Miami Marlins

Top Marlins prospects — fueled by a grand slam — close out fall league with a title

Outfielder Jerar Encarnacion has showcased his power potential at the plate throughout a breakout minor-league season in the Miami Marlins organization.

So it was only fitting that he brought some pop to the final game of the Arizona Fall League.

Encarnacion, playing for the Salt River Rafters, crushed an 0-1 slider from Sterling Sharp 418 feet to left field for a fourth-inning, two-out grand slam that lifted the Rafters to a 5-1 win over the Surprise Saguaros in the AFL championship game on Saturday. The Rafters consisted of prospects from the Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays.

The grand slam was Encarnacion’s final hit of the fall league. The Marlins’ No. 17 prospect according to MLB Pipeline finished the month-long fall league hitting .271 with four home runs, 20 RBI and 11 runs scored over 70 at-bats.

“I was talking to our hitting coach and he was giving me tips about that pitcher,” Encarnacion said, according to Baseball America. “That he always keeps the ball down and I was looking for something up in the zone so I could make some good contact on it.

“I was ready, waiting for that pitch up in the zone. The rest is history.”

It followed up a minor-league season in which the 22-year-old hit .276 with 16 home runs, 26 doubles, 71 RBI and 61 runs scored in 135 combined games between the Class A Clinton (Iowa) Lumberkings and Class A Advanced Jupiter Hammerheads.

Encarnacion, signed by the Marlins as an international free agency in 2015, was a Midwest League All-Star with the Lumberkings, hitting .298 with 10 home runs and 43 RBI in 68 games before being promoted to Jupiter. He took his lumps at points following the promotion but still managed to hit .253 with another six home runs in 67 games with the Hammerheads.

“Encarnacion’s standout tool is his immense raw pop to all fields,” reads his MLB Pipeline scouting report. “His right-handed swing is fairly clean, without much movement, and his power potential rivals Monte Harrison’s as the best in Miami’s system. He’s doing a better job of handling breaking pitches and showing more patience this year, though he still needs more polish at the plate. Encarnacion profiles as a right fielder with his power and plus arm strength. He has close to average speed but need to improve his routes in the outfield as well as his defensive consistency.”

Encarnacion will likely start in either Jupiter or Double A Jacksonville in 2020 and is projected to be MLB-ready by the 2022 season.

However, he is just one of a slew of outfielder prospects at or near the top of the Marlins’ minor-league system.

Six are ranked above him: JJ Bleday (No. 2 prospect in Marlins’ organization), Jesus Sanchez (No. 3), Harrison (No. 5), Kameron Misner (No. 9), Victor Victor Mesa (No. 13) and Connor Scott (No. 14).

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How other Marlins prospects fared

Encarnacion isn’t the only Marlins prospect who had a standout month in the fall league.

Pitcher Nick Neidert, obtained in the Dee Gordon trade, posted a 1.25 ERA in 21 2/3 innings over five fall league starts. The Marlins’ No. 11 overall prospect, who missed almost three months at the start of the season after undergoing knee surgery, struck out 19 batters while in Arizona.

Mesa hit .270 with four doubles, 11 runs scored and a stolen base.

Relief pitcher Alex Vesia, who finished the 2019 minor-league season with the Jumbo Shrimp, threw 11 1/3 scoreless innings of relief over 10 appearances with 17 strikeouts while giving up just four hits and two walks. He closed out the championship game with a perfect ninth inning that featured a strikeout and two flyouts to Encarnacion in right field.

Middle infielder Jose Devers, the Marlins’ No. 10 prospect, had two hits in the championship game and finished the fall league with a .289 batting average and five stolen bases.

Relievers C.J. Carter and Vincenzo Aiello made a combined 17 relief appearances.

Leadership award

The Marlins were named the winners of the Arizona Fall League’s inaugural Organization Leadership Award, which is given out to “the team that meets or exceeds their obligations to their four AFL team partners, and optimizes their league participation.”

In addition to having seven prospects on the Salt River roster, Keith Johnson — the manager for the Marlins’ Triple A affiliate New Orleans Baby Cakes — served as the Rafters’ manager. The Marlins also sent Amanda Satoris, the first female to hold a strength and conditioning position in AFL history.

“This is an incredible honor to be recognized with this award, which is a credit to the team effort that many people in our organization contributed to, both on and off the field,” Marlins CEO and part-owner Derek Jeter said in a statement. “It serves as a testament to the first-class organization we are building here in Miami. We appreciate MLB and the staff at the Arizona Fall League for their efforts to create a memorable experience for some of the top prospects in the game. Having our players face top talent and show personal growth is a very important part of their development.”

Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.