Batavia Muckdogs 2018 (Rest Of) Season Preview

Baseball in Batavia has lasted the test of time. It has remained through a World War and the Vietnam war as well as three other major United States affiliated conflicts. It has stood strong through two stock market crashes and the Great Depression. It has marked the times through 20 different US presidents. And although the team has lost a lot in recent years including its latest ownership group as well as the better condition of its stadium and playing field, Minor League Baseball, who will manage the team this season, refuses to let that history die. This year in the Batavia Muckdogs’ 79th season, they will welcome an impressive young crop of first and second year pro talent including Demetrius Sims, Sean Reynolds, Michael Donadio, Jeral EncarnacionSean Reynolds and Alberto Guerrero.

Returning as the Muckdogs head coach is second year manager Mike Jacobs. Yes, that Mike Jacobs. The same one that hit .258/.314/.483 with 69 homers from 2006-2008 with Miami. His 32 homer season in ‘08 ranks among the top ten in franchise history (9th). His .483 SLG as a Marlin ranks eighth 8th all time in team history. Fresh off his participation in the Marlins’ 25th Anniversary festivities, Jacobs heads back up north to assist in building the next quarter decade of Miami talent. That talent includes fellow first baseman Sean Reynolds who says due to his .253/.313/473 seven-year pro career, his 13-year .279/.353/.486 Minor League career and his five seasons spent in the Mexican leagues that allowed him to see a different type of discipline and playing style along with the fact that Jacobs isn’t very far removed from sitting on the other side of the bench makes him a perfect mentor and leader for players at such an early level of development.

“Mike is still a player in a lot of ways, even though he’s not out on the field with us during the games, he still thinks the game and is very easily able to stay in touch with what we are thinking as players. He likes to keep a loose clubhouse and let guys learn on their own, for the most part, how to conduct themselves in a professional way. He’s always very open if anyone has anything they want to talk about, and he’s always willing to help anybody get better who wants to put in the time and effort. Overall, having him as my manager for my first two years has been really great for me, and I think a lot of the other guys who have played for him would say the same thing.”

Rounding out Jacobs’ staff is hitting coach Jesus Merchan, pitching coach Jason Erickson and defensive coach Ronnie Richardson.

Merchan is a former infielder who spent time with the Twins, Blue Jays and Marlins organizations before ending his North American playing career with the Padres organization in 2013. He played five games in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2014 before hitting .270/.345/.345 in a single Indy ball season. Prior to that, Merchan hung ‘em up. This will be Merchan’s first season as a member of a coaching staff. A for-average bat who once hit over .330 in AAA and held down a .296/.349/.386 career Minor League slash line despite never getting an MLB call, Merchan is a guy with knowledge of success at every minor league level and akin to life in them. That coupled with his mechanically sound offensive background makes him a welcome contributor to the Muckdogs’ young offense.

Returning as pitching coach is Jason Erickson. Erickson was drafted by the Padres in 2009 out of the University Of Washington. He had a 3.94 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 3.65 K/BB stat line in 254 Minor League innings before retiring in 2011. According to RJ Peace who played under Erickson’s tutelage last season, Erickson is an extremely attentive coach who spends time one-on-one with his staff regarding their development.

“He sits down with me and watch video after every time I pitch to talk about what i can improve on and what I did well,” Peace said. “He’s a coach that really cares and tries to get his players better every day. He’s a high energy coach that brings it day in and day out no matter what, always trying to get his players better.”

Richardson, a Florida native and UCF graduate, played 1,514.2 innings in MiLB and independent ball outfields posting a .980 fielding percentage and 1.96 range factor. He also contributed 15 outfield assists while committing just 11 errors. He also held down an MiLB BA over .260 and OBP over .400 during three seasons between A and A+.

Projected Lineup

SS Demetrius Sims
CF Ricardo Cespedes
RF Jerar Encarnacion
1B Sean Reynolds
2B Michael Donadio
LF Albert Guaiarmo
3B Denis Karas
C JD Osborne
DH Matt Brooks


SS Demetrius Sims

2017 – Rk-A: .242/.349/.273, 31/15 K/BB

Sims is a 6’2”, 200 pound righty hitter out of Bethune Cookman in Daytona Beach where he hit .299/.375/.390 over a three-year collegiate career. Sims takes great pride in his time spent at the mostly-black college and is looking forward to making an impact on the game as a Bethune-Cookman alum and in doing so, putting the school which prides itself on its African-American heritage more significantly on the athletic landscape.

“You know, a lot of guys get over looked because they attend an HBCU. Being one of those guys, I’ve always had to play with a chip on my shoulder knowing that I have to make the best out of every single opportunity I get because you only get so many,” Sims said. “Just being able to represent Bethune Cookman University in pro ball is an honor in itself. There’s not too many African American baseball players so I’m glad I can be a sense of hope or determination to other young African American players all around.”

After tearing a labrum during his initial junior campaign, Sims his red-shirted in 2017. That season, he placed third in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in hits with 72 and led the conference in runs scored 52, triples with 7 and total bases with 96. Sims says his red-shirt junior season was made possible by his time spent sidelined. According to Sims, he views the usually negative experience of extended time on the shelf as a positive because it aided in his development as a player, making him view baseball in a completely different regard and teaching him how to respect it.

“I tore the labrum in my left shoulder during summer ball that sidelined me for awhile,” Sims said. “During the recovery process, it really allowed me to see the game from a different perspective. It helped me appreciate the game a lot more and I was able to grow mentally.”

Playing just under three hours south of his collegiate coaches last season allowed Sims to stay in close contact with them which attributed to a fantastic rookie pro season for Sims who hit .290/.417/.304 for the GCL Marlins. According to Sims, he holds his relationship as a Bethune-Cookman alum in high regard and says it was a major catalyst in his initial success as a Marlin.

“The coaches/staff/faculty are always so welcoming to the guys who want to come back and get their work in,” Sims said. “I’m so glad to be apart of the Wildcat family.”

Sims returns to Batavia this year after hitting .186/.262/.237 in 17 games as a Muckdog last year. While those stats may not look impressive from the outset, Sims enters 2017 with a blueprint for improvement.

“Just slowing the game down. Controlling the things that I can control and not trying to do too much.”

A .323 hitter with a .412 OBP in his collegiate career, Sims, the younger brother of pro football standout Dion Sims, is a still growing 6’2”, 200 pound 20-year-old heralded for his blazing bat speed and even better foot speed proven by his seven doubles and triples and 72% success rate while stealing 13 bags in his final season and 49% success rate in his final two at HBCU. Rounding out his skill set with astonishing range and a flashy glove in the infield, Sims, although raw, has the makeup of a top of the order catalyst with improving plate presence that can handle multiple infield positions but at 22, he will need to take some big strides to reach that ceiling. Still, Sims has the type of big league talent to earn him a roster spot as a utility infielder and for-average bat off the bench.

RF Jerar Encarnacion
2017 – GCL: .266/.323/.448, 5 HR, 15 XBH, 26 RBI, 51/10 K/BB

Yeral “Jerar” Encarnacion is a Marlins’ international signee from 2016 out of the Dominican Republic. Already 6’4”, 219 and still building muscle mass, the impressive physical specimen cut his teeth in the Dominican Summer League in his signing season before breaking out last season in the GCL where he hit 266/.328/.446 with five homers, seven doubles and three triples in 42 games. His SLG ranked 12th in the league, his .182 ISO ranked eight and his  .771 OPS was good for 23rd best in the GCL. All of this occurred in his first season of stateside ball.

So far this year, all Jerar has accomplished in 11 games is to post league-leading stats in all four slash categories: BA (.479), OBP (.500), SLG (.646) and OPS (1.146) by recording multihit efforts in nine of those appearances. A guy who has advantageously grown with his body and who is nurturing an elite level power tool, Encarnacion is THE guy to watch in Batavia this year.

1B Sean Reynolds
2017 – Rk-A: .198/.269/.350, 5 HR, 24 RBI, 85/18 K/BB

Reynolds spent most of his time in high school playing ball for the Redondo Union Seahawks in central California. But his dreams of becoming a professional baseball player began way before that.

“When he was a six years old, I literally had to beg him to come inside from playing catch with his friends,” Sean’s mother explained to us during Minor League camp this season. “Since then, somehow I always knew this is what he wanted to do.”

Sean confirms his mother’s suspicions.

“To be honest I always looked at playing professional baseball as the best job in the world my whole life leading up to actually being drafted, so I would say I guess I always knew I wanted to do this.”

A right handed thrower, Reynolds rode his size and power arm to 11 wins with a 1.08 ERA in his senior year of high school. As impressive as that output was, the Marlins opted to sign him based on the output of his nine homers, 34 RBI and .366 BA as a lefty hitter at the plate.

“Yeah, they like me more as a hitter,” Reynolds said at the time. “I’ll play right field or wherever they need me. I like to hit, so it’s something I’m ready to do.”

Reynolds joined the Marlins as just the 40th overall player to be drafted out of the central California institution. Of the previous 39, only one has cracked the major leagues (pitcher Scott Davison). Should Reynolds realize his dream, he will be the first positional player in school history to do so. No matter what, Reynolds, who won two regional titles, has been a major catalyst in starting to put the RUHS baseball program on the map, turning a small-town local school into the beginnings of an athletic destination.

“Coming into Redondo my freshman year, you could that the program was looked at as just another Southern California school with a baseball team. I definitely left that place better than I found it, and I can already see how the results and impact that winning two championships my junior and senior year is making,” Reynolds said. “Kids from surrounding areas want to come and play for Redondo by choice, even if it’s not their closest school.”

In pursuing his dream as a professional, Reynolds hopes to continue to do his alma matter proud and to continue to contribute to the future of it’s program.

“All I want is to continue having a positive influence on the school and the players that come after me,” Reynolds said.

Just five days after being selected by the Marlins, Reynolds made his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League. In that game, Reynolds went 2-5. Overall, Reynolds’ rookie season and much of his sophomore season in Batavia were very much a learning experience as he shifted his focus toward being a full-time offensive player at the pro level with a wood bat but his versatility and ability to positively adjust began to show through at the end of last year when he recorded hits in 10 of his last 19 games. Over that span, Reynolds hit () with four homers.

After an impressive camp, Reynolds has returned to Batavia breathing fire. On the young season so far this year, he is one of the best hitters in the New York Penn League, slashing .242/.360/.452 with an .812 OPS, 27th on the circuit. The biggest catalyst for Reynolds has been and will continue to be balancing his load, getting his lower half more involved in his approach and executing better swing paths making him more of a heady hitter and less of a guy who goes for the fences every pitch. While he is still a bit of a question mark at this point, with youth on his side as well as the likelihood to add more muscle to his power-first offensive skillset, Reynolds has a great opportunity to reach MLB slugger status by 2020. Place Reynolds’ potential ceiling somewhere around Lucas Duda, a career .242/.338/.453 hitter.

2B Michael Donadio
2017 – GCL: .278/.407/.392, 8 XBH, 13 RBI, 23/16 K/BB

Like his teammate Demetrius Sims, Donadio is another guy who comes from a bloodline rooted in athletic stardom. While his twin brother Mark was a .290/.370/.374 career hitter Fordham University, his father Jos was a football standout at quarterback 20 years earlier. According to Michael, he inherits his raw athletic skill from his father and the backing he gets from the rest of the Donadio clan.

“I believe I get my talent from my dad being a prestigious athlete,” Donadio said. “My family has always been very supportive through the ups and downs of my career.”

Mike hit .323/.433/.463 in a four year career with the St. John’s Red Storm. All the while, Donadio was able to maintain great academic standing and graduate with honors from the prestigious university. According to Michael, his time spent at St John’s didn’t only make him a better ballplayer but it made him a more valuable human being, all around.

“Balancing school and work and playing baseball was tough at times. It forced me to develop time management skills, be be resilient and stay focused at all times,” Donadio said. “Fortunately I graduated with a degree in business management. If I wasn’t playing baseball I’d be pursuing a career in the financial industry or as a sales rep, perhaps in the medical or technology business. The lessons I learned at St. John’s carry over into my baseball career.”

Last season, the Marlins selected Donadio in the 30th round of the draft. As fate would have it and as Michael recalls, he was actually with his brother Mark when the pair of twins found out Michael’s name was being called by Miami.

“I was in the car with Mark when I got the call and my phone was ringing off the hook from family and friends congratulating me,” Michael said. “It was a great moment for me and my family.”

Following his selection, Michael got off to a .282/.407/.392 start to his pro career with the GCL Marlins. By way of his 13.6% walk rate, Donadio’s OBP ranked 15th in the Gulf Coast League. So far this year with the Muckdogs, Donadio is showing a similar for-average pace, hitting .282.

A dynamic fielder with eligibility at three infield spots as well as two outfield spots, Donadio, who had a standout camp showing both well-timed swings and good range, enters 2018 for the first time with his focus solely on improving his athletic abilities. Should he reach his ceiling, the 23-year-old stands out as a flexible defender with a solid line drive swing and for-average capabilities with the growing potential for above average power.

Given his pedigree and drive, Donadio is plenty worth keeping an eye on as an under-the-radar prospect on the rise.

Pitching Rotation

  1. Alberto Guerrero
  2. RJ Peace
  3. Dakota Bennett
  4. Humberto Mejia
  5. Chris Valiamont

SP Alberto Guerrero
2017 – Rk-A: 48.2 IP, 2.59 ERA, 1.192 WHIP. 39/18 K/BB

Guerrero is a Marlins 2015 international signee out of the nation of Panama. In his first pro season at the ripe age of 17, Guerrero participated in both the GCL and Dominican Summer League, holding down an impressive combined 3.70 ERA in 41.1 IP with a 1.234 WHIP and 33/17 K/BB. Guerrero spent all of 2016 in the GCL where he managed a lowly 2.63 ERA as an 18-year-old. His accompanying stats were a 1.22 WHIP and 1.78 K/BB. Last year, Guerrero threw 40 more innings of 3.10 ERA, 1.05 WHIP ball in the GCL before getting a cup of coffee in Batavia.

Though that tryout in upstate New York didn’t go as planned (7 ER in 8 IP), Guerrero, who is still a year and a half younger than his average competition, has already started to reap his revenge on NYPL hitters this season. In his first three starts, Guerrero has held down a 2.81 ERA and 1.18 WHIP with a 14/7 K/BB. A zone pounding righty who will frequently touch 95 and can also pitch off an above average high 80s change, Guerrero, who has gone through some trials and tribulations in his young career, is a consistent release point away (on his high 80s power slide piece) away from completing a solid three pitch repertoire at age 20 with plenty of time to develop another offspeed pitch at the full season level.  There’s also the probability for even more velo as he fills out. Guerrero should be given a good amount of credence and attention this season as he starts back in Batavia but should be a pretty quick mover up to Greensboro.

Projected Stats

36-38
.237/.322/.401, 39 HR, 172 XBH, 4.2 R/G
652 IP, 4.07 ERA, 1.260 WHIP, 712/201 K/BB

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Prospect Of The Month, May 2018 – Pablo Lopez

Although the Marlins may be on the wrong side of the win-loss column now and for the rest of the season in in-game action this year, they are very much so on the right side of that equation when it comes to offseason moves and regarding the culture they are hoping to build in the future. One of the biggest figures that speaks to that success is right handed pitcher Pablo Lopez who after an impressive spring training with the big league club, has had an absolutely unprecedented start to his 2018 campaign at the AA level. For his most recent success this past 30 days with the Shrimp, Lopez earns our Prospect Of The Month honors for the month of May.

Lopez is a 6’3”, 200 pound righty who hails out of Cabimas, Venezuela. He’s just the fourth player in history to come from the city on the shoreline of Lake Zulia on the northwestern edge of the country. However, as Pablo explains, his hometown region is rich in baseball tradition which created a great support system during his tenure there. Mileage aside, that support has followed Lopez into his career as an American ballplayer.

“Baseball is very popular in Venezuela and especially where I’m from, so it was always really fun and exciting. I got to represent my state three times for national tournaments. Games would be very exciting and the stadiums would be packed with families of the players supporting and yelling all game long, which was really cool for when you’re 10-12 years old,” Lopez said. “I played with a lot of great players and friends of mine. It’s really special to have such great support from everyone back home. They’ve supported me through everything since the beginning of my career and my entire life and I’m forever grateful for that.“

Of the countless many that have supported Lopez throughout his baseball career through, he says one individual stands head and shoulders above the rest.

“My dad,” Lopez said. “He’s been my mentor, coach, doctor and everything I could have asked for.”

As paramount as his relationship with his family was, Lopez found himself at a crossroads after he was drafted in 2012. After competing in his native country’s affiliated Ball summer league that year, the Mariners pegged him for his North American pro debut the following season. Suddenly on his own still in his teenage years away from the confines of everything he’d ever know and still even somewhat of a stranger to his new nation’s native language, Lopez admits it was a bit of a nervous experience. But with the help of some friendly squadmates as well as some advantageous surroundings, Lopez says he was able to adapt fairly quickly.

“I signed as a 16-year-old and spent my first season back home in the Venezuelan Summer League during 2013. After the season was over, I came to the United States for the first time to participate in the Instructional League when I was 17 years old. It was a completely different experience, not just because of the language barrier (I was lucky enough to know some English back then), but getting acclimated to the culture would take longer! I created great friendships right away with the teammates I was able to meet. They were always willing to help me and the other young players,” Lopez said. “At times it was really hard though, I would get back from the baseball complex to the hotel where I was staying at and I would just hang out in my room not knowing what else to do or where to go! Luckily the hotel was near Bell Road, which had a lot of American restaurants so I was able to eat tons of American food and it was a way to get to know the different culture.”

Despite the mileage, home remained close to Lopez. He was always in regular contact with his family including his father whom Lopez mentioned earlier was able to help him in a medical capacity. That is because Lopez’s dad (as well as Lopez’s mother before her untimely death when Pablo was still just a child) was a medical internist. Pablo’s father’s expertise was beneficial to him when he was forced to miss the entire 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Lopez says his dad was quintessential during that process and in giving him the advice needed to get back into playing condition.

“I injured my elbow in instructional league in 2013 and went through some rehab. After that I was throwing a bullpen and that’s when I injured it again and found out I was going to need Tommy John surgery to repair my UCL. My dad came all the way from Venezuela to Seattle to be with me the day of the surgery. He explained to me the medical process, how the surgery worked, what my body was going to go through and what to look forward to in the future and in the rehabilitation. It was going to be a long process, both mentally and physically.”

According to Lopez, even though he wasn’t able to physically throw a baseball for an entire season, the thought of doing so and strategizing on how to do so in a better capacity never left his mind. In fact, those thoughts filled his mind every day, allowed him to maintain his focus, turn a bad experience into a positive one and ultimately come back stronger than ever, maintaining his effectiveness while staying within the limits of his physical capacity.

“Having the game taken away from you is not fun. You kind of just become a spectator. But I realized there were so many ways for me to keep learning, not just about the game but also about my body. So I spent the following year of rehab getting to know my body to its fullest, learning what’s best for me, how to take care of my body and I also explored the mental aspect of the game,” Lopez said. “I would watch all the games from the stands paying close attention to details, I visualized myself in certain game situations and pictured how I would handle it. I kept trying to learn about pitching and baseball, even though I was not able to play at the time.”

Finally in 2015, Lopez toed the rubber on a state side field for the first time. Immediately, Lopez showed the same effectiveness that allotted him to hold down a 2.56 ERA and 37/11 in his first 66.2 IP in the VSL back home. Over his first 37.1 IP in the US, Lopez tossed to the tune of a 3.13 ERA in 37.1 IP via a 28/6 K/BB and 1.15 WHIP in rookie ball competition for the Arizona League Mariners.

A year later, Lopez got his first call to full season ball with the Clinton Lumberkings and at the same time transitioned back to the starting rotation. In 17 appearances (13 GS), Lopez managed a 2.13 ERA by way of a 0.91 WHIP and 56/9 K/BB. Amongst hurlers with at least 80 IP, Lopez’s WHIP was the best in the league, his ERA was third best and his 6.22 K/BB was second best.

In 2017, Lopez made the jump to A+ Modesto Nuts of the California League. In one of the most hitter friendly leagues in all of Minor League Baseball, Lopez’s ERA ballooned to 5.04 due to a massive .341 BABIP. However, his FIP stood at just 3.36. Still this did not stop the Mariners from flipping Lopez to the Marlins as what was thought to be an add on piece to a trade involving centerpiece Brayan Hernandez and fellow organizational hurlers Brandon Miller and Lukas Schiraldi. For the rest of 2017, Lopez showed his true potential holding down a 2.18 ERA and 32/7 K/BB in 45.1 IP for the Jupiter Hammerheads. Lopez says his jump in production can be attributed to his work done in the offseason concentrating on better releases and more advantageous pitch spotting.

So far this season in his call-up to the AA Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp has done more than not skip a beat — he has taken a massive step forward. It is an impression that began in spring training when Lopez tossed 4.1 scoreless IP in 3 appearances which put him in the conversation to make the Opening Day roster out of camp. Although a freak minor injury Lopez suffered on a line drive come-backer late in the spring campaign ruined that prospect and afforded him to be assigned to AA Jacksonville, Lopez, after making a slightly abbreviated season debut on April 21, was one of the best pitchers in all of Minor League Baseball in the month of May. In 34.2 May innings, Lopez limited his Southern League opposition to just three total runs for a 0.78 ERA via a 0.92 WHIP and .195 BAA. While his BAA and WHIP each placed second in the Southern League, his ERA marked the lowest monthly ERA since August 2017 when Freddy Peralta of Biloxi had a 0.40 in nearly half as many IP (22.1). It is the best May ERA for a Southern Leaguer since Blake Snell held down a 0.72 ERA in the month in the year 2015. What’s more is that Lopez was maintaining a 0.24 ERA until a 6 IP, 2 ER quality start caused his ERA to “balloon” to what it concluded at for the month.

For his success to begin the season and his Marlins tenure this past month, Lopez credits the ideology and strategic way of approaching at bats that the Marlins’ organization maintains throughout the system. He also credits his coaches and teammates who have created a positive environment for him to compete in.

“The Miami Marlins as an organization have created the philosophy of attacking the strike zone, commanding the fastball, pitching to your strengths, and know who you’re facing. That’s been working really well and not just for me but for all of our pitching staff, they all see confident on the mound and it’s really fun to watch them. We also do a lot of studying and we help each other out as pitchers, we are constantly talking and we learn from each other with each game that passes,” Lopez said. “We have a great team with great chemistry and outstanding defense, knowing that you have them behind you making great plays for you gives us great confidence. The catchers have been amazing as well, they work so hard and they’re always helping us to get better.”

Lopez’s calling card is a mid-80’s changeup that he spots at will with great depth and late fading action. He both pitches off of it and pitches into it off of a low 90’s sinker which he commands well in the lower half (proven by his 42% ground ball rate and 95% LOB%) and a mix-in curveball. Above all, by his own admission, Lopez is a weak contact artist who works through hitters quickly en route to making it deep into starts. Although the strikeout numbers have begun to pile up this year due to Lopez’s impeccable control (51/8 K/BB in AA), Lopez says he is remaining focused on sticking to his roots as a to-contact pitcher.

“I’ve always known I’m not a power pitcher with power stuff so being able to throw strikes has been my main focus since the beginning of my career. It has been very important to try and improve it because hitters just keep getting better and better as you move up through the minor leagues, they have better pitch recognition, control of the zone, they put better swings, and they make pitchers pay for their mistakes in the strike zone,” Lopez said. “I try to implement game like situations in my bullpens that allow me to work on controlling the strike zone with my pitches, simulating counts, runners on base, and sequencing.”

That said, although Lopez knows himself and his craft well has his mind set on limiting pitches per AB and contact allowed, he isn’t ruling out a bump in velo as he finishes out his tenure in the minors and begins his MLB career.

“I’m most concerned with throwing strikes, I try to limit free bases as much as I can. As a starter, I have to learn to administrate my energy throughout the baseball game, so I can’t throw as hard as I can with every single pitch,” Lopez said. “There are certain moments or situations where I will put more effort behind it, but then I go back to trying to locate and execute better instead of throwing hard. Right now I’m working and learning on how to use my whole body when I’m pitching and not just relying on my arm to create power. So maybe as I improve at that, there could be room to grow and create more velo.”

Even at present, Lopez has all the tools and then some to succeed as a starter at the MLB level and his phenomenal month of June as well as his solid start in AAA (3.27 ERA in his first two starts) prove that. Pencil this strike thrower who trades nasty whiffs for quick weak contact outs in to make his Marlins debut sometime in the second half of this season.

Trevor Rogers Has (Finally) Arrived

344 days. That’s how long Trevor Rogers painstakingly waited after going from being drafted by the Marlins in the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft to actually taking the field for an organizational squad in live game action. Finally, after a series of unfortunate events, Rogers has arrived.

Hailing from Carlsbad High in southern New Mexico, Rogers enjoyed a highly decorated amateur career. In his four year varsity tenure, Rogers held down a 26-5 record by way of a 0.73 ERA and a 325/52 K/BB. This included an 11-0, 0.33 ERA 134/13 K/BB senior year in which Rogers collected first team All-American honors. Touted for his great mix of size and easy mid-high 90s velo and advanced second pitch slider, Rogers forwent a four year commitment to Texas Tech to become the second straight prep hurler to sign with the Marlins out of the first round of the draft. The signing garnered the 18-year-old a $3.4 million payday.

For that success as well as the check, Rogers says he has plenty of people to thank:

“My coaches gave me all the tools they had to make me a better ball player. And course my teammates. They were always their pushing me to get better each day.”

Also amongst the individuals Rogers has gratitude for is his cousin, former Marlin Cody Ross. According to Rogers, becoming a member of the same organization as an elder member of his family hits very close to home.

“We talked a little bit, he just said to enjoy the process and that it’s an exciting time for me to be apart of this organization,” Rogers said. “Watching him when I was younger playing for the Marlins and now I’m in the exact same position, that’s really special to me.”

At the investment the Marlins made in him and with Rogers nursing a light forearm strain and with the recent stories of fellow hard throwing high schoolers such as Tyler Kolek and Braxton Garrett gone awry still fresh in their minds, the Marlins organization erred on the side of extreme caution with Rogers. The team balked at giving Trevor his first professional assignment and instead relegated him to an instructional league that was set to begin at the end of the regular season. However, the entire season was washed out when Hurricane Irma struck on August 30.

Finally, after the painstaking wait and after beginning the season in extended spring training, Rogers has made his pro debut. And he couldn’t be more excited.

“Man, it’s been a very long wait. It’s been over a year since I’ve pitched in front of a crowd,” Rogers said. “It’s so exciting for me to eventually take this small step of many throughout my journey in organization. I can’t wait for the late night games under the lights in front of all the fans.”

Regarding how he dealt with and spent all the time off, Rogers had this to say:

“Just making sure a stay healthy and really buy in with the throwing program and bullpens, slowly building up my innings throughout extended spring, doing arm care with the trainers and resting.”

Rogers’ first start was a bit up and down. He started off his first professional inning by striking out his first two hitters faced then proceeded to give up two runs on a walk and two hits. He then threw a wild pitch and committed a balk before recording a third strikeout to end the frame. Rogers allowed a lead off double to begin the 2nd but got around it and an HBP by getting an out three different ways: a groundout, flyout and a third K. Rogers allowed another man to get into scoring position without a swing in the 3rd, walking a man and allotting a steal of second base. The run scored on his final pitch of the game on an RBI single in which the batter was tossed out at second base.

In regards to his first start, Rogers admits there were some nerves and rust present but that overall, it was a life-changing event.

“Yeah, there were definitely a little bit [of jitters] but it was a great experience,” Rogers said.

The first inning of Rogers’ second start on May 28 would prove to be one of the rockiest innings of his baseball career. After allowing a leadoff double, the Hagerstown Suns loaded the bases on a walk and another HBP. Following a strikeout, Rogers gave up a single and a grand slam homer to back to back hitters. Following a mound visit, the Suns put two more men in scoring position on two singles and a steal but Rogers was able to finally stop the bleeding via two fly outs.

As unfortunate as that first inning was, what happened next was all the more encouraging. In his next two innings, Rogers proved he could have a short memory, put adversity behind him and settle down, setting down six of his last eight including three by way of the K.

“There was plenty of ball game left and the plan was to keep out there as long as possible,” Rogers said regarding the message during his mound visit in the 1st. “I finally got in the grove all my pitches felt good and placed them where I wanted to.”

While it hasn’t been the perfect start to a career in any sense of the word from the get go to the present, Rogers has shown the ability to overcome in many more ways than one, whether it be waiting out the chance to make his debut or a rough start to a game. On top of that, his reputation and stuff at such a young age speak volumes to his potential ceiling. Rogers’ calling card is his easily leveraged and well disguised velo that is made possible by use of his extra large frame. His bread and butter pitch is his 92-96 mph fastball with good sink but a recent change in mechanics that has allowed him to mask his slider better and refrain from tipping it has allowed the pitch to make leaps and bounds, getting hitters out in front of it and leading to many more swings and misses or at the very least weak contact. Rogers says this simplification and not overthinking the pitch has resulted in a better feel and more confidence in the pitch.

“I always struggled with the secondary stuff, more with the slider because I would alter my mechanics and try to make it break instead of accelerating through the pitch and having the grip do the work,” Rogers said. “It’s going to be a big asset for me going forward and becoming more of the complete pitcher that I always want to be.”

As we saw in camp, the Rogers slider can get downright nasty when he’s hitting his marks.

Rogers also owns an already average curveball and the beginnings of a changeup that flashes late fade. The development of those pitches will be a large factor in how high up his ceiling he reaches but given his ability to learn, adjust and show composure well beyond his years in regards to all he’s already been through, the sky appears to be the limit for this yet-to-turn-21-year-old.

Welcome to the pros, Trevor. Your next challenge awaits your conquering.

Prospect Of The Month, April 2018: Austin Dean

Prior to struggling with injuries that kept him out of action for much of 2014 and all of 2017, Austin James Dean is turning in a tour-de-force performance for the Marlins organization as he heads toward making his mark upon the professional ranks.

Dean was born on October 14, 1993 in Spring, Texas where he attended Klein Collins High School. Following in the footsteps of David Murphy and Josh Barfeild, Dean earned underclass honors in both 2010 and 2011. In his senior year, Dean hit .379 with 10 doubles, 12 homers and 44 RBI on his way to a 2nd team All American selection where he joined the likes of Oakland A’s #9 prospect James Kaprielian and St Louis Cardinals and Tate Matheny, a Red Sox prospect who was a .408/.338/.408 hitter at the A level last year and who is off to a .304/.411/.342 start in AA this season.

Following his breakout 2015 season, Dean signed with the Marlins who selected him in the fourth round, a spot which earned the 18-year-old a $379,000 paycheck. Upon putting pen to paper on his first professional contract, it started Dean down a path of stark maturation both as a player and as a man, quite the set of tasks for a newly anointed adult. Though he admits that the first year was tough as he adjusted to the shock of both living independently and the level of competition, by keeping his family as close as possible and by feeding off the advice of his elders, Dean has been able to conquer both challenges, turning a wide-eyed kid with a dream into a focused man with a plan.

“Being a high schooler in pro ball was a big wake-up call. You go from being the best player on your high school team, to going and playing with everyone who is just as good or even better then you. My first year in pro ball was definitely life changing. Being away from home, and being away from your family is tough. But ever since then it’s been a growing up thing,” Dean explains. “You learn how to take care of yourself and be an adult while your playing. I’ve definitely matured a lot since 2012 when I got drafted. On the baseball side, I’ve come across many of different coaches and players, and you tend to pick things as you go and learn different things from them. I’ve learned a lot of thing over the past 6 years, and I have think that’s helped me as a player.”

According to Dean, there have been many supporters and proponents that are responsible for getting him to where he is today. However, one person’s encouragement and advice has catalytically stood above all the rest.

“My dad. He’s always been supportive of my baseball career and he will always be my number 1 fan,” Dean said. “His biggest thing he loves telling me is, “You don’t want to be doing my job, sitting behind a desk and dealing with people all day.” I always laughed at it, but he was right. I love baseball and I am very blessed to be playing this game, continuing to chase my dreams of making it up to the big leagues.”

Dean’s path to the realization of that dream hasn’t come without some bumps in the road.

After getting his feet wet in the GCL at the end of his draft year, Dean began his pro career by hitting .268/.328/.418 for the 2013 Muckdogs, totals which included the second best SLG on the team and 15th in the New York Penn League. The numbers which were paved by his 12 doubles and seven triples which were the most in the NYPL earned Dean a look in Greensboro to end that season.

In 2014, Dean began the year in Greensboro and was tasked with the most extensive action of his young baseball career. Though Dean’s body would falter under the pressure, his drive, grind, resolve and fantastic baseball skill set remained strong. Dean began that season by hitting .288/.343/.403, earning a nod in the 2014 South Atlantic League All-Star Game. 

However, just before the break, Dean hit the DL for the first time with a right hand injury he suffered during a slide. After spending more than two weeks off the field completely, things went from bad to worse for Dean during his rehab stint in extended spring training when he suffered a nasal fracture after being hit by a pitch. But none of that hindered Dean. Showing the poise of a veteran well beyond his years let alone a 20-year-old playing in his first full season, Dean returned in early July. That month, he had one of the better months by a Greensboro player in recent memory, hitting .377/.459/.500 before he went down with injury again in early August due to a groin strain. As frustrating as this may seem, Dean once again returned undeterred, swatting six more XBHs in his final 14 games and rounding out a fantastic .308/.371/.444, 33 XBH, 72/38, 128 wRC+ season. His SLG stood at 15th best as did his wRC+, his BA was 9th best and his 24.7% line drive percentage was third best in his league. Quite the breakout season from a kid nearly a year and a half younger than the league average competition grinding through the most extensive single season action of his career.

After Dean was promoted to Jupiter and the Florida State League in 2015 where he was equally as advertised as he showed a season previous when not playing in the extremely pitcher-friendly Roger Dean Stadium (.289/.337/.410 on the road versus .244/.298/.317 at home) and after Dean tore up the Arizona Fall League by hitting .323/.364/.452 against some of the top young talent in baseball that offseason, he began 2016 in AA Jacksonville marking a third straight season he’d received a promotion. That year, Dean had a solid first half hitting .261/.345/.426 with a 53/32 K/BB over his first 68 games but seemed to be pressing a bit at the plate in the second half when he hit just .212/.262/.320 with a 57/16 K/BB. Overall, Dean hit .238/.307/.375, setting him up to repeat a level for the first time in his career in 2017.

At this very untimely moment, when Dean was working on adjusting to hitting consistently at the upper levels where scouting reports and number crunching are utilized much more, Dean would once again be bitten by the injury bug. Just seven games into the season, he broke his right hand in an outfield collision with Yefri Perez. The injury would cost Dean nearly three full months.

 

However, Dean once again refused to succumb to the ailment. After a short stint in the GCL in which he went 7-13 in three games, Dean returned to the Jumbo Shrimp on July 3. He lived out the rest of the 2017 season by hitting .283/.325/.415, more than impressive numbers given the timing of his injury and the amount of time missed at such a disadvantageous time in his development.

So how was Dean once again able to overcome the damage to both his body and psyche during this difficult time? Despite the distance between them, Dean says the biggest impetus during the entire process was the same one that has been throughout his baseball career: his family.

“My parents last year were a big help. We’d talk every day or try to and obviously this was something new to me not being able to play,” Dean said. “They kept me motivated, and they were very supportive as well, and I probably couldn’t have done it with out them.”

This season in Jacksonville, a 100% Dean is paying homage to his support system by being  the best hitter in the entire Marlins’ organization. Through his first 22 games this season facing the same level of competition that gave him fits in the second half of 2016, Dean has been on fire. In fact, Dean’s bat has been so hot it’s made history. In his first 81 ABs, Dean has hit a ludicrous .420/.466/.654 with three homers, eight doubles, a triple and 14 RBI. His slash line marks the best offensive April in the Southern League since 2005 when Matt Murton hit .437/.505/.621. To put it another way, Dean just had the league’s best offensive month of April in over a decade. By way of a ridiculous 92% contact rate, Dean hit in 16 of 22 games and reached base in 18 of 22 including 17 of 18 to begin the season. His monthly success has been met with a promotion to AAA New Orleans to begin May.

 

 

After simplifying his stance and approach in his rookie season, Dean, a 6’1”, 190 pounder, has learned how to fill some holes in his swing and come by power with ease. This month with the Shrimp, Dean has also shown much improved patience, a greater ability to take close pitches, foul off tough pitches (proven by his 0.86 BB/K) and wait for his inside pitch in order to feed off his pull-happy instincts. He’s also shown a better feel for getting his hands extended to pitches on the outer half, either taking them to his pull side via his great raw strength or in the very least, making contact, limiting his K rate. The catalyst for this has been a shortened approach and heightened bat speed. Older and wiser, Dean has learned how to settle for what is given to him. He isn’t pressing and simply allowing his raw skill to drive his game. Smooth, fluid and effortless at the plate, the numbers are coming naturally to Dean, a fantastic sign. The only thing that was consistently missing from Dean’s game in April was the ability to lean in to pitches and go the other way (24% opposite field hit percentage). But so far in AAA (small sample aside), Dean has rectified that issue and for the first time in his career, is actually favoring his opposite field (47.6% opposite field hit percentage). If Dean continues to show these same contact rates and plate coverage ability at the highest level of minor league ball, there isn’t going to be much left for him to prove below the Major League level and if the stats persist, the organization isn’t going to be able to hold him back much longer.

After all of his trials and tribulations, Dean, who holds the ceiling of a familiar friend of ours Jeff Conine (career .285/.347/.443, 17 HR 162 game average), is on the verge of his Major League call.

His parents probably already have their plane tickets.

2018 Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Rest Of) Season Preview

According to crustacean experts, baby shrimp growth is dependent on sunlight. After absorbing the Jacksonville Suns last season, the newborn Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, led by Monte Harrison, Kyle Barrett, Colby Lusignan, Jeff Brigham and Max Duval are ready to make their mark on the Southern League.

2017 Stats

.242/.321/.360, 86 HR, 313 XBH
1185.1 IP, 3.69 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 2.64 K/BB

In their second season, the Shrimp will once again be lead by manager Randy Ready. A graduate of Cal State East Bay, Ready was selected by the Brewers in the sixth round in 1980. After jumping a level with each passing year from 1980-83, Ready made his MLB debut with the Brewers 1983 and went on to slash .259/.359/.387 over an 11 year MLB career. His best season occurred in 1987 when he hit .309/.423/.520 in 124 games for the San Diego Padres. Needless to say, Ready knows what it takes to proceed up the developmental ladder and make it at the highest level as a professional. According to Kyle Barrett who began playing for Ready last season and rejoins him again this year, Ready, by way of his many years of experience and a solid all-around skillset especially in the minor league circuit, makes a well-rounded minor league skip.

“Ready is laid back and a cool dude for sure. He had a long career in the bigs and knows his stuff,” Barrett said. “He’s really helped me with the smaller portions of the game such as bunting and baserunning.”

Rejoining Ready is his pitching coach Storm Davis. A Jacksonville native, Davis was a high school draft pick in round seven by the Baltimore Orioles out of University Christian High School in 1979. After flying through the minors jumping a level with each passing season despite still being in his teenage years in three of four of those seasons (including a stop in Fort Lauderdale with the Miami Orioles), Davis, by way of a collective 3.56 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, cracked the majors as a 20-year-old in 1982. Despite being over eight years younger than the average major leaguer, Davis, who made the Orioles out of camp, stormed out of the gate (pun intended) and collected a win in his first MLB start on July 3, 1982 against the Detroit Tigers. He would go on to post an overall 3.49 ERA, 1.232 WHIP and 2.39 K/BB over 100 innings in his rookie year.

Davis spent the next 12 years in a similar capacity pitching both as a starter and out of the pen, collecting a 113-96 career record and holding down a 4.02 ERA and 3.80 WHIP by way of a 1.392 WHIP and 1.53 K/BB (including over 1,000 strikeouts) over 1780.2 IP. In 1983, his sophomore season, Davis contributed a 13-7 record via a 3.59 ERA, 1.218 WHIP and 1.95 K/BB to the World Champion Orioles. He collected a second World Series ring in 1989 when he ran up a career high 19 wins (19-7) and was huge down the stretch for the Oakland A’s. In the second half, he held down a 3.61 ERA and went 12-3 in 17 starts. This year, Davis is bringing his expertise back to a level which he went 14-10 with a 3.47 ERA and 1.83 K/BB at despite being four years the minor to the average competition. A guy who grew up extremely fast, enjoyed a fantastic minor league career and borderline Hall Of Fame +17 WAR major league career, Davis simply knows what it takes to get the job done on the hill, no matter the level.

Marcus Crescentini who joins Davis’ staff this year has already begun to see the positive impacts of Davis’ much apprised but quite relaxed tutelage.

“I’ve only been with Storm a couple of weeks but what I’ve noticed with him is that his knowledge is endless and he is very approachable,” Crescentini said. “He also treats all of his pitchers like men; he doesn’t micro manage and he let’s us be who we are.”

Completing Ready’s staff is hitting coach Kevin Witt. Another Duval county native and graduate of Bishop Kenny High which is a short three mile drive from his current place of employment at the Baseball Grounds, Witt hit .481 as a senior before he became a first round pick by the Blue Jays in 1994. His #28 overall draft slot placed him ahead of fellow draftees Troy Glaus and AJ Pierzynski and just behind Jason Varitek and Nomar Garciaparra. After hitting .252 over his first three seasons including a .271/.335/.426 in A+ in 1996, Witt rose to AA in the Southern League, the same league he now holds managerial status in. There, Witt hit .289/.349/.539, tied for the league lead in homers and made the All-Star team as a utility infielder. In 1998, Witt began his AAA career and enjoyed immediate success leading the Syracuse SkyChiefs in homers with 23 while hitting .273/.354/.481. He made his MLB debut in September that season and recorded his first major league hit. Witt had a similar season in ‘99, once again leading the SkyChiefs in homers (24) and placing second in OPS (.896) before hitting .206 and recording his first MLB homer late in the season with Toronto. Following a 26 homer season in AAA in 2000, the Blue Jays cut ties with Witt a year later.

After a short stint in the Padres, Witt joined the Tigers in 2003. After a .316/.391/.594 performance in AAA, Witt got a mid season call to the majors. In his most extended look at that level, Witt hit a very respectable .263/.301/.407 with ten homers over 27 ABs. Witt was signed by the Cardinals where he enjoyed his best season as a pro hitting .306/.353/.600 and earning him the Pacific Coast League’s MVP trophy. However, on a stacked St Louis team, he never got a chance with the big league squad.

From there, Witt attempted to prove his worth in Japan, a very brief experiment, before rounding his playing career out with the Rays. After a .291/.360/.577 and whopping 36 homer performance with the Durham Bulls, a total which stands as Durham’s franchise record and the Rays’ organizational record and which earned him the International League’s MVP award. Witt got called up to the pros late in the season where he hit .148 in his final 19 MLB games. Witt rounded out his playing career back in Japan where he hit .174 in his last 40 games.

A fantastic .274/.336/.502 269 HR career minor league hitter with a plus plus power tool, Witt was unfortunately a victim of circumstance who never got his full shot in the majors in his prime. Regardless, Witt is a guy who knows how to adjust and get the job done at the plate no matter the level. He is a welcome contributor as hitting coach at a level he once dominated.

According to Austin Dean, Witt has good individual relationships with each hitter on the squad and is attentive and accommodating to each of their needs and routines. Describing his relationship with Witt, Dean says it’s one of mutual respect built on Witt’s trust in his players’ judgment and his overseer approach that lets them be themselves that stands out most. All in all, Dean says that on top of great expertise, Witt brings great reverence and leadership to the locker room, creating a more positive environment to play in.

“Being with Witt has been great. He’s very knowledgeable about the game and obviously he’s had great success as well,” Dean said. “Him and I’s relationship is a little bit different then everyone else. From spring training, he and I talked about routines and things I like to do in the season. And for me I don’t like hitting a lot. I like to take a couple rounds of five off the machine and then I go and hit BP on the field that day, and that’s it for me. And he’s respected that. He’s never tried to get me to do more then I wanted or that I needed. There’s times where I might be on my first round on the machine and I absolutely demolish five balls in row and he tells me to get and go back in the clubhouse. It’s things like that, he’s very encouraging and he knows what he talking about with us, and he’s been helping, you know, not just me but everyone else on team.”

Projected Lineup

DH Kyle Barrett
2B Isan Diaz
LF Austin Dean
RF John Norwood
CF Monte Harrison
1B Colby Lusignan
3B Brian Schales
C Rodrigo Vigil
SS Chris Diaz

Kyle Barrett
2017 – A+-AA – .276/.333/.324, 17 XBH, 65% SB%, 2.38 K/BB

Barrett is a Marlins 15th round draft pick from 2015 out of the University Of Kentucky, a pick which has been part of a shopping spree of the UK system from 2013 to present. Over the last five years, Stan Meek, Mike Hill and the Marlins have selected Wolfpack members in four separate drafts: J.T. Riddle in 2013, Barrett in 2015, Dustin Beggs in 2016 and Riley Mahan last year. Its been a “stick with what’s working” type approach from the scouting department to continue to return to Lexington on the regular year after year to scout and eventually select and sign players. Each of the four players selected has successfully parlayed a great collegiate career into at least some sort of positive progression since they’ve begun wearing a Marlins affiliated uniform.

While Riddle hit .275/.318/.364 over a four year minor league career, while Mahan has gotten off to a .289/.333/.458 over his first 20 pro games and while Beggs has posted a 3.61 K/BB in his first three seasons, Barrett has been one of the most consistent players in the entire organization. Barrett garnered the Marlins’ attention after a .324/.386/.391 collegiate career at UK which included a fantastic .354/.394/443 senior season. His BA that year ranked seventh in the SEC ahead of competition such as Dansby Swanson and just behind Red Sox top prospect and () overall prospect according to Baseball America, Andrew Benintendi. His average was made possible by his 46 hits, a total which ranked third in the conference, one shy of Benintendi. Barrett’s OBP ranked 17th in the SEC, just .23 points off of Swanson’s .417 mark. Barrett showed off his prowess on the bases as well scoring 29 runs and recording three triples, both of which were good for fourth most in SEC play and collected its 13th most total bases, 62. He accomplished all of this in the conference’s ninth most ABs, 124. Upon being drafted by the Marlins, Barrett headed to short season Batavia but just four games into his pro career, he broke his right hand and missed the rest of the campaign.

Despite the injury, Barrett joined the Greensboro Grasshoppers in 2016. Despite getting off to a slow 12-72 7/16 K/BB start due to the fact that he was still not pain free in his injured hand, Barrett, ever the grinder and with a staunch refusal to quit, turned it on in late May and wound up reaching base in 55 his final 79 games. Despite the slow start, Barrett hit .282/.333/.345. Among players who appeared in over 60 games, his BA and OBP were both team highs. He also stole 17 bags in 22 attempts.

The biggest hole in Barrett’s game headed into his sophomore season was his inability to read and time professional quality pitches as well as having a tendency to get a bit over-aggressive. This was proven by his heightened 17.05 K rate and 2.68 K/BB in Greensboro.

However, the Marlins didn’t let that small hitch hold Barrett back and gave him the promotion to A+. That year, Barrett, back at 100% to start the season, rewarded the Marlins’ confidence in his projection by slashing .297/.355/.342 over his first 66 games with the Hammerheads. His BA, made largely possible by a 12 game hit streak in which he went 19-49 in late May and early June, led the team and ranked 18th in the Florida State League. He reached base via a hit in 57 of his 66 appearances. All the while, Barrett’s walk rate rose to 7.77%, his K rate fell to 14.53% and his K/BB rested at 1.87. Originally snubbed from the FSL’s All-Star Game, he rightfully made it as an injury replacement. For the second half, Barrett received the promotion to AA Jacksonville. In his first 126 ABs as a Shrimp, he hit .230/.285/.286.

“I’m a firm believer that you can’t have success until you have failed. Failure is a teaching point,” Kyle says.

Barrett has had a few of those educational experiences so far in his pro career including being bitten by the sophomore slump in college (.253/.354/.312) and the aforementioned injury stricken 2016 season in Greensboro. However, each time, Barrett, by way of putting in all the necessary work and then some, has been able to adjust and come back the next season a much better player. Following a subpar audition in AA last season, Barrett faces a similar test in 2018 but if his track record is any indication, he will use stored knowledge, his fantastic work ethic and his ability to acclimate accordingly no matter the situation or level of competition to rise to the occasion.

According to Kyle, in addition to the bump in competition level, the biggest rectification for him to make mentally during his transition from A to AA last year was being prepared to hear his number called upon at any time in any situation on any given day and not losing his preparedness just because he didn’t see his name on the lineup card.

“The transition from high A to AA is definitely an adjustment,” Barrett said. “I learned that the days I’m not starting doesn’t mean I won’t play, there’s always a pinch hit or a double switch.“

5’11”, 185, Barrett packs a ton of talent into his stout but athletic frame. Formerly a high strikeout guy, Barrett has found a nice balance between aggression and patience. He’s also improved the lateral level of his swing, allowing him to get at least some part of the bat on pitches he engages on, prolonging his ABs and forcing his opposition to beat him with a quality pitch. That said, Barrett will also often attack early in the count if he sees a juicy morsel he likes. Simply put, he’s a very tough and pesky out to get and a guy who can give opposing teams fits. Barrett owns an extremely quick snap swing made possible by even quicker hands. Approaching from the back of the box, his speedy upper half and stationary head expand his field of vision and allow him to read pitches nearly all the way to the front black of the plate. While he probably won’t put many out of the park or even over outfielders’ heads, he has a great knack for finding holes and gaps. With plus speed, the ability to read the ball off the bat and good base running instincts, he turns singles into extra bases with relative ease. He holds plus speed and makes equally good reads off the bat and flashes a strong arm in the field. He can cover all three outfield spots but he projects best as a future center fielder.

Though the Marlins’ organization suddenly finds itself with a ton of young outfield depth especially after the acquisitions of Magnerius Sierra, Braxton Lee and Monte Harrison, with success at the AA level this year, Barrett is a rounding out a unique catalytic skillset. With success via another positive adjustment this season, he could receive a look in the bigs in September and he would definitely be a candidate to make his first 40-man roster next season. As good as his long range vision is on the field though, Barrett isn’t looking that far into the future. For now, he is putting all of his focus on what is directly in front of him and nothing more.

“I can’t think about it or stress about it. All I can do is control the controllable and play my game,” Barrett said. “If I stay within myself, be confident and have fun, everything else will fall into place.”

An extremely easy guy to get into games whether it be at the top of the lineup as a fire starter, at the bottom of it as a restarter or as a lefty bat off the bench as a rally starter, the 25-year-old’s modest ceiling should be placed somewhere around Roger Cedeno, a career .273/.340/.371 hitter and 77% successful steals threat.

Austin Dean
2017 – .291/.328/.446, 25 XBH, 3.43 K/BB

A fourth round pick out of high school from the year 2012, Dean is a name that has been around the Marlins organization for a while. Entering his sixth year as a pro, Dean’s career so far has been a proverbial roller coaster ride full of ups and downs.

Dean hails from Klein Collins High School in his hometown of Spring, Texas. Coming into the draft, Dean was heralded for his great raw power via a solid 6’1”, 185 pound build, a great ability to get extended and a quick stroke with loft. Paired with good speed (clocked at a 6.74 first to home) and a good baseball IQ as well as classroom aptitude, Dean had a verbal commitment to Texas before he chose to sign with the Marlins after being selected in the 4th round of the Draft by the Marlins, a slot which garnered him a $379,000 signing bonus.

After starting out in the Gulf Coast League post draft where he posted a .223/.337/.338 line in his first 47 pro games, Dean joined short season Batavia in 2013. There in 56 games, Dean hit a respectable .268/.325/418. His slugging percentage that came via 21 XBHs ranked 15th in the New York Penn League. At the end of the season, Dean received a cup of coffee in Greensboro where he hit .200/.346/.400 over 20 ABs.

Regarding what life was like for him as a kid who suddenly saw an after school activity engulf his entire life and asked how he was able to maintain focus under those circumstances, Dean responds that it was a stark maturation process making his way as a teenager in professional baseball but with the help of a great supportive cast of teammates and coaches, he was able to keep his focus and nurture his skillset advantageously.

“My first year in pro ball was definitely life changing. Being away from home, and being away from your family is tough. But ever since then it’s been a growing up thing. You learn how to take care of yourself and be an adult while you’re playing. I’ve definitely matured a lot since 2012 when I got drafted. On the baseball side, I’ve come across many of different coaches and players, and you tend to pick things as you go and learn different things from them. I’ve learned a lot of thing over the past six years, and I think that’s help me as a baseball player.”

In 2014, Dean appeared on the Marlins’ top 20 prospect list slotting in at #15. At the beginning of the year, stared down the first full professional season of his career in Greensboro. Thanks to three separate injuries, a left hand injury he suffered during a slide, a nasal fracture that occurred while he has rehabbing and a right groin strain that occurred while running, Dean’s season would wind up being limited to 99 games. However, the missed time and gaps between in game action did not appear to affect Dean at all. When he was on the field, he was consistently effective. After beginning the year by hitting .288/.343/.403, accolades which earned him an All-Star selection, Dean missed 22 games and the All-Star Game. Undeterred, Dean returned in early July hitting .377/.459/.500 before hitting the shelf again in early August. He returned again on August 15 and closed out a fantastic .308/.371/.444, 33 XBH, 72/38 K/BB, 128 wrC+ breakout campaign, incredible numbers especially considering his youth (1.2 years younger than the league average player) and his health woes.

In 2015, Dean received a promotion for a fourth straight season, joining A+ Jupiter. While the power hitter’s overall .268/.318/.366 slash line didn’t pop off the page, the underlying reason for it was due to his being stymied by the extremely pitcher friendly confines of Roger Dean Stadium. While he only hit .244/.298/.317 in 195 ABs at home, Dean was a .289/.337/.410 hitter in 208 ABs throughout the rest of the Florida State League. All five of his homers came on the road. Dean also successfully tempered his K rate down to 13.1%, a career low, proving he was at par in terms of making contact with A+ competition.

That offseason, Dean took part in the Arizona Fall League. In 16 games and 62 ABs against some of the top young talent in professional ball, the 20-year-old turned in a .323/.364/.452 performance, marks which ranked 12th, 24th and 27th. His .815 OPS ranked 26th. 18 of the 25 players who ranked ahead of Dean on that list are current major leaguers such as Lewis Brinson, Gary Sanchez, Aledmys Diaz and Wilson Contreras.

By leaving that impression coupled with his solid situational year in Jupiter, Dean was given yet another promotion this time to AA Jacksonville, just a step away from realizing his dream. Just seven games into his AA career, Dean suffered a demoralizing injury on a collision with a fellow outfielder. The ailment would cost Dean nearly three full months. After suffering the injury on April 12, Dean did not return to the field until June 28. Following a four game rehab stint in the GCL, he finally returned to Jacksonville on July 3.

“When I got hurt last year, it was very unfortunate but you know injury’s happen; it’s a part of the game. While I was rehabbing in Jupiter it was very slow process, and it was hard not being up in Jax and playing and being around my teammates,” Dean said. “But I worked my butt off while I was down there, I was still able to lift weights, to a certain extent. I kept my body in shape so I would be ready for when I got back. It was very tough not playing baseball for long. But it’s one of things you have to deal with sometimes and I felt like I handled everything pretty well last year.”

The ever-so modest Dean handled his situation a lot better than “well”. Upon his return, he enjoyed a .205/.347/.311 month of July. He hit in 39 of his final 55 game and reached reached base safely in 13 straight from July 28 to August 18. Overall, he was a .282/.323/.427, 4 HR, 22 XBH performer as he once again proved to hold an incredible ability to overcome adversity.

Asked how he was able to rise to the occasion of meeting and exceeding expectations in the upper minors despite missing nearly the entire first half, Dean responded this way:

“My parents last year, was you know a big help. We’d talk every day or try too, and obviously this was something new to me not being able to play. They kept me motivated, and they were very supportive as well, and I probably couldn’t have done it with out them.

Despite having far from a sunshine and butterflies Sunday drive through the minor leagues, Dean has met every challenge he’s faced and conquered it all while keeping his development proceeding in the right direction. In 540 career games, Dean has been able to close some holes in his swing that were present when he got drafted, simplify his mechanics, improve his contact rates and learn how to take what he’s given, leading to good averages and a solid doubles-first power threat. While the Marlins would like to see more over-the-fence power from Dean, there’s still plenty of time for the 24-year-old to find that as he fills out the rest of the way.

One area of concern for Dean lies in his limited ability to get extended. A naturally pull-happy hitter, Dean could use to garner a better knack to cover the outside of the plate via more advantageous barrel extension, leading to the ability to go to his opposite field. It’s one of the few things holding Dean back but it could be a major catalyst for his success as a major leaguer as pro pitchers and coaches could negate his strengths by way of quality stuff on the outer half and possibly an infield overshift.

Should Dean, who has come out victorious in every battle he’s faced so far on his way up, be able to fill that small hole in his game, he’s a quality corner outfielder with a ceiling around our old buddy Jeff Conine a career .285/.347/.443 bat. With further success in AA this year, he’s a candidate to receive his MLB debut sometime in 2018. At the very least, he is a shoe in for a 40-man roster spot next year and a favorite for at least a bench spot in 2019.

Monte Harrison
2017 (A-A+) – .272/.350/.481, 21 HR, 51 XBH, 139/43 K/BB, 27 SB

The main accompanying piece in the Christian Yelich trade with the Brewers, Harrison is a power hitting threat who is a bit immature in his approach but who holds extreme upside. Between A and A+ last year, Harrison hit .272/.350/.481 and topped he 20 homer mark for the first time in his career. As impressive as his .209 ISO and 133 wRC+ were, those figures came at the expense of a 143/39 K/BB. His 27% K rate last season equaled his 27% career K rate. That said, if Harrison, still 22, can find more discipline, there isn’t much more he needs to do to be both a top prospect and major league ready.

With elite bat speed by way of flashy wrists and a line drive swing which, coupled together, create plus launch angle and plus plus exit velocities, the 6’3”, 220 pounder is also a ridiculous 4.12 runner first to home, quite surprising for a guy his size and a testament to his athleticism. He rounds out his skillset with a throwing arm that receives an 80 grade on the 20-80 scale.

Undoubtedly, there’s massive upside here and after the acquisition of Brinson turns the Yelich return from good to gold. If Harrison is going to realize his full potential, there’s still work to be done both mentally and mechanically but considering he was able to turn in a great 2017 regular season followed by a .283/.333/.604, five homer performance in the Arizona Fall League after he missed much of 2016 due to injury, there’s reason to be very excited about his future. With no pressure on him whatsoever, I wouldn’t expect any sort of Major League action before next season at least as Harrison works on his few hitches. However, a complete Monte Harrison will be well worth the wait and a franchise cornerstone type piece. Pay close attention here. There’s special five tool type talent being kindled.

Colby Lusignan
2017 – A-A+ – .259/.326/.429, 15 HR, 49 XBH, 3.83 K/BB

A 28th round pick from 2016 after a .328/.425/.528 collegiate career between community college in Gainesville, FL and Division 2 Lander University in South Carolina, Lusignan is a piece who has come almost literally out of nowhere and proven to be quite the power hitting commodity.

After a .325/.429/.591 singular season at Lander with an OBP that ranked 10th in the conference and with its seventh best SLG and ninth best OPS (1.020), Lusignan hit .319/.422/.469 in the Gulf Coast League and got a look at short season Batavia to finish his 2016 season. The next year, Lusignan began the year in Greensboro. After hitting nine homers but slashing just .243/.315/.414 with a 34.72 K rate, the 23-year-old was nevertheless fast tracked to A+ Jupiter.

Just 113 ABs into his pro career and sporting a .251 BA and 33% K rate, the challenge seemed a bit over Lusignan’s head. However, the 6’4”, 230 pounder was somehow able to respond to the task by completely tearing the pitcher friendly Florida State League apart. In 46 games and 201 PAs, he hit .285/.348/.453 with six homers, 18 XBH, a .168 ISO and a 134 wRC+. He also showed improved patience as his K rate even fell more than 10 points to 23.9 and his walk rate rose to 8.5.

This season, just two years removed from playing ball at a Division 2 school, Lusignan faces his next challenge: playing against competition just shy of the major league level.

A lefty hitter, Lusignan has successfully gained a better knowledge for the zone as he’s flown through the Marlins’ minor league system. Looking at spray charts, Lusignan has mastered the art of opposite field hitting, relying on his ability to get extended and making the most out of his lefty’s advantage. He’s also always shown a good knack for going straight up the middle. Recently, Lusignan is also using his strength advantageously to go pull side on pitches on the inner half, showing a good ability to stay inside the ball, cutting down on his swing and miss totals. When he times pitches right, gets his feet down and barrels up on his classic uppercut swing, the ball flies.

If Lusignan can continue to show that kind of aptitude and bat control, he will close his only plate coverage gap, become a complete power first threat vs righties and make a huge improvement vs fellow lefties who love to take his eyes and arms away by jamming him inside. Though the K will probably always be part of the power hitter’s game, Lusignan has improved so much is such a short amount of time. One of if not the biggest rags to riches story in the entire organization, Lusignan, who saw time with the big league club in spring training, is a one more good showing in the upper levels away from a Major League call.

While that’s easier said than done and while he probably isn’t going to push Justin Bour for playing time anytime soon if ever, for a guy who has responded well to every challenge put to him, making it to the upper minors in just two short seasons, an unprecedented feat, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility for this offensive minded 25-year-old first baseman who has improved his balance and timing with each jump he’s made to acquire a roster spot and be used as a lefty power threat off the bench. Lusignan who came from modest beginnings in a small town in central Florida and never played above D2 before being drafted, deserves a hat tip for what he’s been able to accomplish so far and considering his level of focus and drive to succeed, likely isn’t done yet. Remember the name. You’ll could be seeing it in a Marlins lineup soon.

Projected Rotation

Nick Neidert
Jeff Brigham
Cody Poteet
Max Duval
Pablo Lopez

Jeff Brigham
2017 – A+ – 59 IP, 2.90 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 53/20 K/BB

Brigham is a 6’, 200 pound righty out of the University Of Wisconsin. In a three year career there, he posted a collective 3.71 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP and 1.65 K/BB over 174.2 IP. His standout season occurred in his junior year when he went 7-4 with a 2.90 ERA, 11th best in the PAC12 via a 1.13 WHIP and 1.96 K/BB. That year pushed Brigham up into the top five rounds on draft boards. Ultimately the Dodgers selected him in round 4. He signed for $396K.

After finishing out his draft year season cutting his teeth in pro ball with the short A Ogden Raptors (32.2 IP, 3.58 ERA, 1.47 WHIP), Brigham skipped single A and joined the A+ Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. After 17 games and 69 innings, the assignment proved to be too difficult for the 23-year-old’s developing to-contact arsenal and he was demoted to single A Great Lakes. He appeared in just two games there, tossing seven innings before the Marlins came calling at that year’s trade deadline.

On July 30, 2015, Brigham along with Victor Araujo and Kevin Guzman were traded to the Marlins for Mat Latos and Michael Morse. Upon his change of scenery, the Marlins gave Brigham a shot at redemption at the A+ level assigning him to the Jupiter Hammerheads. Brigham responded well, tossing 33.2 innings for Jupiter and recording three straight quality outings from August 16-28, a string of outings where he allowed just one total earned run.

In 2016, Brigham once again began the season in A+. After just two starts though, he landed on the DL with a back strain. Though he was able to return a week later, Brigham wasn’t back to pitching pain free until mid June. This fact shown true in his numbers: from April 22 through May 31, Brigham went 32.1 IP with a 6.73 ERA and 1.56 WHIP.

Though he was able to avoid making another trip to the DL, Brigham didn’t make another start until June 12. Over that two week span, he appeared in just one game throwing a single inning out of the bullpen. The time off was exactly the medicine Brigham needed. Over his last 15 appearances of the season, Brigham threw 82.2 innings and held down a 2.41 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. This included a fantastic month of July in which Brigham managed a 0.33 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in five outings and 27.2 IP as well as a 3.13 ERA and 1.09 WHIP string of starts from August 13-29.

Last season, Brigham began a third season with the Hammerheads. He was performing masterfully, tossing to the tune of a 2.68 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in his first 10 starts, six of which were quality starts and all of which lasted at least five innings and contained four earned runs or less. During a 5 IP, 6 H, 1 ER outing on June 30, Brigham struck out a career high nine. Rolling along and undoubtedly making sure to keep his phone charged and close, Brogham was derailed on July 25 when during a start, he suffered an oblique strain in his throwing arm. The injury would cost him the rest of the season. These unfortunately weren’t untested waters for Brigham. In 2012, he missed nearly his entire freshman year of college after undergoing Tommy John.

After resuming throwing mid-offseason, despite another injury to an already surgically repaired arm, Brigham showed up at camp this season and was a mirror image of the pitcher he was eight months ago, maintaining his 94-96 mph velo and his outpitch slider while continuing to rebuild his changeup. Despite the missed time, coaches saw enough to start Brigham off in AA this season.

From his rocker step delivery and high 3/4 slot, Brigham has consistently flashed a good moving two-seamer with good sinking life down in the zone and an even better hard and snappy 86-88 mph slider with lateral run to his glove side that can get downright nasty when he’s ahead in the count and hitting his release point. Alternatively, the immaturity of Brigham’s changeup is what has held him back as a prospect. Last season though, the pitch looked to take a huge leap forward as he gained a better feel for the grip and gained the ability to let the pitch float off the tips of his fingers, adding spin and depth. Mixing it in much more rather than just using it as a waste pitch, it complimented his inside-out fastball/slider combo perfectly. While he still doesn’t have the consistency to pitch off the changeup, he’s using it with much more confidence and shows the ability to hit spots all around the plate. If he shows more dependable control of the change this season and manages to stay healthy, the 26-year-old Brigham could become a Major League ready starter, something I commonly found within the Marlins very young organization this season.

Max Duval
2017 – A – 38.2 IP, 2.09 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 7.60 K/BB

Duval is a massively built righty that had quite the whirlwind start to his baseball career, playing all over the country and making the shift from an offensive first to defensive first player. After attending community college in San Luis Obispo, California, Duval played Division 1 ball at the University Of Hawaii. In 2012, the infielder hit .186/.255/.271. For Duval, the subpar season was disheartening considering how much work he would put in and how much of an infatuation he had with swinging the bat.

“I loved hitting. And when I say “loved”, I mean that in college, there was nobody that would spend more time in the batting cage than me,” Duval said. “It was therapeutic for me. But no matter how hard I worked, I struggled in games.”

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2018 Jupiter Hammerheads Season Preview

With the turn of the tide for the Marlins franchise there comes a ripe new group of Jupiter Hammerheads who sense blood in the water. Led by Corey BirdBrian Miller, Joe Dunand, James NelsonSam Perez, Robert Dugger and Ethan Clark, this young crop of Sharks is primed and ready to feed on the rest of the Florida State League.

Leading the school of young pups into battle for a second straight year will be Kevin “Smoke” Randel.  A 13th round draft pick by the Marlins out of Long Beach State University,   Randel slashed .267/.374/.439 over a seven year playing career, all in the minors. Coincidentally, his best years came with the team he now coaches, the Jupiter Hammerheads. In 2005 and on return trips in 2007 and 2009, Randel hit a combined .294/.392/.480 with a 1.53 K/BB in 933 total at bats. He spent one season above A ball in 2009 and showed decently, hitting .253/.371/.496 while finishing second on the team in walks (62) and homers (12) only to Giancarlo Stanton (16). The lefty hitter who played three infield spots as well as left field could’ve made a decent career as a bench player but having only briefly reached higher than A ball, he instead decided to retire.

Randel spent two years out of the game before returning to the Marlins organization in 2010 as an assistant coach for the Greensboro Grasshoppers. After two years there and two years with the Jacksonville Suns, he received his first head coaching gig in 2015 with Greensboro. After recording a 116-163 record with the Hoppers, he became the Hammerheads manager last season. That team finished just south of .500, by far his best year as a manager. It was made possible by way of a collective 2.82 ERA, second in the Florida State League, a 1.165 WHIP, also second, and a league leading 2.4 K/BB, numbers which evened out lowly offensive numbers such as a team .233 BA, dead last in the league, and 1,236 Ks, also dead last.

Randel returns to Roger Dean Stadium this year with a much improved talent class, undoubtedly the best he’s ever coached. One of Smoke’s most successful alumni, Kyle Barrett who played for Randel first in Greensboro in 2016 and then in Jupiter last season says that his former coach is perfect for player development because although he demands hard work, Randel’s coaching style makes working hard fun. Barrett also commends Randel’s ability to relate to players.

“Smoke is the man, he’s young so he’s not far out of the game and has feel,” Barrett said. “He’s a laid back coach but also holds you accountable. Play the game the right way and you’ll have no issues.”

Rounding out Randel’s staff is Dan Black, another Marlins draftee from 2010 and minor leaguer from then until 2015. A career .253/.326/.344 hitter, Black was teammates with Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, J.T. Realmuto and briefly with Giancarlo Stanton in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, he also shared a dugout with Derek Dietrich and Jake Marisnick. In 2012, Black had a great year as a Hammerhead, hitting .314/.375/.396 in 78 games before getting his first AA callup. Black says the breakout year was made possible by his ability to modify his approach and attitude, an experience that many minor leaguers struggle through. Black brings the knowledge and graduation of that process to the squad as a coach at a transitional level of development.

“It was a very important year in my personal development. It is very hard to maintain consistency throughout the length of the season, and 2012 was the first year that I had a clear approach at the plate and I stuck with it. I did not try to do to much and just stayed in the gaps and within myself. After that it was just about competing and believing I was not gonna get beat by anyone.”

Needless to say, Black understands what it takes to get the job done at the professional level. According to Black, he prizes the relationships he made as a player and strives to bring the same sense of belonging to the Hammerheads as a mentor.

“I was very fortunate to be surrounded by not only great players but great teammates and coaches,” Black said. “A very special thing that our team possessed and a quality I try and carry out through my coaching is the trust and respect of your fellow teammates and coaches.”

Overall, a grateful and humble Black says he is excited to return as coach and continue to impart wisdom gained through a trying yet successful minor league playing career at the A level on the next crop of young Marlins’ talent.

“I am very blessed to have been apart of this game for as long as I have and to be around some amazing people,” Black said. “I just look forward to helping these men get better and ultimately fulfill there dreams of playing well at the highest level.”

Joining Randel’s staff as hitting coach is Daniel Santin. Santin, a Miami native and attendee of Brito Academy and Miami-Dade College, was a 23rd round pick out of high school by the Mariners in 2003. After hitting ..314/.371/.485 in his first season, the catcher went on to post a career .270/.309/.393 slash line almost entirely at the single A level, including .264/.289/.391 with the Marlins’ single A affiliate in 2007. In 2015, Santin returned to the Marlins organization as hitting coach for the GCL Marlins, a position he has held for the last three seasons. Those three squads hit a collective .245/.323/.415. The promotee replaces Rey Noriega who departs after one season.

Projected Lineup

CF Corey Bird
LF Brian Miller
SS Joe Dunand
3B James Nelson
2B Riley Mahan
DH Boo Vazquez
RF Stone Garrett
C Jarrett Rindfleisch
1B Will Allen

Corey Bird
2017 – A-A+ – .288/.351/.370, 23 XBH, 0.9 K/BB, 28 SB

Bird is a 7th round pick out of Marshall University in 2016. As a member of the Thundering Herd, Bird showcased his on-base instincts and enjoyed a standout .301/.374/342 three year career. He led Marshall in batting average in his freshman (.292) and sophomore (.307) seasons and, being the only player to appear in all 55 of Marshall’s games, was a few hits away from doing so again during an even .300 junior year. That season which would wind up being his draft year, Bird was a first team All-Conference selection. He rounded out his slash line with a .375 OBP and 335 SLG. His career walk rate as a collegiate player was a ridiculous 9.8 and he stole 58 bases in 73 attempts, a 79% success rate.

After finishing his season off by adapting to the speed of the professional ranks in Batavia where he slashed .237/.302/.265, Bird impressed in camp in 2017. After, he was challenged to the prospect of his first full professional season. Bird not only met that challenge, he soared over it it by slashing .294/.360/.387 with a team high 23 steals in 32 attempts, enough to earn him a late season promotion to the Hammerheads. Playing in advanced A ball after being drafted not even a year and a half earlier, Bird’s average persisted as he hit .274 in 113 ABs, a metric that was only limited by the extreme pitcher-friendly confines of Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium that limited him to a .286 BABIP.

In his age 23 season, Bird returns to the Hammerheads to start the year but by as early as midseason, he may find himself headed north on I-95 to Jacksonville. The organization is extremely high on Bird and it’s easy to see why. Standing an even 6’0” at a current 180 pounds, Bird approaches from a straight away stance that sees his back foot straddling the back of the box and that he stays back on advantageously, allowing him to read the break on pitches, no matter how late and if he so chooses, engage a swing that may be the quickest in the organization thanks to his adaptable hands. These are Bird’s best mechanical tools and the bread and butter he projects to ride to the top of an MLB lineup. His swing is lateral and he has the smarts to settle for what he is given and he rarely presses, even when he is infrequently behind in the count. A heady hitter with a good working knowledge of the zone and how to approach ABs from a catalytic standpoint and poke out hits via solid plate coverage then late his plus speed go to work for him on the basepaths where he shows equally good instincts, Bird projects as a prototypical leadoff hitter. That said, although he will probably never be a true power threat, he is still building strength and when at his potential ceiling, could be an increased threat for true extra base hits, based on the speed of his swing alone. Coupled with good reads and equally as quick instincts in the field, Bird‘s ceiling should be placed at that of Austin Jackson, a career .275/.335/.402 hitter with a 73% stolen base percentage.

Brian Miller
2017 – A – .322/.384/.416, 19 XBH, 1.52 K/BB, 21 SB

Miller is a 2017 Marlins’ first round draftee, taken with the last pick of that round, 36th overall, with a competitive balance selection. He hails from the University of North Carolina, a team he made as a preferred walk-on back in 2014. Virtually unknown, Miller went on to enjoy a .332/.419/.453 career in Carolina blue all while fulfilling a childhood dream to play on their field.

Miller’s lasting impression upon scouts was a .343/.422/.502 junior year, a line he held down while taking the most ABs in the ACC. For a third straight season, he walked more than he struck out (35/38 K/BB), ending his collegiate career with a ridiculous 0.88 K/BB ratio. He was also once again unstoppable on the basepaths, swiping 24 bags in 30 chance a total which was good for second most in the ACC and which gave him a career success rate of 81% in stolen base opportunities (55/68).

The biggest thing Miller proved in his junior year of college was that he has the ability to be more than a pure singles threat. After heading into that season with just two career homers, Miller slammed a respectable seven bombs on top of 16 doubles and three triples, leading to a .159 ISO. His five-tool type season pushed Miller up draft ranks to what was thought to be a late second round selection. According to Miller, it was his support system that was the biggest catalyst in getting him to that position.

“Getting picked in the first round was pretty cool, but it’s not really a goal I had all along because I just wanted to play for a team that valued me and gave me a chance to succeed,” Miller told me a few months ago. “There are a lot of very very good baseball players that didn’t get picked that high and will have great careers. Your junior year there’s so much noise out there about you as a player or where you might get picked. I was very blessed to have great friends and family around me that helped me tune all of that out and just play as hard as I could for my school.”

Upon being drafted, Miller, who forwent being sent to Batavia, spent the rest of 2017 by making his pro debut in front of his family and friends. He responded by hitting .322/.384/.416 for the Grasshoppers. His success on the bases persisted as he stole 21 bags in 27 attempts. Despite the change in competition level, his solid patience also stayed strong as he posted a more than respectable 35/23 K/BB.

Heading into 2018, Miller rides that fantastic ability to adapt into a pitcher friendly Florida State League especially at home at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Even though it will no doubt be a tough test for him after just 57 games in low A, if there’s anyone who has the ability to conquer it, it’s the same guy who went from near obscurity to a great fantastic career to an impressive initial showing in pro ball Greensboro.

My 2017 Prospect of the Year, Miller exhibits four out of the five major tools. His excellent patience, strike zone knowledge and plate vision allow him to both avoid strikeouts and, coupled with his extremely shortened, lateral and lightning quick line drive cut, hit for a plus average. As quick as his hands at the plate are his legs on the bases. There, via good reads and probably his best present tool, his foot speed, making him a threat to steal every time he’s on. His quickness, good route running stemming from a good first step to the ball and solid throwing arm give him eligibility at all three defensive outfield spots but his future will probably be made in centerfield.

Above all, Miller is the epitome of a guy who takes what he is given whether it be a walk, an infield single, a bunt hit or a stolen base, making him the perfect leadoff or two hole hitter. He’s a guy who is clearly valued in that capacity by the organization and rightfully so. Flying through the minors, with another good showing, Miller could get a look at AA by season’s end.

Joe Dunand
2017 – A-A+ – .370/.471/.667, 6 XBH, 8/5 K/BB

Dunand, the nephew of Alex Rodriguez. is a second round pick from last season out of NC State University. A Miami native, Dunand began garnering national attention in 2014 when he homered in eight straight at bats in a national tournament in Arizona.

Dunand parlayed that performance into a solid three year collegiate career with the Wolfpack. Appearing in 178 of a possible 180 games, Dunand hit a collective .268/.334/.476 with 29 homers and 75 XBHs. Most of his success came during a .287/.368/.632 junior season in which he went yard 18 times, fourth most in the conference. His even 1.000 OPS ranked eighth in the ACC.

Dunand rode that performance all the way up the draft board, going from a presumed late round pick at the start of 2016 to a seventh round selection in 2017. Upon joining the professional ranks, he had an intriguing first eight games in Jupiter between the backfields in the GCL and at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium with the Hammerheads (small sample aside) hitting 370/.471/.667. He flashed what is believed to be his best tool, plus raw power by collecting six XBHs, including his first professional homer. Judging by those numbers, the transition from metal to wood bats won’t be a problem for this kid.

Watching him in camp, the righty hitter who gets low in a straight away stance impresses with his straight up the middle power. In a game I watched, Dunand went to the same exact area of the field twice against different pitchers with line drive hits, showing good repeatability in his approach and timing. The biggest and possibly only knock on Dunand’s approach is that he looks like a prototypical low ball hitter who can struggle against quality pitches on the upper half which has led to his high K totals. Better plate coverage will be paramount in how far he can go. Outside of that though, Dunand projects as a solid extra base hit threat who also hits for average and can play multiple infield positions including up the middle at short and second base. Should he improve his selectiveness and show the ability to walk more as he grows physically, he will be a highly prized commodity as a major leaguer. Place the ceiling here somewhere around Brandon Phillips, a career .275/.320/.421 hitter with the same quickness, instincts and hands in the field to match a career 9.5 dWAR.

James Nelson
2017 – A – .309/.354/.456, 41 XBH, 4.08 K/BB

Nelson is the Marlins’ 15th round draft pick from 2016 out of Cisco Junior College. The 20-year-old spent just one season there before signing with the Marlins upon his second draft selection. His single season in juco was paramount in his adding muscle and improving  his power game. After hitting a total of just four homers in his junior and senior years of high school combined, Nelson exploded for 17, allowing him to climb up draft boards nearly 100 picks from 531st overall in 2015 to 443rd and garner a $75,000 signing bonus. He ended his 2016 campaign by hitting .284/.344/.364 in his first 162 pro ABs in the GCL.

Last year in Greensboro, Nelson showed off an MVP-type skillset. Appearing in 102 of the Grasshoppers 136 games, Nelson hit .309/.354/.456. His BA brought him within one point of the South Atlantic League’s batting title, his OBP placed seventh and his .810 OPS sixth. His 31 doubles also ranked sixth. When measured by runs created (wRC+), Nelson was 32 runs better than the league average player. All the while, Nelson accomplished all of this despite being nearly three years younger than the Sally league’s average player. Much like his huge junior year in college, Nelson’s huge 2016 has garnered him a ton of attention from scouts. According to MLB Pipeline, he heads into 2018 as the 16th best prospect in the newly rebuilt Marlins’ system.

Swinging from a low straight stance, Nelson engages from a big front foot trigger into a quick and well leveraged swing. Approaching from the back of the batters box, Nelson flashes the ability to wait out the break on pitches and a good step into the ball, allowing him to go to all fields. There isn’t much in the way of load or power transfer from the lower body. Rather, Nelson relies on bat speed, raw strength and speed to produce his XBHs, which last year were fairly limited to line drive doubles. Nelson’s upper body mechanics are solid. He maintains a stationary head and keeps two hands on the bat all the way through the zone, ensuring his plus contact rates. Nelson advantageously looks the ball off his bat and follows it into the field, allowing him to make a good first read on the basepaths where he shows above average jets.

Areas of concern for Nelson are few and far between. One of those few is his patience. As good as his barrel path to the ball, full body extension and plate coverage abilities are, Nelson has a habit to press on pitches outside of the zone when down in the count and a susceptibility to allowing his top half to fly open a bit. Nelson will need to gain the ability to take more pitches, get ahead and work counts if he is to maintain a solid average and OBP at the upper levels and beyond. This fact isn’t lost on him.

“The biggest thing is not wasting at bats, bearing down and getting the job done with runners on or not,” Nelson told me last year. “If they are gonna give me a walk, I gotta take it and not press.”

Another area of concern for Nelson was his lack of home run power during his 2017 campaign as he hit just seven. While his ability to find holes and gaps shouldn’t be discounted, if he hopes to stick as a third baseman, that total as well as his 2.05 ground out to air out ratio will need to improve.

Speaking of his future at third, Nelson’s fielding error total of 19 will also need refinement. Though he shows off a 60-grade throwing arm, he sometimes rushes his feeds. He’s also still learning how to make the most advantageous reads off the bat.

Just 19, there’s plenty of time for Nelson, a traditional shortstop, to close those gaps in his game. However, he will lose a bit of that time to injury at the start of this season. At the beginning of camp, Nelson suffered a meniscus injury that required surgery. With no past history, Nelson says it came out of nowhere. However, despite the tough luck, he plans to come back no worse for the wear.

“It just kind of happened. It’s weird because I didn’t feel anything last year,” Nelson said. “I’ll probably be out a month, but I’ll be fine.”

What hurts most about the injury isn’t necessarily the longevity or seriousness of it but rather the timing. Due to the surgery, he missed the opportunity to reap the benefits of the tutelage big league coaches such as infield guru Perry Hill, the chance to get some work in against big league talent and begin to adjust to his slightly bigger body (he put on 20 pounds of mass in the offseason) and new home park Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Instead, all of that will be need to be done on the fly during regular season action by a kid who will once again be the youngest player on his team.

If he doesn’t lose a step, if the solid average persists and he is able to add some launch to his swing, get his lower half more involved in his approach and find more consistent over-the-fence power and if he can he can take the next step in his development as a defender, Nelson could get a look in AA at the end of the year. With a good gap-to-gap foundational make up, a great baseball IQ and fantastic athleticism, it’s definitely within the realm of possibility. However, there shouldn’t be any pressure on him to make that jump. Still in his teenage years, there’s plenty of time for Nelson to reach his potential as a 20/20/20 type offensive weapon with at least average all-around defensive skills. Although he faces a tough test this year, he will be one of the most intriguing pieces to watch within the entire organization.

Projected Rotation

Robert Dugger
Sam Perez
Sean Guenther
Daniel Castano
Ethan Clark

Robert Dugger
2017 – A-A+ – 117.2 IP, 2.75 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 3.63 K/BB

Acquired by the Marlins in the offseason trade for Dee Gordon, Dugger was an 18th round draft pick by the Mariners out of Texas Tech University. In a single season out of the Red Raiders bullpen, Dugger appeared in 30 games and held down a 2.67 ERA via a 1.4 WHIP, 8.01 K/9 and 2.35 K/BB in 60.2 IP. After his collegiate career, the Mariners tried to transition Dugger to the starting rotation. Since that time in 2016, he’s been a project in progress. His most convincing work was done this past season as he started the year in low A and held down a 1.18 ERA as a starter via a .199 BAA and 46/9 K/BB before being called up to A+ where he had a 3.94 ERA in the same amount of innings via a 47/16 K/BB and .272 BAA.

Dugger returns to A+ this year with the Hammerheads in his age 23 season. A decently sized 6’2”, 180, Dugger delivers from a step-back delivery, a high leg kick and a low 3/4 slot. There’s quickness and deception in his delivery that he also maintains out of the stretch but there is a bit of effort in it leading to some doubt as to his ability to hold up during a season’s worth of starts. His heat which shows a bit of life tops out at 93 but his bread and butter pitch is a good power slider at 91 which he spots very well on his outer half. While his command can be spotty at times, he rarely misses up in the zone. He has a good feel for his craft as a weak contact inducing hurler. That said, Dugger doesn’t have much more of an arsenal outside of the beginnings of a changeup that lacks shape. He started throwing a curveball in college but has since abandoned it in favor of his quality slide piece. If he’s going to stick as a starter, Dugger will need to further develop the changeup. That’ll be the focus going into this season but at this point, at 24, he projects better as a pen arm with swing man potential.

Sam Perez
2017 – A – 110.2 IP, 3.42 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 83/19 K/BB (4.37 K/BB%)

Perez is a 23-year old righty out of Missouri State University drafted by the Marlins in the fifth round of 2016. After recording a 4.50 ERA and a 26/8 K/BB in his first 34 innings that spanned his freshman and sophomore seasons, Perez enjoyed effective junior and senior campaigns solely out of the Missouri State bullpen, holding down a collective 3.06 ERA over 159 IP. He allowed just 156 baserunners over that same span, giving him a lowly 0.98 WHIP. What stood out even more over that 63 game span were Perez’s swing and miss numbers as he posted a 3.41 K/BB. The lasting impression he left on scouts in his senior year was a 112/35 K/BB and a ridiculous 11.04 K rate. Combined with a sub-3 (2.86) ERA and 1.09 WHIP that season, he climbed up into the top five rounds on draft boards. That’s exactly where the Marlins got him at 143rd overall. Perez received a $20,000 signing bonus.

Upon his arrival in the professional ranks, the Marlins nearly immediately began transitioning Perez to the starting rotation. After coming out of the pen in eight of his first nine outings, Perez made seven straight starts to end his 2016 season. He responded pretty well, holding down a 3.72 ERA via a 1.38 WHIP and a 20/11 K/BB over 29 innings.

In 2017, Perez began the year tossing out of the pen for the Grasshoppers. The exports were similar from a control standpoint as he collected 30 Ks to just six walks but the immaturity of his breaking arsenal cost him to give up seven homers in just 33 innings pitched. As a result, he was sent back to Batavia at the beginning of the short season.

Despite his overall ineffectiveness in relief in Greensboro, the Marlins showed confidence in Perez’s ability by maintaining their commitment to making him a full-time starter. In 14 starts for the Muckdogs that year, Perez rewarded that confidence by flashing his best overall stuff yet, tossing to the tune of a 2.21 ERA via a 1.09 WHIP in 77 innings. He also showed excellent control numbers, walking less than two per nine innings (1.51) while striking out six per nine.

The Marlins are hoping the bit of adversity is just what Perez needed to adjust to life at the upper levels. He will begin that life this year as he begins the season in single A advanced. A 6’3”, 210 specimen, Perez lives off a fastball that sits in the 92-95 mph range. In his second stint with the Muckdogs, Perez spent a lot of time developing his secondary pitches. Both offerings, a slider and a changeup sit in the 85-88 mph range and even with the steps they’ve made are still just average. As good as Perez has shown he can be against younger talent, he has had equally as tough a problem doing it with consistency. These issues stem from a crux in his ability to repeat his delivery and maintain velo after more than a few innings. Though he will get yet another and quite possibly a last chance to show he can succeed as a starter at the highest level he’s ever pitched at, the soon to be 24-year-old’s long term future is probably going to come as a bullpen arm. That said, he could still make a decent living as a 1-2 inning middle reliever.

Ethan Clark
2017 – A – 107.2 IP, 2.59 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 2.43 K/BB

Clark is a 23-year-old righty who has had quite a traveling baseball career. After being born in Oklahoma City, Clark graduated from Greenwood High School in Greenwood, Arkansas before attending college at Crowder Junior College in Missouri. On the last of those stops, Clark had a 4.58 ERA in 107.1 IP by way of a 1.58 WHIP. His most impressive JuCo stat  was a great K/BB metric of 100/43. That stat  made possible by way of his gargantuan physicality was Clark’s meal ticket to being drafted by the Rays in round 15 of the 2015 draft and to garnering a $127.5K signing bonus.

After finishing out his 2015 campaign by getting a taste of short season ball, Clark returned to the Princeton Rays in 2016 and began showing the Tampa organization his true potential. In 12 games, nine of which were starts, Clark held down a 2.91 ERA via a 1.06 WHIP in 56.2 innings. His solid swing and miss numbers also persisted as he collected 44 Ks to just 15 walks. What was most impressive about Clark’s 2016 campaign was his ability to rise to the occasion. His 7.21 hits per nine was the lowest he’d allowed in his baseball career.

In 2017, Clark received the call to the Bowling Green Hot Rods, Tampa’s single A squad. Once again, facing the most grueling season of his career, Clark once again showed a great ability to successfully adjust to a new level by holding down a 3.11 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in his first 12 games and 58 IP. His stuff took yet another step forward over that span as he only allowed two homers (0.33 HR/9) and he struck out 50 giving him a 8.18 K/9. Those metrics attracted Clark to the Marlins who acquired him in the trade that sent Adeiny Hechavarria to the Rays. Clark, showing poise well beyond his 22 years, was nearly unphased by the trade. In 11 appearances (all starts) and 52.2 IP for Greensboro, Clark limited damage to the tune of a 7.01 H/9 and a 0.68 HR/9, leading to a 1.07 WHIP. His solid whiff counts also persisted as he posted a 9.74 K/9. All in all, despite relocation and by far the highest innings count of his career all while being converted to a full time starter, Clark held down a collective 2.59 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP, 6.52 H/9 and a 107/44 K/BB.

Clark’s ability to adapt to his surroundings including a higher inning count and promotion in competition level has lain in his ability to continue to make the most of his god-given attributes while also advantageously developing his craft while having the presence of mind to not try to do too much. A massive 6’8”, 240 pound specimen, Clark doesn’t overpower with velocity but what he lacks in that department he makes up for with his ability to deceive. Maintaining a slow and methodical pace, Clark kicks his front leg high before following through from a high 3/4 slot. His arsenal consists of a 92 MPH fastball, an 86 MPH changeup and his best pitch, an 84 MPH slider. Where Clark succeeds most in limiting damage and generating swings and misses is in his ability to plane all of his pitches down into the lower half of the zone, keeping hitters nearly blind to the eventual location of his stuff and getting them to swing over it. This offsets his lack of velo mix and makes him a low effort guy capable of effectively eating innings. A guy who looks like he’s simply playing catch out there, Clark’s slow pace, his incredibly smooth mechanics and good body control allow him to repeat his delivery well. Combined with a good working knowledge of the strike zone and a solid three pitch repertoire, Clark has a good professional history, adapting to whatever level and situation he’s pitching in. At 6’8”, he would be the tallest pitcher to start a game in Marlins’ franchise history and the third tallest to appear in a game, a future that doesn’t seem too far away.

Projected Stats

77-63
.247/.341/.639, 65 HR, 336 XBH, 2.56 K/BB, 86 SB, 37 CS (70%)
2.68 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 3.57 K/BB

2018 Greensboro Grasshoppers Season Preview

Due to both offseason trades and the many promotions from last year’s great 75-61 Grasshoppers team, many Marlins draftees from the last two years look to make their presence felt in their first full season of pro ball this year. It’s a young squad and in most aspects a pretty raw one but with talent such as Jose Devers, J.C. Millan, Brayan Hernandez, Remey Reed and Brady Puckett on board, there’s plenty to be excited about this year in Greensboro.

2017 Stats

75-61
.246/.321/.356, 70 HR, 414 XBH, 2.81 K/BB, 135 SB
1184.2 IP, 3.67 ERA, 1.205 WHIP, 3.34 K/BB

At all levels of the minors and especially in the lower levels, the focus is not on winning but rather justifiably on development. However, at any level of sport, in regards to a player’s intangibles such as his/her psyche and drive to succeed, there are few things more valuable than being on the victorious side of games. In his first year at the helm in Greensboro, Todd Pratt proved that, partnering wins with positive growth in perfect harmony. While compiling a 75-61 record, second best in the South Atlantic League and bringing the Hoppers to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, Pratt saw upwards of 10 players graduate to the next level. According to third baseman James Nelson who was a Sally League All-Star and MVP candidate and second place finisher for the batting title via a .309/.354/.456 slash line as well as a very likely promotee this season, Pratt was able to do so by managing a carefree, loose clubhouse and by so doing, successfully shielding his club from any brand of unwarranted pressure.

“Pratt is one of the coolest coaches I’ve had the pleasure to play for. He keeps the game fun but it gets serious if things aren’t how they are suppose to be,” Nelson said. “The clubhouse has a lot of laid back vibes. Baseball is already hard and he doesn’t want to make it harder by stressing out after losses.”

J.C. Millan echoes his teammates sentiments.

“Pratt is awesome overall. On the field and of the field, he lets us go out and play and have fun. He’s always going to be in a great mood no matter what and that always motivates us to always enjoy the game just like he enjoys his job as a manager,” Millan said. “He likes to do everything the right way and he is always encouraging us to play hard no matter what the circumstances are.”

Rounding out Pratt’s staff will be hitting coach Frank Moore who oversaw the Sally’s best team walk rate of 10% and a .246/.321/.356 slash line last year. Returning pitching coach Mark DiFelice managed the Grasshoppers staff to a 3.66 ERA by way of a 1.20 WHIP, third best in the Sally League. Their 3.35 K/BB also ranked third.

Projected Lineup

SS Jose Devers
LF Michael Donadio
RF Isael Soto
DH/1B Lazaro Alonso
CF Brayan Hernandez
1B/DH Eric Gutierrez
2B J.C. Millan
3B Micah Brown
C Jared Barnes

SS Jose Devers
2017 – A- – .245/.346/.332, 13 XBH, 16 RBI, 16 SB, 37/18 K/BB

Devers is a 2017 Yankee’s draftee who came to the Marlins in the trade for Giancarlo Stanton. He was acquired as a distant second piece compared to his former teammate, fireballing hurler Jorge Guzman. However, judging by what he showed both last season and this year in camp, there may be more ceiling value than currently meets the eye.

Despite averaging just .246 last year, Devers at just 17 years old last year, OBP’d .359. He did so by exhibiting the brand of strike zone knowledge of a Major League ready leadoff hitter, a tool many pros find too difficult to come by. What’s more is he was able to accomplish this against pitchers who were on average, nearly four years his elder. Devers coupled his selective offensive approach with even more impressive work in the field where he shows good range to both sides, amazing athleticism and a strong and accurate throwing arm. He has the ability to dazzle with the glove and make “how did he do that?” type plays regularly, going completely across his body with jump throws and showing lightning quick transfer tools after flashing just as fast a reaction time and first step to the ball off the bat. Devers rounds out his game with absolutely blazing speed on the bass paths that allowed him 15 steals last year at a positively alarming 85% success rate.

A tall and lanky 6’0” 155, Devers in both stature and skill set bears a striking resemblance to Elvis Andrus who hit a similar .265/.324/.362 in his age 17 season in A ball and who is a +9.9 career dWAR player. Devers, who will turn 18 in December, has a bit of work to do in the areas of bat speed and overall physical approach in terms of weight transfer and balance but that should come as his body fills out. Watching him play and go 100% every time he’s on the field, it’s easy to see why he was a favorite of former Yankees farm director turned Marlins farm director Gary Denbo and a target of his this offseason. Expect Devers to get a long and healthy amount of attention by the organization going forward starting this season in Greensboro.

LF Michael Donadio
2017 – A- – 31 G, .278/.407/.392, 8 XBH, 13 RBI, 23/16 K/BB

Donadio is a 2017 Marlins draft pick who had a beastly collegiate career at St. John’s. As a member of the Red Storm, Donadio hit .323/.433/.463 over a four year career including a .374/.473/.547 senior season. He was the first player in St. John’s history to earn first team All-Conference honors in each of his four seasons. Looking at his collegiate stats, there isn’t much to dislike. The only thing that may have turned him off to scouts is his lack of power (28.8 career XBH%) and his pretty pedestrian .252/.344/.313 showing against top talent in the Cape Cod League in 2015.

For whatever reason, the Marlins stole Donadio in round 30 of the 2017 Draft. From there, he finished out his season with the GCL Marlins. The change in competition level didn’t phase Donadio one bit. In his first 97 pro ABs, he hit .278/.407/.392. His OBP ranked second on the team and tied him for 17th best in the league. Donadio parlayed that performance into a great showing this spring against older talent.

Standing 6’, 195, Donadio is an athletic specimen who gets low in his left handed stance, keeps his head down and views pitches all the way to the glove. He reads pitchers well, gets in their heads and anticipates the break on pitches advantageously, fights off tough pitches and rarely lets a mistake go to waste. There’s some uppercut action to his swing which allows him to go to all fields with line drives. His favorite area to attack is straight up the middle of the box. While the extremely quick reflexes and strike zone management are extremely encouraging, Donadio is currently all arms and very little legs. Getting his lower half involved in his swing a bit more could give his game another aspect: the ability to reach fences. He’s probably never going to be a guy who hits 20+ homers but with some slight mechanical alterations, he could be a 20+ doubles threat with a great eye, making him an atypical table setter for the middle of the lineup.

In the field, Donadio flashes a good arm and good range to either side. He projects best as a top-of-the-order left fielder with room to grow into more. With projection, I like Donadio as a diamond-in-the-rough type draft selection and a candidate to skip Batavia and start with the Hoppers this season. If he’s not in North Carolina on Opening Day, he will definitely be there at some point this year.

RF Isael Soto
2017 – DNP (injury)

Soto is a Marlins’ 2013 international signee out of the Dominican looking to reestablish his prospect status after missing all of 2017 with a broken foot. It was the second time he’s missed significant time. In 2015, he missed almost the entire season with a torn meniscus. Once as high as the Marlins’ #8 prospect, his future is in some serious doubt due to his inability to stay healthy.

At the plate, Soto makes up for fairly limited size (6’0”, 190) by showing awesome bat speed and a short barrel path to the ball, giving him plus plus power upside. However, he’s far too aggressive early in at bats and his approach carries tons of swing and miss potential with it as proven by his 115/43 K/BB in 2016. His plate vision and over-commitment to swings need to make some huge leaps if he is to reach his ceiling as a potential frequent fence finding threat with a plus defensive arm in right field. However, with all the time he’s missed, that ceiling is starting to slip away. Entering his age 22 season still in low A, he’s starting to enter make it or break it territory.

1B/DH Lazaro Alonso
2017 – A- – .255/.366/.348, 15 XBH, 30 RBI, 56/37 K/BB

Lazaro Alonso is an interesting backstory. Once regarded as the eighth best prospect in Cuba by way of a great breakout .299/.436/.494 showing in the island’s national series and a .395/.495/.535 campaign in 2016 season in its 23-and-under league, Alonso joined the Marlins in the 2016 International Draft, the same draft that held picks such as Yoan Moncada and Yasiel Puig. While he is very much their inferior in terms of service time and MLB readiness, Alonso had a great showing in Batavia last year as he adjusted to stateside ball by hitting .255/.366/.348 with a 56/37 K/BB.

As you may guess by looking at Alonso who stands 6’3”, 230, he owns ridiculous raw power. However, the word raw should be emphasized here. As decent as he was in his introduction to pro ball, he has tons of work to do mechanically. His biggest issue is an off-balanced load spurred by a faulty power transfer stance in which he bends his back leg in and his front leg out. It looks as uncomfortable physically as it projects statistically at the upper levels. While he can rope pitches on the inner half, he gets handcuffed on pitches on the outer half and gets caught reaching, often falling off to the plate side, leading to weak contact outs. If he can be coached to close his stance, cover the plate more advantageously and go to his opposite field, he has the swing selectiveness, batter’s eye and muscle to be at least a 20/20 threat while also posting a good OBP. A heady hitter who lets his natural tools work for him and doesn’t try to overpursue, I like Alonso as a very under-the-radar candidate to come out of virtually nowhere and make a name for himself.

CF Brayan Hernandez
2017 – A-/AAA – .263/.309/.406, 14 XBH, 42/10 K/BB

Hernandez, the main return piece in the David Phelps trade with the Mariners hails from Venezuela. A .252/.306/.408 hitter in 28 games with the Everett AquaSox, he finished his season out with the Muckdogs hitting a very similar .271/.302/.407 in 15 games. Though he is scouted as a potential five tool threat, Hernandez has a way to go if he hopes to reach that ceiling both in physical and mental growth. Just a 6’2”, 175 pound 20-year-old, hope is that Hernandez is simply a late bloomer both physically as well as mechanically and mentally. Playing in the Mariners organization probably hasn’t helped the right fielder who has a career 5.7 walk rate and 21.1 K rate. Seattle hasn’t graduated a top-tier outfield talent since it assisted with Adam Jones prior to his trade to the Orioles in 2008.

Two things will be needed if Hernandez is going to reach his ceiling as a complete talent: a rigorous new training regiment centered around adding muscle and a supreme focus on improving his recognition of breaking pitches. He also has a bad habit of trying to do too much on pitches on the outer half, trying to pull them instead of going with them.

In the field and on the bases, there is little to dislike about Hernandez’s games. He has plus speed with good instincts and the ability to cover all necessary ground at all three spots. He projects best as a center fielder but given the current scope of the Marlins minor league system, he will probably start seeing more time in right field. Entering his age 21 season, Hernandez still has time to reach his Odubel Herrera-esque ceiling but if that is to become a reality, he will need to start making progressive advancements towards it this year.

2B J.C. Millan
2017 – A – .243/.277/.348, 12 XBH, 42/7 K/BB

Millan, a Cuba native, spent his high school and collegiate years locally in South Florida. After attending high school at Brito Academy, he was a standout in a single season at Broward College where he hit .324/.407/.443 where his batting average, OBP and .850 OPS all ranked top five in his conference. He also swiped 18 bags, second in the conference. Prior to the 2016 MLB Draft, the Marlins signed Millan as a free agent. After breaking in in the GCL that year, Millan began to show positive adjustments to the wood bat professional ranks last year when he hit .273/.304/.402 in 44 games in Batavia and earned himself a cup of coffee with the Grasshoppers at the end of the season. But as excited as he was to enjoy the success he did, Millan knows it was the beginning of a lengthy ride and that there’s still tons of work to be done, starting immediately.

“2017 was a good start for me but that’s already in the past,” Millan said. “This year is a fresh start. I’m excited to get back on the field and get rolling.”

Millan participated in camp this year on the main backfields and against the highest competition on low A-high A camp days, sometimes against competition as high as A+ and, by my estimation, looked great. He collected a few hits and made all the plays necessary of him in the field. Millan credits his readiness for his first full pro season to the cup of coffee he got in Greensboro at the end of last year, even though initially, it was a bit of a sharp learning curve, adjusting to both his competition and surroundings.

“Greensboro was great for me even though it didn’t come out how I wanted.” Millan said. “The speed of the game took over me the first week I went up. It was first time I got to play at such a nice stadium. But those were all learning experiences that I had to go through and I will be prepared for the upcoming season.”

Regarding how he is feeling heading into by far the most extensive season of his baseball career, Millan believes he is well prepared and is focused well focused on keeping his body at 100% capacity. With a lot of familiar faces around from his time in Batavia last year, he also believes there will be great camaraderie from the get go.

“I’m excited for this full season. I got a little taste of how it was going to be and it’s going to be a fun ride with all the guys I’ve played with,” Millan said. “It’s just a matter of staying healthy all year and going out everyday to give it your best.”

Millan is a 6’0”, 185 pound athletic specimen who swings from a preloaded split stance that stretches nearly the entire frame of the batters box. With slight bend in his back leg and a short stride to the ball, he generates good line drive contact from the barrel. He’s aggressive in the fact that he likes to crowd the inner half and shows good ability to get extended to pitches on the outer half. He could use to find more strength in his hands to fight off pitches high and in but his hands are still quick enough to get around on them. During his time in Greensboro last year, as he stated, was getting accustomed to the quicker pace of play, the speed of the field and the much higher level of competition. However, all of those are things that will and have already started to come with more innings and more at bats.

Heading into this season, I really like Millan to surprise a lot of people as a catalytic type singles threat with good foundational patience and mechanics and good footwork and range to either side in the field, and plus plus speed on the base paths. A potential ceiling leadoff threat and 20+ base stealer while hitting for a plus average, he’s a great story out of Cuba, reminiscent of Jose Fernandez with similar compete level who shouldn’t be slept on.

Projected Rotation

SP Tyler Kolek
SP Remey Reed
SP Tyler Braley
SP Brady Puckett
SP Brandon Miller
CL Colton Hock

Tyler Kolek
2017 – A- (rehab) – 3.2 IP, 29.45 ERA, 4.91 WHIP, 0.07 K/BB

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it is. After missing all of 2016 and nearly all of 2017 with Tommy John, Kolek will make his return to the Grasshoppers this season. A prized first round draft pick, second overall by the Marlins in 2014 after he wowed scouts by hitting as high as 103 mph as a high schooler, Kolek’s career so far has been an unbridled disaster that has cost the Marlins $6,000,000 in signing money.

After signing in 2014, the first two years of Kolek’s career were underwhelming at best. He showed similar plus velocity on his heat that he was valued for pre-draft (though he rarely hit triple digits and was definitely overthrowing when he did) but the pitch was dead straight. Each of Kolek’s secondary offerings were very immature to the level they were barely existent. He showed the beginnings of a 86-88 mph changeup and a similar velo slider but the release points are very inconsistent and he looks very uncomfortable throwing each of them. Another mechanical issue for Kolek was repeatability stemming from very little action in his lower half. Instead, Kolek appeared to be all arm, failing to push off the rubber and failing to throw downhill which is definitely what led to his arm being blown out.

Now 21 and returning from major injury, Kolek, who enjoyed very little pro success, will need to completely rebrand both his arsenal and tools if he hopes to succeed as a big leaguer. Can he do it? The answer is time will tell. What is undoubtedly evident is that Kolek has the compete level and drive to do so. However, it takes a special individual to become a different player at this point in his career. While such a high draft pick will be given every chance to do so, I suspect Kolek’s big league future lies in the bullpen.

Remey Reed
2017 – A- – 50.2 IP, 4.44 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 2.76 K/BB

A Marlins’ 6th rounder in 2016, Reed held down a 2.66 ERA in 122 innings at Division I Oklahoma State mostly out of the bullpen, Reed saw extensive time as a starter with Batavia last year, proving the Marlins are tabbing him as a future rotational candidate. Reed performed fairly well in this interview of sorts, especially considering they came in his first season as a professional. In his eleven starts, he held down a 4.15 ERA with a 42/12 K/BB over 43.1 IP. The highlight was a 6 inning 2 hit shutout in his second-to-last outing of the year against Mahoning Valley in which 47 of his 77 pitches went for strikes.

Reed is a massive 6’5” 230 which would make him the fourth tallest pitcher to ever throw in a Marlins uniform behind only John Rauch, Chris Volstad, Andrew Miller and Josh Johnson. The biggest knock on Reed’s game so far in his career is that he hasn’t been able to use his great size to his advantage. Rather than using his long limbs to generate plus velo, he is a slow and deliberate worker with an arsenal that matches. Rarely touching 90, he releases late from a high over the top slot without much deception in his delivery. He commands his fastball well and it has a flash of late life to it but each of his secondaries, an 83-86 mph changeup, an 86-88 mph slider and a slow 71-74 12-6 curve are very unpolished. He has the profile to pitch deep in games and be an effective low-effort innings eating starter but he will need to develop a better feel for his offspeed stuff. If he can modify his mechanics to include better lower body involvement, his ceiling could be that of a 2-3 starter. Right now though, with a lot of arms ahead of him in a similar time frame, he projects best as a reliever.

Brady Puckett
2017 – A- – 49 IP, 2.92 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 35/9 K/BB

Puckett is another huge specimen — 6’8, 220 — which would make him the second tallest hurler in Marlins history

Here, there’s a ton of plus projection. Though the Lipscomb University alum is another guy that won’t wow with velo, Puckett, 22, already owns a plus-plus secondary offerings on top of a good lively arm side running heater. He gets his size involved in his delivery well, leaning slightly to his arm side, creating a downward plane and throwing from a high 3/4 slot, making him incredibly difficult to pick up. Everything is commanded well on the lower half creating advantageous weak contact, and plenty of late swings, setting up the out pitch slider which has the capacity to be downright unfair when he’s painting the corners with it. From his high release point, the pitch planes down and sweeps to the corner with extremely late life. It’s a plus-plus pitch at this point and by far his best offering. Regarding the pitch, Puckett says he can throw it multiple ways. Depending on how good it is daily, he is able to hit both his arm side and inside opposite corners, giving it more of a cut fastball profile.

“I like to call it a cutter but some days it moves more like a slider,” Puckett said. “I’m pretty confident in it. I like to throw it to both left handed and right handed hitters.”

He also owns a solid 85 mph changeup that shows good depth and the beginnings of a slow curveball that shows flashes but at this point is just a mix-in.

A master at inside-outing hitters and working the entire zone when he is on, Puckett projects very well as a back end starter. He could use to improve a bit in terms of location consistency. Puckett says that trouble arises when he lets pressure get to him, leading to a tendency to overthrow. But he has a plan to remedy that issue.

“Whenever I try to throw the ball real hard is when I get myself into trouble,” Puckett said. “I just need to stay within myself and think miss smaller, not throw harder.”

Though he is headed into his first full professional season, Puckett says his past two years of work have made he and his body well equipped for the rigors of a large amount of work.

“The past 2 years I have thrown around 150 innings each year so I’m hoping that will help my body be prepared for a full season,” Puckett said.

Even though can be quite hittable when he doesn’t have his best stuff and is catching too much plate, he shows the ability to adjust and still does enough to limit damage. A guy who already has good command of two plus pitches, is developing two more, uses size by creating downward action and deception and has improving command, Puckett profiles as a good mix of a strikeout guy and limited contact guy. A hurler who can get outs multiple ways, I like Puckett to reach a ceiling somewhere comparable to Brandon McCarthy, a career 3.97 FIP, 2.97 K/BB starter.

Projected Stats

60-76
.226/.307/.342, 56 HR, 375 XBH, 152 SB, 2.9 K/BB
1191 IP, 3.86 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 3.10 K/BB