Miami Marlins Prospect Watch: Spotlight on Ryan Lillie

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 20: A general view of a baseball during a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on August 20, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 20: A general view of a baseball during a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on August 20, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** /

The Miami Marlins and the Milwaukee Brewers went toe-to-toe in Marlins Park on Wednesday. While that was happening, the Marlins’ minor league system played in a total of seven games.

In Jupiter, at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, Ryan Lillie made his second career start at the high-A level. Lillie was Miami’s fifth round selection last season, out of the University of California at Riverside. In three seasons as part of the Big West school, Lillie appeared in 72 games, starting 10 of them. He earned a 1.47 WHIP and a 4.49 ERA, going 6-13 and striking out 137 in 126 innings.

Lillie had started his college career as a catcher and relief pitcher, and didn’t make his way into the rotation until his junior season in 2017. His fastball stays between 91 and 94 MPH, and is rated as his best pitch. He also has a decent curveball and an average changeup.

Lillie also had major league pedigree’d help at UC-Riverside, working with mentor and former major league catcher-turned-pitcher Troy Percival.

"From the first time I put him on the mound, it was just a natural. It reminded me of me, because the first time I jumped on the mound, I was able to throw strikes. I was able to spin a breaking ball. Once I saw that, I said, ‘We’re just going to work mechanically. – Percival, courtesy of"

Lillie, a 5’11”, 210 lb. right-handed native Murrieta, CA, was the 149th pick off the board overall. Other notable players selected 149th include Michael Young (1997, 24.6 WAR), Warren Cromartie (1971, 16.4 WAR), Rick Camp (1974, 12.1 WAR), Jeff Samardzija (2006, 12.0 WAR), and Deion Sanders (1985, 5.5 WAR).

Lillie is currently an unrated Marlins prospect, but he was considered their #25 guy last season after the draft. He appeared in two games at the rookie level Gulf Coast League, striking out three in 2 2/3 hitless innings. Five days after his debut, he earned a promotion to the Batavia Muckdogs.

Lillie’s time with the Muckdogs illustrates just how unimportant the win-loss record has become in baseball. He was 0-5 in 12 appearances, with seven starts. He whiffed 34 in 35 2/3 innings, earned a 4.35 ERA, and held opponents to a 1.15 WHIP. Right before the end of the minor league season, he was promoted to the Greensboro Grasshoppers in the middle-A South Atlantic League. He struck out four in two scoreless innings before the end of the year.

Over 14 starts with the Grasshoppers this season, Lillie had gone 6-2 with a 2.58 ERA, 77 K’s in 80 innings, and a 0.97 WHIP. For his efforts, he earned the opportunity to start the mid-season SALLY league all-star game. On June 27th, he was promoted for the third time in less than a calendar year, to the high-A Jupiter Hammerheads.

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In Lillie’s first Jupiter start, he allowed eight hits in just 3 1/3 innings. Whether you chalk it up to nerves or not, it clearly wasn’t the best that he had to offer. He took the loss to the Palm Beach Cardinals in that one, also allowing a pair of walks and three earned runs.

Lillie seemed to have had it figured out in last night’s game. In 6 1/3 innings against the Tampa Tarpons, he whiffed nine batters and surrendered just one run on two hits and a walk. That’s the kind of stuff that should see him continue his rapid rise through the Miami Marlins feeder system.

For more on Lillie, I had a chance to interview him last year for Fish Stripes, another great Miami Marlins blog. Here’s a small excerpt:

"Lillie: (laughing) Oh, man, Percy, that’s my boy right there. I’m an Angels fan, I grew up 30 minutes from the stadium, my dad grew up in Anaheim, the Angels were my team. They still are, but I’m still a Marlin. I grew up watching Percy, and when I found out I was about to get coached by him it was awesome. It was the best thing ever. To get to play for him for three years was awesome. My freshman year, I was a catcher. I committed to Riverside as a catcher, and once he got me, he saw the arm, he saw the mentality, and he was like, “You’re a pitcher, take the bat away from Lillie, put him on the mound, he’s a pitcher.” So over winter break, around this time in my freshman year, he had me hop on the mound and throw maybe 20 pitches or so, flip a couple of breaking balls, whatever I had he wanted to see it. I got done in the pen and gave him the ball and he said, “All right, you’re my closer.”"

Lillie is still just 22-years-old, and at his current rate of ascent through the system may make a major league appearanc

e as early as the roster expansion in 2019. I’d look for a Spring Training invitation at a minimum in February. At any rate, with normal progression he should be with the Miami Marlins for keeps around late 2020.

Next: Spotlight on Robert Dugger

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