Marlins' Teenage Trio Quickly Rises Up The Ranks
GREENSBORO, N.C—Osiris Johnson was playing Fortnite when he got the call from Marlins farm director Gary Denbo. He took a minute to process what he was being told, not quite believing it, and then immediately raced upstairs, awakened a sleeping Connor Scott and Will Banfield and told them to pack their bags.
They were headed to Greensboro.
“I was really excited,” Johnson said. “I had to run up to Will’s room because they were asleep taking a nap after a long day in the (Gulf Coast League). We packed everything up in a matter of like 30 minutes and got on the road together.”
The Marlins made Scott, Johnson and Banfield their first three picks in the 2018 draft, all out of high school. Bucking tradition and precedent, the Marlins fast-tracked the trio out of the Rookie-level GCL, skipped them over short-season, and sent them straight to low Class A Greensboro last week, making them the three youngest players in the South Atlantic League.
Johnson, the Marlins second-round pick, is just 17. Scott, their first-rounder, and Banfield, their supplemental second-rounder, are 18. All three were still playing high school baseball 10 weeks ago, and now they’re in the starting lineup for a full-season affiliate. Scott has taken over as Greensboro’s leadoff hitter and starting center fielder, Johnson is the everyday shortstop and Banfield is the Grasshoppers' No.1 catcher.
“The biggest surprise is, they’ve been here for a week, they don’t look like a deer in the headlights, all three of them,” said Greensboro manager Todd Pratt, a 14-year major league veteran. “I thanked Gary Denbo for the responsibility to be honest with you. When he called me and said they’re all coming up he said, ‘You have a big responsibility with these three young men,’ and obviously with my experience throughout my career I think we can handle it.”
Johnson, in particular, has made a strong early impression. He went 2-for-4 with a double in Greensboro’s 7-1 loss to Asheville (Rockies) on Monday afternoon, one of few highlights on the day for the Grasshoppers.
In his first at-bat, Johnson showed off exceptionally quick hands when he turned on an inside fastball and powered it deep to the wall in left, where it fell just short of a home run.
In his second at-bat, he swiftly pulled his hands in and lined a fastball down the left-field line for a double. In his next at-bat, he beat out an infield chopper for a single despite slipping out of the box.
Johnson, who is a cousin of Jimmy Rollins, now has a hit in four straight games. Overall, he has six hits in his last 15 at-bats after starting 0-for-7 with Greensboro.
“Just his physical attributes for 17 and his bat speed (stand out),” Pratt said. “His bat speed is plus.”
Naturally, given Johnson’s youth and experience level, there are also areas to improve.
Johnson was thrown out easily trying to steal third base on his own after his double in the fourth inning. Defensively, he misplayed a ball to his backhand at shortstop, and he also short-armed a ball that allowed a routine groundout to nearly become an infield single.
Last week, Johnson allowed a runner to reach on a routine grounder because he stayed back on a ball. Since then, Pratt has made playing faster on defense a point of emphasis with Johnson.
“The runners are a lot faster here,” Johnson said. “That’s one of the biggest challenges right now. ... That’s just one of my adjustments, that I know I have to attack the ball a little more in the infield.”
The same push-pull of positives and understandable negatives are present in all three of the teens. Scott made a sensational diving catch in center field on Monday, but also overran the ball twice when going back and to his right. Banfield caught a runner stealing with a 1.97-second bullet right on the bag to second base, but also had trouble blocking offspeed pitches in the dirt.
It’s a learning process, and it's an accelerated one with how quickly the teenaged trio has been moved.
“Obviously they’re young, they’re going to make some mistakes,” Pratt said. “They were so advanced in high school and that’s why they were in the top picks. So there’s stuff that they did because they could. They were stronger, faster, better than their peers. Now they’re playing against men. Especially after this nice jump … they’re going to learn some stuff through failure.”
That learning process will have its ups and downs, but they’ll have each other to lean on. Scott, Johnson and Banfield all live together with the same host family, and their shared experience has strengthened their burgeoning friendships.
“It was a few nights ago we were all riding back to our host family's house and we were like, ‘Man, we got here pretty quick,” Johnson said. “It’s pretty cool.”
They’re moving quickly, and there are certainly adjustments to be made. But considering their pedigree and how fast they’re adapting, the trio is in a good place.
“It’s all good talent here at this level, but they’re stepping up to it,” Pratt said. “That’s what’s good. In one week they’ve already made adjustments, and that’s a plus.”
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NEWS AND NOTES
Greensboro lefthander Daniel Castano, one of four prospects the Marlins acquired from the Cardinals for Marcell Ozuna last winter, sat just 85-88 mph on his fastball and took the loss. He gave up eight hits and five runs through 2.2 innings but rebounded strong, retiring the final 10 batters he faced to get through six innings.
Asheville left fielder Casey Golden, whom opposing evaluators have highlighted all year as an underrated prospect in the Rockies' system, went 2-for 3 with an opposite-field home run and a triple off the center-field wall. The home run was Golden’s 28th of the season and he also has 21 steals, giving him a 20-20 season to go with a .272 batting average and .901 OPS on the year. The one negative Golden showed was his well below-average arm, which was apparent when he charged in on a ball in the outfield and his throw to the plate had to be cut off well up the line.
Greensboro shortstop Chris Torres, the Marlins' No. 9 prospect entering the year, went 1-for-4 with a hard single up the middle. He has a hit in nine of 14 games since joining the Grasshoppers on July 26, including seven multi-hit games. He served as the designated hitter after nine straight days in the field.