Prospect Of The Year, 2019 – J.D. Orr

J.D. Orr (Photo by Howard Owens/The Batavian)

2019 Stats
12 XBH, 18 RBI
29/17 SB/CS
30/44 K/BB

 

Up until this point, the baseball career of J.D. Orr has been about three As: athleticism, architecture and astonishment. By way of those three adjectives, the 23-year-old Ohio native has gone from standing out in two different sports to being a huge catalyst in leading a fairly new baseball program to some of their best and longest-tenured success to most recently seeing that talent translate to the professional level the slightest hint of a hiccup. All of that has culminated in Orr playing some of the best baseball of his career at the highest level this season. Accordingly, the Marlins’ 10th round pick has earned our 2019 Prospect Of The Year Award.

A player of nearly every sport that approached him as a child, Orr limited his talents to just two when high school came calling: baseball and football. Saying Orr stood out in both ventures would be an understatement. He was named an All-Ohio state player in both and was being visited by scouts and recruiters during his time on both the gridiron and the diamond. According to J.D. though, when decision time came, choosing baseball over football was a better fit for both his physical and mental faculties.

“I was a pretty good football player too and all the way up until my junior year I was trying to decide between the two. But seeing how my body was being beat up by football, I thought I’d have a better chance at a professional career in baseball because of my speed. My speed isn’t as rare in football as it is in baseball. So that’s what made the difference.”

Being a two-sport athlete in his prep years, Orr admits he wasn’t naturally suited to play baseball full-time at the next level. However, due to daily tutelage that fall and during his junior season, Orr says his WSU coaching staff quickly caught his mind up to his natural gifts and had him fully prepared to show his true grit in the 2017 season.

“I never really played baseball full time until I went to college so having all that practice in the fall was really helpful. I struggled at the beginning but I had a phenomenal coaching staff that developed players better than I’ve ever seen anywhere. Having them by my side helping me with everything from my body growth to my approach at the plate was awesome. I give them all the credit in the world for the way they worked with me and taught me how to play baseball the right way.”

Looking back on his time at Wright State, Orr champions the environment and attitude surrounding the program, an ethnology imprinted upon it by the coaching staff. According to JD, that was what drew him to attend the school and what he tried to further as a team leader during his final collegiate season.

“That was one of the main reasons I went to [Wright State]. It was a program in the rise. I loved the culture there; they’re huge on development. The coaches are top of the line in developing players. I wanted to be part of that culture. It was great to help the progression of that school.

Enter the 2019 MLB Draft. After scouts took notice of J.D. during the second half of his historic junior season, his positive attitude and drive imparted on him by an extremely attentive coaching staff paid off when he heard his name called 291st overall. Joining Orr in the professional ranks were four of his teammates, making it the most Wright State-occupier draft in program history. Orr believes he and the other Raiders selected left an imprint on the program: you work and play properly, you get results.

“It was really rewarding not only for myself but my teammates. They’re all great players with great work ethic so to see that hard work pay off in the Draft that was a really cool thing,” Orr said. “We had a great core of guys that just knew hard work was so important to the organization. We taught the younger kids how to play the game. We always played hard and we never took days off. That’s the mark I wanted to leave on the program: you don’t ever skip reps and you don’t skip practices, because down the road, it all pays off.”

Another member of the quintet of Wright State players selected in the 2019 Draft was Orr’s very good friend and fellow team leader Peyton Burdick. What’s more is that Burdick and Orr were recognized by the same Marlins scout, Nate Adcock and wound up being continuous teammates upon their jump to the next level. According to WSU recruiting director Nate Metzger, Adcock should be commended for his ability to recognize and recommend talent in up-and-coming baseball avenues.

“Nate spent a lot of time with us. He really got to know them & loved the makeup,” Metzger said.. “Those guys may not have 80 tools, but they are 80 makeup. (Adcock) deserves a lot of credit.”

According to Orr, having the 82nd overall pick by his side during his side during his transition to pro ball has been a penultimate factor in his success, both on and off the field.

“Winding up on the same team was both awesome and huge. I’m a big home boy so going down to Florida that first week and not being by myself but being with Peyton was great,” Orr said. “I don’t handle change as well as he and he’s a very outgoing person so having him by my side and just figuring out this whole new culture w were becoming a part of was awesome. It really helped me.”

Regarding Orr and Burdick’s relationship, Metzger testified to Burdick being the yin to Orr’s yang.

“J.D. is a loner & Peyton life if the party forsure. But J.D. can handle himself, too,” Metzger said. “He was one who at times was there to tell Burdick exactly what he thought if Peyton got a little frisky.”

When they weren’t driving each other to be their absolute best on the field, Orr and Burdick were engaged in mostly-friendly competition off the field. According to Metzger, the two ultimate adversaries would go to war on a surface that became well-known to the Marlins’ clubhouse this past spring.

“Those guys playing ping-pong: absolute war!” Metzger recalled. “They would play with no shirts on and the loser of every point had to wear a ball off the back hit by the other one as hard as they could hit it. They’d both wind up with welts all over their backs.”

While the Marlins’ training personnel will probably step in before it gets to that point, Orr and Burdick should be considered finals favorites for the entire-squad ping-pong tourney this spring.

It wasn’t always sunshine and butterflies for Orr during his tenure at WSU. During his first full season, he struggled to a .238/.333.350 slash line. So how did Orr turn it around to become one of the school’s top alumni? According to Orr, his coaches focused on tempering the repeatability in his mechanics and in adjusting his approach to both counts and situations to where now, instead of going up trying to hit the ball as hard as he can, Orr now has a plan. That coupled with his willingness and ability to both learn and adjust is what allotted him his collegiate success and made him an MLB-caliber talent.

“My coaches were very expressive with how important my approach is so I always go up and try to hit the ball to the left center field gap and then adjust to the inside pitch,” Orr said. “Having that mindset and staying calm and just taking what the pitching gives to me has really allowed me to make solid contact a good bit of the time. It has worked out more times than it hasn’t.”

Upon his arrival in the pro ranks this season, Orr, who never played summer ball as a student, was immediately faced with a new challenge: hitting with wood bats. Once again by using the ability to discipline his versatile mind and his by way of natural tools that allowed him to clear hurdles fairly quickly at WSU, Orr was once again able to adjust advantageously. According to Orr, it wasn’t about improving his connectivity or swing path; it was about overcoming an aversion.

“I think the biggest thing with the wood bats was not being afraid to break them,” Orr said. “This is the first time I’ve used them; I never played summer ball. At first I was kind of scared to break them but now I know it’s gonna he part of it. If I keep making contact, no matter how much you don’t want to break them.”

Despite all of the grandeur and excitement that has surrounded his career these past two years, Orr isn’t letting any of it goes to his extremely level head. Instead, he’s doing the same thing he has been doing little league: showing up for work, ready to go at 100% all the time and not sweating the obstinate.

“I try to go in every day with the same mindset to have quality at-bats and control what I can control,” Orr said. “I know there’s a lot of uncontrollable in baseball but hopefully I can just go up there and stay calm and keep doing what I’m doing.”

Standing 5’11”, 187, Orr makes up for his limited size by possessing a huge baseball IQ. With an already well-advanced knowledge of the strike zone, Orr selects his swings beneficially and adjusts to counts at will, a trait that allotted him a walk rate over 16% in his first professional season. Orr owns an extremely short swing that allows him to put his plus-plus plate vision to work. The quickness of Orr’s cut also gives him a bit of hidden power. Overall, Orr owns an extremely streamlined, catalytic approach coupled with his plus-plus foot speed and his unique on-base antics that allow him to continue to get in his opposition’s head even after he’s dropped the bat make Orr, who was once nicknamed the “Base Bandit”, a threat for extra bases whenever the ball is in play.

In the field, Orr has eligibility at all three outfield spots, but his speed will best be utilized in center, the spot he’s far and away most familiar with. With a ceiling comparable to Brett Gardner, a fully-grown Orr is a great candidate to either lead off or to occupy the two hole. 

Can J.D. Orr go from being a collegiate state champion to Marlins’ spring training ping-pong king to a fixture at the top of the Miami lineup? Time will tell, but he is definitely off to a great start. After spring training, the Orr should make his return to the Midwest where he will make his full-season ball debut with the A Clinton LumberKings.

Prospect Of The Month, June 2019 – J.C. Millan

J.C. Millan (Photo by Danielle Bleau)

JUNE STATS 2019 STATS
.299/.386/.471 .278/.336/.364
3 HR, 6 2B, 13 RBI 4 HR, 13 2B, 33 RBI
12 K/13 BB 40 K/20 BB

 

Though he may not have laced up a pair of cleats until he was a teenager, Juan Carlos Millan Jr’s love for the game was born in him at an early age. As a young child, JC spent many hours watching his father, Juan Carlos Senior, prepare off the field and perform on the field in the family’s home country.

“Back in Cuba I played little baseball, but I remember watching him play in packed stadiums. It felt like the World Baseball Classic.”

When JC was eight, the Millan family emigrated to the United States, settling in South Florida. According to Junior, it was then that he started learning how to play the game. His tutor: none other than his hero, his dad.

“When we got here, I started playing more baseball and my dad started training me pretty much from scratch,” Millan said. “I wasn’t very good until everyday sessions became our thing.”

Junior’s rudimentary start would wind up being a blessing. Through many hours spent practicing together, ensuring fundamentals, creating a swing and building arm strength, the Millans strengthened their bond as father and son.

“He’s my right hand man, my brother; everything to me,” JC said. “I used to watch him, now it’s time to for him to enjoy watching me and see what he created. It’s really cool.”

When his high school age came calling, Millan devoted his services to Brito Academy in Miami, the same secondary school that berthed the likes of Manny Machado and former Marlin Gaby Sanchez. According to JC, the atmosphere created by the coaching staff at Brito (despite being hard at times) is plenty responsible for bridging the his gap between childhood hopeful and young adult prodigy.

“They opened the doors for me, giving me a place where I could develop myself as a baseball player and a human being. Everyone in the school is like a family,” JC said. “The coaching staff we had there were amazing people that helped me grow as a baseball player with their guidance on and off the field. I couldn’t be any more thankful for guys like David Fanshawe, Lazaro Fundora, JC Ruiz. Our head coach Pedro Guerra would be a pain sometimes and be hard on us, but I’m glad he was the way. That’s the reason why we won states and had no pressure on us on the field.”

From there, Millan took his talents to nearby Broward College in Coconut Creek. In a single season in the JuCo ranks, he hit .324/.406/.463, garnering the attention of scouts and eventually awarding him a free-agent contract, post-draft To Millan’s delight, the team that came calling was none other than his hometown Marlins. According to JC, being able to stay at home and maintain a close relationship with his family — especially his dad — has been advantageous for his career as well as his life.

“Playing here in Miami in front of my family and staying close was a huge help,” Millan said. Being able to stay close to my Dad has been huge because he has taught me pretty much everything I know about baseball.”

After signing, Millan attended spring training camp and was assigned to extended spring training before remaining in Jupiter as a member of the 2016 GCL squad. In his first taste of professional ball, Millan hit a modest .177/.250/.228, but his strong contact tool was already on the rise as he only struck out nine times in 79 ABs.

A season later, Millan wound up a ton of frequent flyer miles as the club attempted to gauge his level of maturation. Millan played at all four levels of the system, beginning in A Greensboro before a three day stay in AAA New Orleans. Following another two weeks back with the Grasshoppers, Millan spent 13 games in AA Jacksonville before ending the year with seven games in A+ Jupiter. According to Millan who always seeks the positive in any situation, he views his 2018 campaign as a good lesson on how to stay motivated and how to stay grinding, no matter where you are.

“I was healthy during that time; I was just moving up and down wherever the organization needed me to be,” Millan said. “I never lost sight of what I was trying to do. I always played hard and gave 100% whereever they sent me; it didn’t affect me at all. It just kept pushing me to be better each day.”

This season, Millan has not only stayed in one place for more than a few weeks, he’s spent his entire season with the Jacksonville Shrimp. According to Millan, getting the opportunity to build a relationship with his teammates and coaches and getting a feel for scouting his opposition have been the biggest catalysts for his success this season, including his big month of June. And of course, Millan has remained in constant contact with his biggest supporter and mentor, his father.

“Playing for one team for a while helps a lot since you face the same pitchers over and over, so you sort of have a feel of how they pitch to you. I just trust my preparation before the game and the game plan I have for each pitcher,” Millan said. “Also, my coaching staff and teammates have really helped me feel comfortable. Whatever I feel like I’m doing wrong, I ask the coaches and we go and work on things. Plus when I give my dad a call and he’s watching the game, he’s tells me a couple of the same things and I’m able to make the adjustments right away.”

Millan’s breakout has coincided with the changing of the guard; with the Marlins franchise coming under the control of the Jeter regime. J.C. says that is no coincidence.

“They have done a great job getting good prospects in the organization and giving guys a chance to show what they have before making any decisions,” Millan said. “Since day one, I knew these guys were going to change things around and find a way to get the best guys to make a winning team and it’s showing. Down here in the lower levels, there’s a lot more talent compared to past years and I’m sure this organization will have a lot of success in the near future.”

Approaching from a nearly straight-away righty stance, Millan uses a toe-tap trigger before slightly stepping in to an uppercut stroke that makes the most of his upper half. Where Millan has shown the most improvement this year has been his contact tool. By shifting his stance deeper into the box, Millan is reading pitches better and putting bat to ball on a much more consistent basis. The aforementioned opportunity of getting to face the same competition more than once has led to a much better average. With better plate vision and bat speed to his credit this year, Millan is profiling as a future catalytic bat off the bench. If he finishes filling out advantageously and begin integrating his lower half in his swing more, addding more launch angle and leverage (which he has flashed this past month), Millan, who also has eligibility at first base, would have a ceiling reminiscent of Josh Reddick, a .274/.322/.431 career bat.

Prospect Of The Month, May 2019 – Chris Vallimont

Zac Gallen, Jordan Yamamoto, Braxton Garrett, Trevor Rogers, Edward Cabrera. These names you know and are getting to know well this season. One which you may not have heard of but should start speaking aloud in your household on a regular basis, especially after a lights-out month of May: Chris Vallimont.

Chris Ryan Vallimont, a native of Erie, Pennsylvania, just celebrated his 22nd birthday on March 18th. His amateur baseball career began in 2011 at Mercyhurst Prep where he also competed in football and basketball. In 43 games played from the mound, despite having the projectable size to succeed, Vallimont’s success was fairly limited due to his suffering the same fate as many prep hurlers, especially those that play other positions: being given the baseball and simply being told to go throw it as hard as you can without being taught the craft.

“I was bigger, but I wasn’t really fine-tuned,” Vallimont said. “Coming out, I only had three D-II offers and not many D-I, because I didn’t have everything. I didn’t throw that hard, just sort of did my thing.”

However, showing poise and maturity beyond his years, Vallimont was able to use the fact that he was sparsely recruited to his advantage, successfully turning a usually-negative teenage experience into a positive one. Knowing he still had plenty of innings ahead of him, this is when Vallimont truly got to work on becoming a pitcher. As fate would have it, being under the radar became an ally for Vallimont and allowed him to find his most advantageous companion: Mercyhurst College.

“I went into college with a chip on my shoulder in knowing that I had to put in the work if I wanted to play past it,” Vallimont said. “It actually helped me out being underdeveloped and going into the program at Mercyhurst with the success that their pitching staff and the coach there created, it was the perfect fit. I fitted really well into the system and it worked out.”

According to Vallimont, his being recruited by Mercyhurst wasn’t by chance but rather by a design. That blueprint was laid out by their head coach Joe Spano, the same mind responsible for berthing Mariners reliever Dan Altavilla as well as Royals outfielder David Lough.

“The way Joe does it is he looks for people who are underdeveloped. He works with them and sees in them the potential to get to the next level,” Vallimont attested. “With Dan also being there a year before me, just knowing that it wasn’t all about going D1 in order to make it to the next level, but just if you put on the work, you can make it. That’s really what made the difference.”

Above all though, Vallimont credits the turning point of his amateur career to one moment. That occasion happened during his first season at Mercyhurst when the ball was forced away from him by a teammate. According to Vallimont, it is that bear-down mindset that is passed down from Spano and then from player to player that gives Mercyhurst a more-than-viable reputation for berthing MLB caliber hurlers.

“It was freshman year in the regionals I was supposed to start the championship game to get us to the World Series. Colin McKee ended up begging for the ball, telling coach he wanted it,” Vallimont said. “It was just that dog mentality that he got from Dan and I got from him. There are a few young guys there is now that get that mentality from myself.”

Following that aforementioned game in which McKee wound up begging the ball away from him, McKee imparted this quote upon Vallimont, one which has stuck with him ever since and is partly responsible for making Chris the pitcher he has become.

“I’ll never forget it. After that game, he told me, “if you put in the work, you can be the best pitcher this school has ever seen,”” Vallimont said. “It was at that moment where everything clicked. He had seen so many people there that had success and when he said that, it pushed me to work harder and really get serious about everything.”

With a new means of motivation, Vallimont used a building block sophomore season (60 IP, 2.69 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 88/41 K/BB) to vault into a completely dominant junior campaign in which he set Mercyhurst’s single season mark in strikeouts (147).

“My sophomore year I was up there in the country in walks per nine, I was just trying to throw hard I didn’t care where it was going,” Vallimont attested. “That offseason, I started focusing on control and staying mechanically sound. It helped my velo and my control by focusing on little things that I didn’t think about before.”

Vallimont attributes that success to building around his fastball rather than exclusively building on it, keeping his opposition guessing and, above all, the desire to pitch to 100% of his ability.

“More than anything, It was just the mentality to be the best that I knew I could be. I would always want to throw harder and everything just started to click, “My changeup came along a bit in my junior year and the curveball was a big pitch. Keeping hitters off balance was big, but overall it was just the mindset of just keep doing my thing and not giving in to anyone else, no matter who it was, was doing in the box.“

After a 21-5, 166.2 IP, 2.59 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 14.47 K/9, 3.57 K/BB tenure at Mercyhurst, the Marlins turned their heads towards Vallimont and called his name with the 147th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft.

Days later, Vallimont decided to ink an entry level contract with the Marlins for $300K, forgoing his final collegiate season. According to Vallimont, that decision was attributed to the Marlins’ new ownership having the faith in him to stay true to his own training while also fitting in with what they were seeking.

“I figured it was a great opportunity; it’s what I’ve always wanted to do is play professional baseball. When they called, I couldn’t have been more happy to be with Miami,” Vallimont said. “I’m a big Driveline guy and I knew the old regime wasn’t really a big fan of it. Once they got Gary [Denbo] and everybody, they were telling me it’d be a little easier to do my thing while also staying in the lines of what they wanted as well. Having them trust me to be able to be me has been great.”

Upon his arrival in the instructional league last year, it didn’t take the Marlins long to recognize that Vallimont had many tools. One which was absent though was the ability to use the strike zone advantageously. Immediately, Marlins’ Minor League pitching coordinator Chris Michalak got to work with Vallimont on spotting his pitches. According to Vallimont, that tutelage has made a huge difference so far this season.

“Michalak really helped out with keeping me under control more. Whereas in college, I was just throwing it down the middle, now it’s more about inside/outsiding the fastball with the curveball in the dirt,” Vallimont said. “It’s not commanding he zone but just spotting stuff now. That’s what I’ve been working on and it’s working out well.”

Since learning how to get the most out if his projectable 6’5”, 220 pound frame by incorporating a downward plane to the plate, Vallimont has grown into heat reaching up to 97 MPH and resting between 93-95. Offsetting the heat is Vallimont’s best breaking pitch, his curveball which holds tight 11-6 arc and run to his corner of choice. He can also bury the pitch via its late break, making it a viable swing-and-miss pitch. Vallimont also mixes in a shapely mid-80s changeup plays up and a power slider with frisbee action in the high 80s.

Along with his already deep arsenal that holds plus velo expanse, Vallimont further messes with timing by showing hitters two completely different looks from the wind and the stretch. With the bases empty, Vallimont steps back to the first base side, executes a high leg kick when loading up his back leg and comes home deliberately. With bags occupied, the righty speeds up his motion, diminishes his leg kick and limits time between pitches.

Already an awesome mix of stuff and headiness just 25 games into his professional career, Vallimont is a guy who has barely missed a beat in a huge jump from JuCo to the affiliated ranks. Should he continue to respond to challenges during the rest of his journey through he minors, the 22-year-old who was once overlooked coming out of high school has the potential to become a more than viable 2-4 starter.

The next of Vallimont’s assignments should come in the next few days when he is promoted to A+ Jupiter.

Mocking The 2019 Draft: Vaughn or Bleday?

In their first season behind the draft table labeled Miami Marlins, Gary Denbo and the new Jeter regime brought a bevy or talent to South Beach, three of which have already proven to be top 30 prospects. Behind that trio is another group of draftees (Tristan Pompey, Nick Fortes, Chris Vallimont) which stands a very good chance of joining the top tier of organizational talent very soon. This season, although the draft table may look a little bit different, Denbo and Co. are in a fantastic position to match if not better that success.

Owners of the fourth overall draft pick, the Marlins are in prime position to have their pick of the litter of many future faces of any franchise. From there, the Fish will pick at #35, a spot which has produced the current 19th overall prospect in baseball Taylor Trammell (2016) as well as All-Star Aaron Rowand (1998) and Johnny Damon (1992). The Marlins will then pick again for a third time within the top 50 picks at #45 overall. That spot is responsible for berthing the likes of Trevor Story (2011) and Jed Lowrie (2005).

Whom should the Marlins, at a crucial point in the rebuild, target with each of their first three picks? Herein, we examine.

Round 1, #4 – 1B Andrew Vaughn, Cal
NCAA – 586 AB, .377/.495/.695, 50 HR, 162 RBI, 0.62 K/BB%

With Adley Rutschman, Bobby Witt, Jr and CJ Abrams projected as the first three off the board at this point in time, things get a bit more uncertain when the Marlins hit the clock. Both Vaughn and Vanderbilt outfielder JJ Bleday have the potential to be franchise-altering talents and both have offensive capabilities and tools to hit for both average and power. Given their similarities at the plate, the tipping point for us is where is the franchise thinner: corner outfield or corner infield? And the answer is simple.

Vaughn, who is slightly younger than Bleday, was born on April 3, 1998. The soon-to-be 21-year-old attended Maria Carrillo High in Santa Rosa. The accolades started coming early for Vaughn as, in 2013, he was a member of the All-15-and-Under USA National Team. After being named both Freshman and Sophomore of the Year in his district in 2013 and 2014 respectively, Vaughn was named North Bay Junior of the year in 2015 via a .440/.551/.533 line. Those exports allotted Vaughn to be named a preseason All-American prior to his senior year in 2016. Andrew ended his high school tenure by hitting .326/.440/.483, rounding out a .380/.474/.493 tenure. The multi-talented Vaughn also went 13-4 with a 2.05 ERA via a 1.17 WHIP and 166/60 K/BB.

As much potential as Vaughn showed to hit for average at the next level in high school via quick hands and wrists, scouts limited his ability to hit for power due to his straight-through swing plane and short stride through contact. An offseason later, Vaughn was doing this:

By tapping into natural raw power very few — including the Cal coaching staff — thought the sub-6-foot, sub-215 pounder was capable of and by adding loft to his swing, Vaughn added another facet to his game. In his freshman year, Vaughn’s 12 homers tied him with teammate and Marlins’ 10th round draft pick Denis Karas for the PAC-12 league lead.

“Andrew Vaughn is obviously one of the best players in the country. Really proud of what he did a year ago and after being with him for a year, not surprising,” Vaughn’s recruiter turned Stanford head coach David Esquer said after Vaughn’s breakout year. “He’s just a class act on and off the field. He makes people better because he kind of pulls people with him with his work ethic.”

Vaughn continued to answer questions about his size in his sophomore year when he more than proved the power outbreak wasn’t a fluke. In 2018, Vaughn entered University of California history books. He set a Cal single-season program record by slugging .819 and his .402 BA ranked third all-time by a Bear. Attending the same Alma matter as Chase Utley, Eric Karros, former Marlin Todd Ziele and Mr Marlin, Jeff Conine, Vaughn was named the first-ever Golden Spikes Award recipient in Cal program history and the first to do so in a draft-ineligible year since 1987 (Jim Abbott). He won the award over 2018 first-overall pick Casey Mize, 18th-overall Brady Singer and third-rounder Kasey Clemens.

“We couldn’t be prouder of the way in which Andrew represents our team and the University of California,” Vaughn’s Head Coach Michael Neu said at the time. “To see him recognized as the best amateur player in America speaks volumes about who he is, both on and off the field, and speaks to the incredible support he gets from a family that has been behind him every step of the way. It’s an incredibly exciting day for Cal and Cal Baseball.”

After proving his power isn’t restricted to metal bats by slashing .308/.368/.654 with five homers in just 52 ABs in the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer, Vaughn hit 385/.539/.728 line in his junior year this past season. In a single-season low in ABs, Vaughn tallied a career high 53 walks contrasted by just 30 Ks, bringing his collegiate career K/BB% to a ridiculous 0.62%.

What the 5’11”, 210 pound Vaughn lacks in size he makes up for by way of freakishly raw power, especially for a guy of that stature and a very advanced feel for making the most of it. By understanding situations, minimizing the strike zone and very rarely chasing too far outside of it, Vaughn, who doesn’t have to discount contact for power, owns one of the most complete offensive skill sets in the entire draft. Though he strictly played first base in college, Vaughn owns an explosive defensive arm that regularly reached the mid-90s from the mound in high school. During recruiting, scouts saw a future for him at third base. Though it would require attentive coaching and a lot of patience Vaughn is open to the possibility.

With modestly graded 60 grade power and contact, a 50-grade arm and defense, Vaughn is considered by some scouts to be the best prospect in the draft and, should he fall to the Marlins at fourth overall, an absolute steal.

Due to the fact that Vaughn’s approach, mechanics, swing path, patience and baseball IQ are already so advanced and effortless, we place the multi-faceted talent’s ceiling extremely high: SoFla product Ryan Braun, a career .297/.360/.534 1B/3B figure despite fairly limited 6’2”, 205 lb size.

Round 1 (CBA), #35 – RHP Josh Wolf, St. Thomas Catholic HS (Houston, TX)

Wolf is a well-built pound prep righty out of St Thomas High in Houston, Texas, the same Alma matter as recent MLB promotee, Blue Jays’ number nine prospect, Cavan Biggio.

Thought for certain to become an honoree of his commitment to Texas A&M before the beginning of his senior season, Wolf turned scouts’ heads toward him once again when he reached 97 in his first start of the year. After parlaying his newly recognized velo into a lights-out season, Wolf has vaulted himself into late first round/early second round selection merits.

Standing 6’2”, 165, over ten pounds heavier than he was in his junior season, Wolf coupled his added size with a lower arm slot in order to gain over seven MPH worth of velo on his fastball this past season. Along with a four-seamer that ranges from 90-97, Wolf also owns a knee-buckling, low-80s 12-6 curve. The 19-year-old’s distant third pitch, yet one that is already flashing plus, is a mid-80s change. When at its best, the work-in-progress pitch shows good fade and sink.

A guy who already adds and subtracts from his wide velo range effectively and a guy who has shown the ability to quickly grow in to added size by making positive adjustments, Wolf has shown poise and maturity well beyond his years, giving scouts a lot to rave about.

After quickly taking draft boards by storm this past season, Wolf is a guy who has done everything right. Should that continue, with room to add at least 20 more pounds of muscle mass, Wolf is a teenager with big things written all over him. Given Michael Hill’s recent past with taking a liking to prep hurlers, we wouldn’t doubt if the Marlins’ sights have been fixed on Wolf for some time.

With two plus pitches via great spin rates on his shapely change which ducks and dives and curve which has a nice 11/5 arc in addition to his huge fastball, Wolf already shows the makings of a future ace, reminiscent of Stephen Strasburg. While he also shows the effort in his delivery a la Strasburg and the need to gain the ability to repeat it in order to remain healthy and be effective at the next level, an outlook that would make some Marlins fans wary of selecting him this high, Wolf’s ability to match Strasburg’s velo as well as his advanced blueprint for two plus breaking pitches is well worthy of this selection by a franchise in the nascent stages of a rebuild that will give him no reason to rush. Given time, we place Wolf’s modest ceiling high: Gerritt Cole, a current 3.14 FIP hurler by way of a 1.17 WHIP and 3.94 K/BB% with room for more.

Round 2, #45 – SS Greg Jones, UNC Wilimington
NCAA – 443 AB, .309/.452/.458, 37 XBH, 1.29 K/BB, 56/14 SB/CS

In Vaughn, the Marlins will acquire arguably the best all-around hitting talent in the draft. In Jones, they’ll reign in not-so-arguably the fastest player available this June.

Gregory Jones Jr. was born on March 7, 1998 in Cary, North Carolina where he attended the high school carrying his township’s name from 2013-2017. A varsity participant in each of his four high school years, Jones hit .355/.493/.496. Very early on in his baseball career, Jones’ calling card became his speed and voracity on the basepaths. In 79 high school games, the infielder terrorized opposing batteries, stealing 45 bags in 75 attempts (60% success rate). Ranked 75th overall in the 2017 MLB Draft by Baseball America, the two-time All-Conference, one-time All-Regional and All-American honorable mention was drafted by the Orioles in the 17th round. Jones forwent that selection in favor of honoring his collegiate commitment to UNC Wilmington.

Breaking in to the collegiate ranks, Jones started 60/62 of the Seahawks’ games in 2018 and hit a very respectable .278/.412/.370. His elite jets allowed him to steal 16/20 potential bases.

“As a freshman, I played a pretty big role,” Jones said. “It was either step up or get left behind. I chose to step up. That just shows what I can be this year.”

What could Jones be this past year? How does a .343/.491/.551 hitter and 40 base stealer sound? By leading the Colonial Athletic Association in OBP, steals, runs scored (69), triples (9), hits (74) and walks (53) as well as ranking second in BA and fourth in SLG all while seeing the second most plate appearances in the league, Jones was named the CAA Player Of The Year. Jones also appeared on national leaderboards with the third most triples and sixth most SB. All of this has pushed Jones up into the conversation to become a late-first round choice and, at the very latest, an early second round selection.

Watching Jones hit, his approach screams future lead-off hitter. Approaching from deep in the box, Jones views the strike zone extremely well, forcing his opposition to come to him. The weak point in Jones’ game at present is his swing. Although he flashes the bat speed necessary to succeed as a top-of-the-order contact/speed-first threat, the hack shows the susceptibility to get long, limiting him to weak contact, easy outs and, in the past, swings and misses. Via this hole, Jones’ hit tool has been limited to a sub-50 grade and kept him out of the conversation involving early first round selections. That said, Jones made huge strides last year in the area of whiffs while continuing to grow into his body. Given proper time to fill out — which the rebuilding Marlins should have no problem giving him — Jones is a future catalytic threat capable of a Dee Gordon-esque ceiling.

Like Gordon, Jones is a natural middle infielder who could make the move to center field at the next level. While his natural raw speed allowed him to field the shortstop position decently at the collegiate level, scouts say Jones profiles better as a center fielder at the next level due to limited immediately readability of trajectory off the bat. Given that, Jones’ unquestionable ability to cover advantageous ground and then some would make him an immediate shoe-in to become Juan Pierre v. 2.0 in center, with the capability to grow into more.

Stay tuned to Fish On The Farm both here and on social media (@marlinsminors) on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for continuing coverage of the MLB Draft all June long.

Prospect Of The Month, April 2019 – Bubba Hollins

Bubba Hollins: aesthetically, one of the best names in the Marlins system, if not in all of MiLB. That you probably know. What you may not know is that Bubba is actually David Hollins, Jr, the son of a 17.8 career WAR corner infielder. Accordingly, Bubba is the owner of a pedigree, upbringing and support system that spawned a fantastic amateur career and is beginning to birth professional success. By hitting .338/.411/.508 this past month, Bubba is our first 2019 Prospect Of The Month.

Born on December 6th, 1995, Hollins was named after his father, carrying the name David Jr. However, Hollins did not go by that name for very long before he was given an alternate everyday moniker. According to Hollins, his stout build even as a child is what led to the nickname. It’s stuck with him ever since.

“When I was a baby I was really fat and chubby with chubby cheeks. My mom said you could barely see my eyes when I was a kid. So she just started calling me Bubba, Bubs, nicknames like that,” Hollins said. “I don’t know, it just sort of stuck with me through the years. All my close friends and family have all called me Bubba and never really called me David at all. I loved it and it’s all I really knew. It’s a funny story.”

In addition to earning the title given to him by his mother early in life, Hollins also importantly benefited from growing up within the game. As the son of Dave Sr, spent many an occasion watching and and under the tutelage of a .260/.358/.420 career hitter. According to Bubba, he made the most of the days he was able to spend with his dad, under the 

“He was gone a lot, but every time he was home we’d work together almost every day. When it came to college ball and pro ball, he has helped me tremendously on the mental side; just to adapt faster to the game and to slow it down. To be around him and [fellow major leaguers] at a young age, it’s been very helpful. For him to watch me now play at his level, it’s pretty cool. It’s weird, but it’s a cool feeling.”

Along with his alternate title given to him by his parents, the thing that caused Hollins to garner it — his physique — also remained with him through his amateur career. 

“I was always one of the smaller players on the team. I was only about 5’11”, 180 my senior year but before that, I was even smaller,” Hollins said. “I always took that with a chip on my shoulder to go out there as the smaller guy and play with an edge. That’s how I looked at things.”

Hollins used said shoulder-chip to refuse to let his limited size and stature limit his production. After doubling in football as the starting quarterback for his alma matter’s squad, Hollins hit .310/.393/.451 in two years in junior college. He credits that tenure spent with the Titans as a huge stepping stone in his career, one which truly allowed him to ready himself for a professional career in the game.

“My freshman year was definitely a bit of a shock with how fast the game was. It helped me get acclimated to the speed of the game being around that competition in the conference,” Hollins said. “My sophomore year I felt much more comfortable and got used to playing at that speed. My head coach Ryan Beckman has been an amazing help to me. Whatever you need, that guy will always be there for you. My teammates there — we were all competing for a job at the next level. So we all made each other better. It was a great group of guys.”

In 2017, Hollins made the jump up Division I ball at St. Bonaventure in upstate New York. In a single season there, the 24-year-old Hollins hit .290/.379/.485 with eight homers and nine doubles. During that tenure, Hollins tied Bonnies’ team records by recording six hits and eight RBIs in a single game.

“Bubba is an extremely hard worker and a great teammate. He has always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps (former Major League All-Star Dave Hollins) and St. Bonaventure baseball is very happy for him,” Bonnies head coach Larry Sudbrook said at the time. “We would’ve loved to have had him back, but we certainly respect him taking a shot at the dream and we wish him the best.”

Hollins didn’t head back to St Bonaventure in favor of signing with the Marlins who inked him as a minor league free agent in August of 2017. According to Hollins, the decision to forego his senior year of college was spurred not only by more reps against better competitors but by work he did physically leading up to the draft.

“I took off playing summer ball because I wanted to get more do more with my body to prepare me for my senior season. So I was an eight out of 10 in terms of being more ready for pro ball,” Hollins said. “Mentally, I was always ready to go. But physically I was much more prepared that time around.”

Last season, the Marlins experimented a bit with Hollins, trying to gauge his current level of expertise. During that time, Bubba saw reps at three different levels from rookie ball to A+. Although his tenure at each level was limited over his 57 game campaign was limited, Hollins says he picked up something from each stop in his travels that have aided him in his hot start this year.

“I was bouncing around so much and not in the lineup regularly, but watching from the bench, it was pretty easy to see the difference in [levels]. In high A, those guys know how to command 2-3 pitches really well, low A maybe two pitches and short A was more like wildly effective; guys that just try to throw really hard,” Hollins said. “I think it is a big jump between low A and high A. Pitchers at that higher level really know how to pitch. They’re really good up there.”

The big difference for Hollins this season has been two-fold: being more comfortable in his approach and being able to maintain the mindset to take the game as it comes to him. Via that outlook, Bubba has put together one of the best months on the Midwest League circuit, slashing .338/.411/.508. Among hitters with at least 70 ABs, Hollins’ May BA ranked second and his OBP ranked fifth in the Midwest League. Furthermore, Bubba’s 177 wRC+ ranked third. Hollins credits the hot start to being able to repeat his approach stemming from a stance which he is more cozy in as well as to his ability to take the game as it comes to him, resisting the urge to force things.

“I think the most important lesson is to take everything a day at a time. I’ve been telling myself in the offseason that this year was going to be different and to just take one at bat at a time and on the field one pitch at a time,” Hollins said. “I’ve got a batting stance I’m finally comfortable in and I’m just able to focus on the baseball. Just to try to stay on the heater and stay middle. Whatever happens from there, happens.”

Via his fantastic month of April, the 23-year-old has succeeded at a very advantageous time, one in which a rebuilding organization is looking for young players to step up and make themselves known. However, much in the same way that he has learned how to take one at-bat at a time, Hollins is staying in the moment, focusing on the day and task at hand. According to Bubba, he’s concerned with only that and not with what is in front of him. In this way, he is limiting distraction and streamlining his achievements, ones which should follow him up the MiLB ladder and beyond.

“I just come to the ballpark and take care of business every day. If you’re taking care of your business, you’re helping the ball club, wherever you are,” Hollins said. “At the end of the day, I’m not thinking about anything else. The best thing to do is to focus on yourself and helping your team out.”

From a compact and low straight-away stance, the 6’1”, 200 pound Hollins cuts down on an already small strike zone. The difference for Bubba this season has been in his aforementioned comfortability in his stance and approach. By setting up from further back in the box, Hollins has garnered the ability to let the ball to get deeper, aiding in his plate vision, swing selectiveness and consistency in getting the to drop. Couple that with his ability to cover the plate extremely well and Bubba is already painting beautifully over his hit chart canvas.

Hollins’ swing itself has always held good speed through the zone. The mostly-straight through line drive cut is built for a big average and, due to good raw upper body strength and lightning quick hands, the occasional gap and/or fence. At current, his offensive ceiling is that of a constant on-base threat capable of respectable power numbers, a la Martin Prado, a similarly sized 6’0”, 215, 289/.337/.416 career stick.

In the field, Hollins is a natural third baseman with good off-the-bat instincts and a strong right arm that makes accurate throws across the diamond. In 61 games, he’s committed just five errors. Hollins also has eligibility at first base.

Bubba’s name — although recognizable — is not one the average fan might have heard mentioned too often, especially during the current state of the rebuild. However, that all could be about to change. Rule 5 eligible next season, if his hot hitting continues, Bubba, 23, should be placed on the fast track up the minor league ladder.

Jupiter Hammerheads 2019 Season Preview

With the turn of the tide for the Marlins franchise comes an influx of new talent on the shores of Jupiter, Florida. They come bearing jagged teeth that prove to get even sharper over these next five months.

The man overseeing that process will be former major leaguer Todd Pratt. Over his fourteen year career, the .251/.344/.398 is probably most remembered for this moment in the 1999 Division Series.

Prior to his playing career, Pratt embarked upon coaching in 2010 as the inaugural manager of the West Georgia Tech Golden Knights baseball team. After building the program up from club-level to Division I status, Pratt was named the school’s athletic director in 2011, a position he held through 2016. Pratt came to the Marlins in 2017 to coach the A Greensboro Grasshoppers. After two seasons there, he heads up the ladder to A+. Following Pratt to Jupiter this year are many of the young prospects Greensboro rostered last year. Joining the promotees will be a few new signees and prospects acquired via trade. Altogether, they make up a star-studded roster which holds 12 of the organization’s top 30 prospects, including four of the top ten. It is far and away the most talented roster Pratt has been responsible for. According to the skipper though, he is heading into the season with no weight on his shoulders.

“With all of the prospects, and I think there’s more prospects here than is being noted, you’d figure there would be a lot of pressure on the manager. I think it’s a pleasure to be he manager. I’ve had most of them before so I’m looking for them to have a good season, just playing the way they’re supposed to be playing,” Pratt said. “It is an honor to be able to lead a team that could be considered the future of the Marlins. I will use my 24 years of professional experience to keep the ship steady. My job is to get them ready daily and mentor them so they can become the player they and the Marlins want them to be.”

In moving from the single A to single A advanced ranks, Pratt will be tasked with guiding some of the Marlins’ top young talents to some of the biggest challenges they’ve faced in their careers. According to Todd, the toughest of those tests is being able to make positive adjustments as your opponents go through the same struggle. Coach Pratt says that is the biggest separator between ability at the A+ level.

“The big difference is the consistency of the talent. Players in high A have been around a couple of years professionally and know what it takes to grind everyday in a 140 game season. Players at this level are starting to learn they must make adjustments during the season as the opponents do as well. Scouting and analytics have come a long way since I played at this level so that needs to be taken into consideration as well.”

Lineup

SS José Devers
CF Victor Victor Mesa
LF Tristan Pompey
1B Lazaro Alonso
3B James Nelson
Riley Mahan
DH Isael Soto
C Nick Fortes
RF Cameron Baranek

Jose Devers (Photo by Alex Carver)

SS José Devers
2018 (A-A+) – .272/.313/.330, 16 XBH, 26 RBI, 47 R, 49/16 K/BB, 13/6 SB/CS

Devers is a 2016 Yankees’ international draft signee out of Somana, DR. After spending the first 11 games of his pro ball career in the DSL (.239/.255/.326), the 17-year-old transitioned stateside where he lived out the rest of his rookie season. In 42 games with the Yankees East Gulf Coast League squad, Devers hit .246/.359/.348 with a 21/18 K/BB and a 15/3 SB/CS. He also yarded his first career homer. Devers accomplished all of this against competition 2 1/2 years older than him.

Devers’ exceptional raw talent as well as his already mature speed and fielding prowess garnered the attention of Marlins scouts. Last winter, he was part of one of the biggest trades of the offseason, coming to the Fish in the Giancarlo Stanton swap.

Upon joining the Marlins as a viable but distant third piece to both Starlin Castro and Jorge Guzman, Devers was a more-than-solid for-average threat, hitting .273/.313/.332 in his first 85 games stateside. Those exports have allowed him to make the jump up to A+ this season. He will be competing in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League against competition nearly four years his elder. He is officially the youngest player on the circuit. Not only does Pratt feel Devers is up for that challenge, he has made the teenager his leadoff hitter to start the campaign.

Watching Devers this preseason, it isn’t difficult to recognize what the organization sees in Devers’ maturing natural abilities and maturing physical stature. After coming in to camp with at least 20 pounds of added muscle mass to his listed 155 pound stature, Devers has learned quickly how to put that weight to use. Approaching from a straight-away stance from the back of the box, his slashy singles swing is beginning to show some loft and he’s garnered the ability to stride downward into contact. His placement in the box allows him to use his plus plate vision to his advantage and once on base, Devers is an absolute weapon. Still very much a kid with tools that are growing at a very quick rate and a guy who has the potential do damage in a multitude of ways offensively on top of an already-elite defensive skill set, Devers projects as an every day starter at shortstop and future table-setter capable of a ceiling approaching a lefty-hitting Edgar Renteria, a .284/.343/.398 career hitter with a 73% SB% and an 8.9 career dWAR.

Victor Victor Mesa (Photo by Alex Carver)

CF/DH Victor Victor Mesa

Mesa is the crowned jewel of the first offseason orchestrated by Jeter and Co. The top international prospect, Mesa (along with his 17-year-old brother Victor Jr) signed with the Marlins for $5.25 million. Here’s why:

After defecting from Cuba in 2016, Mesa hadn’t played an inning of organized baseball in almost two years when he suited up for Team Cuba in the World Baseball Classic. For that reason, the Marlins hoped to get Mesa as many at bats as possible this spring. That plan was turned on its head when Mesa injured his hamstring while running the bases in his first official stateside start. According to Pratt though, despite missing out on the opportunity to get some valuable ABs in this spring, Mesa has fully recovered.

“Coming into spring early he had some nagging stuff but anyone’s gonna have that going from not playing at all to being out there every day. He’s a full go,” Pratt said.

You don’t have to watch many videos or read many reports in order to see what the Marlins invested in when they doled out the biggest payday to an international free agent in franchise history. In Mesa’s approach, we see a lot of Giancarlo Stanton. From a slightly spread stance with his front foot straddling the edge of the box, Mesa uses a front-foot toe tap trigger to step into the ball. From there, his best swings explode through the zone from. The follow through is well-balanced as he keeps both hands and eyes on the bat through contact. From there, Mesa allows 70-grade speed to go to work for him. That speed follows him in to the field where he is exceptionally capable as a center fielder.

Where Mesa will need to improve is creating leverage and loft to his swing in order to make the most of his abilities. On top of that, VVM will need to adjust his timing and pitch recognition as he will consistently be facing some of the best pitching the baseball ranks anywhere have to offer. According to Pratt though, Mesa is perfectly capable of accomplishing those feats but after spending so much time off the field, his growth will be safely guided.

“He’s not an 18-year-old kid; he’s 22 years old. So he’s got an idea of what he wants to do; he just needs to play every day. There may be some days he has to take off because he hasn’t played in two years. We’re going to make sure he’s rested and at 100% every day he walks out there,” Pratt said. “Obviously, we want to get him as many ABs as possible but we don’t want to break him down. It will be a guided process.”

Mesa’s efforts in his first full pro season will be two-fold: adjusting advantageously on a North American field and adjusting to life in the US off the field.

“The game doesn’t change. The communication aspect is probably most difficult for these Latin players. I think we are right on track with him,” Pratt said. “We understand each other and I think he’s done well with Kevin Witt, our hitting coach. “He’s an exciting player who will play center field for us and we will see what develops.”

If Mesa can accomplish both, the 22-year-old has the upside of a special MLB talent with the ceiling of Odubel Herrera, currently a .280/.336/.429, 54/23 SB/CS threat with at least 60-grade defense.

Pratt sees the same potential in Mesa and says that once he makes health his ally, he will quickly begin to dominate the Florida State League and beyond.

“He just needs the reps and to learn what being a pro is all about. He was slowed in spring training due to some minor injuries, but he is starting to get healthy,” Pratt said. “I cannot wait until he is 100% as he is showing signs why he was highly sought after as a free agent out of Cuba.”

Tristan Pompey (Photo by Alex Carver)

LF Tristan Pompey
2018 (RK-A+) – .299/.408/.397, 12 XBH, 23 RBI, 47/32 K/BB, 10/5 SB/CS

Pompey is the Marlins first round pick out of the University Of Kentucky in 2018 where he had a .321/.426/.521 career. After his $645K payday, Pompey broke into pro ball with Pratt’s Grasshoppers last season. There, the multiple time All-American hit .314/.422/.430 with four doubles and his first two professional homers in 86 ABs. He also stole five bases in eight attempts and had a 22/16 K/BB before being called up to the Hammerheads.

Pompey’s current skill set translated with superiority to the more pitcher friendly Florida State League ranks. In equal time with the Hammerheads (24 games), he hit .291/.396/.384 with five doubles, a homer, a 4/1 SB/CS and a 21/13 K/BB. He begins 2018 back with the Hammerheads, but if he enjoys similar success for the bulk of the year, he could wind up in AA Jacksonville by season’s end.

“He started with me in Greensboro last year and really didn’t belong there. He got up here and it was the same consistency with better ballplayers and the (Florida) heat,” Pratt said. “He can swing the bat from both sides with good discipline and a good knowledge of the strikezone. I’m very impressed.”

Approaching from a split stance, Pompey brings his front leg inward to the ball with a medium-high timing trigger before engaging a well-leveraged swing with good uppercut action. It’s a stroke tailor-made for doubles. Because of the inside-out action of his lower half, Pompey favors pull-side contact, but, thanks to his parents teaching him how to switch hit when he was a child, Tristan is able to mirror his mechanics from both sides of the plate, making him a much more complete offensive threat. Couple that fact with a patient eye and the bat speed to fight off tough pitches, Pompey projects as a plus for-average threat with the ability to add even more power. He will need to add more torque and use of his hips in order to play up to his full potential of the back half of that equation, but with more physical growth, that should come naturally. Add to the fact that Pompey is capable of plus speed on the basepaths, the 22-year-old projects as a future centerfielder, hitting top three in the batting order.

Riley Mahan (Photo by Alex Carver)

2B Riley Mahan
2018 (A+) – .250/.298/.340, 29 XBH, 40 RBI, 127/24 K/BB

Mahan is another Kentucky alum selected by the Marlins, this time from the 2017 draft class. Before his .311/.360/.524 three year career at UK, Mahan was a high school standout for the Archbishop Moeller Crusaders in Cincinnati, Ohio. There, he was a .367/.460/.538 career hitter and a 2014 preseason All-American. Postseason, he earned first team All-State and All-GCL honors. After hitting .304 with 22 RBI in the Cape Cod League in 2016, Mahan hit .336/.392/.618 as a senior at UK. The last of those figures was driven by a team leading 15 homers and 23 doubles. He also drove in a team high 67 runs. The boost in power was a huge catalyst in Mahan being selected at his $525K-worthy draft slot.After just six games with the Grasshoppers, Mahan suffered a groin strain, bringing an end his 2017 calendar year. However, after a strong camp, the Marlins saw enough to task the middle infielder with a quick graduation to A+ Jupiter to begin 2018. After missing two weeks early in the year with an aggravation to the same injury, Mahan hit right at the Mendoza line, slashing .250/.298/.340 with a team leading 23 doubles, three triples and three homers. With similar home and away splits, what really hampered Mahan from standing out even more offensively was his 31% K rate and 127/24 K/BB. Mahan will look to rectify that area of his game this season as he faces off against the same level competition.

An athletically built 6’3”, 200 pound specimen, Mahan hits lefty and throws righty. From a compact closed stance, he approaches from the back of the box, but crowds the plate, allowing him to get his average sized limbs all the way across the zone. In trying to create leverage in his swing though, his cut gets a bit long, leading to either weak contact or swings and misses. When Mahan shortens up though, he flashes a 50 grade hit tool stemming from good bat control, capable of a good average. His future will depend on his ability to read pitches more consistently, work counts and stay simple.

On the other side of the ball, Mahan possesses a good glove and nimble feet, but his throwing arm is just average, which limits his infield ceiling to second base. While that is where the team would like to continue to develop Mahan, the 23-year-old may be converted to left field during the fast-tracking process. Entering an important developmental season, we will follow this ceiling Kelly Johnson (.251/.330/.422) and floor fourth outfielder New Year’s Eve baby closely.

Cameron Baranek (Photo by Tony Capobianco)

RF Cameron Baranek
2018 (A-A+) – .244/.307/.347, 17 XBH, 39 RBI, 79/26 K/BB

With the early season promotion of Corey Bird who heads up to the Jumbo Shrimp, right field opens up for Cameron Baranek (pronounced BAH-rah-NIK), a Marlins’ draftee from 2017. Baranek comes to the Miami after a two years in JuCo at Santa Ana College where he was a .344 BA, 435 OBP hitter and after a single season at Hope International University where he hit .364/.486/.672 with 14 homers and a 20/10 SB/CS on top of a 32/43 K/BB. Baranek’s single season totals at HIU not only helped his school to an NAIA World Series berth, they broke several school records including HR, SLG, total bases and SB.

Following his standout junior season, Baranek broke yet another Hope International mold, becoming the first player from the collegiate program to be selected in the MLB draft. The Marlins took Baranek in the ninth round at 269th overall.

“It’s quite an honor being able to represent HIU, and being the first draft pick from the school. The school and coaching staff were so helpful in every aspect to allow me to be the best student athlete I could be,” Baranek told us last season. “Being a smaller Christian school with a focus on quality education and it’s a really awesome place for growth, the coaching staff and baseball program is top notch and to get a good foundation and name in its second year is huge and hopefully will draw more athletes alike with the same goals to win a championship and make it to the next level.”

After finishing his 2017 campaign by hitting .234/.306/.351 with 22 RBI and nine total XBH including his first career homer in the GCL, Baranek received the call to full season ball last year. There, in Greensboro, the lefty quickly proved he was more than capable of low A ball, hitting .319/.400/.479 with four homers, a 19/13 K/BB and a 4/2 SB/CS in 94 ABs. After those 28 games, Baranek was given the promotion to A+ Jupiter where he lived out the year. Overall, he hit .208/.259/.284, but that doesnt tell the whole story of how he started to figure things out late in the year. In the month of August, Baranek hit .230/.284/.324 with four doubles, a homer and 13 RBI. He had a five game hit streak from August 10th through 16th. Baranek will look to build on that success this season as he begins his third pro season back in the Florida State League.

A stout but athletic 5’10”, 195, Baranek owns great bat speed and a mostly lateral swing with some slight loft, allowing him to hit gaps and occasionally a fence. Once on base, Baranek exhibits plus speed, capable of double-digit steals. When he’s making consistent contact, Cam is a catalytic type threat that can start a fire from either the top or bottom of a lineup. The main area of offensive improvement for Baranek is his plate discipline, especially against same-side pitching and gaining the ability to adjust to the count, attributes which should come naturally as he faces off more frequently against fellow professionals. With a 90+ MPH outfield arm capable of accurate throws that carry and good outfield readability, Baranek is a floor fourth outfielder and lefty bat off the bench and a ceiling starting and/or platooning outfielder with the prowess of a .270+ BA and a .400+ SLG.

While he isn’t a name that will stand out to even the informed Marlins fan right now, Baranek could be on his way to quietly sneaking on to an MLB roster sometime in the not too distant future.

Pitching Rotation

As formidable as the Hammerheads’ starting lineup is this season, their pitching rotation is even more drool-inducing. The star-studded staff includes two Marlins first round picks, a fire-balling international draftee and two 20th round picks who are in the midst of standout minor league careers

1. Jordan Holloway
2. Trevor Rogers
3. Braxton Garrett
4. Edward Cabrera
5. Will Stewart

Braxton Garrett (Photo by Tony Capobianco)

RHP Braxton Garrett
2018 – DNP (Tommy John)

Garrett is the Marlins’ first round pick from 2017 out of Florence High School in Florence, Alabama. Long and lanky with plenty of physical projection and velo which already sat at 92 with a best-pitch curveball and above average changeup, the lefty was ranked as the seventh best overall pitching prospect and second best lefty in his draft year of 2016.

The Marlins selected Garrett away from his Vanderbilt commit at #7 overall, rewarding him a $4.1 million payday.

After an impressive camp, Garrett was assigned to A Greensboro. Not long after that, though, the 6’3”, 190 pound lefty went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. After just four starts and 15.1 IP, it was revealed that Garrett’s throwing shoulder required Tommy John surgery. The injury cost him the rest of 2017 and all of last season.

This year, Garrett was one of the first Marlins’ back on the field as he participated in Captain’s Camp. In addition to his repaired shoulder, Garrett v. 2.0 also sports a pair of spectacles on the mound. But as a few things changed for Garrett, more things stayed the same, including Braxton’s mindset and his drive to succeed. According to Mark DeFelice, those intangibles attributed a lot to the reason the Marlins drafted Garrett and they will continue to aid him most handily in the future.

“He’s a guy that the organization spent a lot of money on. Obviously it was related to stuff but I think moreso the kind of person he is, his character, his integrity,” DeFelice said. “The type of person he is is going to withstand the injury. Rehab is grueling; you never know how someone is going to respond, be it physically or mentally. But I think he’s checked all the boxes when it comes to that.”

According to DeFelice, Garrett, now at 100% can go full bore 100% of the time, an aspect of his game that should allow him to make a huge leap in progression this year.

“I absolutely loved what I saw (in Greensboro) and moving forward, I think he’s going to be that much better having that healthy arm,” DeFelice said. “When something is ailing you, you tailor back. Now we are in the building process, building his arm strength back to getting that feel for his breaking ball. He’s made strides up until this point and I think that will continue into the year.”

A 6’3”, 190 pound physical specimen, Garrett is capable of an absolutely filthy three pitch mix. Anchored by a four seamer that is capable of 95 but usually sits 92, he mixes in an improving 85-87 mph changeup, pitching in to his best pitch high 70s curve which shows tight arc and late drop down into his spot on the lower half. Garrett shows the ability to both pitch cautiously away from contact on the outer half and come right after hitters, busting them in on the inner quadrants. Nearly everything is down and even when he isn’t at his best, Garrett is able to get by by inducing weak contact. A guy who shows the ability to adjust to his present stuff from start to start and even inning to inning, Braxton, despite the surgery, still projects as a front line starter with an ace’s ceiling.

Edward Cabrera (Photo by Chris Robertson/MiLB.com)

RHP Edward Cabrera
2018 (A) – 100.1 IP, 4.22 ERA, 1.465 WHIP, 93/42 K/BB

Cabrera is a Marlins 2015 international signee out of the Dominican. Upon signing his $100K contract, the 18-year-old was immediately assigned to stateside ball in the Gulf Coast League, where hitters nearly three years his elder touched him up for a 4.21 ERA and 1.362 WHIP in his first 47 IP. However, despite subpar numbers, the Marlins saw the true potential in Cabrera’s fiery arm, skipping the regular reacher of 96 MPH up to low A in 2017. There, the numbers were even less satifsying: 5.30 ERA by way of a 1.4 WHIP in 35.2 IP. Still, the organization saw past the numbers and tasked Cabrera with his first year in full season ball last year. As a Greensboro Grasshopper, the 20-year-old managed a 4.22 ERA despite a 1.465 WHIP. In by far the most lengthy season of his career in a hitter friendly league, Cabrera managed a 2.21 K/BB. According to his pitching coach Mark DeFelice, Cabrera’s success stemmed from better confidence in his changeup and his ability to turn it in to a plus pitch.

“He was only 20 years old so with that maturity level, the question was can he handle his emotions? When he started getting hit, he had the tendency to go to the breaking ball a little more or start rushing and then his fastball started getting up in the zone and he started getting hit. He was able throughout the last year, to stay with the fastball command down and then elevate when he needs to,” DeFelice said. “The breaking ball had been there but his changeup development last year had gotten a little better. In previous years, he was only using 2-3 a game but we had him up to 15-20 per game. It’s almost like a two seam fastball coming out of his hand with the depth that’s created. I think moving forward his changeup has turned into his best secondary pitch over his breaking ball. This year, that’s going to be a pitch that’s going to take him from where he was to where he needs to be as a big league pitcher.”

Pratt, who will be Cabrera’s head coach for a second straight season, echoes DeFelice’s sentiments and likens the 20-year-old to a very high ceiling.

“He is over powering and his breaking ball is really starting to develop. The change was a plus pitch for him last season and as he is becoming more confident throwing it,” Pratt said. “He has three plus pitches in his arsenal now and he has shown dominance here early in the season. He will be a dominant starter in the future and I see him as a front-end starter on any staff.”

Will Stewart (Photo by Tony Capobianco)

LHP Will Stewart
2018 (A) – 113.2 IP, 2.06 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 90/21 K/BB

Stewart is a Phillies’ 20th round pick out of Hazel Green High School in Hazel Green, Alabama. Plucked from the ranks of the unknown as just the twelfth professional to ever attend HGHS, Stewart stands to become just the second MLB player to spend his secondary school years there and the first to ever be selected straight out of the institution. While the school isn’t rich in baseball history, Stewart had scouts flocking to his starts. The primary reason for that was advanced feel and control over a sinker/changeup combo that had hitters spellbound.

Upon joining the professional ranks as an 18-year-old, Stewart had a bit of a wake-up call, pitching to a 4.29 ERA via a 55/32 K/BB over 65 innings in the GCL from 2015-2016 and a 4.18 ERA via a 1.48 WHIP and .268 BAA in short season ball in 2017. Last season though, in his first year in full season ball, Stewart’s fastball velo took a timely jump up to the 90-93 MPH range, giving him a much more advantageous differential down to his 86-88 MPH arm-side fading changeup and developing slurvy 84-86 MPH slider. In addition, Stewart commanded the zone with much more efficiency in 2018, throwing all three pitches for consistent strikes and keeping everything below his opposition’s eye level, leading to many long swings and weak contact. Stewart generated ground balls at a 62% rate, tops in the South Atlantic League.

A fairly averaged sized 6’3″, 175 pound specimen, Stewart puts every bit of his stature to use in his approach, especially vertically. Stretching all the way downward in his slow windup, Stewart strides and powers through his motion from a mid-3/4 release, adding deception to his delivery. The change of speeds and his ability to hide the ball as well as his repeatable replease points keep hitters guessing and prevent them from timing him. In place of one elite pitch, Stewart is the owner of three plus offerings with a good feel for each of them. He will get hurt when he isn’t commanding well, but those instances are growing fewer and farther between. If his fastball velo takes another jump or if his slider can start generating more whiffs out of the zone, he has the ability to become a top-tier starter. At the very least, Will could be a viable back-end starter as early as next season.

2019 Clinton LumberKings Season Preview

In 2019, Marlins baseball will expand westward  as Clinton, Iowa will be provided with a taste of Miami. There, future Fish will compete as Clinton LumberKings, the oldest franchise in the Midwest League. The Marlins, on a two year player development contract, are Clinton’s sixteenth MLB affiliate.

“Gosh, I hope they’re gonna be happier than a pig in slop. I hope they come in here and go, “holy cow!”” Tornow said of his organization’s hospitality, both on and off the field. “We’ve got a great host family situation. Believe it or not, in Clinton, Iowa, we have a great Latino connection. We’ve got great clubhouse facilities and great player amenities. We might be small, but we have first class facilities.”

The manager making those judgments will be former Marlins’ first baseman Mike Jacobs who gets the promotion to full season ball after spending the first two seasons of his managerial career at the helm of the Batavia Muckdogs. According to Jacobs, during his first two years on the other side of the bench, the most important skill he garnered was the ability to remain acquiescent with his understudies.

“I think one of the things that you learn from it is the patience you need to have with the young guys,” Jacobs said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things in this job: just being able to have patience.”

Regarding the full season A team switching cities and, Jacobs says that while the process is rousing, his and his team’s MO remains the same.

“I think that when you go to a new place regardless of whatever the environment is we are still out there to play baseball,” Jacobs said.

In that spirit, Jake is going to do everything in his power to create a squad and a culture northeastern Iowa can take pride in.

“It’s exciting to be somewhere new and I know (the fans) are excited about it and are looking forward to us getting out there,” said Jacobs. “They can be sure we are going to go out there and play the game the right way every day. They’re going to get a good chance to see some of the great young prospects the Marlins have and that should be exciting for them.”

These are the names Jacobs speaks of that should make up most of his positional squad:

Projected Lineup

CF Connor Scott
2B Christopher Torres
RF Jerar Encarnacion
1B Sean Reynolds
C Will Banfield
DH Thomas Jones
SS Demetrius Sims
3B Bubba Hollins
LF Michael Donadio

Connor Scott (Photo by Tony Capobianco)

CF Connor Scott
2018 (ROK/A) – .218/.309/.296, 3 2B, 4 3B, 1 HR, 56/24 K/BB

Scott is the Marlins’ highly-heralded first round pick from this past season out of Plant High School in a Tampa, FL. Ranked as the second best outfield prospect in the Draft, the Marlins took Scott with the 13th overall selection after he hit .526/.640/.929 with five homers and 11 XBHs. An effervescent athlete, Scott also turned in plus work on the mound, topping out at 92 and showing a plus slider, allowing him to hold down a 2.13 ERA and a 28/7 K/BB in five appearances. That same arm strength showed true in the field where, during a PerfectGame showcase, he threw as high as 91 MPH. He signed with Miami for a bonus worth over $4,000,000.

“I committed to Florida pretty early in high school as a freshman. It was a big dream of mine to play college baseball,” Scott said. “I never thought I’d take that extra step and go straight into pro ball, but I worked my butt off and it paid off. I’m happy with where I’m at.”

Scott broke in to pro ball by hitting .223/.319/.311 with a 29/14 K/BB in 103 ABs in the Gulf Coast League. Scott spent the final 23 games of the season nearly mirroring those totals at the level in which he will begin the 2019 season. In 75 ABs with the Grasshoppers, he slashed .211/.295/.276 with a 27/10 K/BB. During that tenure, he also hit his first professional homer. While those numbers don’t necessarily jump off of this page, it should be noted that in his first 50 games across multiple levels and in by far the longest season of his playing career, the 18-year-old enjoyed sustained success and showed that his tools are already worthy of plus-plus projection. According to Scott, he has his high school alma matter and the nurturing he received from the coaching staff at Plant, the same school that produced Hall Of Famer Wade Boggs and more recently Mets’ top prospect Peter Alonso and Astros’ standout Kyle Tucker, to thank.

“I would think of [Plant] as a small college team. We practiced every day but we took care of ourselves. We stretched a bunch before practice and also stretched after practice. We conditioned all Fall and preseason so we were all in great shape,” Scott said. “They just cared about us. I think that’s the biggest thing. I think a lot of high schools don’t; they just care about winning. But they didn’t care if we went 0-28, just as long as we got to be better men and better people.”

Already with a 70-grade run tool via exceptional acceleration rates and a 60-grade arm on top of a 55-grade hit tool, there aren’t many holes in Scott’s game. If there is one area of improvement, it’s in getting his legs, which are currently mostly stationary, involved in his swing allowing him to tap in to more over-the-fence power. According to Scott, that has been an area of focus this offseason and early on in camp.

“We’ve been working on it a lot and we’ve improved drastically. Good things are happening,” Scott said. “I think one of the big things would be getting stronger. In getting stronger, the legs start working better, the hips start working better and you get faster too. I’ve been working in the weight room a lot. It’s gonna do big things for us.”

At 19, the lefty hitting Scott currently weighs in at 6’4”, 180. At the same age, a young Marlins prospect by name of Christian Yelich was 6’4”, 181. Yelich even had a similar pedigree: good contact rates via great bat speed, a good speed tool (Scott’s is probably better) and good fielding grades but adjustments needed to complete a five-tool skill set.

Seven years later, Yelich hit the 12th most homers in the majors en route to becoming the National League MVP.

While Scott views the comps to Yelich as well as to future teammate Lewis Brinson and past teammate Kyle Tucker, he is out to make his own name a unique household fixture.

“Nowadays it’s hard not to see stuff like that because of social media and all of that,” Scott said. “Obviously the comparison is cool but I want to be me, I want to be me. I want to be Connor Scott.”

Scott has a lot to be in being himself. Already advanced, especially for his age, in four of five tools, the still-teenaged prospect is building towards an All-Star worthy future. We like Scott to begin collecting ASG selections this year as a member of the LumberKings and foresee his future ceiling as one that would allow Marlins fans to forget about the loss of Yelich. We pin Scott’s full-time arrival in the big leagues to the year 2021.

RF Jerar Encarnacion
2018 (A) – .236/.269/.363, 20 XBH, 26 RBI, 80/9 K/BB

Encarnacion is a heavy-hitting strong-armed right handed power threat signed by the Marlins out of the Dominican jn 2016. After breaking into pro ball by slashing .218/.232/.345 with four XBHs including his first homer back home, Encarnacion received his first stateside assignment with the GCL Marlins. Not only did Jerar impress during his first 25 games against North American pitching, he blew the usually-difficult initial challenge of facing it out of the park. Literally. In 42 games spanning 154 ABs, Encarnacion slashed .266/.323/.448. On top of leading his team in SLG (among full-time GCLers), Jerar also led the squad in homers (5) and RBI (26) while placing second in doubles (7).

This past season, Jerar moved up to A ball with the Muckdogs. Despite competing against competition a full year older that he was, Enc managed a .284/.305/.448 line with four homers and a team-leading 14 doubles. His outfield arm also grew as he contributed seven outfield assists. That arm persisted in his cup of coffee with the Grasshoppers in full-season A, where he spent his final 16 games of the season. However, his bat was a bit overmatched against pitchers 1.5 years his elder as he went just 4-54.

It is there to the same full-season A ranks that Jerar returns this season. Another year older with at least another 15 pounds added to his 6’4” frame, we like Encarnacion to meet his latest inquisition well, just as he has with every test he’s come across in his past.

In order to do so though, Encarnacion has some adjustments to make. Though his doubles-first power which he has the ability to grow into frequent over-the-fence power is unquestioned, Encarnacion‘s mechanics are entirely too pull happy.

Watching his lower half, Jerar approaches from a straight away stance before turning his hips inward then snapping them out. While this provides him success on inside pitches, it leads to him pulling off on pitches on the outer half and to his swing getting long and frequent on pitches out of his field of vision. In order for Encarnacion to take the next step, he will need to improve his plate vision and coverage. If he can adjust accordingly at the behest of pro coaching, Encarnacion has the ability to be a pure power hitting talent, capable of 20/20+ production.

While his past success is encouraging, Encarnacion is very much a work in progress, but still just 21, he has time and the ability to become an “out of nowhere” top 25 prospect. He’s a guy we will follow intently this coming season.

Osiris Johnson (Photo by Tony Capobianco)

SS Osiris Johnson
2018 (ROK-A) – .250/.276/.378, 16 XBH, 19 RBI, 53/5 K/BB, 7/4 SB/CS

Johnson is the second pick in the Jeter era selected last year at 53rd overall out of Encinal High School in Alameda, CA. In his four year career there, the prep hit .403/.452/.688 with 37 stolen bases in 43 attempts. Those marks included a .535/.588/.965 senior year in which Johnson earned All-American and Top Prospect Team honors. In Perfect Game’s 2017 National Showcase, he ran a blistering 6.72 60  and showed an elite maturing power tool that nearly earned a perfect grade via an average barrel exit velo of 93 MPH which ranked in the 66th percentile. It is worthy to note that Johnson was one of the youngest players taking part in that event.

“I think he’s a first or second-round pick,” said Johnson’s high school coach Jim Saunders who also coached the likes of . “Whoever gets him is going to be very, very happy. He’s a pure baseball talent. He runs like a deer. He’s got a great glove and a big-time arm. And God gifted him with an incredible body.”

Johnson’s fantastic natural gifts stem from the same family tree that produced another Encinal standout: 2007 NL MVP, four time Gold Glover and three time All-Star Jimmy Rollins. The pair are second cousins. Where Osiris is still very raw and very much growing physically, the teenager has the beginnings of leveraged swing mechanics and more than the start of plus-plus foot speed as well as a potentially elite fielding tools including great hands and swift footwork.

Johnson needs to make the biggest jump is at the plate. Though he shows leveraged swing mechanics that provide him with a 50-grade power tool, a mark that should grow as his physique improves and although he also has a good hitters IQ and the same soft hands that he maintains on the other side of the ball, allowing him to both lengthen his swing in favorable counts and shorten it in unfavorable situations, he has trouble recognizing sequences and visualizing pitches. This led to him being over-matched in his brief appearance in full season A last year (.188/.205/.294, 34/1 K/BB). It should be noted however that the teenager was playing against competition nearly five years older than him. It was also, by far, the summation of  the longest season of his playing career.

A year later, Osiris, who turns 19 in October, is ready for another, longer crack at full season A ball. Along with being better prepared mentally for life in full season ball, Johnson’s physique also looks to have improved over his first offseason on a professional regimen. Still billed at 6’0, 180 by MiLB.com, Johnson appears to have put on at least 20 pounds worth of muscle mass.

While Johnson still has plenty of growing to do offensively, the holes in his game are very common for a prep hitter just starting his journey up the minor league ladder and can all be remedied by effective coaching. What is positively uncommon in Johnson’s game is his exceptional defensive skill set that already plays up to the big league level. If his bat catches up to his glove or at the very least, gets anywhere close, the Marlins will have a special talent at their disposal. With youth on his side and stemming from bloodlines that produced a potential future Hall of Famer, we place Osiris’ floor and ceiling both very high. Fully mature, we like Johnson to reach the level of current Marlins’ middle infielder Starlin Castro (.281/.321/.411 162-game average, 1.6 career dWAR) with the potential for even more.

UPDATE: On May 29th, it was announced that Johnson will likely miss the entirety of the 2019 season with a stress fracture in his tibia. This is a huge blow for Johnson who, after a solid 2018, was entering an important developmental season. On the plus side, Osiris still has youth on his side and an outstanding pedigree. Even after missing an entire year, we don’t put it past Johnson to come back and make a huge impact. In fact, knowing Johnson’s mental drive and mindset, we expect it.

SS Demetrius Sims
2018 (A) – .227/.306/.294, 10 XBH, 16 RBI, 53/18 K/BB, 9/4 SB/CS

Filling the void for Johnson at short for the LumberKings will likely be Demetrius Sims, a 6’2”, 200 pounder out of Bethune Cookman who hit .227/.306/.294 with the Muckdogs last year. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, they were well up from the .186/.262/.237 line he posted in 17 games at the same level in 2017. While the soon to be 24-year-old is a bit old to be receiving his first full season ball assignment, he’s a kid that has shown the ability to adjust well to his environment including in going from metal to wood bat leagues and he’s a guy who owns plus speed on the basepaths (29/10 K/BB in college, 9/4 SB/CS last year).

D-Sims comes from great bloodlines. He’s the brother of NFL tight end Dion Sims. While he has work to do in repeating his swing and perfecting his timing mechanics, especially as the pitching gets harder to face, we wouldn’t put those tasks over the head of this great an athlete. If that happens early this year, he could be fast-tracked up to A+.

Sean Reynolds (Photo by Tony Capobianco)

1B Sean Reynolds
2018 (A) – .193/.306/.441, 17 HR, 12 2B, 52 RBI, 133/42 K/BB, 13/1 SB/CS

Reynolds, currently 6’7”, 240+, is the Marlins’ fourth round pick from 2016 out of Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, CA. As a prep senior, Reynolds hit .364/.454/.742 with nine homers and a 7/1 SB/CS. Reynolds was even more impressive on the mound where he earned 11 wins by way of a 1.08 ERA and 94 Ks in 84 IP.

Reynolds tells the story of his early career in baseball, adjusting to being the biggest kid on the field and growing into his body this way:

“I was always big for my age but I never really was towering over everybody until my sophomore and junior year of high school I grew about six and a half inches in a 12-18 month span. That was obviously really quick development and I had no idea what to do with my body,” Reynolds said. “I knew I was big and I started to get some more power but I didn’t know how to run, didn’t really know how to throw hard yet. My senior year, I gained a little more weight and started getting behind everything.”

While many teams had Reynolds on their radars as a mid-late round pitcher, few viewed him as a position player due to his inflexibility in the field. The Marlins however, quickly fell in love with Reynolds’ power potential, selecting the then-gargantuan-but-lanky 6’7, 205 pounder as a positional player 113th overall.

Upon being drafted, even before he took the field for the first time, Reynolds received a big wake-up call.

“When I got drafted I was 18, 6’7”, 195-200. My first day I was getting changed and getting ready next to grown men,” Reynolds said. “It was a shock, just how I thought I was so ready physically then I got out there and I was like, “man I’ve got a lot of work to do.””

For the still physically immature Reynolds playing in the field full-time for the first time in his career and for the first time with a wood bat, his break-in to the professional ranks was pretty rudimentary. In his first 148 MLB-affiliated ABs, he hit .155/.262/.196 with a 64/22 K/BB. He had two homers and two triples but failed to homer. This came as Reynolds attempted to learn a brand new position, the outfield as he split time between both corner spots, mostly on the strength of his throwing arm. A season later, Reynolds returned to the GCL, this time as a first baseman, a position that is much less physically demanding. This allowed Reynolds to focus much more significantly on improving his hit tool. As his contact rates made leaps and bounds, his stats reaped the benefits as he slashed .214/.303/.311 with five doubles, a triple and his first pro homer.

This past season, with an offseason of physical growth under the watchful eye of coaches and trainers under his belt, Reynolds’ power tool flourished as the lefty hit 17 homers, most in the New York Penn League. However, the pure power hitter also showed tons of swing and miss, whiffing 133 times. Put another way, Reynolds was the epitome of all or nothing. 32% of his ABs ended in a homer and 49% resulted in a K. He was the only player in MiLB to hit sub-.200 while slugging over .400.

Reynolds attributes his unique stat line to learning how to take the good with the bad and gaining the knowledge to not be careless but to not be too careful, either.

“I made a big jump last year in taking the tension out; going from “oh there’s a guy on third, I have to get him in” to “there’s a guy on third? Perfect.””, Reynolds said. “Staying true to what I know I’m good at; that’s what the mindset is. Trying to change something every day and working on something new every day just doesn’t work. It’s just going to be about staying with what works and knowing what I’m capable of and knowing that at the end of the day, you’ve got to tell yourself you’re the best player on the field.”

Heading into 2019, Reynolds feels that he is better prepared mentally thanks to time spent reflecting on his first professional stint. According to Sean, learning how accept deficiency last year and this offseason as well as learning how to separate amateur success from professional growth will be lessons that allow him to take the a very important next step in his first full season this year.

“I’m coming into this year after having a lot of time alone reflecting on the season I had and going over previous swings and just letting go of the fear of failure. That’s something a lot of people that don’t play baseball don’t understand: you have to be okay with falling on your face and looking like an idiot, like you’re swinging a sword in the box. You have too many ABs over the course of a season to look good every time,” Reynolds said. “In high school you’re always the man that everyone is looking forward to getting up and watching. You’re gonna be the one driving in the runs every game. Then you come into pro ball and you’re just another guy. So letting go of that fear and just not worrying about. That‘s something I feel like is gonna let me make a big jump this year.”

In addition to changing his thought process, Reynolds has also made some mechanical adjustments, including approaching from deeper in the box and maintaining a more upright stance. According to Reynolds, these modifications will allow him to make the most of his reach and cover more of his big strike zone.

“That has been a big focus for me, changing some things around in my swings and my mechanics and the way I go about hitting, improving the contact rate. All the numbers will increase by default if the contact rate increases and I know that,” Reynolds said. “Staying linear and trying to catch the ball out in front where I know I can use my leverage and my long limbs and power. Staying through the middle and not try to get too pull happy. That’s what it’s been about for me.”

In making the trip up the ladder to Clinton, Reynolds will be playing in almost twice as many games as he ever has in a calendar year and all within a five-month span. But according to Reynolds, he is not only ready physically, but just as prominent, mentally.

“Physical endurance has a lot to do with it keeping your body healthy and ready but overall, I think once you get into that 100-game range it’s just mental,” Reynolds said. “You’ve got to convince yourself that for three hours a day, you’re good to go, even if something is not feeling right. If you’re at 80%, then you’ve gotta give 100% of that 80%. Just gotta do he best with what you’ve got. Mental toughness, making sure that you’re able to play, even if you know in the back of your mind you’re not 100%. That’s what it’s about to me.”

Jacobs, who rostered Reynolds in Batavia last season, speaks very highly of his abilities both as a player and as a mentor.

“The power is obviously legit and he’s made great strides defensively from where he was at at the beginning of the year to where he ended up. You don’t get a lot of guys with that size and the ability to hit the ball as far as he can. The biggest thing is getting the ball in play a little bit more but it’s all a work in progress,” Jacobs said. “He wants to be really good and he’s impressive to watch. He’s a great kid, he’s a hard worker, he’s a leader in the clubhouse and he wants to be out there every day. I’m excited for what he’s gonna bring to the table. It’s been fun watching him make the adjustments he’s made already and I expect him to have a great year this year.”

Reynolds enters his second season as a professional already in a better state of mind and in an overall better position as a maturing player. According to Reynolds, the new attitude and new direction of the franchise has created a better sense of comfortability while also invigorating him and it will be a major catalyst in his further development.

“Before it was kind of a foregone conclusion that if you were a sought after prospect you were gonna be traded, the closer you get to the big leagues,” Reynolds said. “It definitely adds a bit of excitement when you think about the direction that Gary and the rest of the staff are taking this organization and how everything is being conducted in such a professional way. It’s definitely a big change from what it was before.”

A guy who can be seen around the cage coaching up his teammates, we see Reynolds as both a current and future locker room leader ceiling at that can approach the ceiling of Chris Davis (.238/.319/.471).

Will Banfield (Photo by Tony Capobianco)

C Will Banfield
2018 (ROK-A) – .238/.308/.385, 12 XBH, 18 RBI, 43/11 K/BB; 38% CS%

Banfield is the Marlins’ second round pick from last year’s draft, taken 69th overall out of Brookwood High School in Snellville, GA. A force in his two-year varsity career, Banfield followed a .409/.511/.686 12/22 K/BB junior season with a .398, 49 RBI, 15 2B 9 HR senior campaign. A guy who was already clocking in at 95 from the mound as a sophomore, Banfield built his throwing arm up to being the best in last season’s draft. On top of that, his 1.74 second pop time ranked in the 99th percentile during PerfectGame showcases.

After a season of professional coaching as well as an offseason spent under the watchful eye of a pro organization, here is what Will is looking like headed into his first full season in the minors:

With more physical maturity to his credit (looks like at least 10-20 pounds of muscle mass added), the 29-year-old stands to enter his first full year as a pro at around 6’1”, 220. Approaching 2019, Banfield’s improved physique should allow him to tap into his raw power potential as well as cover even more area behind the plate. Areas in which he still needs to improve on the offensive side are barrel speed and swing length. If he’s able to shorten up a bit and get barrel in the zone at advantageous times, the righty hitter who approaches from the back of the box and recognizes pitches well, should be able to turn into a .260+ for-average threat with the potential for 15+ homers and 20+ doubles.

Projected Rotation

  1. Alberto Guerrero 
  2. Humberto Mejia 
  3. Josh Roberson
  4. Chris Vallimont

RHP Josh Roberson
2018 (ROK-A) – 48.1 IP, 1.30 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 34/12 K/BB

Roberson is the Marlins’ twelfth round pick from last season out of UNC Wilmington in his hometown of North Carolina. Primarily a reliever in his first two collegiate seasons, his big velocity and the maturation of his slider allowed him to assume regular rotational work in 2017. That year, Roberson held down a 1.80 ERA and 1.40 WHIP by way of a 23/8 K/BB. As was the case in 2016 though, recurring throwing arm injuries limited him to just 20-something innings. Just before the draft in June, it was revealed that Roberson would require Tommy John surgery which cost him the rest of the 2017 season. Thought to be a late-first to early-second day pick, Roberson fell to the Marlins in round 12, 359th overall.

This past season, Roberson returned to the mound with a vengeance. One-hundred percent healthy for the first time in a long time, he held a 1.06 ERA through eight GCL starts, limiting his opposition to a .184 BAA with a 0.94 WHIP and a 31/12 K/BB. His five wins far and away led the GCL Marlins. Those exports earned Roberson a late-season call to Batavia where he made two starts, spanning a total of six IP. He allowed two earned runs (3.00 ERA), struck out three and didn’t walk any.

This season, Roberson, 22, makes the jump up the ladder to the full-season ranks. He also participated in the post-season instructional league. A tall and lanky 6’3″, 175, he owns two plus pitches, a calling card heater that is capable of 97+ MPH and a hard-biting 86-88 MPH slider. He has the blueprint of a changeup, but that pitch is very much in its infantile stages and is currently little more than a mix-in waste pitch. Given his injury history and past spent throwing mostly in relief, Roberson’s future would sensibly lie in the bullpen. However, we wouldn’t put it past this very hungry hard thrower to surprise a lot of people this season, allow the organization to throw his medical record out the window and continue to develop him as a back-end starter. He’s a very interesting piece to watch and, given his drive, could wind up being a diamond in the rough.

RHP CJ Carter
2018 (ROK-A) – 29.2 IP, 3.64 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 38/17 K/BB, .179 BAA

One of the most interesting guys in the system, Carter is a 6’, 165 pound righty out of Troy University in his home state of Georgia, preceded by Alvin Community College In Texas. A full time JuCo starter where he held down a 2.64 ERA via a 1.13 WHIP and 84/32 K/BB, he made the transition to the pen after being recruited to Division I. After 69.2 IP worth of 3.75 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 90/23 ball out of the pen as a Trojan, the Marlins selected him in the 29th round of last season’s draft.

Although he has worked exclusively out of the bullpen in his first 29.2 professional IP between the GCL and Batavia, it looks as though the organization is impressed enough with Carter to allow him to at least return to a swing-man role. Watching him throw against some of he Marlins’ top prospects as well as current big leaguers this spring, its easy to see what the organization sees.

Carter is one of the more unique arms not only to observe but more importantly for hitters to face. He combats his limited size by creating deception stemming from a high leg kick and extremely short arm action and a low sidearm slot. Stuff-wise, he is a complete offspeed artist, rarely reaching over 90 MPH and dipping all the way down to 72. It is in his ability to repeat his delivery and in his swing and miss potential that the Marlins view him as a future rotational piece. Everything has good movement when it comes to Carter’s four pitch arsenal, including a biting two seamer, a dancing changeup, a loopy curveball with late sink and a disappearing slider.

An extremely fun guy to watch work, Carter has the ceiling of change-of-pace back end starter ala Dan Haren and the floor of an innings-eating bullpen anchor.

Projected Stats

72-68
.245/.322/.390, 115 HR, 320 XBH
4.29 ERA, 1.34 WHIP