credit: David Rosenblum
In 2017, second baseman Riley Mahan was selected in the 3rd round of the MLB draft by the Miami Marlins. His time in the organization has had its ups and downs. Last season in High-A Jupiter, Mahan slashed .250/.298/.340. While not abysmal, it left much to be desired and resulted in him having to repeat High-A in 2019.
Mahan credits his health for the improvements he’s made this season. “I actually had a torn labrum in my hip so after the  season I got that fixed… My focus has been trying to get healthy and staying healthy.”
Now feeling healthy, he’s turned it around. He started off the year hitting .279 with 5 home runs in 60 games in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. That was good enough to earn a promotion to Double-A Jacksonville where he hit a home run in each of his first two games. Now 20 games in, Mahan already has 6 multi-hit games, hitting .276 with 3 home runs. As the season has progressed, Mahan has been one of the most consistent bats in the Marlins organization, where many of the hitters were unable to hit the ground running.
Consistency is a big theme for Mahan this year. Not only has he focused on being more consistent, but the pitchers he is facing in Double-A are, as well. Speaking about on his promotion to Jacksonville he noted, “Here you get a power fastball and then you get really good off-speed pitches for strikes… You can’t sit on much.” This is as opposed to the High-A Florida State League where the pitchers are generally more fastball reliant and benefit from larger ballparks.
Despite being selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 40th round of the 2014 draft out of high-school, Mahan elected to attend the University of Kentucky and play baseball in the Southeastern Conference (SEC).
“I think college helped me big time in maturing more than anything… Coming out of high-school, I was just too immature, and it showed.” Many people think jumping into pro-ball straight from high-school is the best move by a young player, but Mahan believes that underplays the benefits that a college program can provide for players. “Guys who go to college, they already kind of have their routines and I think that’s the biggest difference.”
credit: University of Kentucky Athletics Photo Department
The SEC is quite the challenging conference in college baseball as it’s the home of some of the nation’s best amateur pitching. Comparing his experience there to the minor leagues, Mahan notes, “In the SEC, you got the Friday guy who’s really good, and then you get to the bullpen and you have a couple of guys here and there.” That type of competition prepares a hitter well for professional baseball where “you got guys that were a Friday starter in the bullpen… you get past the starter and you have another good arm come in.”
If anybody can talk about good pitching, it’s Riley Mahan, who this season has had the chance to play behind some of the Marlins best young arms. I asked him who he thought was the “nastiest” pitcher of the group and he could not limit himself to one guy. “[Edward] Cabrera is disgusting. I faced him in spring training, luckily, he walked me, and I didn’t have to swing the bat. Jordan [Holloway] has really good stuff. If he can get more consistent with the strike zone, he’s going to be really good. Braxton [Garrett] is having a tremendous year. Taylor Braley is another, he kind of goes unnoticed but he’s got good stuff. When you look back at that High-A team, they’ve got arms for days.”
Developing and acquiring pitching has been the focus of the new Marlins ownership. Playing behind good pitching has a positive effect on the position players. “It’s fun, for one reason you get to watch it… it makes it more fun because you know every game you’re going to have a chance.”
Saturday night, he got to play behind yet another electric arm. Marlins No.1 prospect, Sixto Sánchez, took the mound for the Jumbo Shrimp and cruised through a talented Mississippi Braves lineup that included top prospects like Christian Pache and Drew Waters. He needed just 79 pitches to get through 7 innings. Having only given up 2 runs in the 1st, the Jumbo Shrimp offense rallied back to tie it later in the inning, plating their first run of the night on a bases loaded sacrifice fly by Mahan. Interestingly enough, the opposing pitcher, Tucker Davidson, entered the game with a 2.04 ERA. That was good enough to be the Southern Leagues’ ERA leader. However, the Jumbo Shrimp got him out of the game after forcing a 40 pitch first inning. There was no shortage of runs later with contributions coming from all over the lineup from everyone: Brian Miller, Stone Garrett, Anfernee Seymour, Corey Bird, Santiago Chavez, Joe Dunand, Bryson Brigman, and JC Millan. LHP Dylan Lee also threw 2 scoreless innings in relief to close out the game. The final score was 7-2 — the ideal game for a Jumbo Shrimp fan. The entire offense was involved and the pitching was fantastic.
It’s all coming together for Mahan and the Marlins this year. He, along with the rest of the organization (pitching and hitting alike), is trending forward. By next year, we can already start thinking about what Riley Mahan’s role will be with the major league team.