2018)
1B Lázaro Alonso (age 24, High-A/Double-A, signed by Marlins in 2016)
Season's over, but the Hammerheads finished with TWO Florida State League Post-Season All-Stars!— Jupiter Hammerheads (@GoHammerheads) August 30, 2019
First Baseman Lazaro Alonso was a threat at the plate this year! He ended the season with the #1 OBP, #2 OPS, #4 AVG and #4 SLG in the FSL #HeadsUp pic.twitter.com/q8rhP2VqT8
Alonso recovered from an 0-for-28 stretch in late April/early May to be an otherwise strong presence in the middle of the Hammerheads lineup. The Cuban first baseman noticeably trimmed his strikeout rate from 2018 while exhibiting more over-the-fence power than ever before.
Trade acquisition Lewin Díaz blocked him from getting consistent reps at Double-A, and frankly, Díaz’s presence makes it hard to imagine any fit for Alonso on the Marlins roster in the future. Let’s pray for the DH in the National League!
Honorable Mention: Evan Edwards (age 22, Short Season A/Low-A, drafted by Marlins in 2019)
2B Isan Díaz (age 23, Triple-A, traded to Marlins in 2018)
The easiest selection on this team. Isan spent an entire month of the Minor League Baseball season with the Marlins yet still finishes as the organizational home run and runs scored leader by healthy margins.
He will officially graduate from prospect eligibility in the next couple weeks.
SS Demetrius Sims (age 23, Low-A/High-A, drafted by Marlins in 2017)
Injuries to José Devers and Osiris Johnson created an opportunity for Sims to start regularly, and he absolutely capitalized. The Bethune-Cookman product posted a 145 Weighted Runs Created Plus (100 is league average) for the Clinton LumberKings, then a 122 wRC+ following his promotion to Jupiter. All the while, he showed the full arsenal of middle infielder defensive skills and committed only 10 errors in his 836 innings at those full-season levels.
Sims turned 24 years old in July, making it hard to gauge the legitimacy of his bat when so much of this production came against younger competition.
Honorable Mention: Christopher Torres (age 21, Low-A, traded to Marlins in 2017)
3B Nic Ready (age 22, Short Season A, drafted by Marlins in 2019)
Randy Ready used to manage at Double-A Jacksonville, but the Marlins drafted his son, Nic, in the 23rd round as a ballplayer, not as a favor. At times, Ready carried the entire Batavia Muckdogs offense (four games with at least four runs batted in). Half a season was enough to rack up 30 doubles and lead the entire farm system in that category.
This is the 2-out, bases-clearing, game-winning double by Nic Ready He's been a sensation this summer pic.twitter.com/rm2srpRtqa— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) August 31, 2019
Accepted into the World Class Athlete Program coming out of the Air Force Academy, Ready’s military service is postponed while he works toward qualifying for the Team USA 2020 Olympics roster. Needless to say, he’s off to a great start!
LF Peyton Burdick (age 22, Short Season A/Low-A, drafted by Marlins in 2019)
Burdick played football growing up. You can see it in his frame and in how he brings 110% intensity to every play. He was right up there with college baseball’s most dominant players this spring as a senior at Wright State University, but would it translate to success in the pros?
Hell yeah, it does.
Burdick emerged as an elite run producer for Clinton, averaging one extra-base hit every other game to propel the affiliate to a playoff berth. Power and arm strength are his two most remarkable tools, as evidenced by 11 home runs and 10 outfield assists since debuting in June.
It will take a promotion up the minor league ladder before we can determine whether he can really hit for enough contact, but in my eyes, this dynamic athlete is already a Top 30 Marlins prospect.
Honorable Mention: J.D. Orr (age 22, Short Season A, drafted by Marlins in 2019)
CF Lewis Brinson (age 25, Triple-A, traded to Marlins in 2018)
In between frustrating major league stints, Brinson stuffed the stat sheet for Triple-A New Orleans (.270/.361/.510, 16 HR, 16 SB in 81 G). There was even a brief period during which he, Isan Díaz and Monte Harrison—all highly regarded pieces of the Christian Yelich trade—played together in the Baby Cakes lineup.
FIREWORKS— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) July 5, 2019
Lewis Brinson declares his independence from Triple-A New Orleans with his 13th HR since being sent down pic.twitter.com/SacpQXUQwE
It is everybody’s hope that Brinson can adjust his approach in September to generate comparable results in a Marlins uniform. However, taking a more realistic assessment of who he is, there’s a decent chance he returns to Triple-A for a portion of the 2020 season.
Honorable Mention: Connor Scott (age 19, Low-A/High-A, drafted by Marlins in 2018)
RF Jerar Encarnación (age 21, Low-A/High-A, signed by Marlins in 2015)
Among all position player prospects who had been in the Marlins organization entering this season, Encarnación enjoyed perhaps the biggest breakout. He’s gone from relative anonymity to a Midwest League All-Star selection and now the Arizona Fall League.
Playing practically every single day (553 plate appearances led the farm system), the 21-year-old raked to the tune of a 120 wRC+ with significantly improved defense.
Honorable Mention: Jandel Paulino (age 18, DSL, signed by Marlins in 2017)
FLEX LF/1B Austin Dean (age 25, Triple-A, drafted by Marlins in 2012)
Even with the benefit of Triple-A’s “juiced ball,” slashing .337/.400/.635 is phenomenal (145 wRC+). Austin Dean was consistent and clutch while getting acclimated to first base for the first time in his professional career.
Dean’s 2018 season earned him a call-up to The Show; this 2019 encore made it clear that the minor leagues have nothing left to teach him—he’s ready to sink or swim with the Marlins.
FLEX LF/RF Stone Garrett (age 23, Double-A, drafted by Marlins in 2014)
Stone Garrett literally goes OVER the wall to rob a HR #SCtop10— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 27, 2019
(via @JaxShrimp) pic.twitter.com/5IHzFG0rAH
A career year for Garrett made him arguably the most valuable player on the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp roster. Nearly twice as many home runs (14) as his next-closest teammate!
But the separator between him and other bench spot candidates was defense. Garrett impressed in both outfield corners, robbing several home runs and even more potential extra-base hits in the gaps.
I’d be curious to see if he draws any interest in the Rule 5 Draft this December. One challenge of having an elite farm system is accepting that you can’t protect everybody you like on the 40-man roster.
Honorable Mention: Eddy Alvarez (age 29, Double-A/Triple-A, signed by Marlins in 2019)
SP Sixto Sánchez (age 20, High-A/Double-A, traded to Marlins in 2019)
It’s Josh Beckett, José Fernández and Sánchez in a class of their own as the most talented/universally hyped pitching prospects in Marlins franchise history. The one long-term concern is whether Sánchez’s physique—listed at six-foot even, a little flabby—will allow for a durable career in the majors.
In the meantime, the Dominican right-hander is a man among boys (even though nearly all of those “boys” are older than him). He crushed the Southern League with an excellent fastball, slider and changeup combination. Sánchez started 20 games in 2019 and only one could be described as “terrible”: Jul. 2 vs. Chattanooga. Omitting that, his season stats would’ve been a 2.20 earned run average and three homers allowed in 110 1⁄3 innings.
Sixto Sánchez, Pitching with Emotion @PitchingNinja pic.twitter.com/ShG499IBqD— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) July 24, 2019
Sánchez has a zero percent chance of qualifying for the 2020 All-Minor League team...because one year from now, he’ll be a fixture on the Marlins pitching staff.
SP Trevor Rogers (age 21, High-A/Double-A, drafted by Marlins in 2017)
Rogers literally sliced his ERA in half from 2018 (5.82 at Low-A Greensboro) to 2019 (2.90 at High-A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville combined) while remaining in a starting role. He was the leading strikeout artist in the farm system at 150 K. The Marlins could not have dreamed of better production than that in his first full pro season.
A sharp contrast in styles from Sánchez, this former top draft pick is a slim 6-foot-6 left-hander who will lean on deception to succeed at higher levels of competition.
SP Edward Cabrera (age 21, High-A/Double-A, signed by Marlins in 2015)
Marvelous timing, isn’t it? Not even 24 hours ago, MLB Pipeline joined Baseball America in placing Cabrera on their Top 100 MLB prospects list.
He earned that recognition by limiting opponents to one baserunner per inning this season. The 21-year-old showed improved overall command and consistency with his slider. Cabrera would be perhaps the leading candidate for Marlins Minor League Pitcher of the Year if not for a late-season infection that landed him on the injured list.
SP Jorge Guzman (age 23, Double-A, traded to Marlins in 2017)
Just call him.............Jorge Gas-man pic.twitter.com/wns1v3S5al— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) August 25, 2019
In terms of peak fastball velocity, Guzman is right up there with Sixto Sánchez or any other Marlins prospect. That being said, his 2018 season in Jupiter created serious doubts about his strike-throwing ability and effectiveness multiple times through a lineup.
Maybe the Giancarlo Stanton trade acquisition ultimately settles into a relief role, but his campaign with the Jumbo Shrimp—particularly post-All-Star break—was extremely encouraging. GUZMAN LED ALL MARLINS MINOR LEAGUERS WITH 138 2⁄3 INNINGS PITCHED! That would have seemed inconceivable entering 2019.
One factor to pay attention to as he progresses to Triple-A and MLB? Ground ball rate. This year’s low 32.9% figure could leave him susceptible to home runs in those environments (see: Caleb Smith).
SP Zac Gallen (age 23, Triple-A, traded to Marlins in 2017...and traded from Marlins in July 2019)
You simply cannot tell the story of the 2019 Minor League Baseball season without Zac Gallen. Although he had the advantage of repeating the Pacific Coast League, his results were video game-like: 1.77 earned run average and .152 batting average against in 91 1⁄3 innings prior to his Marlins call-up. His 28.5 K-BB% led all Triple-A starting pitchers.
The quality of Gallen’s stuff noticeably improved from the previous season, and good command has always been there throughout his pro career.
The Fish will miss him.
SP/RP Luis Palacios (age 18, GCL Marlins, signed by Marlins in 2016)
Speaking of statistical freaks, Luis Palacios posted a 27.6 K-BB% in the Gulf Coast League. He is the youngest pitcher in affiliated Minor League Baseball with a rate that high and at least 40 innings of usage this season.
Palacios had four starts and six relief appearances in his stateside arrival. Presumably, the Marlins will allow him to develop in a more traditional rotation role in 2020.
SP/RP Daniel Castano (age 24, High-A/Double-A, traded to Marlins in 2017)
Castano was the forgotten man in the Marcell Ozuna trade package. It was unsurprising when he was bumped to the Jupiter Hammerheads bullpen this spring to make way for the real pitching prospects.
But then a spot opened up for Castano in the Jacksonville ‘pen. He gradually earned the coaching staff’s trust by keeping the ball in the yard. They inserted him into the rotation in late June and stuck with him through a few rocky outings...and something clicked.
Daniel Castano update— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) August 9, 2019
9.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 13 K (career high)
One of the best performances by any Marlins pitching prospect all season! pic.twitter.com/Kng9Vu8TvT
The left-hander’s peripherals were off the charts. A 2.66 Fielder Independent Pitching tops all of the aforementioned pitchers—he surrendered only four homers in 119 innings.
Interesting depth piece for the Marlins moving forward if they can sneak him through the Rule 5 Draft.
SP/RP Tyler Jones (age 23, Low-A/High-A, drafted by Marlins in 2018)
The characteristic that sticks out most about Jones’ pitching is his versatility. The Wichita State product made eight starts, though never more than two in a row. The length of his outings in 2019 ranged from three batters to 6 2⁄3 innings!
Jones overcame a relatively high .324 batting average on balls in play to put up an impressive 2.03 earned average.
RP Alex Vesia (age 23, Low-A/High-A/Double-A, drafted by Marlins in 2018)
Vesia has climbed through five Marlins affiliates in barely one calendar year, racking up strikeouts at every stop along the way. Only 13 earned runs allowed this season (1.76 ERA), but also zero unearned runs—he doesn’t even give teammates opportunities to make mistakes behind him. Vesia’s 17.6% swinging strike rate was far and away the highest in the Marlins organization.
One more stat for you: 1.000 on-base percentage!
A productive stint in the Arizona Fall League stint would put Vesia and his high-spin rate fastball on the verge of reinforcing the Marlins bullpen.
RP C.J. Carter (age 22, Low-A/High-A/Double-A, drafted by Marlins in 2018)
C.J. Carter's unique delivery @FlaSmitty pic.twitter.com/1TbYE1xmQi— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) September 1, 2019
Fellow 2018 draft pick C.J. Carter hopes to be the latest example of “impact players come in small packages.” What that 165-pound frame lacks in raw strength, it compensates for in balance and deception. He maintained a majestic 1.51 ERA while pitching in late relief for Clinton and Jupiter. That included a scoreless streak spanning his final 15 High-A appearances.
Carter will join Encarnación and Vesia in the AFL.
Honorable Mentions: SP Chris Vallimont (age 22, Low-A/High-A, drafted by Marlins in 2018 and traded by Marlins in July 2019) and SP Jake Walters (age 23, Low-A, drafted by Marlins in 2018); SP/RP Humberto Mejía (age 22, Low-A/High-A, signed by Marlins in 2013); RP Brian Moran (age 30, Triple-A, signed by Marlins in 2018), RP Brett Graves (age 26, Double-A/Triple-A, Rule 5 Draft pick by Marlins in 2017) and RP Tyler Stevens (age 22, High-A/Double-A/Triple-A, traded to Marlins in 2018)