Stanton, Villanueva shine for Marlins

Outfielder's rise to Majors among highlights of 2010 season

Elih Villanueva was perhaps the Marlins' top Minor League starter in 2010. (Tony Farlow/

By Danny Wild / | November 3, 2010 6:00 AM

This offseason, will be 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.

The Marlins saw their Double-A affiliate, the Jacksonville Suns, capture the Southern League championship for the second straight year in 2010, thanks to strong pitching and contributions from prospects like Ozzie Martinez, Matt Dominguez and, early on, Mike Stanton. Short-Season Jamestown, though, was the only other affiliate with a winning season, falling in three games to Brooklyn after securing the New York-Penn League Wild Card.

The Marlins honored right-hander Elih Villanueva as the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year and Martinez as the Minor League Player of the Year on Oct. 15.

Marlins organizational All-Stars

Catcher -- Kyle Skipworth, Greensboro (108 games)/Jacksonville (two games): Skipworth, a 2008 first-round Draft pick, led all Marlins catchers with 17 home runs and 59 RBIs in 81 games.

"He took the next step forward in development," said Brian Chattin, the Marlins' director of player development. "He showed more power and nice advancements at the plate and in his approach, day in and day out.

Skipworth's average remains an issue -- he batted .249 at Greensboro after consecutive years batting .208 -- and his .312 on-base percentage wasn't much better, although his improvements defensively will help fans look past that. He's hitting well in the Arizona Fall League and should see a promotion in 2011.

"The thing you don't see in the line score that we're very happy with is his defense behind the plate, how he's handling staffs and being an on-field leader," Chattin said. "He's working through the challenges of catching, day in, day out."

First baseman -- Logan Morrison, New Orleans (68 games), Jupiter (5 games): Morrison, a 2010 Futures Game All-Star, was long considered a Major League talent and finally got his chance this summer after ripping up Triple-A pitching. The Kansas City native hit .313 at two levels, finishing his Triple-A stint batting .307 with six homers and 45 RBIs in 68 games. His .424 on-base percentage in the Minors dipped only slightly to .390 in the Majors.

"We're very happy with Logan. He had an outstanding year this year," Chattin said. "He responded well when he got his opportunity. He's a fine young man, a fine young player and one we have high hopes for."

Second baseman -- Danny Richar, New Orleans (128 games): The 27-year-old Richar easily had the best season among second basemen in the Marlins system, batting .315 with seven homers, 50 RBIs, seven steals and a .341 OBP. This season marked the first time since 2006 that the Dominican Republic native failed to see time in the Majors. The Marlins are pretty weak at this position throughout the organization, but the man in front of Richar in the Majors, Dan Uggla set career in homers (33), RBIs (105) and average (.287). Richar is a potential free agent after spending six years in the Minors.

"He was a real steady player at Triple-A. He performed offensively and held his own defensively," Chattin said. "He showed versatility and moved around -- he was a real steady performer."

Third baseman -- Matt Dominguez, Jacksonville (138 games): Dominguez, a 2007 first-rounder, again showed his power and defensive talents this summer, leading all Marlins third basemen with 81 RBIs, which also was good for second in the system. He added 14 homers and his .333 OBP helps hide a .252 average. He collected 34 doubles and two triples, although strikeouts (96) remain an issue. Hector Luna also posted solid stats for New Orleans, batting .294 with 16 homers and 71 RBIs.

"He had a tremendous year and he's known for his glove and defensive prowess, but he took some nice strides offensively that we were very pleased with," Chattin said of Dominguez. "If you look at his body or work, his best month was August, when he was playing every day at Double-A at a young age. To have the best offensive month in your last month, it speaks very highly of his focus and effort. He's something we're certainly very pleased with. He'll come to camp and compete and we'll see where it goes."

Shortstop -- Ozzie Martinez, Jacksonville (130 games): The Marlins got a nice surprise from Martinez, who hit .302 at Double-A after a forgettable 2009 campaign at Jupiter. He's only 22, but he's already been with the organization for five years.

"He was a very solid part of that team, he hit at the top of the order all year long, he works counts very well and he's hard to strike out," Chattin said. "He was very steady offensively and defensively his first year at Double-A."

Martinez had five homers, 54 RBIs and a .372 OBP with the Suns, prompting a promotion to the Majors, where he continued (.326 in 18 games). The Marlins recognized him as the organization's top player of 2010.

"If you compare last year, the advancements he made were very impressive and exceeded my expectations," Chattin said. "He came on strong. He earned his Major League callup and our award and held his own."


Mike Stanton, Jacksonville (53 games): Everyone knew Stanton possessed enormous power and that 2010 might be the year he pushed his way up to Florida. Still only 21, he skipped Triple-A and slugged 22 homers in 100 games with the big club.

"Mike did what we thought he would do," Chattin said. "He's a special talent and the power numbers are there. I think he finished second in homers in the Southern League, and he was there for only half a season. He put together quite a run and earned that promotion."

Stanton was dominant in the Minors, batting .313 with 21 homers and 52 RBIs in 53 games at Double-A. Chattin also lauded his work in the field.

"The thing overlooked was his strides made from the defensive standpoint in right field," he said. "He really improved and turned himself into an above-average right fielder and doesn't get a lot of credit because of the gaudy offense numbers he put up."

Stanton's 500-foot homer in May only inflated his status as an elite young slugger. Chattin said the Marlins watched video of the mammoth swing.

"We have a side view of it, taken from his front side, and it was quite the stride," he said.

Scott Cousins, New Orleans (118 games): Cousins, a 2006 third-rounder, reached the Majors in 2010 after batting .285 with 14 homers, 49 RBIs and 117 hits in 118 games at Triple-A. He owned the eighth-best average among Florida farmhands, stole 12 bases and hit .328 in July and .355 in August.

"Scott's a talented ballplayer, a five-tool guy, and has a tremendous ceiling as a player," Chattin said. "If you look at the start he had, he struggled, but then by the middle of the season, he got comfortable and really took off."

The Nevada native batted .297 with runners on base and appeared in 27 games with Florida, where he also hit .297.

"To see the numbers he put up and look at where he was at midseason really speaks to how he didn't get frustrated," Chattin said. "He really played well and earned that Major League promotion and held his own very well up here."

Kyle Jensen, Greensboro (125 games): Jensen showed power early but struggled at the plate in April, then hit .287 in June, .344 in July and .327 in August. Overall, the 2009 12th-round pick batted .272, led the Marlins system with 86 RBIs and ranked fourth among Florida Minor Leaguers with 18 homers at Class A.

"He's another one who struggled so much initially, and once he got settled in, the work he did with our hitting coach, Kevin Randel, is something he should be very proud of," Chattin said. "He stayed on the program and the results came, and they came in bunches. He had a strong second half and, all together, a fine year."

Chattin said the Marlins would like to see Jensen cut down on his strikeouts next year, although they are to be expected from power hitters.

"He improved defensively as well," Chattin added. "He had seven errors in the first two months and only two more the rest of the way, so I think that speaks to the work he put in."


Right-handed starter -- Elih Villanueva, Jacksonville (28 games): The Florida State product authored quite a year after getting a brief taste of Double-A hitters in '09. Villanueva finished 14-4 with a 2.26 ERA, giving him the best ERA among Marlins starting pitchers and the second-most wins behind teammate Tom Koehler, who was 16-2 with a 2.61 ERA.

"It was a tossup internally as well," Chattin said. "Tom had such a fine year and received and warranted consideration, but we felt Elih was a little better. Elih is a strike-throwing guy. He works mainly off his fastball and he's shown he can work through hitters and spot the fastball up, down, in and out."

Villanueva, who had four complete games, including three shutouts, struck out 115 in 179 innings, held opponents to a .212 average, walked only 34 batters and was the Marlins' top Minor League pitcher. Koehler is a solid pick here as well, although he pitched fewer innings, issued more walks, allowed more hits and had a higher ERA. The Marlins have to be thrilled with the output from both righties, who are ticketed for at least Triple-A in 2011.

"[Villanueva] can work off the fastball and bring in offspeed stuff as the game progresses," Chattin said. "He logged a lot of innings, but he kept the pitch count in our guidelines, and that speaks to his ability to throw strikes and be efficient. He's the kind of guy who's always been a performer for us. He wants the ball in big-game situations and had a fine year."

Left-handed starter -- Brad Hand, Jupiter (26 games)/Jacksonville (1 game): Hand went 9-8 with a 3.31 ERA, mostly in the Florida State League, and had the fourth-lowest ERA among Marlins starters. He struck out 134 over 140 2/3 innings at Jupiter and recorded two shutouts.

"Brad had a great year. He's a player who developed a great deal this year and he also took a step forward to Double-A and made a start or two and was in our playoff rotation and had two very good playoff outings," Chattin said. "He really has a bright future ahead of him. He's still young and he's someone I have high hopes for in 2011 and beyond."

Relief pitcher -- Alejandro Ramos, Greensboro (49 games): Ramos led the Marlins system with 28 saves. He struck out 78 over 58 1/3 innings and held opposing hitters to a .197 average at Class A. The Texas Tech product, who signed as a free agent prior to the 2009 season, allowed only three homers. If he can cut down on his walks next year, he should shoot through the organization.

"He's the kind of person who looks for the back end of a ballgame. He's very aggressive, he wants the ball, he's on the attack," Chattin said. "He took his lumps early and got locked in and was a real solid part of that club. He's a multi-pitch guy with an above-average fastball, changeup, and he uses all that for closing situations. That's something you don't often see out of closers. I think with his stuff, he is certainly capable of holding his own at Double-A, but he'll come in and compete alongside others."

Danny Wild is an editor for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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