This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.
The Marlins owned the second-lowest payroll in the Majors in 2013, coming in just over $39 million, so it's no surprise the team was aggressive in bringing up its low-cost Minor League talent. Jose Fernandez was the best example of that, going from Class A Advanced Jupiter straight to the Majors and winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award in the process. But it wasn't just the 21-year-old Cuban who made an impact with the Marlins -- Miami injected some youth into its new ballpark with talents such as Christian Yelich, Jake Marisnick, Brian Flynn, Derek Dietrich, Tom Koehler and Marcel Ozuna.
It's an impressive list and a credit to the Marlins for their willingness to get younger, although it wasn't all good. Miami was the only team in the National League to lose 100 games, finishing with the NL's worst record at 62-100. Marlins fans are used to the up-and-down history of this team, and with cost-cutting measures still in place, the hope is that the youth will develop into a winning team.
But the Marlins system also struggled in 2013. No Minor League affiliate reached the postseason in 2013, and the organization is notably thin at some infield positions. Triple-A New Orleans finished in last place in its PCL division at 72-72, Double-A Jacksonville missed the playoffs despite a respectable 73-63 record and Class A Advanced Jupiter just missed out on a .500 mark, finishing 68-69. At the lower levels, Class A Greensboro went 65-72, short-season Batavia was 39-36 and the Rookie-level Gulf Coast Marlins came in at 25-34.
The Marlins do own a wealth of talented left-handed pitchers and several good outfield sluggers. We took a few minutes to speak with Brian Chattin, the Marlins' director of player development, to get his thoughts on his organization's top performers in 2013.
Marlins Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Austin Barnes, Jacksonville (19 games), Jupiter (98 games): Barnes, Miami's ninth-round pick in 2011 out of Arizona State, only began catching in 2010 while in college. The Marlins are fairly thin behind the plate, making the 23-year-old Barnes look pretty good: He hit .272 with five homers, 45 RBIs, a .379 on-base percentage and 112 hits in 117 games. He also drew 64 walks while striking out 69 times.
"His greatest strength is his versatility," said Chattin, who has overseen the Marlins' player development since 2005. "We played him at second base at [Class A] and this year behind the plate at high-A, and he played both equally well. We moved him to Double-A, and with an injury to Derek Dietrich, we moved him to second and he didn't miss a beat. Versatility is his strength -- he's a player any team would like to have. He's a gamer, a winner and player you want to have in your lineup every chance you get. He makes the players around him better."
First base -- Viosergy Rosa, Greensboro (133 game): A 2013 South Atlantic League All-Star, Rosa finished the year batting .252 with 23 homers, 69 RBIs and a .362 OBP in 465 at-bats with the Class A Grasshoppers. The left-handed infielder from the Bronx ranked second in the system in homers and RBIs in his first full season above the short-season level. His power in 2013 was notable after he hit just five long balls in his first three seasons combined.
"He's been a very good example of hard work and persistence paying off in one's career," Chattin said. "He had very raw talent when we got him out of the Draft, and he's turned himself into a good prospect. He's committed, he works hard and he's diligent. His power has come along well, and the thing I like is he has power but also understands the strike zone. He was second in walks in the league on the year -- for a guy who ranks in power, it's encouraging how much he gets on base. And that strike zone awareness will help him. He needs to continue to develop himself at first. He'll turn himself into at least an average first baseman."
Second base -- Derek Dietrich, Jacksonville (63 games), Miami (57 games): The Marlins don't have much cooking at second base, and Dietrich has already graduated to the Majors, but we felt his progress at Double-A was noteworthy. The Georgia Tech product hit .271 with 11 homers, 38 RBIs and a .381 OBP sandwiched around 57 games in the Majors, where he added nine homers and 23 RBIs. He's facing a potential move to third in 2014. Miami's top-ranked second-base prospect, Noah Perio (the Marlins' No. 12 prospect) hit just .236 with one homer and 30 RBIs in 100 games at two levels.
"We were very impressed with [Dietrich's] performance when he got to the big leagues," Chattin said. "He'd played a little bit of second before we got him, and we put in a lot of work with him in the big leagues. I thought he played a very good second -- two errors in over 500 innings played -- and that speaks to who he is, a grinder. He's another guy that really enjoys the work and playing the game and he's going to get the most out of his ability."
Third base -- Ryan Fisher, Jacksonville (50), Jupiter (69 games): An MiLB.com All-Star in 2011, Fisher excelled at Jupiter but struggled a bit more at Jacksonville. Overall, he hit .268 with nine homers and 52 RBIs in 119 games, reaching Double-A for the first time.
"I foresee him starting in Double-A, and we're looking for him to make more strides like he did in his second tour of Jupiter," Chattin said. "He's another one that has some versatility to him, we played him at first, third and left field, so he has the athletics to hold his own around the field."
Shortstop -- Anthony Gomez, Greensboro (117 games): The Vanderbilt product posted respectable numbers at another thin position for Miami, batting .271 with five homers, 55 RBIs and a dozen steals in 117 games. He hit .304 in May and .306 in August.
Chattin said the Marlinsm, though, are more excited about Austin Nola, the team's fifth-round pick in 2012 out of LSU. Nola appeared in 124 games at Jupiter and hit .232 with one homer and 40 RBIs.
"In his first full season, he was leading the Florida State League in fielding percentage, and halfway through the year, he was hitting .270 and hit a slump in the second half," Chattin said of Nola. "His offensive numbers were there, and he's a true shortstop. He's a plus defender, a team leader and he plays the game very well. He hits behind the runner well and handles the bat exceptionally well."
Kyle Jensen, New Orleans (60 games), Jacksonville (70 games): Jensen, who hit .299 with power in 2011, saw his average drop as he moved up the ladder in 2013 -- he hit .235 between Double-A and Triple-A, but he posted good production numbers again, finishing with a organization-leading 28 homers and 78 RBIs. A Southern League All-Star, Jensen could become a factor in the Majors if he could put the ball in play more: The 25-year-old's 50 walks are solid, but he struck out 144 times.
"He's the best power hitter in our system and he showed it again, hitting almost 30 homers between two levels," Chattin said. "He's a player who will sit in the middle of your lineup and hit the ball out of the park in any at-bat. He worked hard on his defense and turned himself into a solid corner outfielder. A player like that is hard to find -- a right-handed hitter with power."
Jake Marisnick, Jacksonville (67 games), Jupiter (three games), Miami (40 games): Marisnick, the Marlins' No. 1 prospect, followed his good friend Christian Yelich to the Majors but hit only .183 in the bigs. He looked much better at Double-A, where he batted .294 with a dozen homers, 46 RBIs, 11 steals and a .358 on-base percentage. The Marlins hope to see more of those numbers at higher levels in 2014 and beyond.
"He missed the first month with a broken bone, and when he finally got going, it didn't take him long to get up to speed," Chattin said. "He's fun to watch, he's a very athletic player with tools, and very young with tremendous upside. His performance at Double-A in a short amount of time is an indication of what he will be in the big leagues. He's still got some time to develop, but his ceiling is very high."
Brent Keys, Jacksonville (eight games), Jupiter (95 games): An MiLB.com All-Star last year, Keys was a hit machine in his fifth season, finishing with an organization-leading .341 average in 103 games. He doesn't have power, hitting only a pair of homers, with 33 RBIs and 14 steals, but the Marlins are high on his plate discipline and bat.
"He won the batting title in the Florida State League, the second year in a row he's won a batting title," Chattin said, referencing his .335 average in 2012 in the South Atlantic League. "He just hits. He missed the first month, but when he got back, he picked up where he left off. He rarely strikes out, he can run, play all three outfield positions. He doesn't give you a lot of power, but he can bunt and run and handles the bat well."
Designated Hitter -- Jesus Solorzano, Greensboro (129 games): The outfielder showed good power and speed in 2013, batting .285 with 15 homers, 66 RBIs and a system-leading 33 stolen bases in 129 games. Considered a potential five-tool player, the 23-year-old right-handed hitter added some at-bats this fall in the Venezuelan Winter League, but he hopes to build off a respectable campaign at Class A in 2014.
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Anthony DeSclafani, Jacksonville (13 games), Jupiter (12 games): The Florida product was Miami's Pitcher of the Year after going 9-6 with a 2.65 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 129 innings over 25 starts at two levels. The right-hander held batters to a .252 average, walked just 23 men and was voted a Florida State League All-Star in his first season with the Marlins.
"We acquired him from Toronto and he was a great addition to our organization," Chattin said. "His performance on the field in two levels, his maturity and professionalism and committing to being the best pitcher that he can be is very enjoyable to be around. He's a consummate professional, and I think his leadership and how he goes about his business rubs off on his teammates. He's a pitcher that excelled at high-A and Double-A. A power arm, very good slider, changeup is a work in progress, but he's not far away from impacting our Major League team."
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Andrew Heaney, Jacksonville (six games), Jupiter (13 games): You could make a case for several Marlins southpaws to be named the best of 2013, with Heaney highlighting a list of prospects that includes Adam Conley, Brian Flynn and Justin Nicolino. Heaney was dominant at two levels, going 9-3 with a 1.60 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 95 1/3 innings. He looked sharp in the Arizona Fall League too, posting a 1.95 ERA in 27 2/3 innings. An Oklahoma State product, Heaney is now Miami's No. 2 prospect.
"Heaney missed some time early in the season and threw 95 innings as a result, but he excelled both at high-A and Double-A," Chattin said. "He's a very high-ceiling left-hander, he's got a plus slider, a good fastball and a good feel for his chanegup. He has three pitches that are average to above average, and he's a very competitive guy, a strike-thrower. We'll give him a look to make the Major League team this spring. ... He's not far away from impacting the Marlins very soon."
Honorable mentions: Flynn, who reached the Majors, went 7-12 with a 2.63 ERA and a system-leading 147 strikeouts at two levels. Conley spent the year at Double-A, finishing 11-7 with a 3.25 ERA in 26 outings. His 11 wins led the system.
Relief pitcher -- Nick Wittgren, Jacksonville (four games), Jupiter (48 games): A right-hander out of Purdue, Wittgren frustrated Florida State League batters all summer, going 2-1 with a 0.77 ERA in 52 games. He struck out 63 in 58 1/3 innings, allowed just one home run and 10 walks and ranked second in the system with 26 saves. It was good enough to earn him our staff's choice for Relief Pitcher of the Year.
"He's been dominant since he came to us in the ninth round last year, and he's excelled at every level we've put him in," Chattin said. "He continued to perform in the AFL this fall, and he's on the fast track to impact our Major League team. He's what you want out of a closer -- he's intelligent, fiercely competitive and he's in attack mode from the first pitch. He throws strikes, he's got deception in his delivery, a good curveball and a developing change. To his credit, he's been as good as you've seen, but he's not satisfied with being a two-pitch pitcher. He's worked hard to develop a change to use against lefties, and he's a bullpen arm I have very high hopes for."