Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.
The Marlins’ cycle of building and trading away premier talent at the Major League level has the current state of their farm system on the upswing. Miami moved up to the No. 3 spot in MLB Pipeline’s midseason rankings and boasts five Top 100 prospects.
Although much of the system has been built through trades, the Marlins appear to have drafted well the past few years. Max Meyer, the third overall pick in 2020 and No. 30 prospect overall, highlights this list of Organization All-Stars after a dominant campaign, while 2021 first-rounder Kahlil Watson already slots in as the No. 27 overall prospect and 2019 first-rounder JJ Bleday impressed at the Fall Stars Game earlier this month.
All but one of the Marlins' full-season affiliates finished with a winning record, and all six clubs -- Rookie leagues included -- posted a .503 overall winning percentage. Double-A Pensacola was fourth with a 3.51 team ERA, and Triple-A Jacksonville rated 13th with a 3.94 mark.
The Marlins are positioning themselves to build from within once again. And there seems to be more willingness to spend in the free-agent market. It's proven to be a winning strategy before, and Miami could soon pose a threat in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball.
Marlins Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Nick Fortes, Pensacola (57 games), Jacksonville (38 games), Miami (14 games): There’s an easy pick for the best moment of Fortes’ season. The 25-year-old homered in his MLB debut against the Pirates in September. Fortes handled the bat very well in the Majors, batting .290 with four homers and seven RBIs in 31 at-bats with the Marlins.
He didn’t post the same kind of numbers in the Minors -- especially that burst of power. But the Ole Miss product still had the best season among all backstops in the system.
Fortes batted .245/.332/.367 with seven homers, 17 doubles, 44 RBIs and 37 runs scored across both levels. The 2018 fourth-rounder had the lowest strikeout rate (14.3 percent) of any player in the Marlins’ system with at least 250 plate appearances -- a figure that climbed to 23.5 percent in his brief stint in the Majors.
The 5-foot-11, 198-pounder played 75 games behind the plate for two clubs that finished in the top 13 among all full-season affiliates in team ERA. Fortes threw out 25 of 91 would-be base stealers (27.5 percent).
"His game preparation was off the charts -- really cerebral kid," Pensacola manager Kevin Randel said. "He really worked hard with Jose Ceballos, our catching guy in Pensacola. ... Framing metrics were off the charts. Balls in the dirt. And just his rapport with the pitching staff was great."
First baseman -- Troy Johnston, High-A Beloit (96 games), Low-A Jupiter (24 games): A 17th-round selection out of Gonzaga in the 2019 Draft, Johnston was the only player in the Marlins’ system to hit better than .282 in at least 300 plate appearances. The 24-year-old batted .300/.399/.468 with 15 homers, 27 doubles, 85 RBIs and 66 runs scored across both levels. In addition to leading that group in average, Johnston was tops in on-base percentage, total hits (132), OPS (.867) and wRC+ (140). He finished second in BABIP (.361) and third in slugging.
Johnston showed excellent bat-to-ball skills and gap power that figures to translate into more homers in the future. He stayed on brand in 18 games in the Arizona Fall League, batting .296 with 15 runs scored for Mesa.
Johnston was drafted as an outfielder and stayed on the grass for Class A Short Season Batavia in 2019 but moved to primarily a first base role this year. With help from Beloit manager and former MLB first baseman Mike Jacobs, Johnston committed 10 errors in 110 games at first.
Second baseman -- Ian Lewis, Rookie-level Florida Complex League (43 games): The No. 26 Marlins prospect needed to wait out the pandemic for his professional debut. Lewis had just 161 plate appearances this summer but was very productive in that sample.
The 18-year-old led the FCL with five triples and batted .302/.354/.497 with three homers, 10 doubles, 27 RBIs and 24 runs scored. He finished in the top 10 in his league in total hits (45), doubles, average, RBIs, slugging, OPS (.851) and wRC+ (122).
Lewis’ highest regarded tool when he signed for $950,000 in 2019 -- the largest bonus for a Bahamian player that year -- was his 65-grade speed. He stole nine bases on 13 attempts this season.
Jose Salas pushed Lewis off his natural position of shortstop for the most part this season. Things didn’t come so easy for Lewis, who committed eight errors in 111 total chances at second base.
Third baseman -- Bennett Hostetler, Jupiter (27 games), Beloit (10 games): The Bozeman, Montana, native built his Draft stock by hitting .394 as a redshirt senior at North Dakota State this season. The Marlins selected Hostetler in the 18th round this July and pushed him into the deep end of full-season ball.
The 24-year-old responded with a .319/.367/.486 slash line, five homers and 33 RBIs across the two levels. He stormed through Jupiter, batting .337 with 25 RBIs in 104 at-bats, to earn a quick promotion at the end of the season. The free-swinging Hostetler drew just six walks and struck out 44 times. But good things happened when he put the ball in play, as evidenced by his .433 BABIP.
Hostetler is just the fourth NDSU player to be drafted since 2013, and he would be the third from the school to reach the Majors, should he do so.
Honorable mention: Eddy Alvarez, a 31-year-old veteran, posted similar numbers to Hostetler in 36 Minor League games. He batted .320/.449/.500 with six homers and 24 RBIs with Jacksonville, Jupiter and the FCL club, while getting in 24 games in the Majors. Alvarez missed time in affiliated ball while competing for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics, in which he won a Silver Medal. Also a Silver Medalist in speed-skating in 2014, he became just the sixth Olympian to ever medal in both the Winter and Summer Games.
Shortstop -- Bryson Brigman, Jacksonville (104 games): Like many in the Minors, Brigman needed a lot of patience before getting another chance to prove himself after a down year. He seemed to have a breakout 2018 campaign, but his OPS dropped 100 points the following season, his first full year with the Marlins.
But Brigham rebounded in his first season at Triple-A. He batted .282/.361/.399 with 29 extra-base hits, 33 RBIs and 54 runs scored. The University of San Diego product was a reliable leadoff hitter for the organization’s most successful affiliate and one of six Marlins’ prospects with at least 100 hits on the year.
Brigham went to the opposite field on nearly 35 percent of his batted balls this season, which is about a 7 percent increase from 2019 and more in line with his excellent 2018 numbers.
A third-round pick of the Mariners in 2016, Brigman was traded to the Marlins for veteran outfielder Cameron Maybin at the deadline two years later. The 26-year-old is Rule 5 Draft-eligible after being left off the Marlins’ 40-man roster.
Griffin Conine, Beloit (66 games), Pensacola (42 games): In a postseason meeting, Randel actually had to cheer up Conine to remind him that 30-homer seasons are pretty incredible accomplishments in the Minor Leagues. Even more incredible was the true McGwire-Sosa-type home run race for much of the season between Conine and Royals prospect MJ Melendez -- the eventual long ball leader and winner of the MiLBY Award for Top Offensive Player.
The 24-year-old son of “Mr. Marlin” Jeff Conine finished in a tie for second in the Minors with 36 homers. Conine held the MiLB lead at the time of his final homer on Sept. 5 but did not earn the bump to Triple-A for the last few weeks of the season, where Melendez ran away with the title. He batted .218/.330/.530 overall but really struggled after the promotion to Double-A, hitting .176/.243/.447 in his final 159 at-bats.
"I think the key with that for me is offspeed -- what kind of exposed me in Double-A -- and that's what happens when you get up levels and pitchers can hone in on your weaknesses better," Griffin told MLB.com after the season. "I don't think the competition was a crazy jump, because there's good players at every level, but they just get really consistent, and they can expose you as soon as you show them anything. And I did that. But also I know exactly how to go about working on it."
Despite the incredible power numbers, there were some issues to Conine’s offensive game. His 185 strikeouts were the most in the Minors, and his 40.1 percent strikeout rate was the 10th highest among all qualified Minor Leaguers. This likely led to the Marlins’ decision to keep their No. 21 prospect out of Jacksonville this season and unprotected from the Rule 5 Draft.
"I think it's more of an approach-based thing that he needs to change, really nothing mechanical," Randel said. "The power was there. Man, he just has that swing that's short and compact, and he needs to learn how to use it more consistently. Try not to add on more. He could really hit."
Defensively, Conine plays a solid corner outfield with a plus arm that produced 10 assists this season.
Victor Mesa Jr., Jupiter (111 games): Considering he’s about as high-profile a prospect as the Marlins have had since the change in ownership, it’s easy to forget that 2021 was Mesa’s first full season -- and that he’s only 20 years old.
Miami’s 18th-ranked prospect was tied for third in the Minors with 11 triples in his first full season. He also batted .266/.316/.402 with five homers, 21 doubles, 71 RBIs and 66 runs scored, led all Marlins’ outfield prospects with 114 total hits and was fifth with a .718 OPS.
Sure, the Lionel Messi jersey swap is probably the highlight of Mesa’s year. But he also proved to be wise beyond his years while standing out amongst a strong crop of outfielders in the Marlins’ system.
Belonging to that group is Mesa’s older brother, Victor Victor Mesa, who received a $5.25 million bonus to Mesa’s $1 million when the pair signed out of Cuba on the same day in 2018. The younger Mesa has outshined his 25-year-old brother -- who batted .249 and reached Double-A this year -- so far in the professional ranks, and it should be interesting to follow how he responds when pushed to the upper levels.
Peyton Burdick, Pensacola (106 games), Jacksonville (eight games): Burdick was named the Marlins’ Minor League Player of the Year for the work he did at Pensacola, breaking the club’s single-season home run record while batting .231 with an .848 OPS.
The 24-year-old was second in the system with 23 long balls and 76 runs scored while leading all Marlins prospects with 79 walks. He batted .224/.367/.456 with 20 doubles and 53 RBIs and earned a late-season promotion to Triple-A.
"He actually showed us that he was the best player in the league," Randel said. "He's an exciting player. He's an impact player. Every time he steps in the box something exciting can happen. He took over games for us."
The Marlins No. 15 prospect didn’t catch on right away after the promotion to Jacksonville. He had just four hits -- although three of those were doubles -- in 28 at-bats (.143 average) with one RBI in his brief stint during the Final Stretch.
While the power was there, Burdick’s strikeout and on-base numbers took a dive from his first professional season in 2019. He had more RBIs (64) and an average 84 points higher (.308) in 141 fewer at-bats after being selected in the third round that June.
But this season, he also managed to improve his strikeout rate as the year progressed. That figure rose to 31.3 percent over the first three months of the season, but he carried a 26.8 percent rate -- which was still a little higher than his 23 percent K rate in 2019 -- from August to the end of the year .
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Max Meyer, Pensacola (20 starts), Jacksonville (two starts): There are few pitchers in the Minors that had a better 2021 season than Meyer.
The No. 30 overall prospect went 6-4 with a 2.27 ERA and 130 strikeouts over 111 innings while holding opposing batters to a .221 average in 22 total starts. He was fourth in ERA among all Minor League pitchers to complete 100 innings this season.
"[He was] able to hold his velocity and his command really took off throughout the season," Randel said. "You saw really good spurts from here and there on command with his slider working both sides of the plate. The changeup really took off as well. And one of his biggest things was kind of working his fastball, trying to get more outs with the fastball."
The Marlins’ third-ranked prospect set a career high with 10 punchouts in his first Triple-A start against Memphis on Sept. 24. He allowed more than two runs in just four starts and worked 10 scoreless appearances.
The 22-year-old, who was selected with the No. 3 overall pick out of the University of Minnesota, has been the most productive of the Marlins’ homegrown prospects so far. Randel explained that the Marlins did not know whether Meyer would stick as a starter. They entertained the possibility of a shift to the bullpen as a way to best fast track his rise to the Majors. But Meyer ultimately proved he can stick in the rotation.
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Jake Eder, Pensacola (15 starts): Even with a full year of Meyer in the rotation, Pensacola would not have had one of the best team ERAs in the Minors without Eder.
The club’s seventh-ranked prospect went 3-5 with a 1.77 ERA and 99 strikeouts over 71 1/3 innings in 15 starts. His ERA was the best among all Minor Leaguers to complete at least 70 innings. Eder posted a 12.49 K/9, 0.98 WHIP and .169 opponents batting average.
"Fastball is overpowering. His breaking ball is plus-plus and his changeup came around and was actually an above-average pitch as well," Randel said. "So, we're talking about three really above average pitches, and he kind of solidified himself as kind of like a frontline starter."
Eder, 23, made eight scoreless appearances and set his personal best of 12 strikeouts in his first start of the season on May 6 against Mississippi. Unfortunately, his season was shut down in August when it was discovered that he’d need Tommy John surgery.
A fourth-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2020, Eder did not reach 95 total innings in his three seasons with the Commodores. Randel said Eder entered camp as a relative unknown but quickly proved to be the best prospect they had in Double-A Spring Training.
Relief pitcher -- Jackson Rose, Beloit (23 games), Pensacola (three games), Jupiter (three games): The-25-year-old right-hander worked out of the bullpen behind Meyer at Minnesota, but the Marlins attempted to stretch him out to a starter in 2019.
That experiment didn’t pan out, but Rose’s return to the bullpen was a ringing success. The 2018 35th-rounder posted a 2.82 overall ERA with 89 strikeouts in 67 innings while holding opposing batters to a .218 batting average.
Rose held a 2.91 ERA in Beloit, where he spent the bulk of his time, hurling 55 2/3 innings. He had a short stay in Pensacola in mid-August but finished the season with the Snappers.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.