Marlins in the AFL: Riddle thriving at shortstop
One of six Miami participants, club's No. 13 prospect saw bat come to life after moving to new position
J.T. Riddle has the defensive chops to play anywhere on the infield, but his bat suggests he's most comfortable at shortstop.
A 13th-round selection in the 2013 Draft out of the University of Kentucky, Riddle played primarily third base during his first year and a half in the Minor Leagues, but he also saw time at second base -- his position in college -- and shortstop. It wasn't until the second half of his 2014 full-season debut at Class A Greensboro that the Marlins decided to see what he could do at shortstop.
"I think it's good that they want me to just play short," said the 24-year-old Riddle. "It means a lot to me as a player, coming from them, to be strictly a shortstop."
After a relatively slow start to his career offensively, things seemed to click for the Marlins' No. 13 prospect at the plate after moving to shortstop. In 62 games for Greensboro after the All-Star break, he batted .308/.338/.455. Since then, he has surged through Miami's system.
Riddle opened the 2015 season at Class A Advanced Jupiter in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, where he batted a respectable .270/.311/.314 with seven extra-base hits in 45 games despite spending nearly a month on the disabled list.
The Marlins promoted Riddle to Double-A Jacksonville at the end of July, and the 6-foot-3, 175-pound left-handed hitter responded to the challenge with a .289/.323/.422 batting line and all five of his home runs in 44 games for the Suns. He even got a taste of the Minor Leagues' highest level in early August, going 2-for-3 while filling in for one game at Triple-A New Orleans. Riddle's season came to an end on Aug. 16 when he was placed on the disabled list with a tooth infection.
Now fully healthy, Riddle is quickly making up for the lost time in the Arizona Fall League, where he's batting .318/.375/.545 with one home run and two doubles through six games for the Mesa Solar Sox.
"It was a big accomplishment for me as an individual, and knowing the Marlins are open to me as a player to send me out here, especially after I've been in the organization for two full years," Riddle said of his opportunity to play in this year's Fall League. "I missed quite a few games this year and was on the DL twice -- ended the year on the DL -- so I'm ready to get back going and play a little bit of baseball and end the year on a good note, hopefully."
With some upper-level experience under his belt and a strong showing in the AFL, Riddle will enter 2016 within striking distance of the Major Leagues. However, with Adeiny Hechavarria under team control through the 2018 season, Riddle understands that he might not get a chance to play shortstop for the Marlins -- and he's OK with that.
"In my eyes, it's whatever gets me to the next level, pushes me closer to the big leagues," he said. "If I have to move around and be a utility guy, I'm more than happy to do that."
Marlins pitchers in the Fall League
• Austin Brice, RHP - The Marlins' No. 16 prospect always has shown swing-and-miss stuff but struggled to repeat his delivery and consistently throw strikes, leading scouts to project him as more of a reliever than a starter. Working out of the bullpen for the first time in the Fall League, the 23-year-old right-hander has a 1.50 ERA with nine strikeouts and one walk in six innings.
• Tyler Kinley, RHP - The 6-foot-4, 205-pound right-hander is making up for the two months he spent on the disabled list with a right lat strain. Armed with a 94-97-mph fastball and a hard, tight slider, at 89-91, Kinley, 24, saved 11 games and posted a 3.25 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings this past season at Class A Advanced Jupiter.
• Jake Esch, RHP - Esch, 25, was primarily a shortstop but also threw in relief at Georgia Tech before Miami nabbed him the 11th round of the 2011 Draft and made him a starter. After a breakthrough 2015 campaign in which he reached Triple-A for the first time, Esch has worked in the 91-94 mph range, at times hitting 95-96, in the AFL, while also showing he can miss bats with his slider.
Marlins hitters in the Fall League
• Elliot Soto, SS - Soto, 26, doesn't offer much at the plate -- a career .249/.326/.300 hitter in six Minor League seasons -- but he's a strong defender at shortstop with good range and plus arm strength.
• Austin Dean, OF - The Marlins' No. 6 prospect took a step back this year in the Florida State League after an impressive full-season debut in 2014. The 22-year-old outfielder has swung the bat well in the Fall League, collecting 11 hits in eight games, though only of them has been for extra bases.