Living in Alabama is not an idea situation for me, as I am a big Miami sports fan. One advantage of living here though is that the state does have a few minor league teams, including the Birmingham Barons. The Barons hosted the Miami Marlins Double-A affiliate at their brand new ballpark and I was fortunate enough to land media credentials for the series.
While at the series, I had a chance to interview a few players, like Logan Morrison and Nathan Eovladi. I also had a chance to talk to the Suns play-by-play commentator, Roger Hoover. Hoover has been with the Suns the past few seasons and has seen some of the best Marlins prospects rise through Jacksonville, including Christian Yelich.
I was recently able to get Roger to agree to do an end of the season review of the Suns season. Here is what he had to say about the 2013 season, that saw the Suns fall just short of a playoff berth:
Ehsan Kassim: The Suns missing the playoffs in 2013 has to be viewed as a disappointment, right?
Roger Hoover: Some would say that, but I do not. This team accomplished a lot in 2013, especially with helping develop future Miami Marlins and as we found out, the future was now for many of our players. Sending Marcell Ozuna, Edgar Olmos, Christian Yelich, Jake Marisnick, Derek Dietrich, Arquimedes Caminero, and seeing Sam Dyson and Brian Flynn also make their major league debuts in 2013 meant that the Suns had a solid season. No one else in the Southern League came close to sending as many high quality players to the major leagues. Also, the Suns maintained a high level of play despite sending so many players to Miami and New Orleans and came just one game short of making it to the postseason.
The coaches and players are still disappointed that the Suns couldn’t win that last game and extend the season into mid-September, but as a whole this was a successful and winning year for Andy Barkett‘s club.
EK: What kind of adjustments did Derek Dietrich make upon his return to Double-A?
RH: Dietrich came back to Jacksonville primarily to work on cutting down his strikeout numbers. At first it was tough for him, there was one stretch were he had more strikeouts in the second half in half as many at-bats than he did in the first half before his call-up to Miami. However Dietrich did finish the year strong, hitting .303 in August with 24 strikeouts in 89 at-bats, compared to 13 strikeouts in 26 at-bats during his nine games in July when he first came back to the Suns. He also hit six homers and drove in 20 runs in August in what were all must-win games for Jacksonville in its second half pennant chase, and he’s a guy that players love to be around, a great clubhouse presence.
EK: Who was the Suns 2013 MVP?
RH: Hard to say since so many players were in-and-out of Jacksonville and some of the Suns’ best talent finished the year in Miami rather than Jacksonville. If I had to name one position player it would be Mark Canha, who was the starting first baseman all year-long and played in 128 games. He put up some good power numbers with 13 homers and 58 RBI, had a dependable glove in the field, and hit .290 with most of his homers and RBI in the second half of the season, so he got better through the year. Other candidates for MVP would be the rock-solid catcher of the Suns J.T. Realmuto, closer Michael Brady, and starting pitcher Adam Conley.
EK: Which player went the wrong way in terms of development?
RH: I think the Marlins wanted to see more out of infielder Danny Black this season. In his first full-season at the Double-A level he hit .200 and only drove in 21 runs in 98 games. He also had 19 errors in the field and wasn’t the lockdown shortstop that was expected, we saw Chris Gutierrez and Audy Ciriaco get a lot of time there as well, although Black did spend some time on the disabled list. I know he’s hitting well in the Arizona Fall League so hopefully that’s some good momentum for him going into 2014.
RH: Conley was the only of the three that stayed the entire season with the Suns, and he was impressive all year-long. He led the team with 11 wins and had some of the most dominant outings a Sun starter had all season. He was an All-Star in the Southern League and he was a pitcher that I know other teams did not want to face. Heaney made just six starts with the Suns and did well, going 4-1 in crucial August games and he can really over-power some hitters, especially lefties. Nicolino after being the Florida State League Pitcher of the Year came to the Suns and kept on having success, and he can be quite the strikeout artist as he displayed on August 16 when he struck out 13 Birmingham Barons in just six innings.
There’s a chance that Heaney and Nicolino may start 2014 in Jacksonville and I think both will pick up where they left off from this year. So tough to say since I think all three are elite lefties and have great futures, but I’d have to give the nod to Conley since he showed his resolve from April-September.
EK: Any prospect you feel is going under the radar?
RH: Maybe not under the radar, but I think J.T. Realmuto doesn’t get the credit he deserves for what he did in 2013. A lot of people will look at his batting numbers and wonder why he didn’t hit more in his first year in the Southern League, but from a defensive perspective he was as good of a catcher as the Southern League had in 2013, and he was the youngest. He caught 100 of Jacksonville’s 136 games and was a big reason behind some of the dominant outings we saw from pitchers like Brian Flynn, Adam Conley, and Justin Nicolino. J.T. Is still only 22 years old and I think he’s got a great future in this game.
EK: Stand out moment in the 2013 Suns season?
RH: Tough to say, but the “Marisnick Game” still really stands out to me. Against Pensacola on May 31, he hit two grand slam home runs in back-to-back innings off the same pitcher and tied a Southern League record with 9 RBI in the game. The moment went viral, making nearly every baseball blog or news outlet, was big on Twitter, and even made ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 Plays that night. It was one of those moments that everyone still talked about a week later, and those can be rare during the grind of a minor league season.
EK: Any additional thoughts on the Suns and the Marlins future as an organization?
RH: We continue to see some great talent make its way to the top levels of the organization and that is only going to help the major league club win more games, and that’s what this is all about. I’m excited to see some young players like Austin Barnes and Brent Keyes possibly start the year with Jacksonville along with maybe Andrew Heaney and Justin Nicolino in the rotation, and as recent history has shown, they could be in Miami as soon as next summer.
Colin Moran‘s every move will be watched closely this year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a Suns uniform before the 2014 year is done. Everything I’ve heard about him suggests he’s a very advanced hitter already. The Marlins are starting to get a surplus of good pitching talent and as the old baseball maxim says “good pitching beats good hitting,” so I think once the rotation really gets going and stays healthy with Jose Fernandez, Jacob Turner, Henderson Alvarez, Nathan Eovaldi with the possibility that Brian Flynn, Adam Conley, Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino aren’t too far behind, there’s going to be something special there. Some tough decisions will have to be made but that’s a good position to be in. My hope is that the Marlins are competitive in 2014 and I know the Suns will do what it takes to help make the product in Miami better.
RH: I’m also glad that the Marlins have such good media coverage, not only from guys on the beat and broadcasters in Miami but sites like Marlin Maniac and others are excellent as well in their coverage. I really appreciate how you guys keep an eye on what’s going on in the minor leagues and I read your site daily, even in the offseason when I’m not getting ready for a broadcast. Keep up the great work and I look forward to checking back with you guys throughout the year.
We thank Roger for taking his time out and reviewing the season for the Marlins Double-A affiliate, the Jacksonville Suns. Mr. Hoover does a wonderful job as the play-by-play announcer for the Suns and gets a first hand look at many of the players that will one day don a Miami Marlins uniform.