Prospect Of The Month, May 2017: James Nelson

Woah, it’s Nelly! Not only is it befittingly his Twitter handle, it’s the exact phrase the South Atlantic League, its scouts, the Marlins’ organization and anyone who follows it are exclaiming regarding James Nelson’s season to date. One look at the stats including his absolutely unprecedented month of May, it’s easy to see why.

Monthly Stats
Seasonal Stats
.372/.425/.540
.338/.404/.500
34/10 K/BB
45/17 K/BB
5/1 SB/CS
5/1 SB/CS

 

Nelson was born on October 18, 1997 in Rex, GA and attended Redan High School in nearby Stone Mountain. Other than the budding Nelson, Redan is famous for producing MLB talents such as Wally Joyner and Brandon Phillips. As Nelson relates to, Redan is a place that is very proud of that past and their long-tenured heritage and Raiders players, including Nelson, coaches and parents quickly learn that. Rahter than just being part of for four years, they are part of a brotherhood forever.

“Baseball tradition at Redan is probably the best I’ve ever been a part of,” Nelson said. “It was all about winning and being a part of a family.”

After his graduation in 2015, Nelson was selected by the Red Sox in the 18th round of that year’s Draft. However, Nelson forwent signing with Boston to attend junior college in Cisco, Texas in an attempt to raise his draft stock.

“Going to Junior college was probably the biggest and best decision I could’ve made to be honest,” Nelson said. “I don’t think I got enough exposure in high school as far as seeing the pitchers I did.”

Despite his great high school tenure, Nelson only hit four total home runs in his junior and senior seasons. In his one year at Cisco, a bulked up Nelson hit 17. After going off the board 531st overall a year prior, some scouts had Nelson going off the board as early as round 12. The Marlins selected Nelson with the 443rd overall pick in round 15 thus making his decision to attend Cisco a success. This time, Nelson forwent the rest of his college career to sign a pro contract at the age of 19, another big choice and another one he and his family does not regret.

“Baseball is what I loved to do and I believed I was ready to take on the next level,” Nelson said. “My family was proud. Everyone thinks it was a great decision and I get all the support I need.”

Upon his arrival in the professional ranks last season, Nelson supported evidence that he was indeed ready to make the jump. In 43 games in the Gulf Coast League, he hit .284/.344/.364. His BA ranked 15th in the league and his OBP ranked 20th. Among his impressive countable stats were 24 RBI and a 7/3 SB/CS. Despite appearing at the plate just 162 times, the Marlins were impressed enough to promote Nelson to full season ball at the ripe age of 19, 2 1/2 years younger than the average Sally League player. After a bit of a feeling out process in his first eight games in April when he hit .207/.324/.345, Nelson absolutely exploded in May, responding and rewarding the Marlins’ vote of confidence by becoming one of the best hitters in the league and a sure-fire choice for the upcoming All-Star Game. His ridiculous month of May consisted of a .372/.425/.540 slash line along with 8 doubles, a triple, 3 homers, 17 RBI and a 5/1 SB/CS. Overall this season, Nelson’s .338 BA ranks third in the Sally, his .404 OBP ranks fourth and his .500 SLG ranks ninth. He ends the month of May riding a 17-game hitting streak.

So how has this teenager with just a year’s worth of college experience and 43 games worth of pro experience under his belt, responded so well to playing against the best competition that he ever has gone up against while being under the pressure and microscope that goes along with being regarded as the club’s 10th best prospect and how will he keep it up over the course of a 140 game season, three times as many games as he’s ever played in in a single year? Simple: he won’t change a thing and most importantly, he will not get too far ahead of himself. Because after all, whatever level you’re at and wherever you are or aren’t ranked within the organization, the game remains the same.

“It’s baseball, man. I’m just taking it day by day, making sure I’m staying healthy and staying on top of my game,” Nelson said. “I just take it one at bat at a time. If I don’t get it done one at bat, just get it done the next, and also keeping my routine I’ve been doing is a major deal as well. It’s all about playing baseball, it’s the same game, just with better competition. The biggest thing is focus, if you don’t focus you won’t succeed how you want to.”

If there was a knock on Nelson’s offensive game from his days in the GCL it was his production against lefties which he hit at just a .231/.286/.269 clip. This season, again, against much more advanced competition, he has remedied that by hitting southpaws at a .388/.492/.694 pace. Once again, Nelson credits what he believes is the end-all, be all, vision. After that, it has been his ability to stay inside the ball a lot more consistently that has made the difference.

“All about the focus,” Nelson said “From last year to this year, I think my middle-oppo approach has gotten a lot better and I am actually driving the ball to right field and I think that was a big advantage against lefties, especially this season”

Nelson has accomplished all of these offensive accolades over the past two years while also learning how to play a new position, third base, where the Marlins believe his growing frame, plus power and strong arm will be better suited in the long run. While learning the hot corner has been and will continue to be a process for Nelson, he doesn’t mind; as long as he’s on the diamond.

“I took the news [of the switch] great. If they see me playing there in the future then I’d be happy to be there,” Nelson said. “Any way I could help the team. I love shortstop, but as long as I am on the field, I’d play catcher.”

Nelson’s at-bats are a sight to behold. After the 6’2″ specimen stares down his opposition from a straight vertical stance, he times his swing with a front leg trigger that is less reminiscent of a batter and more so of a pitcher. From there, there’s only one word to describe him: explosive. Stretching his arms all the way back for as much power as possible while somehow maintaining extremely good balance and very rarely, if ever, falling off to either side of the plate, Nelson’s bat is barely recognizable as it whips through the zone with uppercut action. After exhibiting some of the best bat speed within the organization, he stays through the ball with two hands on the bat and two eyes down all the way and looks the ball off the barrel, keeping him from pulling off. Mechanically, everything looks close to perfect for the still-maturing Nelson, making him a near lock to become a 20+ home run hitter. While on base which Nelson has been a ton this season, he has more than above average speed, especially for a guy his size. Add to that the ability make great reads and you have the acumen of a 20+ base stealer. As a GCLer in 2015, he stole seven bags and was caught three times. In less games this year, he has already swiped five while being caught just once.

If there has been one consistently below-average area of Nelson’s offensive game throughout his career it’s been his ability to walk, common for any power-first hitter but not an area which Nelson is willing to go to the wolves. He has proven that by walking more in less ABs this season compared to last season and which he hopes to improve even further by advancing and utilizing his plate vision, no matter the situation.

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

Nelson will be the first one to admit he is far from a finished product and he has work to do. However, the 19-year-old who will not even turn 20 for another two months, defines the word ‘athlete’, has a baseball IQ well beyond his years, and is already on the verge of a call-up to A+. With 20/20 club type talent, the ability to hit for both average and power and great fielding instincts, footwork and hands, he is a 5-tool type talent that could arrive in the majors as early as 2019. But for now, the extremely modest and level-headed Nelson ins’t worried about that.

“Baseball is a crazy sport man,” Nelson said. “I’m just trying to trust the process, so I’m just doing me.”

Keep doing you, James. If baseball is crazy, you’ve found the remedy.

What Happened To Junichi Tazawa?

There’s bad, then there’s Junichi Tazawa in 2017 bad. One of the best relievers in the league in 2015 has become anything but this season, leading him to be placed on the “disabled” list just a month and a half into the year. However, it appears as though his “injury” may just be a bad excuse for what has turned out to be a signing just as heinous as Tazawa’s exports in a Miami uniform.

Through 15 games, Tazawa owns a 6.60 ERA bt way of a 6.84 FIP and a 4.8% walk rate. His 26.7% ground ball rate is the eleventh lowest in baseball. If those figures aren’t alarming enough, he also owns a lowly .195 BABIP meaning he has been very fortunate not to give up even more damage. In 2015, Tazawa held down 4.14 ERA via a 3.05 FIP and an extremely low 1.99 BB% all while having pretty bad luck on balls in play (.349 BABIP) at hitters’ haven Fenway Park. Last year, he had a much more Fenway-like 15.8 HR/FB ratio of 15.8 and a more neutral BABIP of .292. However, he regulated himself by striking out nearly 10 hitters per 9 innings (9.79) and inducing ground balls at a 40% rate and stranding 79% of his runners. This season though, in the much more pitcher friendly Marlins Park, the wheels have completely fallen off. The question is why?

The Marlins are using the excuse that Tazawa is injured, saying that he has rib cartilage inflammation. While there may be some truth to the fact that Tazawa recently tore something in his rib cage, it’s hard to believe they would ever let him take the mound if he was suffering from the main symptom of costochondritis which is chest pain. Accordingly, there must be another explanation for the way Tazawa has struggled for the entire season. Pitching coach Juan Nieves spoke more closely to that reason when he said Tazawa needs time off not for his chest, but for his head.

“He needs time off to make a mental adjustment,” Nieves said.

That would definitely be a great place for Tazawa to start. From there, he can work on fixing his mechanics. In order to compare an effective Tazawa to whatever this is he has become, here is a stop motion image of his fastball circa 2014 and one of his fastball this year. Out of respect for any sort of injury Tazawa might have suffered recently, the second image is of a fastball he threw to a virtually powerless Yuli Guriel that got taken for a grand slam during his first outing of the season when he was pretty much undoubtedly 100% healthy, right out of camp.

In both images, the same pitch is being called for and thrown: fastball in. Tazawa has maintained similar velocity from then until now but the command is night and day. The reason for this appears to be that, probably not purposefully, Tazawa is throwing from a higher plane and arm slot which he cannot control. At the apex of his leg kick which has gone from high to even higher, it is easy to notice that Tazawa’s glove is also much higher in the air his arm is at a much more horizontal angle and a lot closer to his body.

This is where Tazawa’s problems begin and stem from. From there, they get even worse. Where he used to swing his arm nearly straight horizontally behind his back while keeping the top of his hand facing the hitter, hiding his grip on the ball advantageously and leading to a fluid turnover of his palm, this new windup leads to Tazawa having to drop his arm straight down vertically, giving hitters a clear view of the baseball and his fingers followed by him barely getting his arm fully extended backward and a rotation of his wrist that looks forced. Where Tazawa used to almost literally sit back on his pitches, leaning all the way back on his back leg to the point that he almost falls over before powering through his delivery, he is now almost completely relying on his arm, barely transferring any weight whatsoever. This leads to him flying open to the third base side before overthrowing his pitches and throwing off his release points. The end result of all of those factors are pitches that miss his targets and wind up way out over the plate.

Opposing hitters are taking full advantage of this version of Tazawa, being patient early in counts, allowing Tazawa to get behind in the count early (he has a first pitch strike percentage of just 60%) and staying patient allowing them to work themselves into a favorable hitter’s count (he gets into just as many 3-0 counts (6.2%) as he does 0-2 counts), virtually disabling Tazawa’s once-filthy offspeed secondaries and making him rely on the fastball/forkball changeup combo which accounts for 79% of his pitches thrown. Between them sitting on his stuff and Tazawa misplacing it, guys are making contact at an 80.5% rate, including a 90% rate on pitches inside the zone, both career highs for Tazawa and recording swinging strikes 8.3% of the time, a career low. Deception and the ability to get in guy’s heads are completely gone from Tazawa’s game as he is only generating chase swings outside the zone at a 28.2% rate, another career worst.

Not only are hitters making contact often against Tazawa, they are making loud contact.

The average Tazawa pitch leaves a hitters’ bat at 89 MPH and goes 210 feet. The latter of those figures is the 21st-highest average distance in baseball, proving Tazawa has been lucky to not give up even more homers and thus an have an even higher HR/FB% which currently sits around 14%. Hitters are barreling up against Tazawa once in every five of their ABs. All of this proves that thanks to his .195 BABIP and the fact that he’s pitched in mostly pitcher friendly parks, Tazawa has been arguably the luckiest man in baseball not to have an even higher WHIP than his already mediocre 1.33 mark and his absolutely horrendous 6.60 ERA.

Even more fortunately for Tazawa and most unfortunately for the Marlins is that he has job security. Tazawa is under contract for the remainder of this season as well as next season. With it becoming more and more unlikely that he will opt out after this year due, the Marlins, who are paying him $6 million a season until 2019, need to hope Tazawa gets his stuff right ASAP. Upon his return from injury, Tazawa will almost certainly get a rehab assignment in the minors. What the Marlins do with Tazawa immediately after that will be a good barometer of where they are in the towel-throwing-in process for the year. If they are still playoff hopeful, Tazawa will work out his issues in the minors. If not, he will be allowed to do so with the Marlins, likely leading to more fans’ pain and suffering. Wherever he attempts to work out his woes, the Marlins better hope for the sake of not wasting $12 million that he is able to do so because right now, Tazawa isn’t worth 12 Yen (10 cents American).

Prospect Of The Month, April 2017: Kyle Barrett

Monthly Stats
Seasonal Stats
.330/.376/.372
.330/.376/.372
18/5 K/BB
18/5 K/BB
5/2 SB/CS
5/2 SB/CS

 

Jupiter Hammerhead’s outfielder Stone Garrett came into 2017 as the sixth ranked prospect in the organization. But through 22 games, Garrett’s Jupiter teammate, fellow outfielder and owner of a similar surname has been the one playing up to that title. Introducing our April Prospect of the Month, Kyle Barrett.

Kyle Barrett, a Georgia native, was born August 4, 1993 and spent his college days in Wildcat blue at the University of Kentucky. There, he spent three seasons amassing a .324/.386/.391 slash line with an 8% walk rate and 21 steals in 34 tries, beginning to lay the foundation for the type of bat he is currently becoming. Playing in the same conference as current top MLB prospect Andrew Benentendi, in his junior year, Barrett finished seven spots underneath the league leading Benentendi in BA, hitting .354. He also appeared just inside the top 10 in his freshman year when he hit .349.

Following the 2015 collegiate season, Barrett entered the MLB Draft and was selected 446th overall in round 15 by the Marlins. He signed on June 19 of that year and took his talents to Batavia to begin his big league career. However, the excitement of being drafted and the prospect of making a quick first impression soon came to a grinding halt. In his fourth game with the Muckdogs, Barret broke his right hand, an injury that cost him the rest of the year. Going from the high of being drafted only to, after just 11 ABs, land on the DL for an extended period was an experience Barrett admits was very frustrating.

“I was pretty crushed,” Barrett said. “I worked so hard my whole life to get drafted and it happens and I start my career off on the wrong foot.”

Even though Barrett was able to return for the start of the 2016 season and although he made the jump to full season ball strictly on a confidence vote by the team, he still wasn’t completely over the injury. Despite rehabbing during the offseason, the strength in his dominant hand still hadn’t completely returned and it showed. In his first 22 games as a Grasshopper, Barrett went just 12-72 with a 17/6 K/BB. For Barrett, it was probably the lowest he’s been mentally in his baseball career.

“It really affected me that off season because I really wasn’t able to hit without being pain free,” Barrett said. “I got the opportunity to go to Greensboro that year and I really struggled at first because I was out of baseball for nine months.”

However, despite a disappointing start to his career that lasted 11 months and must’ve seemed like 11 years, the pure talent of the grinder Barrett finally prevailed. On May 29, he went 3-5 with a walk and scored two runs in a 6-2 Greensboro win. It began a stretch in which Barrett would reach via a hit in 55 of his last 79 2016 games, a stretch in which he went 88/282 (.312 BA).

“I finally got some mechanical things adjusted and the success and confidence came,” Barrett said.

After ending that season hitting .282/.333/.345, very respectable considering how the year started, Barrett got his second call up in as many years which was, all things considered, spectacular. This season with the Hammerheads, a 100% healthy Barrett has once again become the guy the Marlins drafted out of UK. Hitting at the top of the order, he has gotten on base in 20 of his 22 games and collected at least one hit in 19. He’s slashing .330/.376/.372 with a BA and an OBP that rank among the top 10 in the Florida State League. It may have taken him a little longer than he would have liked, but through determination and perseverance through adversity, Barrett has now fully arrived on the Minor League Baseball scene. Barrett was able to overcome the disappointing start to his career not only because of fantastic raw talent but also because of the understanding that in baseball, like any sport, it’s not about how the game knocks you down; it’s how long you let it keep you down that really counts.

“Baseball is full of ups and downs and how you overcome adversity,” Barrett said. “You can’t let one bad game from the day before affect the next game.”

Not only is Barrett’s bat exporting similar results to those he provided during his time at Kentucky, he is making them happen via the exact same approach and mechanics. Barrett and his coaches agree: if it isn’t broken, why fix it?

“My approach has stayed the same since I was in college so I’m really comfortable with it,” Barrett said.

Because of that comfort and the confidence he has in his game, Barrett is playing stress-free despite knowing that he is a few months of similar play away from a call-up to AA.

“There’s no pressure to keep hitting like this at all,” Barrett said. “I don’t look too much ahead on whether or not I’ll get called up; instead, I control what I can control and I make the most of it and don’t take anything for granted.”

During an average Kyle Barrett AB, there is rarely a strike that goes by without him getting at least some part of the bat on it. A stout 5’11”, 185, the lefty hitter minimizes an already small strike zone via an extremely quick snap swing which gives him the ability to wait out the break on pitches, select one he likes and drive it. At the very least, the result of a Barrett swing is almost always some sort of contact, even if it is just to foul off a tough pitch and the result of his ABs, nearly all of which last at least five pitches, either end with him on base or at the very least, with him inside of a pitcher and catcher’s heads, setting up his next chance. While most of Barrett’s hits go for base hits, he does have some hidden gap-to-gap power which allotted him 12 doubles in his final year in college and has already led to four two-baggers this season. As the 23-year-old completely reaches his ceiling, that number should increase.

On the base paths, Barrett exhibits great instincts on top of plus speed. Last year in Greensboro, he swiped 17 bags in 22 chances. This year, Barrett is already 5/7 in stolen base attempts. Barrett puts his plus jets to good use in the field as well where he makes good reads off the bat, runs good routes and exhibits an above average throwing arm.

With a swift singles first swing, some disguised strength, good speed and good outfield prowess, Barrett appears to be nurturing a skill set similar to Chris Coghlan and his personal hero, Brett Gardner. Excellent on-field play coupled with an outgoing personality and a sound head for the game make Barrett a great teammate and an extremely easy guy to root for. An all-around great athlete, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Barrett to reach the bigs by next season.

  • * This is Kyle Barrett’s second time being named Prospect Of The Month.

Prospect Profiles: Colby Lusignan

If you happen to make the pilgrimage through the small Central Florida town of Sorrento, you will hardly even recognize that you were there. However, in the near future, the baseball world is sure to recognize one of the town’s 765 residents’ names. That name is Colby Lusignan.

Lusignan was born in 1992 in the unincorporated township of Sorrento, a city that houses just 765 and encompasses just 1.3 miles. Because there are no schools in Sorrento, Lusignan was forced to make an 11.2 mile, 17 minute trip down State Road 46 every day to attend high school in Eustis. Being one of few out-of-towners at Eustis High, Lusignan admits his days there were a bit of a grind, but that staying close to both his immediate family as well as his extended baseball family stregnthened both his personal relationships as well as his professional relationships.

“High school days were pretty uneventful. I was a home body andjust liked hanging with the family,” Lusignan says. “Growing up in a small town where everyone knows everyone rraly makes you try to stay on top as well as respect the people around you.”

Upon his graduation in 2011, Lusignan made the decision to attend college at Sante Fe Community College, slightly upstate in Gainesville. Two hours away from Sorrento, it was not too far from home but it was just far enough for him to get the full college experience.

“Gainesville was one of the top junior college schools in Florida, and I just felt like it was the right place to go,” Lusignan said. “It was an hour and a half from home so I felt like it was far enough and close enough at the same time to be a college kid.”

After two years of placing within the top seven in OBP, the top 10 in SLG and the top five in BB/K, a combined 73 game span in which he slashed .329/.426/.488, Lusignan was recruited to Lander College in South Carolina. Depsite being as far away from his family and as far out of his comfort zone as he had ever been, Lusignan says making the choice to attend Lander was made fairly easily.

“The decision to go to Lander really was a family oriented decision in the sense that the coaching staff and community approached the team with that mindset,” Lusignan said. “Distance and not seeing loved ones is obviously not ideal, but knowing that they supported me chasing my dream, and that they made the trip to come see games made it much easier.”

Benefiting from the close relationships he had with his coaches and teammates including the one he had with his head coach Kermit Smith whom he describes as “a second dad who had great relationships with all the guys and made you feel very at home” and labels as a the leader of an extremely positive clubhouse whose “ideology spread through the other coaches and really made the team a close-knit group”, Lusignan hit .325/.429/.591 that season with the Peach Conference’s 10th best OBP, seventh best SLG and ninth best OPS (1.020). He also slammed the third most homers in the league (10) and drove in it’s eighth most runs (41).

With an overall .328/.425/.528 career collegiate line, Lusignan declared for the MLB Draft in 2016. He spent draft day back where it all started in Sorrento surrounded by his biggest supporters, his family and his best professional influences, his Lander coaches. It is those individuals that Lusignan credits most for having heard his name called. Selected in the 28th round at number 833 overall, Lusignan is just the eigth player to be selected out of Lander University. Even though he had to sweat out a lot of nervous hours waiting for his phone to ring that weekend and even begin contemplating his situation should he go undrafted, Lusignan recalls his draft experience as a picture perfect moment.

“Draft day was pretty surreal, spending it with my family who has been there all along was great,” Lusignan said. “My coaches at Lander were awesome, they really helped me develop my offensive game, and we had a really good team while I was there. Those two things really helped me to get exposure, and I’m proud that I can say I was drafted from Lander University.”

Not only was his draft day setting perfect, the setting of the result of his selection was nearly as ideal for the easily homesick 23-year-old. Being selected by the Marlins meant that Lusignan would spend time in the Carolinas, within a stone’s throw of his Lander coaches whom he could still look to for professional support and in Florida where moral support from his family would also be within very accessible reach. Asked what he thought of being drafted by the Marlins, Lusignan said his preference would not have had it any other way.

“It was exactly the way I pictured it to happen,” Lusignan said.

After beginning his career in the Gulf Coast League last season where he hit .319/.422/.469/.894, marks that ranked fifth, fifth and seventh and third on the circuit, Lusignan made the jump to full season ball in Greensboro this year. There, he has gotten off to a .299/.357/.442 start with a BA that ranks 26th in the Sally and an SLG that ranks 22nd. Most recently, he broke a 2-21 slump by going 5-5 with two doubles and three RBI. The five hits were the most Lusignan has recorded in a single game at any level he’s played at. In order to keep his current pace, Lusignan is learning to pace himself and let his body adjust to the rigors of, for the first time, playing 1,260+ innings in 150 days.

“I was fortunate enough to break camp with a full season club, and it will definitely be the most taxing year of ball on my body to date,” Lusignan said. “I’ve really been making sure to stretch and foam roll, and make sure to get enough sleep. Just overall body maintenance is something I think is super important to making it through a full season.”

Lusignan is a massive physical presence who menaces opposing pitchers as he stares them down from his 6’4″, 230 stature. He is growing into potentially plus plus power potential that scouts rank at a ceiling of 70 on the 20-80 scale. He owns a mechanically sound approach in which he maintains his looseness well and utilizes a big front foot timing trigger by which he transfers his weight all the way through the ball. Partnered with rotational energy from his back foot pivot and active hips, Lusignan gets the most out of his extra large frame.

Due to his size, Lusignan’s swing looks effortless and fluid but the deception in that is revealed when he makes contact and the ball absolutely flies off his bat. During his collegiate days, his power numbers ticked up with each passing year until he was ultimately hitting a homer once in every 15 ABs. Of course as he adjusts to much more staunch competition that figure will given and has already given way to a heightened K rate. In 77 ABs, Lusignan has struck out 25 times. However, with a 1.45 career NCAA K/BB and a 1.75 K/BB last year in the GCL, Lusignan shows the potential to be much more than an all-or-nothing power bat. With a great baseball IQ, he also exhibits the knowledge of what it will take for him to become an all-around offensive threat.

“I think that really sticking to my approach, and looking for what I want to hit will help to boost my walks, as well as tap into my power potential,” Lusignan said. “Staying within myself, not pressing and trying to make something happen will allow me to recognize pitches, as well as take a free smooth swing at pitches I think I can drive out of the yard.”

A look at Lusignan’s hit chart from the last two years will reveal that through excellent plate vision, good bat speed and the ability to fully extend his long arms, he distributes the ball evenly to all fields and can turn any pitch in the strike zone into a hit. Even though said strike zone is large due to Lusignan’s extra large frame and straight up and down stance, he covers the plate magnificently and selects swings just as well, making him a contact-first hitter with budding prodigal power.

If he can maintain the same plate discipline as he realizes his power potential, there’s nothing against Lusignan becoming a 20+ homer/20+ double hitter at first base, currently a very thin position for the Marlins’ organization. For those reasons, the 24-year-old Lusignan is a candidate to fast track through the rest of his minor league career and contribute to the Marlins by 2019. Not too  shabby for a small town kid with a dream.

Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp 2017 Season Preview

The Fish get fishier in 2017 as the Jumbo Shrimp and Crustacean Nation are born in Jacksonville. There, Brian Anderson, Austin Dean, Dillon Peters and Jarlin Garcia will make up a young colony of shellfish hoping to become sailfish in the near future.

Leading the Shrimp into their inaugural campaign will be Randy Ready who gets the promotion from A+ Jupiter where last season he led the Hammerheads to a 68-69 record. After a very decent .259/.359/.387, 10.9 WAR 13-year playing career, Ready began his managing career as skip of the short season Oneonta Tigers where he led a 47-27 division title team and thus immediately became one of MiLB’s best managers. After earning the New York Penn League’s title of Manager of the Year, Ready began his full season ball managerial career, coaching the Padres’ single A affilliate the Fort Wayne Wizards for two seasons before making his AA debut in 2007. That season, for the inaugural year San Antonio Missions, Ready coached the likes of Chase Headley, Will Venable, Nick Hundley and Wade LeBlanc to a Texas League championship. Ready then briefly managed in AAA, coached hitting in the majors, got in the conversation for a MLB head coaching job and returned to AAA first as a hitting instructor then again as a manager before spending fourt years out of baseball. Last January, he was hired by the Marlins.

Ready’s resume speaks for itself: 34 years total experience in the game, persoanl knowledge playing at five different defensive positions, knowledge to hit as high as .309/.423/.520, two titles as manager, experience managing at each level of the minors and coaching in the majors and an overall fantastic positive attitude. With Randy at the helm, it’s safe to say the Shrimp will be Ready for success each time they take the field this season.

Lineup

Yefri Perez, CF
Austin Dean, LF
Brian Anderson, RF
David Vidal, 2B
Taylor Ard, 1B
John Norwood, RF
Austin Nola, C
Alex Yarbrough, SS

Following a 2016 campaign which saw him hitting .265/.348/.389 between A+ and AA, a season which allotted him the title Marlins’ Minor League Player of the Year, Brian Anderson opened some eyes. This offseason and spring training, he has made those eyes pop. First, Anderson took his talents to the Arizona Fall League where, against some of baseball’s best young talent, he was the runner up for the offseason league’s MVP award by hitting .273/.360/.506 and pacing it with six homers for the league champion Mesa Solar Sox. From there, upon a spring training invite, he joined the Marlins in Jupiter and proceeded to post a .349/.391/.605 slash line with six doubles, a homer, seven RBI and a hit in 12 of 23 games.

Because the Marlins want to take it easy with their best positional prospect who has only played 86 games above A ball, he will return to AA to start 2017 but should his offseason success that translated to spring training success follow him to Jacksonville, he should be a fast mover to New Orleans. As for his future as a big leaguer, he has great instincts and range at third base but his throwing arm is very inaccurate. Compounded by the fact that he is blocked there by Martin Prado for the next three years, he is a great candidate to begin his big league career on the right side of the infield. He has experience there in his minors career and shows the same great reads off the bat and footwork to his left as he does to his right. Should Justin Bour continue to struggle vs lefties, Anderson, who hit .350/.444/.517 against southpaws as a Sun last year, could get his major league debut serving in that capacity.

With a balanced overall offensive game and the knowledge to not do too much at the plate, smarts which he acquired this past season when he turned a 0.37 BB/K from 2015 into a 0.60 BB/K and gap to gap power from fantastic mechanics including the ability to stay back and transfer power vertically through his 6’3″ 185 pound frame most advantageously, Anderson has the potential to become an all-around three-five spot hitter. That potential on top of his above average glove work and lateral movement on defense make him not-so-arguably the most intriguing positional player in the Marlins’ system. After his recent accomplishments, Anderson has to know he has a ton of eyes on him, not just within this organization but around baseball and even on a national stage (LINK). Staying within himself and not buckling under that pressure will be his biggest challenge this year. Should Anderson just continue to be himself and favorable circumstances prevail, he will pull on a Marlins’ jersey this season.

Austin Dean is the Marlins’ fourth round pick from 2012, pulled straight from his high school in central Texas. Dean’s life in the professional ranks to this point an understandably rocky adjustment process and learning experience, one which wasn’t helped along at all by a 2014 season which saw him missing considerable time with three different injuries.

Following that disappointing season though, Dean stayed hard at work, putting in the necessary man hours in the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost time. He impressed while doing so, hitting .323/.364/.452 in 16 games, allowing him to crack high A to begin the 2015 regular season. For the 2015 Hammerheads, Dean slashed .268/.318/.366 with 52 RBI, second on the team and five homers, third on the team. The most impressive part of Dean’s game that year was how much he improved his plate discipline and cut down on strikeouts in the extremely pitcher friendly Florida State League. His 13.1 K% that year was a career best and a marked improvement over his 16% rate from 2014 and 20% rate from 2013. Hitting at or around the top of the order most of the season, Dean’s plus speed was put on full display as he stole 18 bags. However, he was also caught ten times proving his jumps and reads need a bit of work.

Dean’s solid comeback year allowed him to make the jump to AA last year. There, he hit mostly at the bottom part of the lineup. Though the tough jump and level and demotion in the order resulted in a more free swinging version of Dean proven by his career high 20.5% K rate, he was also able to do enough to at least foul pitches off and work deep counts, as proven by his 77% contact rate. Thus high high K% was evened out by a 9.0% walk rate, his best since his days in rookie ball. Dean also added some loft to his swing and managed to slug out a career high 11 homers, tops on the 2016 Suns and inside the top 15 in the Southern League. He did have a mediocre .238 BA but that can be blamed in part on a lowly .283 BABIP and he did only steal one bag but that is a product of him being sent only three times. All things considered, Dean had a solid building block type first season in AA ball.

This year, Dean returns to the AA ranks as many B and C type prospects do but he does so with the knowledge to hit anywhere in the lineup and with a good balance between patience, swinging to get on and swinging for the fences. This plus the familiarity he gained when it comes to hitting in the upper minors last year makes him a prime candidate to have a breakout 2017 campaign and show the world exactly what scouts see in him and what led them to rank as one of the organization’s top 15 prospects for three years running. An already 30-40 power bat with potential for more production in that department as he fully matures into what scouts see as a possible 15-20 homer threat, Dean also possesses above average speed and the ability to turn base hits into an XBHs as well as the potential for a ceiling of 15 steals yearly. On top of that, despite being pretty positionally limited, his outfield arm ranks as high as 50 on the 20/80 scale.

If Dean can bring his K rate back down to his career norms (around 13%) and maintain the ability to walk that he had last season as well as continue to grow into his fantastic raw power and get more chances to show what he can do on the bases by hitting higher in the lineup, Dean is a guy who could have a huge 2017 and find his way into a Marlins uniform as part of September call ups and into spring training to start 2018. At an intriguing point in his career, we will keep a close eye on the 23-year-old this season.

Pitching Rotation

1. Dillon Peters
2. Matt Tomshaw
3. Omar Bencomo
4. Mike Kickham

Still building on a 17-7 2.26 ERA, 2.43 K/BB, 1.14 WHIP three year college career in Division I baseball at Texas, Dillon Peters was setting himself up to have his name called early in the 2014 Draft. However, in May of that season Peters suffered an elbow injury, which caused him to miss the Longhorns’ regional and College World Series run. Ultimately, Peters underwent Tommy John surgery, which resulted in his draft stock to plundering. The Marlins drafted Peters, who still hadn’t resumed any sort of baseball activities, with their 10th round pick. Slated to make at least $504,000 just via his slot recommendation and not including a signing bonus a few months prior, Miami signed him for $141,800 plus a $175,000 signing bonus. Then, it appeared they were taking a big swing at a 21-year-old who just tore a ligament in his throwing elbow. Today, Peters is the fifth best prospect in their organization and they look like geniuses.

After spending the 2015 season rebuilding his arm strength, Peters earned that reputation last season tossing to the tune of a 2.46 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in his first 106 innings with the Hammerheads, totals which ranked fifth eighth in the Florida State League. Those numbers came by way of a minuscule walk total of 16 and 89 Ks, spelling out a 5.56 K/BB, best in the FSL. Before being rewarded with organizational All-Star honors as well as postseason All-Star accolades, Peters was rewarded with the call up to AA to end the year. Making the difficult jump in level, he didn’t appear to lose a step, holding down a 1.99 ERA by way of a 0.93 WHIP and 16/4 K/BB in his first four Jacksonville starts.

Even though he shed some poundage from his draft year, the still stout 5’9″, 195 Peters doesn’t do much pre-pitch to deceive hitters, throwing from a fairly basic and routine slidestep windup and 3/4 delivery. Alternatively, Peters’ success stems from his innate ability to pinpoint his locations with some of if not the best present command and control within the organization. He sets batters up with his 92-94 MPH fastball that shows good downward tilt, throws off their timing with a deceptive changeup which he throws from the same arm angle as the heat and which shows good late life down in the zone and punches them out with his best pitch curveball, a pitch that can get downright nasty bending in under 80 MPH, a 14-15 MPH drop off from his fastball, on either side of the black. For most of his career, Peters has been a to-contact lefty that has relied on groundball outs but with a slight uptick in velo in recent years and the invention of adding a cutter to his arsenal, a pitch that he gets in under the hands of opposing hitters inducing either whiffs or weak emergency hack foul balls by guys who can’t shorten up in time, the Ks have started to materialize. His ability to pound the zone and hit the catcher’s glove wherever it is set up keep his ABs and innings short, allowing him to work deep into games. In 2016, he worked into at least the 5th inning in all but three of his starts and got through five full in all but six of his 25 outings.

With the makeup of a Justin Nicolino type only with more velo, better mound presence and more confidence in all four of his pitches, Peters is the closest thing the Marlins have to a rotational ready prospect. That said, with similar continued success in AA this year and continued good health and after impressing Don Matitngly and the front office in spring training, he could get a shot later this year.

Jarlin Garcia, the Marlins’ fourth ranked prospect headed into 2017, will spend his season trying to make up for lost time last season. After posting an ERA under 3, a WHIP under 1.3 and a K/9 of at least 7 in his four of his first five seasons in the organization, Garcia began his first full year in AA, the level which he got a taste of to end the previous season and with more success there, looked primed to possibly make his Major League debut late that season. That possibility looked like it was going to become a reality when after a 3.82 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, .236 BAA start to his year in Jacksonville, Garcia got the call to aid the injury-hampered Marlins bullpen after Miami had been forced to move members of their pen such as David Phelps and Jose Urena into the rotation. However, despite the excitement of getting his first MLB call up and the prospect of taking his first MLB mound, Garcia never appeared in a game. Instead, he sat in the bullpen, on the bench. For eight days. During that time, he missed a scheduled throw day, taking no part in any official baseball activities.

On May 28, Garcia was returned to Jacksonville where management tried to ease him slowly back into action, limiting his first start back to just two innings. But the scrupulousness of David Berg and company proved to no avail. In his second start back with the Suns, Garcia left the game in the second inning. He would not return to the mound for nearly three months, the victim (with emphasis on the word victim) of left triceps tendinitis. He was able to return at the very end of the the year and participate in the Arizona Fall League, beginning the comeback process, one which he will continue this year and one that is sure to be gradual as the Marlins ease one of their best prospective arms back into form. Rather than putting 50-80 pitch strain on his arm once every four-five days, he will likely serve as one of the Shrimp’s primary relief options this season.

While there is still time for Garcia, who is still just 25, to make it back to the rotation, pitching out of the pen is probably a more realistic glimpse at his future as a big leaguer. Garcia has the ability to throw four pitches, a fastball, changeup, slider and curveball. The fastball is of the 92-95 MPH variety and he pumps it in with easy velo, from a downwhill plane stemming from his 6’3″ stature. It also flashes good late life and is easily Garcia’s best pitch. The heat sets up two quality offspeed pitches, a changeup and a slider. Garcia’s delivery which features a slow and deliberate windup only to see him power through his releae allows him to mask the arm speed on both pitches, the change dropping off nearly 10 MPH from the fastball and the slider usually sitting in the 80-82 MPH range with good sweeping action. He controls both pitches well, keeping them down in the zone from the same aforementioned downhill stride. However, the same downhill power delivery has led to his feel for and arm speed on the curveball being very inconsistent. He showed improvement by not overthrowing the pitch in 2015 only to struggle with it again before his injury last year. Though both his slider and changeup are quality major league ready pitches, the slider has been the offering that has generated more whiffs and is beginning to emerge as the best he has to offer to compliment his heat. Additionally, even though he threw in just 39.2 innings last year, his K rate hit a career low 6.13. With all of that, the questionability and uncertainty surrounding his health and his need to develop more command of the strike zone, Garcia’s future as a starter is very much in doubt. However, he could still make a very good career as a change-of-pace lefty who is affective against both sides out of the pen and spot starter.

Projected Stats

75-66
.262/.328/.370
82 HR/375 XBH
1,210 IP, 3.72 ERA, 1.30 WHIP

Spring Training Power Rankings Part II

With the second round of cuts made, spring training battles for an Opening Day roster spot are coming down to the wire. Here’s a look at who is primed to start the year in the minors and who is beginning to house hunt in the Miami area.

* Stats in this post reflect those preceding play on 3/23.

One major development that occurred this past week involved starting third baseman Martin Prado. Playing in his fifth game for his home country Venezuela (and hitting .368/.429/.526 while doing so), Prado pulled up lame while running into second base. He was removed from the game and has since been sent back home to Miami to undergo further testing on a gimpy hamstring. The inittal from Don Mattingly who didn’t sound too optimistic when breaking the news is that Prado would undergo an MRI Saturday. Prado’s Marlins’ teammates, trying to voice words of encouragement to an evidently disappointed Captain, didn’t sound too cheerful either. The MRI results were revealed Monday. They show that Prado has a grade 1 strain of his right hammy. He will definitely be out for Opening Day and could be out for an extended period of time. According to Mattingly, there is no timetable for Prado’s return. It leaves the Marlins with a hole at third base and a roster spot a lot more wide open than before. So how do the Fish fill those voids?

Fourth Bench Spot

Miguel Rojas Got off to a .385/.357/.846 start before suffering an injury of his own when he was hit in the face by a throw to second base. However, the injury proved to be minor. After passing all necessary tests including concussion protocol, Rojas came back no worse for the wear. Now hitting .444/.448/.704 this spring. If Prado is out for an extended period of time, the Marlins will likely platoon Rojas with Derek Dietrich at third base. Though the lefty (and more powerful) Dietrich will get the bulk of the starts at third most days, Rojas will start against lefties and will see an uptick in starts on starters’ days off at second base, shortstop and left field. He could also factor into the equation at first against lefties. If the injury to Prado is lengthy, Rojas’ versatility should spell at least a busy first half for the super utility and is the precursor for a very active season for the 28-year-old. Rojas got into 123 games last year for the Marlins but mostly as a defensive replacement, getting just 194 ABs. Seeing a different pitcher for the first time in 92 of his 194 ABs rather than getting the opportunity to see his opponent’s stuff and time them, Rojas posted a meager .247/.288/.325 with a lowly 5.2 BB%. Although infrequently, when the late inning replacement has seen a pitcher for a second, third and fourth time in his career, he has had success. In those 154 ABs, Rojas has hit .266/.342/.338. So getting in games earlier and staying in games later should work wonders for his slash line.

 

Matt Juengel Has the most experience in the upper minors out of all other candidates and is still hitting this spring, currently slashing .321/.424/.393 in 28 ABs. Strikeouts have always been the main concern for Juengel and continued to be last season in AAA when he K’d at a career high 17.6% rate. However, he helped offset that a bit by walking at a 7.4% rate, the best he’s done since 2013 in low A. With the Zephyrs last year, by way of a neutral .300 BABIP, he posted a .263/.325/.431 slash line, very respectable, servicable and translatable numbers for a MLB bench bat. Even though he is as much a likely candidate to be sent down once Prado is back as he is the favorite to earn the last bench spot out of camp, If Juengel, who plays both left and first in addition to a passable third, can continue to work deeper counts as he did last year and be coached to refrain from pulling off on his swings, the rest of his mechanics, all of which are at least average and include plus power that alotted him 12 homers last year and 17 in AA in 2015, he could eventually become a mainstay on the Marlins’ bench.

UPDATE: A day after this writing, Juengel was cut from spring training and optioned back to AAA. My only guess for his early dismissal is because the Marlins are worried about his career high 17.6% K rate from last season but that’s extremely nitpicky considering Juengel also walked at a 7.5% rate, had a .168 ISO, had a career high .431 SLG and was having a fantastic spring. Perhaps the Marlins just don’t like Juengel’s game. Whatever the reason, he will be a Baby Cake to start 2017.

 

Tyler Moore A Brandon, Mississippi native, he’s shown a country strong power bat this spring, slashing .282/.333/.692 with a team leading five homers. However, it has come at the expense of 12 Ks in 39 ABs. As has been the case with Moore in his MiLB career, a tenure which borders on journeyman status and one in which he has an extremely elevated 23% K rate, this is a major area of concern for him. At age 30 with his stone cast and coming off a year in which he played just 29 games before being cut by the Braves, there’s plenty of doubt as to if Moore can keep this type of hitting up, even in an off-the-bench capacity. He also only has defensive eligibility at first and left field. With one of Dietrich or Rojas being used as a starter every day, the Marlins will probably look to someone a bit easier to get into games for the final bench spot, especially in such a close competition offensively. All of that said though, Moore has definitely turned some heads this year and could get a shot to return to some sort of the form he showed as a 23 and 24-year-old when he hit 31 homers in back-to-back seasons in A+ and AA back in 2010 and 2011. For the short term though, look for Moore to start the year in AAA.

UPDATE: With Juengel being cut, Moore becomes the favorite to make the Opening Day roster. However, he will probably be on a short leesh. Once his bat goes cold which it is almost sure to do, he will probably be sent down.

 

Matt den Dekker Shook off a 1-14 slump by going 6 for his last 15 with a two homer game, getting his spring RBI total up to a team leading 12. The way he’s gone from hot to cold at the drop of a hat twice this spring has been the way of things for den Dekker for most of his pro career, most of which he has spent in the minors where he has piled up a .272/.339/.440 slash line over seven seasons. He’s spent portions of four seasons in the majors, coming almost exclusively off the bench and posting a .236/.318/.359 line. den Dekker’s extremely streaky offensive game, his multitude of strikeouts (combined 23% K rate between MiLB and MLB) and the way he can make solid contact when he does barrel up remind me a lot of a Cody Ross light type player. Defensively, den Dekker is pretty gifted and is the area of his game that makes him an above average bench player and late inning replacement. With eligibility at all three outfield spots and time spent at all of them, he has posted a +10 DRS in 786.2 MLB innings. He makes his best reads and covers ground best in right field where he has a +4 DRS and a 3.1 UZR. A poppy doubles first bat and more than solid glove and arm, the Marlins could do much worse than den Dekker in a fourth/fifth outfielder capacity. He will continue to battle Tyler Moore for the final roster spot in the last two weeks of spring training. If he can’t catch Moore offensively, he will begin the year in AAA but will probably see at least some time with the Fish this year, marking off his third of five NL East uniforms worn.

 

Brian Anderson Continues to dazzle this spring, hitting .368/.415/.658 giving him the second best OPS on the team this spring (among those with at least 30 ABs), reaching base in 11 of his 18 appearances and playing solid third base defense. Although fans are clamoring for Anderson to make the team and start at third over a Rojas/Dietrich platoon, the Marlins will do the prudent thing with their best positional prospect. Anderson, who has never played in AAA and has only played 86 games above A ball, will be sent to New Orleans to begin the season. However, if the approach he started to flash last year with the Suns when he vastly improved his contact rates and plate presence shrinking his season K rate from 20.6% in 2015 to 17.1% and improving his walk rate from 7.5% to 10.4% as well as the type of contact he exhibited against some of baseball’s best prospects in the Arizona Fall League this past autumn where he hit .302/.377/.440 for the AFL Championship winning Solar Sox, it will be very hard to hold this kid down for long. With Prado blocking him at third base and his infield arm still quite inaccurate for this level of development (one of his only downfalls to his defensive game which holds great instincts, including precise reads off the bat and a fantastic first step to the ball and a flashy glove), Anderson’s future could be at first base. At 6’3″, 185, he certainly has the build for the position and plays it with the same great range to his right as he does to his left when he’s at third. Wherever he winds up, Anderson’s plus power hitting game by use of a sweet quick stroke, plus bat speed and strong hands is coming to fruition at a very advantageous time. Even though he will start the year in AA, with similar play as he has shown this spring against some of baseball’s best, it shouldn’t take him very long to make his MLB debut. Look for the lefty masher to get his call as early as June in a possible first base platoon with Justin Bour. If the Marlins stay committed to the JB/J.T. Realmuto experiment at first, in the very least, play some sort of role for the Fish by season’s end.

 

Moises Sierra A free agent signee in 2015 after he was released by the Royals with whom he spent just a single season, Sierra has absolutely killed the ball in Jacksonville last year, slashing .336/.414/.519. Despite missing a total of nearly two months with two different injuries, Sierra still slugged nine homers, second on the team and 16 doubles, third most. Playing well above the AA level of competition, he walked nearly just as much as he K’d (44/41 K/BB). His hot bat has continued to show itself this spring as he is hitting .417/.462/.583. That BA and OBP lead the Fish among players with at least 30 AB. A 6’1″ 185 pound righty who favors his pull side but can go to all fields with a beautifully violent jump-out-of-his-shoes type of swing that is balanced by solid mechanics including a stationary head and good step into the ball from a split stance and an accurate front foot timing trigger. On the rare occasion Sierra doesn’t get extra bases out of the box, he is a threat to turn his singles and walks into scoring chances due to plus speed. In his MiLB career, Sierra has stolen 81 bases in 132 chances (61%).

The 28-year-old rounds out his game in the field by exhibiting a downright ridiuclous throwing arm that has allotted him 90 outfield assists, nearly all coming from right field. Sierra’s offensive success both with the bat and with his legs as well as his prowess with the glove and arm translated to the majors extremely well in 2014. As a member of the White Sox bench, Sierra showcased his potential by hitting .276/.311/.417 with three homers, eight doubles and 28 RBI. He also contributed four outfield assists. Because of his injury hampered 2016 season, Sierra will likely begin the year in AAA where he will attempt to keep his strikeout totals in check, a tough task for him so far in his career at the highest level of the minors (22% K rate over four seasons) and in his his short time in the majors (26% K rate in 180 games). However, if he can do so, he will own a pretty complete all-around skill set. Even though the 6’1″, 220 pound specimen is 28, he still has plenty of potential to succeed as a major leaguer. Upon the need for another outfielder and with the aforementioned improvements to his patience, look for Sierra to get that shot with the Marlins shortly.

 

Cuts: Yefri Perez, J.T. Riddle, Austin Nola

Fifth Starter

Dan Straily Being called by his former Reds teammate Ramon Cabrera, he had a solid outing a few days ago, tossing five innings of 3-hit, one run ball and striking out six with 32 of his 33 pitches going for strikes. Despite his overall dim spring campaign, none of his competition is outplaying Straily. So unless the Marlins move David Phelps out of the bullpen, it’s time to peruse the probability of him taking this roster spot. In the aforementioned start against Detroit, Cabrera inside-outed Straily’s locations perfectly and worked off his changeup despite solely relying on first pitch fastballs, allowing him to induce weak contact all day against a powerful lineup. Again, Straily’s command wasn’t perfect but he and Cabrera were able to out-think hitters and stay effective. While there is no room for a third catcher on the roster much less one who plays every fifth day thus no room for Cabrera to be Straily’s personal catcher, the Marlins would be wise to have A.J. Ellis, who has a lot more experience calling soft-tossing finesse guys, start whenever Straily takes the hill, at least early in the season. Against righties, this would come at the expense of losing J.T. Realmuto’s bat in the lineup but considering how Straily has looked throwing to Realmuto this spring, it seems like a necessary evil until he and J.T. get more familiar with each other.

 

Justin Nicolino Also coming off of a solid four inning start in which he gave up just one earned run on two hits and a walk, Nicolino seems to be regaining the feel and command over his stuff. In his last two outings, he’s gone a combined seven frames giving up just the one previously mentioned run on the one walk and five hits. Thirty of his last 35 pitches have gone for strikes. Despite coming into the spring as the overall darkhorse to win this roster spot especially after a remedial 2016 season which he spent going back and forth between AAA and the Marlins with command issues, he is showing the most confidence in his stuff and is probably Straily’s best and only competition. Consistency has been a huge problem for Nicolino in his career thus far so it wouldn’t be surprising if he went back to not getting the most out of his stuff as we saw last year. However, since my last power rankings, he has been advantageously utilizing his tall frame and gone back to throwing downhill and keeping the ball where he has to keep it, low in the zone and on both sides of the black. The known soft tosser has even shown an uptick in velocity, getting his heat up to as high as 93. It may only be a few spring training starts but at the present moment, Nicolino is performing the best he ever has against major league hitters. While it may not be enough to warrant him a spot in the rotation out of camp, should that continue through the end of his spring campaign, he will at least begin the year in the bullpen and, if Straily struggles, he will be the first in line to take the final rotation spot.

 

 

Jose Urena Coming off a 4 IP, 3 H, 4 BB, 4 K effort, his longest and best of four so far this spring. Throughout his career, Urena has had trouble stringing outs together and getting settled in to his starts. That has been the theme for him again this spring and in this game (although it was decent and he limited damage). He allowed a baserunner in each of his four innings and worked into a lot of deep counts. While Urena may still have a slight chance to start as a last resort or on a team with horrendous starting pitching depth (like your 2017 Miami Marlins), his control issues and tendency to overthrow paint him as a future mop-up and middle reliever. As of this moment, Urena is most likely a candidate to start the year back in AAA but could be up sometime this year in that capacity.

Cuts: Jarlin Garcia, Dillon Peters

2017 Spring Training Power Rankings

We are eight games in to the 27 game spring training ledger and Opening Day roster battles are in full swing. Here is a look at who’s hot and who’s not in Marlins camp among those vying to have their name announced and line up along Marlins’ Park’s baselines on April 11.

Fourth Bench Spot

Miguel Rojas Hitting .375/.353/.813 in first eight games, 16 AB and has most recent MLB experience. Also has the most positional flexibility with eligibility at first, second, third, shortstop and left field. He suffered an injury this week when a throw to second from Tomas Telis took a bad hop off wet ground and hit him in the face. He underwent concussion tests as well as other examinations. Everything came back negative. He is the odds-on favorite to win the final bench job, as long as his bat stays hot.

 

Matt Juengel The Marlins’ 24th round draft pick from 2012. After a .284/.304/.378 21 game start to the year in AA, he spent most of last season hitting .263/.325/.431 with 11 homers. His combined 132 game, .266/.322/.423 campaign was his best since his days in low A. Quite possibly the most disciplined hitter of anyone in the running for this final bench spot, he has a career 1.99 K/BB. This spring, he is off to a .313/.421/.375 start with a 3/3 K/BB and has reached in six of his 10 appearances. Primarily a rangey 3B with a decent arm but has eligibility at 1B in LF. Also has experience in CF and RF. The most positionally flexible of all candidates after Rojas, if Juengel keeps showing off his all fields plus power bat, he’ll be the next guy in line should anything go awry with the Opening Day roster.

 

Brian Anderson The Marlins’ best positional prospect is not-so-arguably enjoying the best spring of all Marlins’ NRIs. Hitting .421/.421/.789 with four doubles and a homer in his first 19 ABs, he’s reached base safely in eight of 11 games. Has also flashed great range at third especially for a 6’3″, 185 pounder due to good reads off the bat and a quick first step to the ball. Throwing arm is strong but still inaccurate as it has been throughout most of his minor league career including last season when he committed 27 errors. Also has eligibility at second base but power and size project best as future 1B.

Despite great showing this spring, he’s still only played 85 games above A ball so making the Opening Day roster is probably out of the question. However, if Anderson continues to hit in the upper minors and if the Marlins’ experiment platooning J.T. Realmuto with Justin Bour at first and sacrificing offense behind the plate by forcing A.J. Ellis into more starts doesn’t work out, Anderson, who has absolutely crushed lefties in his career in the minors (360+/.430+/.520+ including .303/.370/.500 last year) should be next in line after Rojas and Moore to platoon at 1B. Therefore, don’t be surprised if you see the 23-year-old at Marlins Park sooner rather than later.

 

Tyler Moore Signed by Miami after electing free agency from the Braves where he most recently had an injury hampered .229/.276/.375 campaign between AAA and rehabilitation rookie ball which came after he missed nearly all of 2015 due to a left ankle sprain, a fully healthy Moore has made a name for himself in a Marlins’ uniform on the early spring. Hit home runs in each of his first two spring training appearances and went on to reach base in four of his last seven appearances. Hitting .333/.368/.833 overall. Going off recent history, he is a health risk and has minimal positional flexibility, limited to 1B and LF. However, he’s a .290+ BA, .350+ OBP, .560+ SLG minor league bat against lefties who could serve as a platoon partner at 1B and/or heavy late game bat at some point this season.

 

Matt den Dekker Fifth round signee by the Mets out of the University of Florida and the SEC in 2010. Once a highly regarded prospect but suffered the fate of a quadruple A player, hitting .272/.339/.440 in his MiLB career but just .236/.318/.359 in his 154 game Major League career thus far. Released by the Nationals after being DFA’d and outrighted last year; signed with the Marlins as a free agent. With a career .988 fielding percentage and a 2.27 range factor on top of 29 assists, den Dekker is a more than solid defensive center fielder who also has eligibility at the corner outfield spots. Has sub-par career numbers anywhere above the AA level. Performed decently early in spring, reaching base in five of his first 11 appearances but starting games for Christian Yelich who is playing in the WBC, has since gone ice cold, going 0 for his last 8. Will need to pick it up a bit with the bat but his defensive prowess makes him a candidate to crack the Opening Day roster as a late game replacement and lefty bat off the bench.

 

Yefri Perez The fastest man the Marlins have ever seen as he proved last year when he made his MLB debut, nearly exclusively as a pinch runner, getting just two turns to bat in 12 game appearances. Next to Rojas, he has the most positional availability out of anyone going out for this roster spot, eligible at second, short, left and center. However, he’s just 2-17 this spring. He should be included in the next round of cuts. That being said, Yefri vastly improved his patience at the plate last year in AA, improving his walk rate to 10.3%, nearly double the 5.5% mark he posted in A+ in 2015. Preceeding that, he also had a great showing in the Arizona Fall League, slashing .270/.349/.297 with a 10.8% walk rate and of course, in true Yefri fashion, seven steals in 18 games. Despite getting just the two ABs, it would appear as though being in a MLB clubhouse worked wonders for the speedster who will return to AA this year. Should he continue to find his way on base as a Jumbo Shrimp, the 26-year-old could be back with the Marlins sometime this year, this time in a much more complete bench player capacity.

 

Brandon Barnes Minor league free agent signee who has had a respectable power producing .260/.320/.437, 99 homer minor league career but translated it to just a .242/.289/.356 major league career in which he has posted a putrid 5.6 K/BB% over 1,153 ABs. 2-19 with eight Ks so far in spring training. Limited to the outfield. He along with his many tattoos will be sent to AAA shortly.

 

Fifth Starter

Dan Straily The return piece in the Marlins’ late offseason trade that was very fortunate to have the season he had last year in Cincinatti. His luck was first proven by his ability to somehow hold down a 2.90 ERA by way of a .197 BAA and a .212 BABIP at one of the most hitter friendly parks in the league (versus a much more Dan Straily like and much more realistic 4.70 ERA via a .242 BAA and .269 BABIP on the road). This spring, his luck last year is being proven by his early allowance of four runs off two homers in just 2.2 IP. Since he came at the expense of the Marlins’ second best pitching prospect Luis Castillo, he will probably be given a long leash and stick around until the very end of spring training, but with a straight fastball that barely touches 90 and breaking pitches which he can’t command low in the zone, Straily will either start the season in AAA or be sent there not long after the season starts, the product of another doozy by Michael Hill.

 

Jarlin Garcia The Marlins’ third best pitching prospect entering 2017, he missed time with an injury in 2016 when the Marlins called him up to the majors following a 4.04 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, .239 BAA start just to keep him on the bench for nine days. Upon his return to AA, the Suns tried to ease him back into action but his second time back out, he went down with an injury that would cost him two months. He spent the rest of the season in the GCL and in Jupiter getting back in to shape. He arrived at spring training this year back at 100% and has had a good start (albeit in very limited action), not allowing a run over his first three appearances, all which lasted a single inning. He’s fun to watch on the mound, winding up slowly before exploding through his delivery which generates mid-upper 90s heat. He shows a good velo range, dropping his piggybacking changeup and best breaking pitch down about 10 miles an hour and mixes in a power curve which he needs to develop a better feel for and throw it from more consistent release points. The Marlins are probably going to take it easy with Garcia who has thrown in just 16 games above A ball. However, while it is possible that Garcia’s long term future is in the bullpen, the Marlins, with very little MLB ready rotational depth to speak of, could give Garcia a shot at the back end if he gets back on track in the upper minors to start the year and as soon as the Dan Straily experiment fails.

 

Justin Nicolino 6’3″ 200 pound lefty who was once a promising prospect, appearing inside the Marlins’ top 10 prospects every year from 2013-2015. Made his MLB debut in the last of those seasons, tossing to the tune of a decent 4.01 ERA and 1.24 in 12 starts. Started 2016 in AAA where he was very good. Despite a somewhat embellished 4.13 ERA, he held down a 1.18 WHIP and a 49/13 K/BB, warranting another call to the majors. However, upon his second arrival in as many years in Miami, that’s when Nicolino took a turn for the worst. In 18 games (13 starts) and 79.1 IP with the Marlins, he was lit up to the tune of a 4.99 ERA by way of a .307 BAA and 1.46 WHIP. He walked 20 while striking out just 37. His woes have continued this early spring as he’s allowed six runs on nine hits in 4.1 innings. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why things have gone so far downhill for Nicolino. His reputation for having impeccable control has followed him to the majors where he limited walks to 2.4 per nine innings in 2015 and improved that metric slightly to 2.4 in 2016.


One explanation for his struggles though may lie in his command. Not being a guy who is going to blow any of his pitches which barely reach 90 past anyone, Nicolino has to be a guy who keeps the ball low in order to generate weak contact. Most of the way through the minors and in his first 12 MLB appearances, the 6’3″ hurler, throwing from a downward plane, did that advantageously. However, according to his heat maps, this past year, he threw from a much more vertical stature and hit the middle and upper half of the zone much more frequently, leading his 22.7% soft contact rate to drop to 15.4%, his medium contact rate to rise from 47.1% to 51.7% and his hard contact rate to jump from 30.2% to 32.9%. He’s still just 25 so his stone isn’t cast and there’s still time for him to go to the minors and rectify his delivery problems. However, the ceiling he once had as a top end starter is probably out of reach. At this point, he’s more of a 4-5 starter or even more realistically, a long relief bullpen option.

 

Jeff Locke Acquired in the offseason as a free agent from the Pirates. A 3.63 ERA, 1.271 WHIP, 3.22 career minor leaguer, had a solid first full season in the majors in 2013, posting a 10-7 record in 30 starts with a 3.52 ERA via a 4.03 FIP and making the All-Star Game. However, that’s also when his control problems began. Having never posted a walk rate above 3% in his career, that metric ballooned to nearly 5%. In 2014, Locke was in the strike zone much more often but judging by his walk rate shrinking down to 2.74% but judging by his allowance of more than a homer per nine innings and on 13% of his fly balls, he was getting way too much of the zone. You wouldn’t know it if you judged him by his 4.49 ERA but going on his peripherals, 2015 was Locke’s best season. That year, his walk rate normalized back to 3.21 but his K rate improved to 6.9%, a MLB career high, his HR/9 shrunk back down to 0.8. Despite a heightened .312 BABIP, he held down a 3.95 FIP and was a 1.6 WAR pitcher. Locke’s slow but steady improvement in getting his walks in check while also improving his command to become the guy he was two years ago can be attributed to then Pirates’ special assistant to the GM and renowned “pitcher whisperer”, Jim Benedict. It is that version of Locke the Marlins hope can be brought back by Benedict who was hired away from the Pirates by Miami last year. What the Marlins don’t to see is the Locke that struggled mightily without Benedict last season, the Locke that only struck out 5% of his hitters while walking 3.3% of them, allowed hard contact at a career high 30% rate while inducing weak contact outs at a career low 16% rate, and had a 5.44 ERA (seventh highest in baseball) by way of a 4.84 FIP and 1.53 WHIP (10th highest in MLB).

It was the Marlins’ hope when signing Locke that being reunited with Benedict would bring Locke circa 2015 back but this spring, it hasn’t happened. A lot of the reason for that is because Locke suffered a throwing shoulder injury early in spring training workouts that required an MRI and revealed tendinitis. However, since starting to throw again last week, Locke has apparently not shown much, causing Don Mattingly to label him as “a guy we just don’t think is ready“. Even though he just arrived in Miami and hasn’t thrown much since doing so, there’s still doubt surrounding the possibility of even Benedict fixing the 29-year-old for a second time, at least in getting him back into rotational capacity.

While he may never get back into a MLB rotation, Locke isn’t a complete lost cause. Despite his overall horrible 2016, he finished the year in the bullpen where he held down respectable numbers, including a 3.38 ERA and a 3.0 K/BB. Though he will probably start the year in New Orleans due to all of the missed time with injury this spring, he adds another lefty arm to the Marlins’ great relief depth. After getting back in shape in AAA and hopefully making a smooth transition to a full-time pen role, a process that will undoubtedly be aided by Benedict, Locke should make his Marlins’ debut out of the pen this season with the possiblity of seeing some spot starts. As for an Opening Day job though, he’s completely out of the running.