Marlins in AFL: Anderson raking, Nola learning to catch
MLB Pipeline checks in on Miami's prospects participating in the Arizona Fall League
By Mike Rosenbaum
Back in the Arizona Fall League, Brian Anderson is showing what a difference one year can make.
After batting just .115 (3-for-26) last fall, Anderson has been one the circuit's better hitters this year in the early going, ranking fourth in batting average (.393) and third in OPS (1.112) through nine games entering Friday. The performance is a continuation of what was a breakthrough 2016 campaign for the Marlins' No. 4 prospect.
Anderson, 23, began the season at Class A Advanced Jupiter, where he hit .302 with three home runs before moving up to Double-A Jacksonville on May 30. In his first taste of the Double-A level, he hit .243 with eight home runs in 86 games.
"As a position player, you notice the jump in pitching," said Anderson, the Marlins' third-round Draft pick in 2013. "The pitching is a lot more consistent -- the pitchers are a little bit older, can throw their offspeed stuff for strikes and a lot of them pitch you backwards here."
Anderson initially struggled with Jacksonville but showed improvement in each month before fully turning the corner in August, when he hit .279/.339/.468 with five home runs in 29 games.
"Any time you jump a level you want to instantly have an impact," said Anderson. "That's kind of what happened with me. I went up there and put a lot of pressure on myself to perform really well. You just have to take a step back and realize that it's baseball, it's a game, you've been playing it your whole life."
Anderson batted .265 with a career-high 11 home runs between the two levels. He also paced all Marlins Minor Leaguers with 128 hits, while his .348 on-base percentage and career-high 65 RBIs ranked third and fourth in the organization, respectively. In September, the Marlins named him their Minor League Player of the Year.
On the other side of the ball, Anderson is using the Fall League to refine his defense at third base, a position he moved to on a full-time basis in 2016 after also seeing time at second early in his career. But just because he's focused on developing at one position doesn't mean Anderson isn't amenable to a larger role.
"Being versatile adds value to you, but being able to lock down one spot is a nice challenge," he said. "But if later on [the Marlins] are able to say go over to short or go over to second or go to the outfield, I want to be able to do that as well. I'm still always open; my job is to be a baseball player."
Marlins hitters in the Fall League
Dexter Kjerstad, OF
Austin Nola, C
Yerfi Perez, OF
Kansas City signed Kjerstad as a non-drafted free agent in 2013 only to release him in July of '15 after parts of two seasons in the Royals' system. The Marlins inked the 24-year-old last offseason and assigned him to Jupiter, where he hit 37 extra-base hits including a career-high 15 homer over 124 games in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. Though he's scuffled so far in the Fall League, Kjerstad has impressed with his ability to play all three outfield positions.
Nola had hit a total of three home runs in 453 games prior to this year, when, at age 26, he established career highs with six homers and a .261 average at New Orleans. Meanwhile, after playing all over the infield to this point in his career, the Marlins have Nola trying his hand at catcher in the Fall League, a position he hadn't played since high school.
"I'm just learning the position -- gotta get reps," Nola said. "I'm a middle infielder still, but I'm going to try to learn it and add this part to my game. I'm loving learning how to catch and the receiving part and all the little things about the game."
Perez opened eyes in 2015 by stealing 71 bases in spite of a .286 on-base percentage. That mark jumped to .334 this season in his first Double-A campaign, and it was that improvement, along with his plus-plus speed and excellent defense in center field, that netted him a look with the Marlins in September. In limited action, the 25-year-old collected two hits in three at-bats and went 4-for-6 on the base paths while appearing in 12 games.
Buckelew's calling card is his low-90s sinker, a pitch that helped him to post a 70 percent ground-ball rate without yielding a home run in 2016. For his career, the 25-year-old lefty has generated 3.28 ground-ball outs for every fly out and allowed two homers in 205 innings. Buckelew spent much of the season in Jupiter's bullpen before moving into the starting rotation in early August and pitching to a 3.94 ERA over six starts to finish the season.
Garcia, the Marlins' No. 3 prospect, was limited to 50 2/3 innings and 12 starts this season due to a triceps injury that landed him on the disabled list from May 31 to Aug. 8. Now back to full strength, the 6-foot-3 lefty is operating at 93-95 mph and bumping 96 in the Fall League with his usual plus changeup (83-85 mph).
Added to Mesa's roster on Oct. 11 as a replacement for Marlins No. 19 prospectJeff Brigham, Newell is looking to make up for lost time after logging 21 2/3 innings during the regular season. The 2012 seventh-rounder missed parts of five months with right elbow inflammation but returned in August and finished the year on a high note, posting a 1.29 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 14 innings between the Gulf Coast and South Atlantic Leagues.
Steckenrider, 25, attacks hitters with a 96-98 mph fastball that jumps on hitters and produces whiffs within the strike zone, and he'll occasionally pair it with a hard slider in the mid- to upper-80s. He converted 14 of 15 save opportunities with a 2.08 ERA during the regular season, recording 71 strikeouts and allowing 25 hits in 52 innings across three levels and finishing the year in Triple-A.
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound right-hander has stood out early among Fall League relievers, notching 10 strikeouts and allowing just four hits in seven scoreless innings. He's worked the final inning in each of his five appearances for Mesa en route to two wins and one save.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.