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Marlins' top two live up to their billing
11/07/2012 11:00 AM ET
This offseason, MiLB.com is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

It was a big year for Marlins prospects, particularly the top two.

The top of the crop -- Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez -- also had the best seasons in the organization, winning the Marlins' organizational Player and Pitcher of the Year awards respectively while turning in two of the biggest breakout seasons in the Minor Leagues.

Along with Marcell Ozuna and Adam Conley, four of MLB.com's top six Miami prospects warranted inclusion as Organization All-Stars. The group also features a healthy mix of veterans who, in the words of Marlins director of player development Brian Chattin, "anchored" Triple-A New Orleans.

But it was the potential-filled young players like Yelich and Fernandez who stormed through the lower levels and paved the way for both Class A Greensboro and Class A Advanced Jupiter to advance to their league championships.

Marlins Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Luke Montz, New Orleans (123 games): The veteran catcher slugged his way onto this team, bashing an organization-best 29 home runs (second-most in the Pacific Coast League), 14 doubles and 74 RBIs for the Zephyrs. The 29-year-old Louisiana native slugged .495 in his first year at Triple-A, getting on base at a .310 clip while hitting .222. It marked his second straight selection as an Organization All-Star for Miami.



First baseman -- Matt Smith, Greensboro (90 games): The 24-year-old out took the less-traveled route to his selection. He went undrafted after his senior season at the University of Mississippi in 2010 and then missed all of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery before Miami signed him this offseason. He responded by slugging .506, clubbing 20 home runs (second most in the South Atlantic League) and 15 doubles in his first taste of professional baseball. He also hit .279 and posted a .358 OBP and was named a Sally League midseason All-Star.

"We didn't know much about Matt -- we signed him in the offseason, so Spring Training was the first look we had at him," said Chattin. "We finally got him healthy, got him on the field ready to go, and he really provided a nice offensive spark to [Greensboro]. He has tremendous raw power to all fields, and I think there's more in there as we get the lower half of his swing more consistent. He's a prototypical right-handed power-hitting corner infielder."

Second baseman -- Austin Barnes, Greensboro (123 games): Barnes, drafted as a catcher in the ninth round in 2011 out of Arizona State University by Miami, might well have a Craig Biggio kind of career path in front of him. After playing mostly behind the dish during his 2011 debut with Class A Short-Season Jamestown, Barnes played 104 games at second this year. The 22-year-old hit .318/.401/.481 for Greensboro, adding 12 home runs, 36 doubles and 65 RBIs and walked almost as many times (59) as he struck out (61). He was both a midseason and postseason Sally League All-Star.

"Austin played second and had a tremendous year," said Chattin. "'Baseball player' is the best way to describe him. He does the little things well, knows the game very well -- the ins and outs of it. He comes to play every single day, gives you professional at-bats, gets on base. He's a real table-setter and, he's a guy that has defensive versatility."

Shortstop -- Danny Black, Jupiter (78 games), Jacksonville (eight games): Black is another Marlins farmhand earning his second straight Organization All-Star nod. A 14th-rounder in 2010, he hit a career-best .309 this season, getting on base at a .369 clip and stealing 19 bases. The University of Oklahoma product hit .314 in the Florida State League, which would have been good for third on the circuit had he qualified. He was also named an FSL postseason All-Star.

"Danny Black is an above-average athlete, a left-handed hitter who runs well, will steal you a base on occasion. He's a top-of-the-order-type player," Chattin noted. "He's a steady defender, has some unorthodox aspects to his game, but he's very productive. I think that as he moves up the ladder he could do a lot of different things for the club with his athleticism and versatility. I've seen him take fly balls in center field, and I think he could play it if he wanted to try that as he continues along."

Third baseman -- Mike Cervenak, New Orleans (101 games): The 36-year-old veteran of 14 Minor League seasons was reliable once again for the Zephyrs this year. His .340 average led the organization and was good for fifth in the PCL. He posted a .408 OBP and .504 slugging percentage as well, with 13 homers and 57 RBIs.

"He was a veteran anchor of that Triple-A club," said Chattin. "He missed the first month of the season, but when he got to New Orleans in May, he hit the ground running and really put together a fine offensive year. He's a gap-to-gap hitter, a professional in every at-bat. Very dependable, the kind of person any organization would want to have on a club, and for me, a fella that, once his playing career is done, would make a heck of a coach or manager if he wanted to pursue that."

Outfielders

Christian Yelich, GCL Marlins (one game), Jupiter (106 games): The Marlins' top prospect built on a strong 2011 with an even better 2012. He batted .330 for Jupiter -- second-best in the FSL (and third in the organization) -- with a .404 OBP and a .516 slugging percentage, all career highs. The 23rd overall pick in the 2010 Draft added 12 home runs and 29 doubles to earn a second consecutive spot on the Organization All-Star list, was both a midseason and postseason FSL All-Star, played in the Futures Game and was named the Marlins' Minor League Player of the Year. He is MLB.com's No. 17 overall prospect.

"Christian had a tremendous year, both offensively and defensively," Chattin said. "He missed some time due to a couple injuries, but the numbers speak for themselves. He's what you look for in a player -- intelligent, athletic. He's a pure hitter who, I think as he continues to mature, is going to show improved power production. He is a tremendous individual, mature beyond his years and a very competitive person who wants to win. It's a team-first mentality that comes from him."

Marcell Ozuna, Jupiter (129 games): Ozuna, Miami's No. 5 prospect, provided a third straight big year in terms of power production for the Marlins. With the Hammerheads, the Dominican Republic native slugged .476, hit 24 home runs and drove in an organization-topping 95 runs. The 21-year-old also led the FSL in RBIs and was a midseason and postseason All-Star for the circuit. He was an Organization All-Star last year as well.

"He's a five-tool player, an exciting individual to watch. He can do about anything he wants on the field -- tremendous power, runs well, has an above-average arm that suits him well in right field and he has range. He's got a developing offensive approach, and I think as he continues to get at-bats, see advanced pitching, see breaking balls, his strike zone awareness will improve and his production will continue to increase," said Chattin.

Brent Keys, Greensboro (95 games): Keys had something of a breakout year for the Grasshoppers, putting together a .335 average that was tops in both the Miami organization and in the South Atlantic League. He got on base at a .394 clip and slugged .449, knocking five homers and 21 doubles en route to selections to the Sally League midseason and postseason All-Star squads. He also swiped 18 bases, tied for fourth-most among Marlins farmhands.

"He was a pleasant surprise this year. He's battled some injuries throughout his career but got some playing time, settled in as our center fielder at Greensboro and had a tremendous offensive year," noted Chattin. "He has a speed element to his game, uses it well. He can put a bunt down, doesn't do too much with his swing, can go gap to gap. Instinctive outfielder with great range in center field."

Utility -- Gil Velazquez, New Orleans (110 games), Miami (19 games): Velazquez toiled mostly at second and shortstop for the Zephyrs and then played exclusively at third during a 19-game callup with the Marlins, showing versatility around the infield. He hit .312 and registered a .391 OBP in Triple-A, driving in 42 runs on 20 extra-base hits before hitting .232 during his stint in Miami. The 33-year-old was also an Organization All-Star for the Angels last season.

"Gil is a true professional, a veteran player that knows how to play. He provides defensive versatility and a consistent offensive approach," said Chattin. "He played third when he got to the bigs and held his own pretty well there, even though he hadn't played it. That's who Gil is -- someone who is very reliable, very consistent."

Right-handed pitcher -- Jose Fernandez, Greensboro (14 games), Jupiter (11 games): Fernandez, a 20-year-old out of Cuba, was perhaps the biggest breakout star in all the Minor Leagues this season. The 14th overall pick in 2011 began his year in Class A, where he went 7-0 for Greensboro with a 1.59 ERA before a promotion to Class A Advanced. He was just as dominant at his new level, going 7-1 with a 1.96 ERA for Jupiter. In total, he recorded a 1.75 ERA in 134 innings this year, striking out 158 and walking 35. His ERA was seventh-lowest throughout the Minors and his strikeout total was good for 13th. The Marlins' No. 2 prospect and MLB.com's No. 22 overall also pitched in the Futures Game.

"That's as good a year as you could ask for from a starting pitcher," Chattin said. "He pitched at two levels and dominated them both. What the numbers don't tell you is what kind of competitor he is. He's extremely committed, not to becoming a Major Leaguer, but being the best Major Leaguer he can be. ... You can see he's advanced when it comes to his ability to pitch and dominate lineups. His stuff is well above average, but he also has the ability to throw strikes, which is sometimes not the case with a young arm that has power to it."

Fernandez was also selected as Starting Pitcher of the Year in the entire Minor Leagues by MiLB.com's staff.

Left-handed pitcher -- Adam Conley, Greensboro (14 games), Jupiter (12 games): Conley, a second-rounder in 2011, finished third in the organization in wins (11), fourth in strikeouts (135) and sixth in ERA (3.47). The 22-year-old was strongest for the Grasshoppers, going 7-3 with a 2.78 ERA while striking out 84 in 74 1/3 innings before a promotion to the FSL. Overall, he wound up striking out 135 while walking just 43 in 127 innings.

"He's a very mature, polished left-handed pitcher. He needs to develop his slider -- he worked on it throughout the year -- and I think once he gets it in place, he has a chance to move quick and be a productive member of a Major League rotation," noted Chattin.

Reliever -- A.J. Ramos, Jacksonville (55 games): The 26-year-old was lights-out in Double-A, recording a 1.44 ERA in 68 2/3 innings while striking out 89 and walking 21 for the Suns. His 21 saves were second-most in the organization and in the Southern League. He was a Miami Organization All-Star in 2011 and a Southern League midseason All-Star this year. He earned a callup in September to the big leagues, where he posted a 3.86 ERA with 13 strikeouts and four walks in 9 1/3 frames for the Marlins.

"He's a bulldog, very competitive and has the closer mentality," said Chattin. "He was a late-round pick -- a 21st-rounder -- and he has proved himself every step of the way. He has above-average stuff and above-average mentality and work ethic, and that combined is going to, in my opinion, make him very successful."



This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.