Yelich, Canha keyed unlikely title run

Grasshoppers' SAL crown shows potential of Marlins system

Christian Yelich led all Marlins Minor Leaguers with a .312 average. (Tony Farlow/

By Robert Emrich / Special to | November 7, 2011 5:00 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.

Despite finishing with a .495 composite winning percentage, the Marlins enjoyed success at the Minor League level. After recording a league-best 38 wins, the Gulf Coast Marlins fell one victory shy of the championship.

Greensboro, which rallied from eight games back in August to clinch a playoff spot, won the South Atlantic League title with a team that manager Andy Haines called "a special group of guys." Christian Yelich, a 2010 first-round pick, played a key role in the Grasshoppers' success, winning a MiLBY for his playoff heroics.

Marlins Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Luke Montz, Jacksonville (118 games): Originally drafted by the Nationals in 2003, Montz bounced back in a big way after consecutive lackluster seasons. Signing with the Marlins in the offseason, the 28-year-old batted a career-high .273 and slugged 22 homers, three more than his previous best. He earned All-Star honors for the first time in his career and beat out noted prospects Paul Goldschmidt and Kyle Russell to win the Southern League All-Star Home Run Derby.

First base -- Mark Canha, Greensboro (107 games): It would be hard to argue that Canha's first full Minor League season wasn't an unqualified success. The 2010 seventh-rounder led the organization with 85 RBIs and ranked second with 25 homers. He finished fifth in the SAL with a .902 OPS but somehow was not named a league All-Star.

"I think the position he played hurt him a little bit," Haines said. "You look at the numbers and the production he had and he was certainly deserving of accolades. He's a productive offensive player, the doubles are there, the homers and the RBIs are there and he's an on-base percentage guy. We would not have had the season we had without him and I think he's put himself on the radar in the organization."

Canha also was one of the SAL's top defensive first basemen, boasting a .994 fielding percentage.

"I think it's probably the most unappreciated position defensively on the infield," the veteran manager said. "You're talking about not only playing that position but the amount of plays you can make for other guys on the infield. He's a good athlete, you can tell by the numbers defensively and offensively."

Second base -- Joe Thurston, New Orleans (126 games), Florida (one game): The veteran infielder provided the Zephyrs with a little bit of everything, finishing second on the club with a .300 average, slugging 13 homers and stealing 12 bases. He also led New Orleans with a .388 on-base percentage.

Shortstop -- Daniel Black, Greensboro (120 games): Black gave the Grasshoppers a speedy presence at the top of the lineup, stealing 32 bases and scoring 58 runs for the Sally champions. The 23-year-old led the club with five triples and compiled a .960 fielding percentage.

"Danny didn't initially play shortstop at the beginning of the season," Haines noted. "He's a guy who has all the tools to [play shortstop] -- the speed tool is there, the arm and everything you look for in a shortstop. We asked a lot of him, and once we ran him out there every day he responded and had a good year."

Third base -- Ryan Fisher, Greensboro (129 games): Fisher showed some pop, slugging 19 homers while finishing ninth in the South Atlantic League with 219 total bases. The 23-year-old ranked second among Marlins' Minor Leaguers with 79 RBIs.

"He's another guy that the organization, we talked about how it would benefit him to settle in at one position," said Haines, who concluded his second year with the Grasshoppers. "Last year, he bounced around and we settled him in at third base. Offensively, the numbers don't speak to the year he had. He had a productive year for us and I think what everyone noticed is his work ethic and how he goes about trying to make himself a better player."


Christian Yelich, Greensboro (122 games): Yelich's first full season in the Minors was nothing short of spectacular. The 2010 first-rounder hit his stride in the second half, batting .354 with 10 homers after the All-Star break to get his average up to an organization-best .312. The Marlins' Minor League Player of the Year also slugged 15 homers and tied for the team lead with 32 stolen bases while receiving a MiLBY for his walk-off homer in the first game of the playoffs.

"What gets everyone's attention is his ability to play the game and his intangibles," Haines said. "His speed, his instincts, he's able to steal 32 of 37 bases and just the overall package he brings to the team. I think he has a chance to separate himself [from other first-rounders] with his intangibles. He was a big part of what we did. We locked him in the three-hole all year and he responded. He kept getting better throughout the season.

"I think there was a little uncertainty as to what would be his best position. He is an extremely good athlete and a good runner, and he's certainly capable of playing center field or left field. The organization is going to give him a chance to play center and left and see where he settles in."

Kevin Mattison, Jacksonville (130 games): The speedy center fielder recovered from consecutive sub-par years to join Montz on the Southern League All-Star team. Mattison led the organization with 38 steals and tied for third in the Minors with 16 triples while drawing a career-high 58 walks.

Marcell Ozuna, Greensboro (131 games): Ozuna showed the power he displayed in 2010 with short-season Jamestown was no fluke, slugging 23 homers for Greensboro. The 20-year-old ranked third in the Sally with 239 total bases and was 17-for-19 in stolen base attempts.

"The tools with Marcell are very easy to see; across the board, they are plus-plus tools," Haines said. "If you look at the second half he had, he just got better every day. That's a tribute to him and his work ethic. He came to work every day and made adjustments. He can do it in just about every way possible."

According to Haines, Ozuna is about more than just offense.

"He's an incredible athlete, he made a number of web gem plays and had lots of outfield assists. Numerous things he did in the outfield caught opposing managers' eyes. He's an exciting player."

Utility -- Kyle Jensen, Jupiter (109 games), Jacksonville (21 games): Jensen had a spectacular season, batting .309 with 22 homers and a Florida State League-best .919 OPS, earning MVP honors for the former 12th-round pick. The 23-year-old continued to hit after moving up to Double-A, slugging five homers and driving in 10 runs with the Suns. He ended up leading the organization with 27 longballs.

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Austin Brice, Gulf Coast Marlins (11 games): A 2010 ninth-round pick, Brice was a perfect 6-0, limiting Rookie-level hitters to a .189 average over 48 2/3 innings. The 19-year-old posted an organization-best 2.96 ERA and recorded 55 strikeouts.

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Rob Rasmussen, Jupiter (28 games): Rasmussen shared the organization league with 12 wins and was tied for second with 118 strikeouts. The 2010 second-rounder tossed his first career shutout on Aug. 4, two-hitting St. Lucie in the second game of a doubleheader.

Relief pitcher -- Alejandro Ramos, Jupiter (49 games): The Texas native was absolutely dominant out of the Hammerheads' bullpen, notching 25 saves to earn Florida State League All-Star honors. Ramos posted a 1.78 ERA and struck out 71 over 50 2/3 innings while limiting foes to a .200 average.

Robert Emrich is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

View More