Prospect Profiles: Harrison White

The MLB draft is an experience that can either be the highest of highs or the lowest of lows, especially for a ballplayer in the middle of his collegiate graduation season. In 2016, Harrison White felt both ends of that spectrum.

“To be completely honest, I remember telling someone a couple days before the draft that we had a better chance of the ceiling falling in on us than me being drafted. It wasn’t that I didn’t have confidence in myself as a player, but I hadn’t received any contact whatsoever from anyone affiliated with pro ball or indy ball,” White divulged. “After my final game in college, I broke down in tears in right field after our team meeting because I thought my baseball career was over. Every time I think about that moment, the emotions come rushing back to me.”

It wasn’t that White couldn’t do great things outside of the baseball world. After all, he went to Yale and graduated with a major in political science and a would-be minor in pre-med (Yale doesn’t provide minor degrees). However, baseball was always Harrison’s first love and, if given the chance, he would commit to giving his heart to it.

“I realized that doing what you love is an absolute necessity. And I’m doing it,” White said.

White is still doing what he loves after he was selected by the Marlins in round 31 with pick number 929 of 1,215. White, who was busy preparing himself for life away from the game, didn’t even hear his own name called. Instead, it was a former teammate and fellow draftee who told him the news that fateful day, June 14, 2017.

“I was in my car and my buddy Richard Slenker, who was drafted a couple rounds earlier by the Astros, called me. I expected he was calling me to thank me for congratulating him on getting drafted, but when I answered the phone, he yelled, “Congrats dude! You just got drafted by the Marlins!” So I immediately went on my phone and checked the draft tracker and, sure enough, there was my name,” White said. “Words can’t express the thrill I felt in that moment, especially after thinking my baseball career was done forever. I think that was the first time in my life I’d ever felt shock and I still get goosebumps when I tell that story.”

When he wasn’t reviewing Supreme Court decisions, turning the pages of Marx, Locke and Paine and/or prepping for the MCAT, White spent his time at Yale on the baseball diamond slashing .289/.374/.404 with 26 career doubles and a 114/56 K/BB. A guy who went from a .266/.356/.297 slash line in his first 26 games at the collegiate level all the way up to a .293/.369/.479 line in his junior season and rounded it his tenure out by posting a career high .380 OBP via a 13.51 walk rate and getting his attached to an Ivy League championship, White lends his growth as a hitter at Yale to the attentiveness of his hitting coach Tucker Frawley.

”[Frawley] was really into statistics and metrics – what types of changes made each player attain the highest exit velocity at the plate and what made each player field the ball with the highest efficiency, that kind of thing,” White said. “I definitely started thinking about the game a little differently because of that.”

In addition to the positive impact Guarino left on him via his knowledge of the analytical side of the game, White says his time at Yale was paramount in teaching him the intangibles and in — you guessed, Ivy League aficionados — making him a more astute and heady player.

“On top of all the metrics, I think the four years of college ball I played only helped me develop a higher baseball IQ,” White said. “You can talk about metrics and do everything in your power to optimize them but at the end of the day you still need to know how to play the game and play it smart and I think my time in college helped me develop in that aspect.”

While posting respectable numbers at the plate, White also built positional flexibility by moving from the infield to the outfield, a process he describes as new and unique but overall, natural and comfortable.

“My entire life I played infield. I really don’t think I even logged an inning in the outfield until the season between my sophomore and junior years at Yale,” White said. “That transition was pretty easy, though. I worked hard in the off season, played every summer ball game in the outfield, took extra fungoes, and watched lots of videos of Mike Trout and Kevin Kiermaier. The toughest part was learning the new footwork for fielding out there as opposed to the infield. Fly ball reads, line drive reads, all that stuff – it came pretty easily to me. By no means was I perfect from the start but by the time my junior season at Yale came around, I was comfortable in right field.”

White rode his solid college career into the professional ranks last season with the Marlins. There in Batavia, he proved that his catalytic type offensive skill set wasn’t exclusive to the collegiate ranks nor to metal bat hitting. As a Muckdog, he slashed .280/.379/.348, almost identical to the .285/.380./.386 line he posted in his senior year as a Bulldog. According to White, his ability to turn in the same quality numbers despite the change in competition level which lead to the late-round pick opening eyes both inside the organization and out was a product of him staying within himself and not allowing himself to become hurried in his further development. However, he also felt as though he had something to prove. According to White, that’s what has kept him grinding.

“I really tried to minimize the pressure I put on myself by reminding myself that I was a late round pick from Yale that I don’t think many people thought could be a serious player. Obviously I was drafted for a reason, but there were a variety of labels on me that signaled to everyone else not to expect much from me as a player,” White said. “I took that mindset into the season and sought to disprove those labels. If I didn’t do well, fine. That’s sort of what everyone expected. But if I did do well, then maybe I’d have a chance to open some eyes and get myself noticed.”

As content as he was with his output in his rookie campaign, White understands there’s still a ton of work to be done for him to become a standout prospect. He intends to bring the same compete level this year as he continues to build toward his future.

“I’m happy that I was able to do what I did but by no means am I satisfied,”, White said. “Last season is last season and I can’t rest on a decent performance in 2017. I need to continue to make a name for myself this season.”

Overall, White is a contact-first threat who possesses a good eye, a good barrel path to the ball and extremely quick hands, giving him the ability to get inside any pitch. He also has the ability to adjust his approach anywhere in the count, making him an advantageous two hole hitter that reaches base for power behind him. For the often power-needy Yale during his tenure there, White was often moved around and pressed into action spots that did not necessarily match his skill set, which might’ve cost him some points off his average and OBP. Now back in his proper element, White is clear as to what his role is in the offense and plans to let his natural abilities as a count working line drive hitting run scoring on base spark plug take over full time.

“Ideally, I’d like to hit second. That’s been my favorite spot in the lineup since I was 12. That said, I also see myself as a leadoff hitter as long as I continue to work on my speed and get faster and also as a bottom of the order, 8 or 9 type of guy. I’m a table setter,” White said. “At Yale, I was more of a middle of the order, drive in runs and split gaps kind of guy who was also expected to put a few balls out of the yard each year. I think the biggest transition from Yale to pro ball was realizing that I’m not supposed to be a power guy. That’s not my role. If I run into a ball now and again and it happens to sail out, fantastic. But that’s not my game. I’m going to leave that to the guys that are over 6 feet. My goal this year is to focus on line drives with backspin to all parts of the yard. Hopefully that will lead to a consistent and successful season in Greensboro.”

White is a small but athletic 5’11, 175 lefty hitter who gets low in a semi-split stance, minimizing a strike zone that he knows very well. Early in ABs, he gets ahead in the count almost exclusively and from there, lets his body go to work for him. Despite being undersized he gets his entire frame involved in his approach, stepping into the ball nicely from a slightly off-center and backloaded split stance on pitches on the outer half and shows the ability to shorten up and get inside pitches thanks to quick and strong hands on the inner half. After a small front foot timing trigger, White engages a quick straight through line drive cut with excellent speed, allowing him to wait out the break on pitches advantageously. White’s knack for finding the proper path to the ball that allows him to put tons of balls in play including many of them on the ground and his plus speed make him a challenging out an on-base threat nearly every every time he puts wood on leather. One area of focus for White should be in replicating the great vision and line of sight and solid contact he shows against righties to his ABs vs same side pitching. Last season, nearly all of his success came against righties (101 ABs, 337/.417/.426 17/14 K/BB) while his 31 ABs against lefties (small sample aside) were nearly a total bust (.097/.263/.097, 15/7 K/BB). However, with more professional experience and coaching, this issue should rectify itself.

Defensively, White played a fine right field both in college where his strong arm actually even earned him some time pitching and in Batavia last year where he committed just three errors in 32 games. However, given his offensive background and the fact that he has good range to both sides I would expect White to make the transition out of a power heavy defensive position and back to his natural spot on the infield at shortstop. Though he hasn’t played it much since high school, White says with some reconditioning and practice, he’d welcome the switch back to the infield and believes it would be good for his career to prove he could be more versatile.

“I’d be fine with that. I love the infield,” White said. “I’d need a little while to get back in the groove and work on taking grounders but I’d definitely be excited to show everyone I have another facet to my game.”

Although he has a ways to go in his development, White is a possible diamond-in-the-rough type find by the Marlins. His floor should be placed at a super-utility type bench player and his ceiling should be that of a 70 grade for average threat and similarly graded defender. An extremely humble kid with leadership qualities by way of an outgoing, infectious personality which makes him a fantastic team player and with great athleticism and the raw tools to match it, if White turns puts in similar work and output as last season in what should be his first full pro year this year in Greensboro, he won’t fly under the radar much longer.


2018 Mid-Spring Training Power Rankings

Once again, Miami has become the most opportunistic place for a young player to call home. After a busy offseason in which they sold off nearly all of their biggest names (again), the club is in the midst of a spring campaign in which multiple starting and bench positions still needing filling. With just 19 locks for the 25 man roster, of the 53 players remaining in camp, many of them still have a good chance at cracking the Opening Day roster.

The last time the franchise re-branded, the careers of players such as Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and Scott Olsen were jump-started. Who will it be this time? Halfway into spring training and after the first round of cuts, favorites have begun to emerge. In this installment of Spring Training Power Rankings, we take a look at those who have made a good first impression upon Mike Hill, Don Mattingly and the rest of the Marlins brass as well as those who in some cases are surprisingly facing an uphill battle.

Final Bench Spot

Peter Mooney 17 G, 9-26, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 2/2 K/BB, .320/.393/.360

Despite a rough full season in AAA last year that amounted to a lowly .213/.290/.308 slash line, Peter Mooney has showed up at camp this year, hit in eight of his first 17 games including a string of four straight and reached base in nine of them. Looking at Mooney’s career walk rate of 11% including 9.5% last year and his career 1.11 K/BB including 1.44 last year, its easy to see Mooney is an extremely patient hitter and an annoyingly pesky guy for opposing pitchers to face. Standing just 5’6″, the left-handed Mooney cuts down on an already small strike zone by getting low in his stance and makes his living fighting off tough pitches and waiting out others in route to wearing you down and forcing you into making a mistake. It is the perfect resume for a guy at the back of the bench you can throw in many situations whether it be to jump-start a rally, wear down a cruising starting pitcher or finish off a game. The biggest hitch in Mooney’s game has been poor bat-to-ball skills a hinderance made possible by subpar bat speed. Despite almost always swinging at good pitches to hit, Mooney misses barrels and instead hits the ball off the ends of the bat, leading to weakly hit ground balls. Without the speed to beat them out, Mooney has most often been a ground out victim. This is made relevant by his career 1.13 ground out/air out ratio and a BABIP that has never failed to fall short of .300 and stood at a career low .243 in AAA last season. However, last season in the Arizona Fall League against some of the league’s top young pitching talent, Mooney hit .278 over 80 ABs and has continued that type of production into Marlins’ camp this spring so it is also evident that Mooney has made some type of positive adjustment.

Mooney, a Lake Worth, FL native, is also a versatile infielder who does his best work at second base due to just average range at shortstop but with a strong arm, can also slot in at third base. His glove would be good insurance for Starlin Castro, who has a career -12 defensive runs saved, including -6 last season at second.

Cristhian Adames 15 G, 6-21, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2/4 K/BB, .286/.348/.333

With starting shortstop JT Riddle still on the shelf recovering from the same shoulder injury that ended his 2017 season and Miguel Rojas struggling out of the gate, Cristhian Adames has jumped on the chance the Marlins gave him when they signed him as depth and insurance as a minor league free agent out of Colorado this past December and the opportunity they continue to give him as he has become a familiar face in in-game action this spring. Adames comes to the Marlins looking to shake the audacious title of AAAA player, a moniker he has unfortunately spent the past three seasons earning. Despite slashing an impressive .299/.351/.447 with 23 homers and 117 RBIs from 2014-present, Adames has only managed a meager .206/.283/.278 line in 166 MLB contests over that same span. However, sample size aside, Adames, who has reached base in six of his first 13 games and flashed some nice leather at multiple infield positions, has so far looked like the Marlins’ best bet to come off the bench late in games and slot in on days off for starters.

Scouted as an instictive fielder with good versatility and eligibility at three infield spots and quite possibly in the outfield (though he has yet to play there yet in his career), plus-plus glovework, a standout arm and average range, Adames spent most his career in Colorado’s system on the heels of their now superstar shortstop Trevor Story level for level up the promotional ladder. In his most lengthy MLB look in 2016, a look he earned after winning a primary bench spot out of camp, despite preseason Steamer (.279/.324/.375) and PECOTA (.273/.313/.379) projections expecting him to be quite the contributor, Adames appears to have hit a major snag managing just a .218/.304/.302 line. However, judging by his 9.4% walk rate, the highest he’s posted since rookie ball, and .267 BABIP despite hitting at Coors Field, it appears as though Adames made the mistake of drinking Jobu’s rum just before the season began. Only that could explain such an unlucky anomoly campaign at the plate. Judging by reports and the rest of the wiry 6’0″, 185 Adames’ career numbers, he’s not a guy who will blow you away with power (though, judging by last year’s 11 homers and .461 SLG, he may have found some hidden muscle) but rather a guy who will do just enough to get by offensively, posting Mendoza line type numbers via average bat-to-ball skills, a shortened approach and swing and a pesky hitter’s eye while he anchors his defensive position (wherever that may be) and then some. Look at Adames as a Adeiny Hechavarria-light: little offensive production but a viable late inning defensive replacement off the bench. Over the course of a full season, I like what his ZiPS projections are saying for him this year: .232/.287/.341, 30 BB, 89 K, 4.0 dWAR.

Yadiel Rivera 16 G, 6-23, 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 3/4 K/BB, .261/.370/.391

Rivera is another free-agent depth signee from this offseason who like Adames, has managed to turn some heads early in camp. Though he is not known for his offensive exports, Rivera has shown good plate discipline and an extremely quick bat, hitting in five of his 16 appearances including at one point three straight. A guy who struck out an egregious 106 times to walking just 30 times last year between AA and AAA, he has even managed to walk more times than he has K’d which at any sample size, is an accomplishment for a career 4.21 K/BB guy. What Rivera is known for is his fantastic work in the field. Able to play any spot in the infield, Rivera exhibits great vision off the bat and an almost natural correct first step to the ball. Rarely the victim of a misplay, can get equally high and low on anything hit in his direction and has equally great range to both his left and right. Rivera’s arm is similarly impressive as he has proven he can go across his body and range deep into holes and still get the ball to his decisive base, a decision which is almost always the correct one. As good as all his tools are, Rivera’s best asset may be his athleticism. He isn’t afraid to put his body on the line to get to his spot on the field and he quite frequently dazzles with his ability to make any play. An innings eater and a guy who can be called upon to preserve small leads, Rivera is perfect bench material. If he doesn’t make the team out of camp, he will definitely be keeping his phone charged while in AAA.

Off: Eric Campbell, Isan Diaz
Johnny Giovatella, Jonathan Rodriguez

Fourth Outfielder

Isaac Galloway 13 G, 8-20, 2 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 1/3 K/BB, 2 SB, .400/.429/.600

A Marlins draftee from 2008, Galloway is one of the longest tenured members in the Marlins’ organization. Despite some pretty disappointing seasons over that stretch including a 2016 campaign in which he slashed just .254/.312/.374 with a 112/31 K/BB in 129 games and an injury-hampered 2017 season in which he only appeared in a total of 49 games between AAA and rookie ball, the Marlins have stayed committed to the now 28-year-old outfielder. This spring, Galloway is proving he still has something of value to give back to the organization in return for their confidence in him. Over his first 20 spring ABs, Galloway is the best hitting player in camp among those who have gotten that many chances in the box. He’s also one of just two players in camp to have stolen multiple bases thus far.

A 6’2″, 205 specimen, Galloway’s biggest hitch has always been his plate discipline and his struggles with the strikeout. In his 10 year minor league career, he owns a hideous 5.76 K/BB. However, when Galloway does put bat to ball which he has done so more often than not this spring, he’s a threat for extra bases every time, whether it be by reading the ball well off his bat or whether it be by using his still plus-plus-plus jets to swipe bases. A stolen base threat that has a career 70% success rate in 201 attempts, Galloway is nearly impossible to contain when he doesn’t contain himself. When he barrels up, Galloway quite surprisingly has some plus pop and the ability to reach the fences. However, he could use to find a more happy medium and learn to trust his tools more. Galloway can do this by learning to swing with less of an upper-cut stroke that can more often than not get extremely long. This is evidenced by Galloway’s 0.90 GO/AO rate. Watching him this spring, Galloway’s cut has been much more lateral through the zone which has been a catalyst in his early success. If he can continue to be coached to swing with more of a straight through line drive cut, get on base any way and let his feet go to work for him from there, Galloway is perfect fourth outfielder material and a huge weapon off the bench.

J.B. Shuck 14 G, 8-22, 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 2/2 K/BB, .364/.417/.545

Shuck is a long-time minor league journeyman who comes to Miami, his fifth organisation seven years, as a minor league free agent. The latest exports from the 30-year-old Shuck were 123 games worth of a .259/.325/.368 slash line and a 43/41 K/BB in AAA. His latest MLB product was a .205/.248/.299 line over 80 ABs with the White Sox in 2016. Always a good performer in spring training (career .298/.334/.395), Shuck has gotten off to a similar start in his career as a Marlin. Mr. March as it were, Shuck has hit in six of his first 14 games and reached in eight of them. He’s also doubled and homered. If there were ever a prime example for why a lot of stock should not be put into spring training stats, Shuck is it. Despite his somewhat respectable career .729 OPS in the preseason, Shuck, drafted in 2008, is a lifetime .627 MLB OPS in 363 career appearances. However, with the depth-poor Marlins, Shuck may have found the perfect place to revive his career as a pro. A 5’1″, 195 hitter, Shuck is a lefty who has seen same-side pitching well in his short big league career (117 AB, .289/.345/.358) and who, last season in AAA, slugged .403 against right handed pitching with 30 XBH. A good gap finder when he finds advantageous wood and a good enough eye to make his pitcher work as well as an average defender at all three outfield spots, Shuck is the kind of guy who could make the roster in allowance of the further development of the Marlins’ top prospects.

Braxton Lee 14 G, 7-22, 1 RBI, 3/5 K/BB, 4 SB, .318/.400/.318

The top prospects spoken of above start with Braxton Lee. 24 years old, Lee came to the Marlins in the trade that sent Adeiny Hechavarria to the Rays. Lee, hitting .321/.391/.401 at the time of the trade, took the change of scenery in stride and didn’t miss a beat as he hit .294/.398/.364 in his first 60 Marlins’ affiliated games with the Jumbo Shrimp. A lock to make the Opening Day roster as well as the Opening Day lineup all the way up until last month, Lee was pushed out of the starting lineup when the Marlins re-acquired Cameron Maybin. At this point, as well as Lee has been performing in spring training, it doesn’t make much sense to relegate him to a bench role and makes much more sense to continue to feed him innings in the minors in order to iron out the rest of his game. Look for Lee, a future top of the order bat, to return to the minors and perfect virtually the only hiccup in his performance last year: a 1.6 K/BB made possible by his ability to over-pursue early in counts. That said, this will definitely not be the last we have heard of Lee in a Marlins’ uniform this season and in the future.

Scott Van Slyke 15 G, 8-28, 1 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 3/8 K/BB, .286/.355/.607

Van Slyke made quite the first impression on the Marlins, homering twice in the club’s first spring game. However, since that day and the two following it which all in all amounted to a 4-6, 2 HR, 4 XBH, 7 RBI start to his campaign, the gargantuan 6’4″, 215 Van Slyke, son of former Dodger Andy Van Slyke, has fizzled out, going just 2 for his last 21. Unfortunately for Van Slyke, fizzling out has been exactly what his career has been doing since 2016. After an incredible 60 game performance in AAA in 2013, he cracked the Majors for the first time with the Dodgers and made an immediate impact, slamming six homers in his first 19 games. In 2014, Van Slyke, in his age 27 season, made the Dodgers’ 25-man roster out of camp and posted an impressive .910 OPS in 98 games while platooning with Carl Crawford and filling in for Andre Ethier. Van Slyke easily made the Dodgers roster in 2015 and appeared in another 96 games. However, that’s when his injury troubles began. In June, he first hit the shelf with a sore back. Despite returning two weeks later, he was never quite the same and it showed in his performance. After a .239/.317/.383 2015, Van Slyke hit the shelf again with the same back injury in early 2016. This time, he missed nearly two months. At the end of the 2016 season, Van Slyke took another trip to the DL with a wrist injury. He ended the year on the 60-day DL. Last year, Van Slyke hit a combined .222/.317/.365 with the Dodgers and Reds, whom he was traded to in the deal that brought Tony Cingrani to LA. The Marlins signed him after he elected for free agency upon being DFA’d in August. He comes to the Fish as a boom-or-bust option off the bench.

So far this spring, he has been a little bit of both. What will hurt Van Slyke in his crusade to make the Opening Day roster is his injury history and positional inflexibility (he can only play LF and 1B). Despite the hot start, the 31-year-old will really need to turn it on again in the second half to avoid another trip to AAA.

Cuts: Monte Harrison

Starting Rotation (2 spots)


Sandy Alcantara 4 G, 12 IP, 7 H, 4 R (3 ER), 2 HR, 3 BB, 7 K, 2.25 ERA, 0.83 WHIP

Alcantara is the other prime piece in the trade with the Cardinals for Marcell Ozuna. A tall and slender 6’4″, 170 specimen, Alcantara gets the most out of his body, throwing from an extremely high downward plane, hiding the ball well, and sneaking up on hitters with his drop into the zone. He is free and easy in his repeatable delivery generates simple velocity on his heat which usually sits in the 94-95 MPH range but which he can ramp all the way up near triple digits when necessary. Sierra’s second pitch is a sinker that sits on average at 93 but can reach 98. The late arm-side run on it is downright filthy when he is commanding it. However, it is very hittable when he isn’t commanding and it floats over the heart of the plate. Alcantara’s third pitch is an 86-90 MPH change which has a lot of effort to it. He throws it with the same arm speed and action as the fastball allowing him to mask it and mix it in advantageously but he also has the tendency to overthrow it, in which case hitters are able to tip and anticipate the break. The rest of his arsenal, an 82-84 MPH power curve and a 83-87 MPH slider, are not much more than get-me-over mix ins right now and as some scouts have mentioned, it would probably be wise for him to pick one to develop and let the other go.

Early this spring, Alcantara has similar command issues, hitting two batters, walking three and giving up two homers but has been equally impressive when he has been on. At this point for the 22-year-old on a Marlins team without much to lose, the thing that is going to help him the most is innings pitched while being coached professionally. With perfected command and with even more velo possible as his body fills out as well as a perfected arsenal of secondaries, this could be a future ace of the Marlins’ staff.

Justin Nicolino 3 G, 6 IP, 5 H, 3 R (2 ER), 1 HR, 2 BB, 6 K, 3.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

For Florida native Justin Nicolino, his first four years in the Miami organization have been a bit of a see-saw battle. After three dominant years in the minors in his first three years with the club which amounted to a 3.12 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 3.03 K/BB in 427.1 IP, Nicolino’s career as a big leaguer began. All in all, it’s been… well… disappointing. As the command artist has struggled with on-and-off command, he’s been hit to the tune of a .297 BAA, a 4.65 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP. Last year, things hit an all-time low for Nicolino as he battled injury and spent the bulk of his season in AAA. Such adversity affected Nicolino greatly and, as Craig Davis writes, despite being the father of a newborn, he never stopped working even if it meant taping a baseball to his hand in order to improve his grip. He’s also resurrected a fourth pitch slider, a pitch he hasn’t thrown since 2013. He’s used it regularly this spring and it plays well off of his running fastball and further sets up the to-contact slow curve.

Out of options, Nicolino realizes this is his make-it-or-break-it window with the Fish. Currently, he’s doing enough to earn a roster spot and at least a handful of regular season starts, but if he falters at all, there’s a ton of depth behind him and a DFA with his name on it.

Elieser Hernandez 4 G, 10 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 1 HR, 0 BB, 9 K, 2.70 ERA, 0.80 WHIP

The depth I speak of starts right here. Elisier Hernandez is a Marlins’ Rule 5 draft pick formerly of the Astros and will need to remain on Miami’s 25-man all season long or be returned to Houston. Hernandez is an interesting guy in that he doesn’t have any one single pitch that really stands out. Rather, he has four average offerings that he gets away with due to a good feel for the game and a head for his craft. A master of mixing pitches even though he lacks much of a velo mix (everything sits between 86-92), Hernandez is a to-contact thrower who owns a rising four seamer which generates weak contact and a ton of weak can-of-corn pop outs. He balances that out with a sinking two seamer that garner him routine ground outs and he turns in swings and misses and the frequent K on a nice out-pitch changeup with arm-side fade. A 3.98 ERA (3.52 FIP) via a 10.52 K/9 and 2.98 walk rate in 63 innings in AA last year despite a slightly high .310 BABIP, Hernandez also stranded 73.0% of his runners, proving he has the composure and command structure to get the job done in any situation. At this point, I foresee Hernandez starting the year in the pen and being the first man to get a shot in the rotation in the not-so-unlikely event of a member of the rotation struggling.

Off: Chris O’Grady, Dillon Peters
Cuts: Merandy Gonzalez, Pablo Lopez, James Needy

Projected Opening Day Roster:

LF Derek Dietrich
CF Lewis Brinson
RF Cameron Maybin
3B Martin Prado *
3B Brian Anderson
1B Justin Bour
1B Garrett Cooper
SS J.T. Riddle
2B Starlin Castro
C J.T. Realmuto
C Tomas Telis
UT Miguel Rojas
BN Peter Mooney
BN Isaac Galloway

RP Brad Ziegler
RP Kyle Barraclough
RP Junichi Tazawa
RP Drew Steckenrider
RP Nick Wittgren
RP Brian Ellington
RP Elieser Hernandez

SP Jose Urena
SP Jarlin Garcia
SP Dan Straily
SP Sandy Alcantara
SP Justin Nicolino

* = player will begin season on DL

Rating The Return: Christian Yelich To Milwaukee For Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, Isan Diaz, Jordan Yamamoto

Christian Yelich got exactly what he wanted: out. At the end of the offseason, Yelich became the last victim (or, if you ask Christian himself, benefactor) of the Marlins’ latest firesale, getting shipped off to Milwaukee for a package of prospects.

Yelich’s relationship with his new bosses started off rocky and quickly deteriorated. After the Giancarlo Stanton trade, Yelich publicly stated that the relationship between he and the team was “irrevocably damaged“. He even threatened to miss a fan-friendly event to which he was contractually obligated. The lay of the land being what it was, there was a very good possibility the Marlins — even though they controlled Yelich until 2023 — were going to be forced to settle for improper value, especially after Yelich, who was expected to compete for last season’s batting title, had a bit of an off year, slashing .282/.369/.439 and posting a 3.9 WAR, down from 5.3 in 2016. Not only did that not happen but Yelich fetched the Marlins a better haul than each of Stanton, Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna.

Lewis Brinson – OF

2017: AAA –  .331/.400/.562, 13 HR, 39 XBH, 62/32 K/BB, 11 SB

The centerpiece of the return is former Brewers’ top prospect, 2017’s #13 overall prospect and undoubtedly new Marlins’ number one prospect, Lewis Brinson. In being traded to the Fish, Brinson returns to his childhood home where he will play for the team he grew up watching. When he wasn’t at Sun Life Stadium, Brinson spent his days at Coral Springs High School where he quickly made his name well known, hitting .473/.623/.872 in his junior year, numbers which earned him district Player Of The Year honors in 2011. At the time, head coach Frank Bumbales saw in his center fielder what has since become evident to the entire baseball world.

“He leads by example,” Bumbales said. “He gives 100%. He’s a really special kid.”

Brinson continued to lead by example in his senior year, hitting .394/.516/.732 in 91 plate appearances, once again leading the Colts to their third straight district title. He graduated with four school records which still stand today: career runs (92), career RBI (95), doubles in a season (13) and RBI in a game (8).

Talking with Brinson’s former teammates, they echo their coach’s sentiments, saying their center fielder was a leader both on and off the field.

“Even though I only played with him for one year, I can honestly say he was one of the best players I’ve ever played with because he knew how to hit homers but he also knew how to find gaps and get around the bases,” Joseph DeMicco said. “But as good as a hitter that he was, he was even better on defense. With he speed, he could get to anything, no matter where it was hit. Anything. And his arm was explosive. Definitely a five tool type guy. I really think Marlins fans are going to like him.”

Dylan Ebel who has known Brinson since middle school praises him for his positive attitude and what he is capable of bringing to a team’s intangibles.

“I first played with him in 8th grade so to see how far he progressed has really been spectacular,” Ebel said. “He always kept his head down and put the work in to get better each and every day. That type of grind and work ethic rubbed off on others on the team, made people just want to be better, play harder and always doing it with a smile.”

Upon graduating as the 16th best overall player and sixth best center field draft prospect nationally as well as the fifth best overall and third best positionally statewide and garnering first team All-American and All-Region honors in 2012, Brinson forwent a four-year commitment to the University Of Florida when he was selected 29th overall by the Texas Rangers.

“I’ve been a Marlins fan growing up, and I still am, but I’m a bigger Texas Rangers fan now,” Brinson said at the time.

Now, Brinson and his fandom are coming home, just in time for his first full Major League season.

Brinson comes to the Marlins after hitting .287/.354/.502 over 2,134 minor league ABs, including .331/.401/.562 in 300 AAA chances last year before making his Major League debut. Once described by scouts as projectible but very raw, Brinson jumped at least one level in each of his minor league seasons and enters spring training as MLB’s 27th best prospect and as a shoe-in candidate to start for the Marlins in center field.

Standing 6’3″, 170, the Tamarac native used to swing from a straight front leg upright stance which caused him to fall off to his left side, limited his plate coverage and made him succeptible to pitches on the outer half. After a 96/33 K/BB season in 2014, Brinson made the adjustment to his current stance, a much more closed approach in which he stays much farther back in the box, his back foot nearly touching the back of it. Since the adjustment, Brinson’s K rate has fallen from 25% to 18% last year. His swing will still get a bit long on quality pitches on a low and outer black but his new stance has improved his plate vision and extension.

What Brinson is yet to acquire in body mass he makes up for with his superior bat speed which allows him to generate easy power. He will occasionally find the fences but will more frequently hit the gaps and from there, let his speed — grade 60 on the 20-80 scale and alotting him a 4.25 second-to-home-to-first time — go to work for him. Brinson still has some work to do, especially in the swing-and-miss department, in order to realize his full potential but recent production has alotted him to surpass boom-or-bust status and enter elite prospect maturation. Place Brinson’s ceiling at Andrew McCutchen-lite and his floor somewhere around Shane Victorino. This year’s PECOTA rankings favor the latter that assessment. Where McCutchen was a 2.5 WAR player last year (and a career 2.5 WAR player), they predict Brinson to hold a 2.8 WAR this season, highest among rookie outfielders. Needless to say, this hometown hero should be a fun player to watch and should be leaned on heavily by the franchise.

Monte Harrison – OF

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

The main accompanyment to Brinson is Monte Harrison. While being two levels lower than Brinson, a fellow outfielder, Harrison proved last year that he is also a potential fellow 20-20 threat and quite possibly is a threat for even more power. Playing between A and A+, Harrison slashed .272/.350/.481 with 21 long balls and 51 total XBHs. He also tore it up on the basepaths to the tune of 27 swiped bags. Much more the physical specimen than Brinson, Harrison stands 6’3″, 220. Still, with a career 87-15 SB/CS (85%), 27 of which came this past year, Harrison manages to be quite nimble on his feet. As phsyically imposing yet still athletic as he is, with a career 28.55 K% and 3.08 K/BB, there’s a lot of work to be done in the upper levels of the minors here. With an inconsistent timing trigger, poor pitch recognition and equally poor plate discipline, he needs to improve top down in his approach. While it’s conceded that he will never be a for-average hitter, Harrison has plenty of projectible talent in his raw power and superb bat speed. If he can learn the zone, improve his vision and gain the ability to hit to his opposite side more often, negating the shift and improving plate coverage, there’s realistic potential for Harrison to become a member of the 30/30 club someday.

Harrison translates his power profile at the plate into a power arm in the outfield. He runs good routes via good reads and a good first step to the ball off the bat and he has more than enough speed to cover any outfield position, disallowing bloop hits and holding virtually anything hit in front of him to a single base. While he’s been a center fielder most frequently in his MiLB career, Harrison projects best as a future every day right fielder. For a ceiling comparison, look somwhere between Yasiel Puig and Justin Upton. Needless to say, Monte Harrison will be the man to watch in Jacksonville this season.

Isan Diaz – SS/2B

2017 (A+) – .222/.234/.376, 13 HR, 33 XBH, 121/62 K/BB, 54 RBI

Diaz is a 2017 second round prep draft pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Springfield, Massachusetts. Diaz moved to the Division I high school to garner more draft attention in his junior season. In his senior year, he did that and more. After a .492/.625/.898 campgaign, he was named Western Massachusetts’ baseball Player of the Year for 2017. Infinitely humble, Diaz gives credence to those closest to him for allowing him to burst onto the national scene that year and take a huge step closer to making his childhood imagery come to life.

“I have to give credit to my supporting cast: my family, my teachers and everyone who helped me. Without them, I wouldn’t have continued to strive to get too where I wanted to get to,” Diaz said. “The constant reminder of making my dream come true and what was in front of me helped a ton.”

After breaking into pro ball as a 17-year-old, Diaz had similar immediate success, charging out of the gate his first three seasons, hitting a combined .291/.377/.515 between the Arizona Fall League and Pioneer League. He then parlayed that into a .264/.359/.469 first full pro season with the Wisconson Timber Rattlers, Milwaukee’s low A affiliate in 2016, his first with the Brewers’ organizaion after he was involved in a trade. These accollades, combined with a total 36 homers and 129 RBI allotted Diaz to climb up to the fifth ranked prospect in the Brewers’ deep system entering 2017, just his age 21 season. That was when Diaz, for the first time in his baseball career, failed to exceed expectations, hitting just .222/.334/.376 with a career hih 26.48 K rate. However, Diaz doesn’t look on last season with feelings of failure. Rather, he chalks it up to a positive part of the maturation process.

“I honestly believe last year was a great learning experience for me, knowing how it feels to have success and how it feels to fail. It’s always fun to succeed but when you fail that’s when you have too still be the same player and still be a great teammate as you were when you were having success,” Diaz said. “I believe I’ll be ready for this season and whatever comes to the table, trying to help the team and be the best teammate I can be both on and off the field.”

You wouldn’t guess it by looking at his 5’10”, 185 pound frame but one of Diaz’s best tools is his power capacity. By getting his entire body involved in his swing, showing good repetition in balancing his load and getting his barrel extended, Diaz has a career 3.12 home run percentage and a career 43.02 XBH percentage. According to Diaz, extra bases aren’t at the forefront of his mind when he’s in the box; it’s just something that occurs on its own.

“I believe that the power is something that comes out naturally,” Diaz said. “I don’t ever try to hit home runs; my main focus is always to reach base and hit the ball hard wherever it’s pitched.”

Unfortunately for Diaz, the good power numbers have come at the cost of a lot of K’s. In each of his last two seasons, he’s racked up over 100 strikeouts. This issue stems from a hole in his approach common to hitters like Diaz who thrive when they can get their arms fully extended and struggle when they get jammed and their eyes are taken away: the inability to cover the up-and-in pitch. Though he concedes strikeouts are something he needs to work on, Diaz still plans on being himself at the plate and keeping his game simple.

“I know it’s something I have to try my best bring down, but I’ve learned that by thinking about strikeouts and trying to not strikeout that’s when you strike out more,” Diaz said. “So my approach stays the same, the only difference now is knowing with two strikes I’m still trying to driving the ball.”

Even though he does have some work to do in the K department, the high numbers in that category shouldn’t be indicative of his plate vision. Instead, refer to Diaz’s nearly equally high walk totals and career walk rate of 12.3%. A good pitch identifier with equally good vision and timing, if Diaz can get his K total in check and continue to improve against lefties (he hit .255 and OPSed .734 against same-side pitching last year despite hitting it at just a .245 BA, .696 OPS in 2016, figures which were aided by a .386 BABIP), there will be nothing working against him reaching his 20/20 type ceiling.

Just four years into his professional baseball career, this is the second time Diaz has been involved in a trade and had his offseason interrupted in order to relocate. However, this time, it’s a small price to pay in exchange for him being much, much closer to his east-coast based support system.

“I’m very excited to be a Marlin and I can’t wait to see this team in a few years to come,” Diaz said. “Playing on the same coast is great you know closer to home, closer to family and just excited to be here and excited for all those who came over in trades as well.”

Overall, Diaz is a very sought after commodity — a power first middle infielder who has above average speed and plays at least average defense. While there is some question as to how Diaz is going to perform after suffering a hamate bone fracture that ended his season last year prematurely and while he will have to repeat single A advanced in Jupiter this season, if he comes back 100%, his swing is unaltered and he learns to cover the upper inside half of the plate a bit better or at least lay off of it and continue to improve against same-side pitching, Diaz could reach his ceiling of Dan Uggla — a player of extremes in the K/BB department but also in the power categories and cornerstone starting second baseman (and fellow jersey number 6) — by 2021, his age 23 season. He will be an interesting prospect to follow.

Jordan Yamamoto – RHP

2017 (A+) – 111 IP, 9-4, 2.51 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 113/30 K/BB, 3.77 K/BB, .280 BABIP

The final return piece in the Yelich trade is righty Jordan Yammamoto, a Hawaiian native, the second in Marlins history after Charlie Hough. He was also the second Hawaiian selected by the Brewers in the 2014 MLB Draft. In the first round that year, Milwaukee selected Yamamoto’s island mate and highly touted lefty Kodi Mederios who at the time of his selection, was already drawing comparisons to Madison Bumgarner. However, when the two met in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I baseball tournament, it was the northerner and Honolulu native Yamamoto who shined brighter.

“It was a high-tension game because Kodi is a great pitcher and I was up for the challenge,” says Yamamoto who threw a two-hit complete game shutout. “It was a game that I think I will hold against him as a friendly joke.”

Through the pair’s first three years in professional ball, despite being drafted eleven rounds later than Mederios, the story has been the same: it’s been Yammamoto who has grown up quicker. Where Mederios has mustered a 5.19 ERA, a 1.51 WHIP and a in 324.1 IP, Yamamoto has held down a 4.19 ERA, a 1.33 WHIP and a 3.60 K/BB in his first 329 IP. However, for Yamamoto, his career hasn’t been trying to outdo anybody. Rather, it has been about learning from his squadmates, letting them learn off of him and most importantly, beinh himself.

“When [Mederios and I] got drafted, it became a helping situation and all we did was push each other to be better. We were roommates for many years and we would try to help each other through it all.” Yamamoto said. “It’s all about staying within myself and not overdoing anything. Be the same pitcher. As in the last years and letting my defense back me up because I believe in my teammates that they will have my back through thick and thin.”

After cutting his teeth in rookie ball in 2015, Yammamoto entered his first full pro season with the low A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in 2016. After coming out of the pen in six of his first nine appearances, Yammamoto transitioned to the rotation full time in mid June. Rather than being snakebitten (pun intended) by the increased workload and amount of innings, a common downfall for many young players in their first full season, Yammamoto didn’t seem to be bothered by either factor. In fact, some of his best work was done in his final four starts of the season, three of which were quality starts and amounted to a total of 23 IP, a 0.78 ERA and a 0.57 WHIP. Collectively that year, Yammamoto held opponents to a minuscule .223 BA and .661 OPS by way of the second most Ks in the Midwest League (152) and its best K/BB% (21.8). His ERA wound up at 3.82, 12th best in his league and his WHIP at 1.20, 7th best. All of this occurred while he was working against the league’s second highest BABIP, a very tough-luck .342.

This past year, Yamamoto jumped up to A+. As his BABIP normalized down to .286, his ERA not only shrunk down to what it should have been last year — proven by his 2.53 FIP in 2016 –, he was even slightly better in disallowing runs, as it came to rest at 2.51, lowest in the Carolina League by more than half a point. Once again, Yamamoto relied heavily on the strikeout, fanning 111 (or 25.2% of his opponents) and his excellent control and command as he gave up walks to just 30 (or 6.7% of his hitters). As much as the strikeout has been a key to his success so far, Yamamoto says he doesn’t go into at-bats looking for a strikeout but rather to induce weak contact. However, if he works himself into a favorable count, Yamamoto says it’s strikeout or bust because as has been the theme throughout his pro career this far, he wants to take the chance he’s obtained through hard work and run with it.

“I do not look for strikeouts; I look for contact because my mentality is that hitters will get themselves out 7/10 times. I do not have overpowering stuff so I just pitch to contact and let my defense back me up because they got my back,” Yamamoto said. “But when I get hitter 0-2/1-2 I tell myself that the hitters can’t get a hit because I worked for this count and I will have to make the most of this opportunity.”

Last year, Yamamoto proved that he can successfully limit contact and damage, his a-priori when a hitter steps into the box. Along with a WHIP that stood at 1.09, third lowest in his league, he stranded 79% of the runners he allowed to reach base, another top mark amongst Carolina League hurlers.

Yamamoto’s arsenal consists of a 92-94 MPH fastball that he can ramp up a bit higher when necessary. It is by far the crux of his arsenal and his most frequently used pitch. It shows good run to both sides of the plate, especially to Yamamoto’s glove side where he flashes his best command. Despite limited size, Yamamoto planes dthe pitch well and can get some sink on it. His first breaker is a 85-88 mph power slider which has good late movement and gives hitters fits when he’s spotting it on the outside corner and. He piggybacks it off his fastball well and will throw both pitches in any count, keeping the opposition guessing. His distant third pitch is an 84-86 MPH changeup. The pitch flashes plus at times with late fade low in the zone. However, Yamamoto will need to develop a better feel and his command over the pitch as he gets ready to enter the upper minors.

Even though it seems Yamamoto was thriving in the Milwaukee system, he finds himself as the receiver of a change of scenery, relocating to South Florida, about as far away as he could possibly be from his home in northern Hawaii. Though he admits that some things will be different now, Yamamoto expresses good understanding for the industrial side of the game and that he can only control what he can control. Despite the relocation, Yamamoto says his effort and drive to improve will be the same in a Marlins’ uniform as it was in both his high school and Brewers uniforms.

“Nothing will be easy from here on out but I will do my best to make the most of the opportunity that has been presented to me,” Yamamoto said. “It is a great place for me. It is a business and like any other jobs, the boss will do what he/she thinks is best for the company. And if they have the belief in me that I can help this organization, then I will do everything in my power to help this organization.”

Look for Yamamoto to begin 2018 in A+ with the Jupiter Hammerheads and possibly be a quick promotee to AA Jacksonville.

Despite the situation with Yelich going bad to worse to getting to the point where they were insufferable from Yelich’s perspective, a fact which he wasn’t afraid to point out to the media, Mike Hill, Derek Jeter and the Marlins surface from the debacle not only getting all they could out of Yelich (especially after a down year statistically), they got an even better return out of him than they got out of the Stanton and Ozuna trades. For coming away with a surefire fan-favorite MLB ready five tool center fielder, a not-too-distant-future 30/30 professional threat, a powerful middle infielder and a ceiling 3-5 starter, this trade passes the grade with flying colors.

Grade: A

Batavia Muckdogs Partnership With Minor League Baseball Primed To End

The city of Batavia, New York has known baseball for over a century. After the founding of a team in the city in 1897 during the playing tenure of Jack Burns, the franchise has seen names such as Doc Ellis, Cito Gaston, Manny Sanguillen, Ned Yost, Andy Ashby, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and, most recently, some of the Marlins’ brightest budding stars don its garb. But despite how rich its history in the game is, the county of Genesee may have seen its last MiLB affiliated game played on its surface at Dwyer Stadium.

Since 2008, the financial funding situation for the Muckdogs has been a unique one. With the team up for sale due to financial losses from the non-profit Genesee County Baseball Club, the nearby Rochester Red Wings volunteered to operate the club.

“The Genesee County Baseball Club became strapped for funds and in order to sae baseball in Batavia, the Red Wings offered to manage the club under Red Wings Management,” Red Wings’ Director of Communications tells us.

In return for running the team, the Red Wings would gain a share of the team’s ownership with each passing year. That share was set to cap at 50% this past season. Despite another very generous offer from the Red Wings to virtually run the team for free, it was decided on December 19 that, with the GCBC unable to satisfy their half of the team ownership agreement, the franchise would be surrendered to the New York Penn League.

“The Red Wings will receive 50% of the sale price (5% per season of operation for a maximum of 10 years,” Rowan said. “We still offered to operate Batavia next season and were denied.”

If a new Muckdogs’ owner cannot be found, the league has stated that there is no guarantee the team will play in 2018. In the ten years the team has been up for sale, only one suitor has come along but was denied purchasing power because of its intent to relocate the franchise to Bowie, Maryland, a territory occupied by the Orioles’ Bowie Baysox.

Lack of interest in buying the Muckdogs may be being driven by the condition of their park, Dwyer Stadium. As a frequent visitor of the park built in 1996 and baseball photographer, Mike Janes points out to us, it isn’t the age of the stadium that is problematic; it is the lack of improvements and upkeep of it that have led baseball fans to seek a more desirable experience.

“Dwyer is a throwback to what Minor League Baseball used to be,” Janes said. “The park doesn’t have a ton of amenities that newer parks have. There is room for improvement throughout but that could be done drastically for very little as compared to building a new stadium somewhere else.”

Going into further detail on the state of Dwyer Stadium, Janes states that the stadium is in definite need of some TLC but also says that all of the improvements needed could be completed at a reasonable cost. Overall, Janes says that although the atmosphere is different from most newer stadiums, it isn’t a long ways off from being a competitor in the crowded northern New England baseball market. However, the financial situation surrounding the team with GCBC operating completely off of donations and volunteer work and the Red Wings running the team at a loss while also having a primary objective to their own baseball team, the work the park needs is simply not monetarily possible. According to Janes, fans have worked together with GCBC in order to give the park the facelift it needs but those efforts always seem to fall by the wayside.

“Dwyer is hard to compare to other places since most others are in bigger cities but even in its current state, it still manages to stack up against others,” Janes said. “In general they need a massive cleaning, painting, many seats need replacing (city put in some new ones few years ago), and just bringing it back to what it should of been all along. Small group of fans have been discussing doing a volunteer cleanup for years, but nothing ever materializes. Auburn which has an identically aged stadium as Batavia uses local prisoners to clean the park. That was also suggested by a season ticket holder but hasn’t happened.”

While the conditions of Dwyer from a fan’s perspective are subpar but not terrible, life through a player’s eyes there is quite grim. As one former Muckdogs player tells us, despite great support from Batavia fans and natives, due to the state of the field and clubhouses at Dwyer, the team perferred and eagerly awaited the occasions they got to play at other New York Penn League venues.

“The people of Batavia are nothing but supportive and invested in us as players and that was really nice to have that support system day in and day out. When we’d walk around town, people would always wish us good luck,” he said. “Other than that, though, the facilities definitely gave us a little extra adversity to deal with compared to some of the other teams in our league. We would always look forward to road trips because the fields we played on when we traveled were almost always better than our home field and the same could be said for the hotels. I really think a move would benefit the club.”

With the decision now in the hands of Minor League Baseball as to the future of the Muckdogs, there is nothing left for the city of Batavia to do but wait. While an exodus by the MiLB from a city and group of fans synonymous with baseball for centuries would be heartbreaking, it wouldn’t necessarily mean the death of the Muckdogs altogether. Because the GCBC own the rights to the team’s name and logo, the ‘Dogs could find partnership in either the independent or amateur ranks. But as for the MiLB, from a business standpoint, if a potential owner does not rear its head and very soon, relocation is hard to argue against. Expect the resolution from the league to be announced in the coming months ahead of the start of the short season in June.

Rating The Return: Dee Gordon To Seattle For Nick Neidert, Robert Dugger, Christopher Torres

Two weeks ago, Derek Jeter and the new Marlins regime began the rebuilding process by trading second baseman Dee Gordon, the final four years of his five year, $50,000,000 contract and international bonus pool cash to the Mariners for three minor leaguers.

Before we look at the pieces coming back to the Marlins, I’d like to pay tribute to one of the most exciting and likable players to ever pull on a Marlins’ jersey. A maximum effort player in every at bat and every inning, Dee leaves the Marlins as the franchise’s second best for-average hitter (.309), its fifth best triples hitter (23), its fourth best stolen base man (148) and eighth best defensive WAR player (2.7). He was also center stage for one of the Marlins’ most magical, storybook moments. On September 26, 2016, the game after Jose Fernandez‘s untimely passing, the left-handed hitting Gordon, wearing Jose’s helmet, stepped into the box right-handed and took the first pitch of the game as tribute to his friend. On the next pitch, this happened.

It is a moment that will live on forever, not only in Marlins lore but in the spirit of baseball, teammateship and the bonds of botherhood it brings forever. For that memory and the many others he brought the Fish, Dee Gordon will forever be enshrined in the minds of Marlins fans everywhere. And we are all grateful to him for that.

Now on to the return, three young men who hope to one day make their own legacy in a Marlins’ uniform.

RHP Nick Neidert

2017 (A+-AA) – 127.2 IP, 3.45 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 122/22 K/BB

The centerpiece of the return, the Mariners’ 2015 second rounder spent most of 2017 in A+ where he racked up 10 wins via a 2.76 ERA and 22.1 K/BB%, all tops in the California League amongst pitchers who tossed at least 100 innings. At the end of the year, he got his feet wet in AA which is where he should begin his Marlins career. Despite limited 6’1″, 200 size, Neidert creates advantageous deception by hiding the ball behind his plant leg and following through to the plate lightning quick. The delivery is extremely fluid, smooth and repeatable which should allow Neidert to continue to work deep into starts.

The 21-year-old has four usable pitches, all of which are either already Major League quality or show similar potential. His heat sits around 90-93 but he can ramp it up to 95 at will. Formerly a straight and narrow offering, Neidert is beginning to plane the pitch, giving it better movement and creating a fifth pitch sink piece, a great commodity for the 3/4 release point control artist he looks to be blossoming into. This past season, improved arm speed allowed Neidert’s 84-87 MPH changeup to move past his 72-76 mph curve as his best offspeed pitch but both offerings have plus-plus potential and give him a nice 20+ mph velo mix. While the 9.4 K/9% Neidert posted in A+ last year should temper a bit when he gets to the upper minors and beyond, his deep arsenal, high arm slot, and pinpoint control give him a great chance to develop into a ceiling 2-3 rotational starter by as early as 2019. Neidert should easily be ranked among the Marlins’ top 10 prospects this coming season.

RHP Robert Dugger

2017 (A-A+) – 117.2 IP, 2.75 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 116/32 K/BB

Dugger is a 22-year-old righty who began his pro career at Cisco Junior College where he was teammates for the first time with Marlins’ draftee James Nelson. He spent two years at Cisco, throwing 133.1 IP and producing a 4.86 ERA. While those numbers don’t fly off the page, he did hold down good control numbers, posting an overall 2.32 K/BB, including a 3.06 marker in his sophomore season. Those figures punched Dugger’s ticket to Texas Tech for 2016. There, against much stronger Big 12 competition, Dugger pitched in relief but also pitched much truer to his potential, holding down a 2.67 ERA over 60.2 innings. The good control persisted as he posted a 54/23 K/BB.

Upon being drafted by the Mariners in the 18th round, Dugger bounced around from rookie ball to A ball to AAA to end his year but most of his time was spent with the Everett AquaSox. There, he made six starts and threw 26.1 IP to the tune of a 5.47 ERA as he clearly went through a stark adjustment process, going from throwing 70 JuCo innings a year previous to throwing the last 38 out of a total of 99 innings against professional hitters who were on average nearly two years his elder. This past season, the Mariners returned Dugger to single A and transitioned him to the bullpen in order to reduce strain on his arm and allow him to work on pitching around the plate rather than living over it. His arsenal features a low-90’s fastball, a high-80’s changeup and a mid-70’s curve. He has a good feel for all three pitches and controls them well, though the release point on the curve is a bit inconsistent at the moment but again, he needs to develop better command if he is to make it as a starter. His biggest hinderance lies in his tendency to fall off to his glove side on the follow-through of his windup delivery. Dugger is much more effective out of the stretch where after a high leg kick, he is extremely quick to the plate. While there is still time for the bespectacled 22-year-old to work on becoming a corner painting Rembrant-style to-contact back end starter, the more likely scenario is that he is converted to a full-time reliever.

SS Christopher Torres

2017 (ROK-A) – .238/.329/.446, 69/28 K/BB, 22 XBH, 14 SB

Torres is a 19-year-old infielder out of the Dominican that had quite the interesting start to his professional career stateside. Then 16, Torres came to America with a deal in place from the New York Yankees for seven figures. However, due to severe weight gain, New York apparently backed out of the deal. The Yankees deny they ever had a deal in place with Torres. Whatever the case, Torres eventually agreed to a deal with the Mariners worth much less, $375K. Since then, Torres spent two seasons in rookie ball posting a .253/.374/.358 (with most of his success coming in the Dominican Summer League back home) before playing in short season A last year where he slashed .238/.326/.435 and placed second in the Northwest League in triples (6) and seventh in runs (44). He was also 13/16 in stolen base attempts. Clearly, Torres’ most advanced skill is his raw speed and good instincts on the bases but he will need to work at making better decisions with the bat (64/25 K/BB last year) if he is to make it as the tablesetter he projects to be. Despite weighing in at just 5’11”, 170, the switch-hitting Torres will show surprising pop when he does barrell up.

Torres earned high praise for his defensive abilities headed into the international draft. He did suffer an arm injury in his rookie season in the DSL, a contributing factor to his 34 errors in his last 88 games. Still, there is believed to be plenty of room for growth.

Combine Torres’ quick feet with a good first step towards the ball off the bat in the field, his line drive contact capabilities and the ability to turn anything that drops into extra bases, and — though it will take some time — there is five-tool potential here. Torres should slot in somewhere in the Marlins’ top 15 prospects this season.

From the outset, it looks like just another salary dump for the Marlins who rid themselves of 2015’s NL batting title winner, a perennial 50+ stolen base guy and a lockdown fielder up the middle. And while that clearly was Jeter’s goal, Miami did get back three quality pieces, one of which is a 3-5 slot starter that is but a year — if that — away from his MLB debut and one of which could develop into a cornerstone shortstop. Throw in Dugger who’s future is unknown at this point but will, barring injury, undoubtedly include MLB service time and this is an equitable return.

Grade: B

2017 Minor League Player Of The Year – Brian Miller

Mark Prior, Jason Marquis, Jayson Nix, Brian Jordan. These names make up an esteemed class of MLB draftees who have made a profound impact on the game after they were selected with the last pick of the first round of their respective drafts. After being drafted in that same slot last season, outfielder Brian Miller took a huge leap towards joining that group.

Reading up on Brian Miller’s background you might learn that after going undrafted he made the North Carolina Tarheels as a true walk on. However, as Miller tells us, it wasn’t exactly like that.

“It was actually a little different than a typical walk on situation. I ended up doing a workout for one of the assistant coaches at Carolina in the early summer, then they offered me,” Miller explained. “They added me to their class as a late addition because they were going to lose a lot of high school commits to the MLB draft. So I was technically a preferred walk on. I didn’t have to do a tryout during the year or any of that stuff to “make” the team.”

Despite not having to go through a formal try out though, Miller still had to prove himself worthy of cracking one of the nation’s best baseball programs. That would happen a little later that summer when he was amongst nearly 50 players trying to crack a 25-man roster.

“We had like 44 guys on the team in the fall, and had to cut it down to 35 by the end of the fall,” Miller said. “The whole fall felt like my actual tryout.”

Miller made the team as the Tarheels’ starting center fielder and proceeded to hit .288/.375/.326 as a freshman. He stole 10 bags in 12 attempts and was second on the team in K/BB% with a lowly 0.84 marker (16/19). A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, Miller often spent time on the other side of the fence at Boshamer Stadium, dreaming of pulling on the Carolina blue and white. Now, that dream was a pleasant reality, even if not in the way Miller envisioned it.

“North Carolina was everything I could’ve asked for as a baseball program and school as a whole,” Miller said. “I’ve been a huge UNC fan since I was very little so it was definitely a dream come true being able to go there. Growing up going to games and being around campus a lot I sort of formed my own image about what it would be like to go there, but then when I actually fulfilled that dream I realized the experience was a lot different than I had expected… in a good way!”

After his solid rookie campaign, Miller took his talents to the Coastal Plain League where he placed second in BA (.389) and led the league in OBP (.476) via its most hits (77) and also racked up a league-most 38 steals. He parlayed that to his sophomore year at UNC, where he absolutely exploded, hitting .345/.440/.469. His batting average ranked amongst the top 15 in the ACC, his 21 steals (in 26 chances) ranked fourth in the conference and his 56 runs scored ranked 10th. The 19-year-old continued to exhibit excellent plate vision, posting a 0.85 K/BB, a nearly identical mark to that of his rookie year and in almost 100 more ABs. During that breakout year, Miller started to become acclimated with the close-knit fabric that binds that UNC Baseball program together. According to Miller, it was a major catalyst in his success.

“There’s a huge feeling of comfort at UNC knowing that you’re a part of such a tradition of winning and excellence on and off the court/field. I think all of my teammates and peers would agree with that feeling. I can say very confidently that if I hadn’t played ball at UNC I would be no where near the player I am today,” Miller said. “The knowledge, resources, and facilities that we have access to helped me grow tremendously as a player in all areas of my game.”

After a .327/.369/.387 showcase in the 2016 Cape Cod League, Miller’s comfortability and compatibility with the UNC program continued to show true in his junior season last year when he hit .343/.422/.502. The biggest addition to his game here was a surplus of power as he slammed seven homers after managing just two in his first two seasons at the collegiate level. Once again, the emphatically patient Miller walked more than he struck out (38/35 BB/K), and he continued to be a menace on the basepaths where he added another 24 steals in 30 chances. He appeared on multiple ACC leaderboards including BA (11th), total bases (136, 9th), steals (2nd), hits (93, 2nd) and runs (61, 5th). All of it came in 271 ABs, most in the league. Miller was a key contributor to the Tarheels’ 23-7 record, their division title and their #11 ranking in the nation. Indeed, Miller and the rest of his UNC teammates did big things that year, but if you ask any of them, including Brian, they will tell you they weren’t the least bit surprised in themselves. According to Miller, the team is accustomed to success and counts on it day in and day out. According to Miller, this attitude had a profound impact on his career.

“The ideology surrounding the program is just to win and compete,” Miller said. “We expect to win and once I was surrounded by other players and coaches that embodied that mindset it really helped me improve as a baseball player.”

Enter Draft day 2017. Miller, by way of his five-tool type junior year, entered projected to go off the board in the second round only to hear the Marlins, with their competitive balance pick, call his name in the first round, 36th overall. Yes, the same Brian Miller that went unrecruited out of high school had become a first round draft pick. However, while he admits it was exciting hearing his name get called so early in the draft, Miller says his draft stock wasn’t really a concern while he was playing for UNC. Instead, Miller had his sights set on making his friends and family proud.

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

Upon being selected, the Marlins forwent sending Miller to short season Batavia and instead sent him to full season A in Greensboro. This was music to Miller’s ears as it was a short 80 mile trek from his home in Greensboro and an even shorter 50 mile hike from Chapel Hill, meaning he would continue to be surrounded by his friends and family and could keep reaping the benefits of his college coaches’ expertise.

“Being close to home was such a blessing,” Miller said. “Having my parents and other family/friends at a lot of games was a really cool environment to start my career in.”

Feeding off the in-person support of his family and friends, Miller, despite being over a year younger than the average South Atlantic League player, started his big league career by slashing .322/.385/.416. He tore up the basepaths, stealing 21 bags in 27 attempts and scored 42 runs, quickly solidifying himself as the Grasshoppers’ leadoff hitter. Though he admits there was a noticeable leap in the opposition’s skill level that he had to adjust accordingly, Miller credits the successful start to his big league career to the time he spent facing some of baseball’s top rising stars in the ACC such as fellow 2017 first rounder Brendan McKay (Tampa Bay) and 2016 second rounder Connor Jones (St Louis) and picking the brains of his star rotational teammates, Astros’ 2017 first rounder Jacob Bukauskas who owned a 3.06 K/BB at UNC and Cardinals’ 2016 third rounder Zac Gallen who posted a 3.67 K/BB in Tarheel blue.

“The competition level was definitely a step up from college ball but I think the ACC helped prepare me for mostly everything I faced this past season in Greensboro,” Miller said. “I wasn’t really familiar with many pitchers or players in the SAL, so it took a little bit of time to adjust to how different teams and pitchers like to throw. There are some really good players in the SAL and it was fun being able to compete against them all for a few months.”

A contact-or-bust singles swinger, Miller uses his plus-plus jets to collect extra bases. He exhibits fantastic plate vision and patience via a knowledge of the strike zone well beyond his years, allowing him to work at least deep and usually favorable counts. Miller’s swing is one of the quickest in Miami’s system. Using his excellent vision, he is able to wait out the break of a pitch and follow it all the way to the back of the glove. When he engages, Miller’s swing flashes through the zone straight and narrow. His split stance allows him to step both in and out to his contact point and allows him to barrel up virtually any pitch on either side of the zone. All of that sounds and is great. But if you ask Miller himself, his mechanics are so soundly second-nature that he isn’t concerned with them. Instead, he approaches his at-bats with a very simple, refined attitude.

“My approach is pretty simple in the box. I just try to be on time and hit a ball hard up the middle of the field. I think always staying to the middle of the field puts me in a good position to succeed because it helps me hit any pitch at any location in the strike zone,” Miller said. “Also, when I mishit a ball I have a good chance of beating it out with my speed because the middle guys have to move the most and sometimes make far throws on the run.”

Where Miller wants to do the most of his offensive damage and where he believes he can disrupt the game most advantageously is on the bathpaths.

“When I’m on the bases I’m always trying to steal,” Miller said. “I always want the defense to be on their toes and feel pressured, which can also help my teammate in the box get a better pitch to hit if the pitcher and catcher is concerned with throwing me out.”

Miller uses that same speed to cover ridiculous ground in the outfield, making him one of the best range defenders in the system, rivaling the likes of teammate Aaron Knapp and former/future teammate Corey Bird. If the Marlins’ current system is rich with one thing it’s speedy, top of the order outfielders. However, due to left-handedness, his pre-pro pedigree and his untenable patience and the fantastic beginning to his career, Miller may have the highest leg up on all of them. While the recently turned 22-year-old only competed in 57 games worth of affiliated action last year and while he will have to prove that he can endure a full season’s worth of games, due to his coming virtually out of nowhere, turning into a first round draft pick, skipping short season ball and becoming one of the Greensboro Grasshoppers’ most valuable players, Brian Miller earns our Minor League Player of the Year Award. We expect this will be the first of many times you hear his name this coming year. He should start the season in Greensboro (after a possible spring training invite) but with continued success, could move up to A+ Jupiter by the midseason mark.

Jose Fernandez: One Year Later

There’s an old saying that goes, “When it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go.” No one disproves that statement better than Jose Fernandez, a young man so full of life it seems a sin and 365 days later, still seems impossible that it was taken from him and that this seemingly innocent, playfully childish and infinitely joyful soul is no longer turning everything he touched from a baseball to other’s lives to pure gold.

On the afternoon of September 22, 2016, my girlfriend surprised me with an early birthday present: tickets in Diamond Club at Marlins Park. For those unfamiliar with the stadium, these are the all-inclusive seats directly behind home plate that can and usually do cost upwards of $200 a game. From the seats, you can easily peer down into the Marlins’ third base dugout. As players started filing from the clubhouse, a young group of autograph seekers sitting just above the canopy called to each of their heroes. While some stopped to sign a few and exchange a quick pleasantry, Jose Fernandez went above and beyond expectations. Not only did Fernandez ink every peice of memoribilia presented to him from one side of the dugout to the other, he invited fans who asked for a photo with him to traverse a small set of steps to the right of the dugout and just to the left of the backstop screen. This wasn’t just a case of catching Jose on a good day; this was who Jose was: a man who wanted to share the happiness and joy life in America and in baseball had given him with as many people as possible. There is little doubt that seeing that joy in others, making their day, creating smiles and hearing laughter was more paramount to Jose Fernandez than his own well-being. Watching Jose on the mound and in the media, you became a fan. After one two minute interaction with him, you felt like family. The effect he had on others was just as incomparable as his stuff on the mound.

After the National Anthem was sung and he returned to the dugout, Jose took up his normal alter on the right side of the bench in his high chair against the railing. This two minute span between the anthem and first pitch was the most use that chair would get. You see, even though he only physically took the field once every five nights, his teammates took him to the field with them every single night. The first to get to his feet when the ball was hit deep, the first to raise his arms when a big out was about to be recorded and the first in line to greet a teammate with a congratulatory celebration on their triumphant return to the bench, Jose was invested in every game just as much as he was invested in his own starts. There were no days off. This is who Jose was: a man who cared about the success of others as equally if not more than he was concerned with his own virtue. The Marlins took Jose with them to the mound those nights, they have done so every day since last year’s tragedy and they will do so forever. That’s the legacy he would have wanted and the legacy he has successfully created. Even in the afterlife, Jose Fernandez has remained successful. After all, I don’t even think Jesus Christ himself could touch that slide piece.

However, as selfless as this man — the same one who, as a teenager, jumped into the middle of the ocean to save his mother from drowning — was, he was still a human being. And human beings make mistakes. When I heard the news of Jose’s choices that night after his start was pushed back and after he had a disagreement with his girlfriend, I was admittedly awash with emotions, confusion and anger included. Those same emotions overcame me months later when the toxicology reports were released. However, on both occasions, I refused to let one night of bad decision making trump a lifetime of altruistic nobility. Retire the number, build the statue, name the street, make a spot for him in the Hall Of Fame. He’s more than earned it. He more than deserves it.

One year and I can rewind the events of that day and week in my head with perfect accuracy. How I refused to believe the news when it was first reported, how it was confirmed to me by a former member of the board of directors who frequented my place of employment, the usual party-like atmosphere of the ballpark being replaced by that of a funeral on September 26, every tear I shed into the concrete underneath my seat in right field at the sight of every player donning ’16’, at the sight of Dee Gordon barely being able to round the bases following his lead off homer and at the visual of 30+ Marlins hats left on the field by Jose’s brothers on the spot where he was king, I can tell you about it all. What I can’t tell you is when this wound will heal or if it ever will. As fresh as it still is, it cuts even deeper when I think of the pain in the hearts of Jose’s family including his beloved Abuela and his mother. It seers when I see the face of Penelope Fernandez, a child who will grow up never knowing her father and how miraculous he truly was to know. The search for solace is never an easy quest but one place where young Penny and the rest of the Fernandez family can go is to the memories of Jose being the best at everything he set out to do from dominating his craft on the mound to being a good teammate to being a good friend to being a good son and grandson. And there is no doubt he would have succeeded just the same as in fatherhood. As fans, Jose’s extended baseball family and the innumerable masses whose lives Jose touched, we can find peace in knowing that by never taking one hour of any day for granted and by filling each one with as much joy and happiness then projecting that unto others, he lived well beyond his years and his spirit will live on in each of us that came to know just how incredible he was forever.

To the greatest baseball player I’ve ever had the distinct privilege of getting to know, of getting to watch grow, of getting to watch dominate the game both on the field and off, continue to rest well. You were good, kid. You were good.