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.

2017 Jupiter Hammerheads Season Preview

It is only a short 105 minute trek from Jupiter to Miami. However, in figurative terms of making it from the friendly confines of Abacoa and a Hammerheads’ cap and jersey to the shadow of the Miami skyline and the bright lights of Marlins Park and an orange and black lid and garb, the road is much, much longer. Nobody knows that better than the bulk of this year’s Hammerheads’ Opening Day roster, a squad nearly completely full of young men repeating a second full season in A+ ball. But the simple fact that this group will spend at least the start of another season in Jupiter should not lead one to draw any negative conclusions. There is talent on this club in the likes of Taylor Ard, Dexter Kjerstad, John Norwood, Avery Romero and Jeff Brigham — talent that they and the Marlins hope will allow them to take the next step sometime this year.

One of few new call ups to the Opening Day Hammerheads will be at the managerial position as Kevin Randel gets the promotion following following two seasons with the Grasshoppers. Randel, a 13th round pick by the Marlins in the 2002 MLB Draft, played for seven seasons, exclusively in the Marlins’ organization. A super utility type guy that could play basically anywhere, Randel boasted a .267/.374/.439 slash line but only played seven games above the AA level and never cracked the majors. Two years after his retirement from playing, Randel re-joined the Grasshoppers, one of his former teams, as hitting coach where he served for two seasons before serving in the same capacity for the Jacksonville Suns. He returned to the Grasshoppers in Greensboro, North Carolina which is a stone’s throw away from his home in Fuquay-Varina to make his managerial debut in 2015. Over the past two years, Randel has recorded a 114-165 record as head coach. A solid lower minors hitter in his time with a wealth of positional knowledge, Randel is well-rounded managerial material.

Projected Lineup

CF Jeremias Pineda
2B Brian Schales
RF John Norwood
LF Dexter Kjerstad
1B Taylor Ard
3B Avery Romero
DH Brad Haynal
C Rodrigo Vigil
SS Rehiner Cordova

Taylor Ard is a 2012 Seattle Mariners’ seventh round pick out of Washington State whom he joined after two seasons at Mt. Hood Community College. As a freshman at Mt. Hood in 2009, Ard earned his league’s triple crown hitting .490 with 12 HR and 49 RBI, an accomplishment that, despite playing just three games before red shirting in 2010, allowed him to join the Division I ranks. In 2011 as a red shirt sophomore, Ard thanked Washington State for their confidence in him to succeed even after missing a full season by hitting .337/.408/.577, a BA that ranked 8th and a SLG that ranked third and .985 OPS that ranked fourth. The power figures came by way of Ard’s 10 homers, most in the Pac 10, and 17 doubles, third most. In his junior year, Ard had another similar fantastic year, hitting .332/.412/.577. Again, he appeared on nearly every power hitting leaderboard including SLG, OPS (.989, 6th) and homers (12, 3rd) and total bases (127, 7th). As a whole, Ard’s three year (plus three games) college career consisted of a .372/.455/.637 slash line with a 1.092 OPS, 34 homers, 46 doubles and a .240 ISO.

Ard joined the Mariners’ organization following the end of the Pac 12 season in 2012 and kept the good times rolling. In his first season as a pro with the short season Everett Aquasox, Ard hit .284/.356/.497. Among qualified Northwest Leaguers, Ard’s BA ranked 10th, his SLG ranked second and his OPS ranked fourth. His twelve homers again put him atop his league’s leaderboard as did his 21 doubles.

However, all of Ard’s success didn’t stop the Mariners from inexplicably releasing Ard just before the 2014 season. It also didn’t stop Ard from playing good baseball and it didn’t take him long to resurface in the pro ranks. Upon his release, Ard took his talents to the independent leagues where he hit .338/.404/.544 with nine homers, 15 doubles and 33 RBI in 50 games, earning All-Star selection honors and catching the attention of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He joined the D-Backs as a member of the rookie ball Misoula Osprey followed by the Hillsboro Hops and finally ended his busy travel season in low A South Bend. In 34 total afilliated ball games, he hit .309/.425/.509 with four homers, eight doubles and 17 RBI. At season’s end, after giving him just 110 ABs and 34 above the rookie ball level, Arizona had apparently seen enough. On October 22, 2014, he was released from the afilliated ball ranks for the second time in two seasons.

But Ard’s tenacity once again paid off. He turned what had to seem like a bad bit of deja vu into a positive learning experience by having an even better 2014 season with the River City Rascals than he had with them a year previous despite playing in nearly twice as many games. In 96 contests, he hit .313/.385/.646. Along with that SLG, his 30 homers, 29 doubles and 83 RBI were all league best totals. At season’s end, after he was named the Frontier League MVP, Ard got a call from a familiar phone number: it was the Marlins, the first club to ever draft him in the 35th round of the 2010 Draft. At that time, Ard, who was 20, passed up Miami’s offer in favor of finishing his college career at Washington State. Seven years later, Ard accepted the Marlins’ offer and headed to Jupiter.

In his first season in the Miami organization at the highest level of competition he’s ever played at and in an extremely power subduing ballpark and league, Ard was able to slug .373, among the top 30 in the FSL. His 14 homers and 73 RBI, on top of both being Hammerheads’ team high totals, were the eighth and fourth best totals in the FSL and his 21 doubles were tied for 20th most.

Ard is a pure power hitting first baseman standing at a robust 6’2″, 230. He stays back on the ball well and transfers his weight very well with an active midsection and legs allowing him to go with pitches on either side of the plate and hit to all fields. But as good as his lower half is, his upper half is equally at a disadvantage. Ard’s trouble with getting his arms extended on swings leads to below average bat speed and although his patience and vision isn’t as bad as his 111/41 K/BB from last year would indicate, leads to a lot of swings and misses. At 27 and still in high A, there is a fair amount of doubt as to his future and in making it to the show but with similar power production to start 2017, he should be a fast mover to AA. What he does in making that difficult jump to the upper minors will go a long way in telling the tale of how far his career can go. If Ard can shorten up his swings and improve his bat speed, he draws comparison to a Mike Sweeney type fourth outfielder.

Dexter Kjerstad forwent being drafted out of high school by the Reds in the 50th round of the 2010 Draft in favor of enjoying a very successful two year (plus five games) collegiate career, albeit at three different universities in the hopes of improving that draft stock and his reputation as a prospect. However, despite posting a .374/.426/.621 slash line which included an All-Conference junior season at Louisiana Lafayette in which he led the Sun Belt Conference in BA (.388), hits (99), and total bases (155), ranked fourth in homers (12) and came in fifth in SLG (.608) and OPS (1.039), Kjerstad somehow fell off draft boards altogether.

Prior to the 2014 Draft, Kjerstad was signed by the Kansas City Royals. In 80 games that year for the low A Lexington Legends, the 22-year-old had a respectable season (especially for a guy in his first season in affiliated ball), hitting .275/.336/.428 with six homers, 25 XBH and 33 RBI. A year later though, another wave of somewhat unexpected and potentially mysterious bad fortune hit Kjerstad when after 51 games of .247/.288/.316 ball in high A, the Royals pulled the plug and released him. However, no stranger to a setback, Kjerstad once again took it in stride and headed to the independent leagues where he quickly became one of the American Association’s very best players.

After living out the rest of 2015 hitting .300/.338/.584 with 11 homers and six triples, totals which ranked third and second on his hometown Amarillo Thunderbirds despite him playing in just 45 of their 100 games, Kjerstad was noticed by and signed by the Marlins. Last season, his first full year in A+, consisted of a .227/.291/.383 slash line with 15 homers, a team high and fifth most in the Florida State League, 55 RBI, 14th most in the FSL and 177 total bases, 12th most on the circuit. While the Ks kept coming for the free swinging power hitter, the rate at which he K’d as well as walked slightly improved from his previous days at the same level. In 170 plate appearances in 2015, Kjerstad walked in just 4% of his trips and struck out in 27.6% of them. Last year, in 462 PAs, he walked 29 times or 5.6% of the time and K’d 132 times or 25.8% of the time. While the improvement wasn’t drastic and while it is unrealistic to expect a hitter like Kjerstad to ever become a walks machine who limits strikeouts, the slight improvement proves his knowledge of the strike zone is maturing.

Along with continuing to improve his plate discipline, the other area of Kjerstad’s offensive game that needs to improve is his becoming a more complete zone hitter. Kjerstad’s hit charts pave him as a pure pull hitter and when you watch his mechanics, you know why. While he transfers his power vertically through his body from bottom to top just fine, his troubles begin when he tries to engage his swing. Far too often does he commit the cardinal sin of pulling his head off the ball in favor of looking skyward towards left field, leading to a reduction in contact. The 6’1″ 210 pounder who owns just average bat speed also finds it difficult getting his arms extended on his swing, disallowing him from barrelling up as often as he would like, making him a prime candidate to get jammed and sawed off and, most of all, leaving the outer half of the plate unprotected. These two factors along with the fact that he doesn’t step into pitches tailing away have made him easy pickings for opposing pitchers who hit their spots on the outer black where Kjerstad either makes forced contact or no contact at all. As Kjerstad proved this fall in the Arizona Fall League where he K’d 20 times in 15 games, those problems will only compound against better competition. These issues are to blame for Kjerstad staying in A+ for a third year and they will need to be ironed out as he inches closer to a AA call-up.

While he faces the pretty tough task of redefining his approach and mechanics at the age of 25, if anyone can do it, it’s the extremely motivated Kjerstad who has never backed down from adversity or challenge. A very athletic outfielder who can play either corner spot with good speed and a slightly above average arm that produces throws that carry, if Kjerstad can add fluidity and extension to his swing and improve his plate coverage, his power potential could carry him to a big league bench sometime within the next three years.
John Norwood is another physical specimen who forwent being signed out of high school in favor of college and then was signed by the Marlins as a minor league free agent. Since joining Miami following a .284/.358/.391 three year career from 2012-2014 at Vanderbilt, Norwood has become one of the most impressive power producers in Miami’s organization. After finishing off his junior collegiate year in 2014 by hitting .256/.284/.295 for the Muckdogs, Norwood made the transition to full season affiliated ball by hitting .233/.304/.392 for the single A Grasshoppers. That year, his 16 homers tied him for sixth most in the South Atlantic League. When Norwood would reach without extra bases that season, he frequently turned it into extra bases by way of the steal as his plus plus speed allowed him to swipe 34 bags, seventh most in the Sally. Last year as he moved to pitcher friendly Jupiter, Norwood improved his walk rate from 8% to 9% and lowered his K rate from 23% to 22%. The power still persisted though as he had 24 doubles, tied for ninth most in the Florida State League and collected nine homers and 50 RBI each of which placed 23rd in the FSL. Usually hitting in a prime RBI slot between 3-5 in the lineup and against the highest level of competition he’s ever played at, Norwood’s stolen base total took a bit of a hit but he was still able to swipe 14 bags, good for second on the Hammerheads and 22nd in the league. Whether it be by way of the hit or by way of his improved walk rate, he got on base at a .347 clip, which led Jupiter and ranked 16th in the FSL.

Norwood’s hitting style and swing favor pull but approaching with a balanced load allows him to reach all fields. The work Norwood continues to do in the gym from his senior year collegiate days when he weighed in at 210 to last year when he dropped 20 pounds to come in a 190 has continued to pay dividends for Norwood. Due to his physical regiment, Norwood is getting around on his swings much better and covering the plate much more advantageously. All of this has spelled out a much more complete offensive game for Norwood who has gone from being an all-or-nothing pure power threat to becoming more of an on-base threat, proven by last year’s 60 point uptick in OBP to .347 from the .284 marker he posted in his first 20 pro games in 2014. What’s even better is the drop in weight hasn’t resulted in a power struggle for Norwood whatsoever. Although much leaner, he still collected 37 XBHs in one of the most pitcher friendly leagues in Minor League Baseball last season. While he will still struggle with breaking pitches on the outer half, Norwood’s ability to adjust his game around his body and become a much more all-around offensive weapon is very encouraging for his future.

Despite OPSing .744 last year, Norwood enters 2017 as a somewhat puzzling repeater of a level of the minors for the first time. However, if his play persists including his power production, improved knowledge of the zone, above average speed and abilities to cover all the ground necessary in right field (1.94 range factor last season), run good routes and make strong accurate throws (seven assists in 2016), it will not take him long to make the jump to AA. Still just 24, Norwood, already a College World Series hero, sets up as one of the more intriguing under-the-radar high ceiling prospects in the organization.

Avery Romero was selected and signed by the Marlins out of high school in the third round of the 2012 Draft. Entering his fifth year in the organization, it’s been an up and down career so far for the now 23-year-old. Romero broke out in 2013 with a .297/.357/.411 campaign for the Muckdogs, averages which ranked 7th, 20th and 22nd in the NYPL, along with 18 doubles which was tied for third and 30 RBI which tied him for 20th despite playing in just 56 of the league’s 74 games. From there, he moved to the Grasshoppers where he had an even more impressive season, hitting .320/.366/.429. He was once again near the top of his league in BA (5th), improved to 14th in OBP, and ranked inside the top 25 in slugging. His surprising power, especially for a guy of his 5’11”, 195 stature, persisted as he collected 23 doubles and slammed five homers. These exports earned Romero his call to A+ to end the 2014 season where he finished off his already strong season even stronger, hitting .320/.366/.429 in his first 100 ABs and allowed him to enter the next season as the Marlins’ fifth best prospect.

However, that 2015 season which Romero spent entirely in A+ was a lot less kind. That season met Romero with a stunt in his growth as he managed to slash just .259/.315/.314, his K rate rose from 11% to 14%. After hitting 32 total doubles in 2014, he managed just 14. Even though all of this came by way of an almost exactly neutral .297 BABIP, none of it stopped the Marlins from rushing Romero to AA to begin last season. After a dismal .190/.299/.290 initial 36 games with the Suns, the Marlins sent Romero back to the Hammerheads. There, an even further sub-par season greeted him as he hit just .253/.314/.335 in 75 games. The one silver lining from 2015, his improved walk rate of 7.5%, shrunk back to 6.8%. However, the strikeouts persisted as he K’d at a 13.2% rate.

While it was probably a mistake for the Marlins to rush Romero to AA last year after such a dismally average 2015 in which he sat right around the mendoza line and while it probably did more harm than good for his growth, Romero is still just 23 and still honing a unique skill set. When batting, Romero crowds the zone and attacks it from a low athletic stance which allows the 5’11” infielder to cut down even more on an already small strike zone. His swing which he times from a front foot trigger and steps to the ball nicely from, holds good bat speed giving him the ability to wait out breaking pitches of any kind. As mentioned, Romero does hold above average power especially for a guy his size but he is more a gap to gap doubles threat than a home run threat. Realizing that has been and will continue to be Romero’s biggest challenge as his biggest weakness is trying to do too much with his swings at the expense of his balance. Realizing the limits of your offensive game is a big step for any prospect to make and it will be even harder for Romero who is feeling the pressure of falling out of the organization’s top 30 prospect rankings this season for the first time in his career. Playing at third base, a very high power expectant position, full time as he did last season will only work further against the gifted infielder’s psyche so the Marlins would be wise to move him back to his more natural position and a spot where his gap hitting game will be more valuable, second base. In 2,531.2 career innings there before his spending more games at third for the first time in his career last year, Romero has posted a ridiculous 4.46 range factor and has only committed 49 errors in 1,365 chances (.964 fielding percentage).

Completing Romero’s game and getting his production back on track after his sophomore slump 2015 and his ill-advised promotion to AA for a third of his season and an equally disadvantageous move to third base full-time in 2016 will be a dual effort between him and the team. But should Romero improve his discipline in terms of not trying to swing out of his shoes so often and instead maintain the softness in his hands and stop falling off to his pull side, his K rates which soared last year should lower and his walk rate should improve. Management can make this a much easier process for Romero if they move him back back to second base where he has much more experience and plays his best defense. There, he won’t feel the pressure of being relied upon to produce bigger power numbers and thus be allowed to comfortably be himself. Should that two-way street run smoothly and should Romero grow into even more strength on top of his already plus power game as his 23-year-old body completes its development, Romero could become a very valuable, very rare breed: a complete hitting bat with the ability to both get on base and drive runs in on top a wizard-like glove and pair of feet in the middle of the field. With a ceiling I equate to Josh Harrison only with better patience and a better K/BB, Romero may be out of sight within the Marlins’ top 30 prospects (according to MLB.com), but he should definitely not be out of mind.

Projected Rotation

1. Jeff Brigham
2. Jorgan Cavanerio
3. Chris Sadberry
4. Felipe Gonzalez

Jeff Brigham is a Dodgers’ fourth round draft pick out of the University of Washington in 2014. After sub-par years in 2012 and 2013, he earned his draft stock that year by having a 90 IP, 2.90 ERA, 1.13 WHIP junior season. He finished off the 2014 calendar year by getting his feet wet in affiliated ball, tossing to the tune of a 3.58 ERA, a 1.47 WHIP and a .268 BAA in 33.2 innings for the Ogden Raptors.

Enter 2015. This is where the mismanagement of Brigham by the Dodgers began and his career with them started to end. Just seven innings into his full season ball career, LA, possibly feeling the pressure of Brigham’s high age of 23 for such a low level of competition, thought it wise to allow Brigham to just about completely skip low A and promote him straight to single A advanced Rancho Cucamonga. That season, Brigham struggled mightily. In 17 games and 68 innings, his ERA reached an ugly 5.96, third worst in the California League, by way of a 1.68 WHIP, fourth worst and a .286 BAA. However, all of these struggles would prove to be a blessing in disguise for both Brigham and the Marlins.

On July 30, 2016, Brigham was thought by the Dodgers to be nothing more than a throw in chip in the trade that brought them Mat Latos and Michael Morse at the expense of Victor Araujo and Kevin Guzman. By joining Miami, Brigham also joined the pitchers’ haven Florida State League allowing him to get his career back on track. There, in the last two years, Brigham has become quite possibly the most valuable peice on either side of that trade.

Upon joining Jupiter, Brigham finished out his 2015 campaign with 33.2 innings worth of 1.87 ERA, 1.28 WHIP ball, a small sample but nonetheless a feel-good ending to an otherwise depressing season. In 2016, after he struggled through an injury, a trip to the DL and an overall slow 5.73 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, .269 BAA first half, Brigham became one of the most reliable and effective starting pitchers in the organization in the second half. From June 25 through September 3, Brigham started 13 games, averaging over five innings and an even three runs per as well as an overall 1.17 WHIP. Brigham, who got stronger and stronger, healthier and healthier the later the season got, struck out 21% of his opponents in those 13 starts and one relief appearance and walked just 7%.

From Tommy John in 2012 that caused him to miss an entire season of play, to his struggles in 2015 that caused him to be pawned off by the Dodgers to undergoing a second surgery and making another lengthy to the DL last year, Brigham has already been through the ringer in his baseball career and has been forced to grow up quickly as a pro. It speaks volumes to his tenacity and grit that he is where he is today, heading into 2017 arguably the healthiest he has ever been after his most successful season at the highest level he’s ever played at. Throwing downhill from a rocker step wind up and full arm circle release, Brigham steps into his pitches with tons of power and generates great downhill velocity. His heat which shows good arm side run can get as high as 97 but, considering his past health problems and the fear of flare ups, will usually be harnessed in the 92-94 MPH range. Brigham’s second pitch is a slider which sits in the mid 80s and offsets his fastball positively. A lot of reason for his success in the second half of 2016 was due to his gaining more control of the pitch and being able to spot it on the low inner half against righties. Combined with the drop in velo from his heat which runs outside against same side hitters, it became more of a perfect complimentary offering and he gained the ability to pitch off of it. Brigham also made strides with his changeup in the second half last year, flashing added depth and good command although it can be a bit inconsistent. Despite the encouraging uptick in Ks in the second half last year, Brigham has a more vast history of being a to-contact guy and that reputation should follow him into the upper minors. If he hopes to stick as a rotation starter, he will need to further develop his changeup into a more reliable plus pitch. It has shown flashes but it is not there yet. That along with staying healthy will be the primary areas of focus for Brigham. If he comes back throwing the same way he did to end 2016, the Marlins’ 17th rated prospect is a prime candidate to get the promotion to AA with the floor of a multiple inning reliever and the ceiling of a back end starter.

Projected Team Stats

72-68
.242/.329/.315
65 HR/264 XBH
1,185 IP, 3.86 ERA, 1.30 WHIP

2017 Greensboro Grasshoppers Season Preview

 

2017 Greensboro Grasshoppers Season Preview

2015 Team Stats

65-75
.236/.299/.340
69 HR/302 XBH
1203 IP, 3.40 ERA, 1.23 WHIP

Projected Lineup

LF Kyle Barrett
RF Dalton Wheat
CF Stone Garrett
DH Isael Soto
2B Justin Twine
C Korey Dunbar
3B J.J. Gould
SS Giovanny Alfonzo

The 2016 regular season wasn’t exactly a great time for Stone Garrett. On top of hitting just .213/.265/.371 on the field, the first baseman got into a bit of a pickle off the field when he had his finger cut nearly off by former teammate, Josh Naylor during the enactment of a practical joke. But Garrett refused to end his 2016 calendar year in baseball like that. At the end of the MiLB season, he accepted an invitation to join the Sydney Bluesox of the Australian Baseball League. There, he has produced numbers much more becoming of an organizational top five prospect, hitting .258/.302/.430. It is that brand of baseball Garrett will hope to continue playing and build upon when he comes back to America. There, in upstate North Carolina, he will join fellow returnees from 2016 such as Kyle Barrett, Isael Soto, Cody Poteet, Tyler Kolek and Justin Jacome as well as newcomers to full season affiliated ball Dalton Wheat, J.J. Gould and Brett Lilek in making up new head coach Todd Pratt’s 2017 Opening Day lineup for the Greensboro Grasshoppers.

Coming off a .297/.352/.581 season in Batavia, a year which saw him become the all-around best bat in the New York Penn League by way of a .933 OPS, the Marlins had very high hopes for Garrett in his first year in full season ball in 2015. Despite suffering an injury right at the end of the 2015 short season that caused him to cease baseball activities for that entire offseason and caused him to miss the first 16 games of 2016, Garrett was still able to come back and hit .244/.303/.450 in his first 35 games with the Hoppers. Then, following Greensboro’s June 1 game in Lexington, Garrett was injured in a freak accident by his then teammate, roommate and fellow top 10 organizational prospect Josh Naylor during a prank that according to Marlins’ president of baseball operations, Mike Hill, “went a little too far.” The injury was a near severing of the thumb on Garrett’s dominant right hand that required corrective surgery. He would miss a full month’s worth of action.

Garrett was well enough to return Greensboro on August 16 after a very short three game stint in the Gulf Coast League, but with the strength still very gradually returning to both of his injured hands, especially his more recently gimpy dominant right hand, Garrett was pretty much on an extended rehab assignment and it showed. Over the final 17 games of the Grasshoppers’ season, Garrett hit just .152/.188/.212 with a 24/3 K/BB.

As skimpy as those numbers look, Garrett did show some light at the end of the long tunnel he has traveled down with the injury bug attached to him at the end of the MiLB season, going 7 for 31 in his final nine games including his only homer his second half and first in over a month on August 30. In his tenure with the Sydney Bluesox in Australia this year, that light has gotten much brighter and it would appear as though Garrett is finally back near 100% headed into 2017. This is evidenced by a .258/.301/.445 slash line along with seven homers, most in the ABL, the fact that he at one point had 13 game hit streak and the fact that he has hit in 31 of his 39 games played. The strikeouts have continued to pile up for Garrett as he owns a 44/7 K/BB in Australia and while he is a power hitting free swinger, this is the area of his game he will need to temper if he hopes to succeed in the upper minors. Garrett can do this by improving his plate vision including doing a better job picking up pitches out of the opposition’s hand and not committing too early to a swing. Garrett has good mechanics which he worked on diligently as he came into the pros but right now, he is still all hands and arms. He stays back on the ball wall as he stands near the very back of the box, advantageous for a fly ball hitter, but he needs to work on getting his lower half more involved in his follow through and acquire the ability to transfer his weight from his back leg as he strides through the ball via active hips. If he does so and does not need to rely so much on his upper half, his true power potential which is still being realized by way of Garrett still growing into his already a 6’2″ 195 pound frame at age 21 will come to fruition much sooner. Should that occur, Garrett could turn into one of the better extra base hitting prospects in the league.

If Garrett comes back to the minors at the level he is playing the Australia, he likely won’t be with Greensboro long. It is what he does after that that will be telling of his level of maturation and status as a prospect. While this is far from a make it or break it season for the 21-year-old Garrett, it is a barometer for how far he could potentially go as a prospect. Should Garrett clean up his patience and get his legs more involved in his power hitting approach, Garrett, who can play all three outfield positions but projects best as a speedy corner guy due to an average arm, should get a look in the upper minors as a 22-year-old next season.

4Kyle Barrett is a 23-year-old Marlins’ 15th round pick from 2015 out of the University of Kentucky where he enjoyed a .324/.386/.391 collegiate career and wound up 22nd on UK’s all time hits list with 174. He began his career in short season Batavia upon being drafted in June but just four games into his pro career, he was placed on the 60 day DL with an injury. Despite missing an entire season, he re-started in full season ball last year with the Hoppers last season. Due to lingering effects from the injury, Barrett got off to a slow start in 2016, hitting just .167/.225/.181 in his first 22 games, but as he got healthier, he began to show his true potential. From May 29 to June 19, Barrett hit safely in 16 of 22 games and went from the aforementioned .167/.225/.181 slash line to a .277/.311/.297 line. Going straight from playing in 50 games a year to playing in 101, Barrett ended the season with an impressive .282, second on the team with a respectable .333 OBP and .345 SLG. He also added 17 steals, another second-best total among Hoppers. The plus speed outfielder also had a very good year defensively, recording outs in 161 of 165 total chances by way of a 1.78 range factor. He committed just three errors while seeing time at all three outfield positions.

Barrett attributes his success last season to staying calm in the face of frustration, not trying to do too much too fast and letting the game come to him.

“I didn’t have the success I wanted the whole season due to the injury,” Barrett said. “It took me some time to get my timing, but I just trusted in the process and balls started finding holes.”

Barrett, who reached base safely in 81% of his games in college and followed it up by reaching in 70% of his games in his first full season in pro ball, is a speedy kid with a quickly developing top of the order catalyst type skill set and even a bit of hidden power underneath his small 5’1″”, 185 pound frame. Where he succeeds at getting on base more often than not is with his extremely quick bat speed and ability to shorten up and fight off tough pitches from his simple straight through line drive approach. What he needs to improve in order to put himself on pace to become a complete lead off or two hole bat is the rate at which he walks. (8.1% in college and just 6.4% last year). Heading into 2017, Barrett says he is making this a priority.

“I intend to get my walks up by having deeper at bats and having a more select zone and approach at the plate,” Barrett said.

Like every ballplayer, Barrett hopes his success last year in the face of adversity will allow him to crack some national top prospect lists, but if he doesn’t, he is completely fine with flying under the radar.

“The new list comes out pretty soon so I hope I am on it. If not, nothing changes,” Barrett said. “I’ll stick to my approach and do my best to prove people wrong.”

Like Garrett, Barrett should be another guy who is a fast graduate to Jupiter within the first half of the season. It is there, playing at a level whose average player is his exact age, that the 23-year-old will prove exactly where he is as a prospect. If he is indeed left off of nationally recognized lists this year, don’t be surprised if you see his name surface next season when he enters the upper minors in Jacksonville.

Isael SotoIsael Soto is a Marlins’ 2014 international signee out of the Dominican Republic. He broke into the league in his signing year by flashing prodigious power, dropping a .426 SLG on the Gulf Coast League as an 18-year-old before breaking into stateside ball in 2015. However, after just 17 games, he became yet another guy who is setting up to be a 2017 Grasshopper and the third of three players covered so far that fell victim to a lengthy injury. On May 3, the Hoppers placed Soto on the DL with a meniscus injury in his left knee that would cost him almost four months. What is worse for the power hitting lefty is that it was the knee of his front foot his plant leg. He spent the rest of that season on a rehab assignment in the GCL and in single A short season Batavia.

Soto returned to the Hoppers in 2016 after an offseason worth of conditioning and was able to post a .247/.320/.399 line with nine homers, tied for most in Greensboro while avoiding serious injury, but he still couldn’t avoid the injury bug altogether. An injury to a troubled achilles tendon first cost him nine days in April then another seven in June. This time, the injury was in his back right plant leg. While the numbers Soto posted were decent enough for a 19-year-old, few of them were becoming of a top six organizational top prospect which he entered that season as, especially not his 115/43 K/BB, even for a pure power free swinger. While some of that can be blamed on the time he missed, it is more so a product of his mechanics. From a straight up and down stance in the box, Soto uses a slight front foot timing trigger — and that’s where the inclusion of his lower half in his swing ends. He has a solid uppercut power swing which he can shorten up on and which he pulls the trigger on with extremely quick bat speed. However, keeping his hips and waste stationary and not exploding through his swing at all but rather relying completely on his arms, he wastes the most powerful part of his 6’0″, 180 pound (and still growing) frame. Soto has the ability to completely clobber straight stuff but not stepping into the ball leads to him struggling mightily against anything that bends or curves, especially towards the outer half of the zone where he is a prime victim to get caught reaching across his body. Soto especially struggles against same side pitchers. This past year, he only hit lefties at a .209/.278/.313 with a 44/11 K/BB.

That’s the bad news. The good news for Soto is that he is still just 20 years old with just 192 games under his belt, games in which, though mixed with some struggles and proof that he needs to rectify his mechanics, he has shown flashes of becoming a 25-30 home run threat, especially against righties (.262/.336/.434, 7 HR, 71/32 K/BB in 2016). Similar to his offense, Soto is still very raw in the field as well. However, he has also shown the ability to hold down right field with good speed and a solid accurate arm that produces throws that carry very well. Like his antics at the plate, he has offset it by making some pretty bad errors but again, the talent it there; it just needs to be perfected.

In what was his first season in pro ball after he missed essentially a full season (minus 29 games), Soto put the building blocks in place for a breakout year in 2017. Though he fell out of the organization’s top prospect rankings, if Soto, who’s die is not cast and can still be groomed, can manage to stay healthy, get his big lower half more involved in his swing by driving off his foot through the ball with active hips into his already solid power swing, improve his plate vision especially against lefties and continue to make strides toward playing consistent defense, he could wind up in Jupiter to end the year and break back into the Marlins’ top 30 next season. Right now, I put a healthy Soto’s ceiling at a platooning righty mashing corner outfielder with an average glove and a plus arm.

Dalton WheatAs I wrote a few months ago when the Marlins signed him out of the unaffiliated independent ball ranks, Dalton Wheat comes to the Fish as one of the organization’s most intriguing prospects in more ways than one. The 23-year-old out of Wichita, Kansas comes to affiliated ball after a roller coaster two year process which saw him go from the high of finishing off a .353/.435/.531, 149 RBI, 105 SB collegiate career to the low of somehow not being selected in that year’s MLB Draft which led him to contemplate his possible life after baseball only to return to the peak of becoming the best player in all of the indy leagues. After posting a .335/.414/.403 slash line in 67 games with the Kansas City T-Bones, Wheat finally comes to the professional ranks as a Marlin.

It is safe to say that things just keep getting brighter for Wheat after he endured quite the storm that nearly forced him out of baseball altogether just a year previous, making him the embodiment of the agage, “the dawn is darkest just before the dawn”. Through everything that has happened off the field though, one thing has remained constant: Wheat’s more than solid play on the field. Despite the aforementioned setbacks, Wheat continued to show up to the park with the same positive attitude and the same great work ethic. These are just a few of the things Wheat has stuck to that made him a standout collegiate player and a spectacular semi-pro and that he hopes make him an effective pro.

Among other things that Wheat has stuck to with his “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset are the “batting” gloves he dons at the plate. An avid outdoorsman in the offseason, Wheat has had a pair of old work gloves somewhere in his truck for as long as he can remember. One day before one of his practices at Butler College, the school he broke into collegiate baseball with, a teammate came to Wheat in need of a pair of batting gloves. Wheat obliged and hit bare-handed that day only to develop a blister on one of his hands. In order to protect it from getting worse, Wheat grabbed a pair of gloves fit more for a lumberjack than a baseball player and threw them on. He’s been wearing them at the plate ever since and will continue the tradition as a Grasshopper.

“I liked the way they made me feel like I didn’t have to over grip the bat so I’ve been using them ever since,” Wheat told me two months ago. “I plan on continuing to wear them unless I’m told otherwise.”

Moving to more traditional matters, we look at Wheat’s approach and skillset. A complete hitter all throughout college and the independent leagues, he boasts a lot of above average assets but his best tools are his plate discipline that allowed him to post a .414 OBP as a T-Bone preceded by a combined .435 OBP in college and his speed which has allotted him a combined 114 steals in 135 total chances (84%). There is very little wrong with Wheat’s mechanics and approach. The 6’2″ Wheat protects a big strike zone by exhibiting great vision and patience and strong hands needed to fight off pitches inside where opposing righties traditionally like to try to jam lefties. Despite his size, Wheat yields a power swing in favor of a straight through line drive hack with snappy bat speed. From there, he lets his legs and plus plus speed do the rest in turning would-be singles into extra base hits. An aggressive baserunner with great instincts, Wheat, though he was limited to just 12 attempts last season with the T-Bones, is a 30+ stolen base threat. All of this spells out a more than solid top of the order OBP machine with fantastic run creating prowess.

Wheat’s speed continues to serve him in the field where, paired with his good arm strength, he has the ability to play all three outfield positions. He makes good reads off the bat and makes accurate throws more often than not. Wheat has played right field most regularly and due to the fact that his throws from the corner are more frequently on line and show better carry than his throws from center, that is probably where his future will be.

Scouts are placing Wheat’s professional ceiling at a fourth outfielder but should he learn how to drop down bunts for hits and develop a bit more power which are the only two things pretty much non-existent from his game right now, the 23-year-old Wheat, who is still growing into a already large athletic frame, could become a complete lefty hitting top of the order threat. For those reasons, Wheat, whose signing was barely covered this offseason and who will probably be another quick graduate to A+ which is where I and others had him starting his pro career, is one of my top organizational picks to burst onto the scene with a great season (as long as he successfully adjust to a new level of competition, which he had no problem doing going from college to the independent circuit) and force the baseball world to notice his arrival. At this time next season, I foresee there will be a lot more written about Wheat than just a few blurbs in the deep dark corners of the baseball affiliated internet.

J.J. GouldJ.J. Gould is a Marlins’ 24th round draft pick from last season out of Jacksonville University whom he joined after spending his freshman year at Florida State. As a Jacksonville Dolphin, Gould enjoyed a .303/.403/.473, 12 HR, 62 RBI, 108/55 K/BB two year career before turning pro in 2016. Between 53 games with the Muckdogs and a short 11 game stint with the Grasshoppers at the end of the year, Gould’s pro career got of to a great start in the power department. After posting team high totals in slugging, .407, homers, 6, and doubles, 15, Gould wrapped his year up by smacking three more homers in 39 ABs with Greensboro. Still growing into a 6’0″ 195 pound frame, Gould, who just recently began to tap into his power potential when he went from three homers and 12 XBH in his junior year to nine homers and 28 XBH in his senior year two seasons ago before translating that success to the pros this year, definitely has room to grow into even more plus power ability.

Gould shows fantastic potential for a fit and muscley doubles first power threat but he is plate prescence is still very raw. Often a strikeout victim even in college, his patience and vision need to be groomed at least to the point that he isn’t striking out three more times than he walks if he plans to succeed as an every day bat. If Gould can improve that area of his game, his good mechanics which include him striding through his lofty swing fluidly and transferring his weight from back to front very well from a low stance and an even 6’0″ frame which diminishes his strike zone, he will become a solid middle of the order hitter with the abiliy to extend innings and help turn lineups over.

Defensively, Gould can play short, second and third. He shows good reflexes and a good first step toward the ball off the bat which allowed him to post a 2.47 range factor last year. A part time pitcher in high school, Gould’s arm was clocked as high as 82 MPH from the mound. With maturation into his body, that velo has grown to right around the 87 MPH mark. After spending his 2015 collegiate season at shortstop where he contriubted 128 assists and was involved in 32 of the Dolphins’ 50 double plays, Gould spent most of his 2016 season at the hot corner where he contributed 61 assists in 94 total chances and a solid 2.47 range factor. Considering that in half as many games at short he contributed more errors last year (8 Es at SS vs 5 at 3B), it would appear as though Gould is more comfortable making throws directly across the diamond. That and his power potential make him a better fit at third and that is where he will probably live out his future.

Projected Rotation

1. Cody Poteet
2. Tyler Kolek
3. Brett Lilek
4. Justin Jacome

Cody Poteet is a Marlins’ fourth rounder from 2015 out of UCLA where he enjoyed a 3.91 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 2.25 K/BB three year career, including a 2.45 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 2.27 K/BB junior year which earned him his draft stock in the first five rounds and the 190th best prospect in the 2015 draft, according to BaseballAmerica. Upon his arrival in the pros, Poteet would unfortunately become another 2016 Hoppers’ returnee that would fall victim to a serious injury. At the ripe age of 20 just 12.2 innings into his Marlins’ career, Poteet was placed on the 60 day DL thereby ending his season. It was thought at the time that, like most other players who suffer such an injury at such an early stage of their career, that Poteet’s development would be seriously hampered.

However, last year in his first year in full season ball and in the first action he’d seen in nearly a full calendar year against the best competition he’s ever faced, Poteet was not only able to prove those beliefs invalid, he was able to place himself among the Marlins’ top 13 organizational prospects by having a standout season. Throwing exclusively as a starter, Poteet posted a 2.91 ERA, fifth best in the South Atlantic League among qualifiers. This came by way of a .240 BAA, 11th best in the Sally and an 8.13 K/9, good enough for 15th best among the 34 qualfying starters.

The area that Poteet struggled in and which led to him posting the Sally’s 14th highest 1.30 WHIP was limiting walks. His 2.41 K/BB ranked 22nd among the same 34 qualifiers and his 3.38 BB/9 were 13th highest. Poteet has great command of his solid four pitch arsenal when he is going well but he needs to develop more control over it as he moves through the minors to complete his game. This is the biggest of few areas of concern for the 22-year-old.

Poteet’s repertoir consists of low-mid 90s heat that possesses good late run to the corners and good bite when low in the zone, where it usually lives but can get him in trouble when he misses up or out over the plate. Poteet’s best pitch is a power slider that sits in the 83-85 MPH range and which shows great late bend away from hitters. If he hits the right arm slot, the pitch has the ability to make the opposition look silly fishing out of the zone. Poteet keeps hitters guessing by throwing in a low 80s curve which he has the ability to spin in well with hard bite and not much arc, making the slightly above average pitch a good compliment to the slider which he keeps on the outer half. Again though, when the release point is off, it can cost him. If Poteet hopes to stick as a starter, his changeup, currently a work in progress and a mid 80s offering, will need to improve in order to become a piggybacking pitch to the fastball. He began to throw the pitch much more frequently last year since developing it late in his college career. At times, it showed flashes of the capibility to become a plus offering with good deep fade. If Poteet can develop the consistent arm speed and gain more of a feel for it as he moves up in the minor league ranks, it will be a perfect early and equal count partner pitch for his faster heat and slower curve and slider.

Poteet’s delivery mechanics before release are pleasure to watch. Slow and methodical through most of his rocker step wind-up, he explodes through his downhill release with great snappy force, making him extremely difficult for hitters to time. On the downside, the powerful release is where his control problems stem from due to his tendency to overhrow, leading to the aformentioned issues with his release points and arm speed. It is getting this in check and keeping it in check as he grows into his body and possibly more velo that will be the trick for the 22-year-old. If he can, his ceiling is pretty high: 3-5 starter. If not, his floor is still that of a solid back end reliever. Due to his success last year, Poteet is another guy who should be on the move quickly if he plays the same game to begin 2016.

Tyler KolekTyler Kolek is the Marlins’ top overall prospect from last year who slips to number two this year after the drafting of Braxton Garrett and a lot of struggles in 2015 before missing the entire 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery. A high schooler in 2014, Kolek surged up draft boards by throwing consistently over 100 MPH, making him one of the best velo guys in MLB Draft history, according to MLB.com. After a short stint in the GCL, Kolek joined the Hoppers in 2015 to a lot of buzz but delivered very little desired results. His velo dropped from the triple digits he showed before being drafted down to the mid 90s making his fastball which can flash good downward action but is usually straight as an arrow much more hittable. Compounding the situation was the fact that neither of Kolek’s breaking pitches, his slider or his change, showed much in the way of being any more than mediocre with control of his entire arsenal absolutely putrid. This led to an ugly 81/61 K/BB or a 4.0% K/BB%, fourth worst in the Sally and a tenth highest 4.56 ERA by way of a fourth highest 4.87 FIP.

In 2015, Kolek dropped his velo from his 100+ in his pre-draft days where he threw 100+ to 94 MPH. This probably came at the request of his pro coaches who likely suggested he was too max effort all the time. That same reason compounded by an apparently irresponsible high school coach who didn’t instruct him otherwise is likely what led to discomfort and ineffectiveness in 2015 and what led to him undergoing TJ at the young age of 20. A quote from Dr. James Andrews, the world renowned quintessential expert of Tommy John, points out the carelessness of coaches at the entry levels in a quote to DriveLine Baseball by saying the following:

“It used to be that we didn’t see these injuries until they got into high-level professional baseball. But now, the majority of the injuries are either freshmen in college, or even some young kid in ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th grade in high school. These young kids are developing their bodies so quickly, and their ligament … isn’t strong enough to keep up with their body, and they’re tearing it.”

Dan Jennings, who was the Marlins’ GM when Kolek was drafted and likely one of the big reasons for Kolek being instructed not to go 100% all the time, was quoted in the same article as saying:

“You get these specialized regimens where you build large muscle groups, but not the small muscles around the rotator and UCL. The large muscles get developed so large that when you try to decelerate, you can get badly hurt.”

During the 2015 Grasshoppers’ season, Marlins’ scouting director Marc DelPiano made a comment that would seem to confirm the ideology of Kolek was going max effort at all times during his high school days, which led to the injury.

“I think all of it’s been just energy-related, so he’s kind of modified his energy. He’s not as high-effort, he’s more effortless in how he approaches things with his delivery and his release.”

So, now that we know where the injruy came from, can Kolek, who suffered the injury in the most crucuial stage of his body growth, can the ligament make a comeback and allow Kolek to live out his true potential as a prospect? Recent findings and the miracle of modern medicine suggests that he can. Where Tommy John used to be thought to be a kiss of death for pitchers, it currently holds an MLB success rate of 78% according to the Hardball Times. This means that near 80% of those who underwent the surgery were able to come back to pitch in at least one major league game. That survey was done in 2015 and the number was steadily rising. In Kolek’s case, even though a return to the mound will be very exciting and he will want to do everything he can to make up for lost time, he needs to keep things in perspective. Still just 21, there is plenty of time for him to succeed in this league and that is the wisdom that needs to be imparted on him by his coaches. It will be a new way of life for a pitcher that went full bore for four full years in high school but it is an attitude which he needs to grow accustomed to if he wants to succeed in this league. During that time, Kolek needs to develop secondary stuff to compliment his 70/80 fastball. If he can do so, he has a potential ceiling of a future ace. At the very least, a healthy Kolek has the floor of a very effective fiery closer. As a second overall draft pick, the Marlins are going to take it easy with Kolek and give him every chance to succeed. For this reason, I expect Kolek to spend most of 2017 repeating low A where he will try to complete his arsenal before a potential call to Jupiter to end the year.

Brett Lilek is the Marlins’ second round draft choice from 2015 out of the Arizona State University. There, Lilek enjoyed a fantastic collegiate career, tossing to the tune of a 3.05 ERA via a 1.22 WHIP. Lilek struggled slightly with control in his college career, leading to a 4.33 BB/9 including a 4.69 mark in his draft year which is likely what kept the standout lefty from being selected even sooner than 50th overall. However, Lilek was able to iron out those issues in his pro debut season in Batavia, posting a 43/7 K/BB and a 3.34 ERA in his first 11 games and 35 IP. On June 24, 2015, Lilek was one of three pitchers to contribute to a Muckdogs’ combined perfect game, the first in the club’s storied 76 year history. Lilek credits his success in Batavia in perfecting his logistics and thereby nailing down his control and getting his walk totals in check to his pitching coach, Brendan Sagara.

“One thing I did to channel my walks was refine my mechanics and I believe working with Sags really helped me,” Lilek said. “He helped me understand the mechanics from the bottom up and make adjustments when needed.”

With a great debut season under his belt by way of both physical and mental improvement, Lilek entered 2016 as the fifth best organizational prospect according to BaseballAmerica and looked primed to place himself on the fast track to the majors. So when he came out and tossed to the tune of very uncharacteristic numbers including a 5.06 ERA and a 16/16 K/BB in his first seven games and 16 IP, it was obvious something wasn’t quite right. On June 4, it was revealed what that something was. On that date, the Grasshoppers placed Lilek on the DL with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. He would not return for the remainder of the year. The only mound Lilek saw for the rest of the year was in extended spring training in Jupiter. As dim as that may sound, Lilek praised the positive attitude of his fellow rehabbing teammates and laments it as a huge stepping stone to healing quicker.

“While in Jupiter, it really was just everyone wanting to see one another overcome their injury and have success,” Lilek said. “Every rehab person obviously doesn’t want to be there; they want to be playing the game that we all love so dearly so really taking advantage of your time there and making the most of it really helped propel myself into the offseason.”

Lilek’s return to the mound at NewBridge Bank Park and the Sally League will come this year when he returns to North Carolina for what he hopes to be his first real look in full season ball. However, he hasn’t been waiting until then to get back on the horse. Fortunately, able to avoid surgery, Lilek has stayed as active as possible putting in all the work necessary to come back stronger than ever.

“This offseason, I trained four times a week and through accordingly to the program that was provided by the Marlins,” Lilek said. “I believe following those guidelines have put me in a great place to perform during spring training to my highest potential.”

But the amount of hours and work Lilek has put in in order to ensure a healthy comeback hasn’t only been limited to following that training regiment. After getting the go-ahead to resume on-field workouts by the Marlins, Lilek promptly flew overseas to the Dominican Republic where he has been working out individually under the watchful eye of the Marlins’ staff. Lilek touts the time he has spent in the Dominican, which has been accompanied by some fantastic climate conditions that have allowed him to get the most out of each day, as a great catalyst for getting back to and even past the 100% he was at in 2015.

“I’m down in the Dominican refining my game, working one on one with the coaches and taking full advantage of the beautiful weather that I have been blessed with during my stay.” Lilek said. “I truly believe that this time down here has helped me become stronger, and more ready for the season and spring training that is ahead of me.”

Considering he was able to avoid going under the knife and since has not wasted a single hour of any day this offseason, thus putting in all the work and then some needed to get back to the mound healthier than ever, Lilek is a great candidate to take the next step this season. Before the injury, Lilek was already 6’4″, 220 with a fantastic downhill fluid, repeatable delivery from a deceptive arm angle. His arsenal included a 94-95 MPH heater, an already plus slide piece especially for his level of development which he threw with very controlled arm speed and sweeping action to the corners that got in well on the hands of righties allowing him to use it as either a setup pitch or an out pitch and a good mix-in which also flashed plus with good fade. He had great control over all three of his pitches and, with improved command, was setting up to realize his ceiling as a back end starter and realize it quickly. If Lilek can come back completely rebuilt physically and with another year of growing into his frame in the past which could spell even more power and a rise in velo, not only could he place himself back on the same track to fulfill his potential, he could raise his stock even further. Wherever Lilek’s future lies, one thing is for sure: at just 22, he has handled the harsh reality of a season ending injury in just his second year as a pro with maturity well beyond his years and gone above and beyond the call of duty in order to get back to playing the game he admires and respects. For those reasons, Lilek is an extremely easy guy to root for. This may be the start but trust me, if things play out advantageously and his health holds up, this won’t be the last time we hear the name Brett Lilek mentioned in the same sentence as great accomplishments this season.

Projected Team Stats

65-75
.254/.320/.348
75 HR/385 XBH
1,190 IP, 3.62 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

Five Prospects To Watch In Marlins’ Camp

Drew Steckenrider

It’s that wonderful time of year again where the weather is getting warmer and spring training baseball is inching closer to returning to Roger Dean Stadium. With it this year, the return of players to the field and fans to the bleachers will also bring an auspicious group of talented young men vying to either either make it back to the majors or to make their first MLB squad in 2017. Here is a look at some of the Marlins’ talent hoping to impress this spring training.

1 – Drew Steckenrider, RHP

Steckenrider owns a feel good story, one of determination and perserverence that makes him an extremely easy guy to root for. After a mediocre start to his career in which he threw primarily as a starter to the tune of a 4.01 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP between short season and low A, the Marlins’ eighth round pick in the 2012 Draft went down with an injury to his throwing elbow and missed the bulk of the 2013 season and all of the 2014 season. After Tommy John surgery and 18 months on the shelf, Steckenrider returned in 2015. That year, between Greensboro and Jupiter, he traded off throwing both in starts and in relief. In 58.1 IP as a starter, he had a 3.56 ERA by way of a 1.48 WHIP. Looks good on the forefront but most of that success came with the Grasshoppers and competition much younger than the then 24-year-old. As a member of the Hammerheads, even though he was throwing in one of the biggest pitchers’ parks in the minors, Steckenrider got touched up for a 4.41 ERA by way of a nasty 1.71 WHIP and .284 BAA. As a Hammerheads’ reliever throwing in nearly the same amount of innings that he threw as a starter (24 in relief vs 32.2 in the rotation), Steckenrider stifled the most mature competition he’s ever faced, holding down a 1.50 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP and a .239 BAA while striking out 14 and walking seven.

Based off those numbers and the fact that he was just a season removed from a potentially career ending injury, the Marlins provided Steckenrider with some stability, putting him the in the much less physically strenuous bullpen full-time in order to safeguard and prolong the life of his potentially very live arm. With his mind at ease regarding just what exactly his role on the team was, Steckenrider shined in throwing exclusively out of the pen in 2016. Following a near perfect ten inning start in Jupiter in which he didn’t allow a run and posted a 17/2 K/BB while allowing just two hits, Steckenrider was called up to AA. He spent most of the season there, tossing 30.1 innings and holding hitters to a .120 BA, a mark which led the Southern League (among pitchers with at least 30 IP) and a 0.73 WHIP which was second in the Southern League. He also successfully converted all six of his save opportunities.

After facing the prospect of figuring out life after baseball two seasons previous, Steckenrider ended 2016 pitching at the highest level of Minor League Baseball. For the AAA Zephyrs, he converted seven more saves in seven chances, running his season total to 14 in 15 chances.

Following the season in which he was named an organizational All-Star, Steckenrider took his talents to the Arizona Fall League where he continued to impress. In 10 games and 13 IP, Steckenrider posted a 15/4 K/BB and a 1.23 WHIP and collected three more saves while pitching against some of baseball’s top prospects. He was also one of three pitchers to contribute to the Mesa Solar Sox’s combined no hitter on November 1, just the third no-no in the 25-year history of the AFL.

As Steckenrider confided to Today’s Knuckleball, the sense of stability the Marlins gave him in 2015 when they moved him from the dreaded swing man role to a full-time relief role has made all the difference.

“I would start, and then I’d do my arm care stuff, but then I’d be out in the bullpen a few days later, which, I would never get the recovery, and I never got the rhythm and the bounce-back time,” Steckenrider admitted about his difficult role in 2015. “It was really hard to have success. But this year, I finally got into that consistent role in the back end of the bullpen, and I earned my spot back there early. It was nice because I stayed there all year, but I also got into a good routine with the trainers and strength coaches, and that kept me healthy and on the field.”

The lanky 6’5″, 215 Steckenrider shortens his distance to the plate with an overwhelming smooth delivery especially for a guy with limbs as long as his and heat as fiery. He maintains his looseness well through his quick stretch delivery right up until the point where his arm starts going forward from his full arm circle windup. All the way through his delivery, he remains straight up and down and manages not to fall off to either side of the plate. In short, although simple, it is a mechanically fantastic delivery for a guy his build. Steckenrider’s go-to pitch is a fastball that usually ranges from 95-98 but can touch triple digits and has great late run to the corners. Since becoming a full-time late inning reliever, he has simplified his approach and doesn’t feature his breaking stuff a lot in favor of attacking with the heat but he will attempt to get guys to chase and offset the fastball in equal or positive counts with an 82-83 MPH 10-6 slider. With good feel for the pitch, the late breaker is is a great compliment to his heat and generates an equal rate of swings and misses. Steckenrider can also throw a 83-86 MPH changeup but with little fade and an inconsistent arm slot release, it’s the least developed of his pitches.

Sticking to his bread and butter, the heater and slide piece combo, Steckenrider has revitalized a career that once was on life support. He heads into spring training this year with a shot at making the Marlins’ bullpen. While he will have to do battle with the likes of more proven talent such as Brian Ellington, Hunter Cervenka and Jake Esch, don’t count Steckenrider out for a spot on the Opening Day roster this season.


22 – Brian Anderson, 3B/1B

Anderson, a Marlins’ 2014 fourth round draft pick, heads into 2017 as Miami’s top positional prospect. He earns that title after a .265/.348/.389 2016 campaign. After getting off to a .302/.377/.440 start with the Hammerheads, Anderson made the difficult jump to AA. In 86 games, he slammed eight homers, bettered only by two other Jacksonville Suns. He also appeared, as evidenced by collective 1.67 K/BB (including a 59/36 K/BB with the Suns) to temper the strikeout woes that hampered him in 2015 when he K’d 109 times to just 40 walks (2.275 K/BB). Improved plate vision and patience allowed the power hitter to get under and square up the ball much more often as shown by a 0.76 GB/FB rate as opposed to the 1.03 mark he posted in ’15 and the fact that he collected 128 hits, most in the organization. At the end of the year, he was named the Marlins’ Minor League Player of the Year. Despite all of these positives and accolades all of which he showed while making the hardest jump there is to make in the minors, Anderson was critical of his .243/.330/.359 tenure with the Suns, equating it to nerves and the stress he put on himself to succeed right away and with that initial high-tension situation out of the way, promised bigger things in 2017.

“Any time you jump a level you want to instantly have an impact,” said Anderson. “That’s kind of what happened with me. I went up there and put a lot of pressure on myself to perform really well. You just have to take a step back and realize that it’s baseball, it’s a game, you’ve been playing it your whole life.”

Anderson gave a sneak-peak and what those bigger things will be in the Arizona Fall League. In 22 games and 77 ABs, Anderson lit the AFL ablaze by hitting a league-most five homers with a .273/.360/506 slash line numbers which ranked right up on the offensive leader boards with some of baseball’s top prospects such as the Indians’ Bradley Zimmer, BaseballAmerica’s #31, the Yankees’ Gleyber Torres, #41, the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger, #54. His .866 OPS was fifth in the AFL and his .234 ISO ranked third. Anderson ended his 2016 tenure with the Solar Sox by going 2-4 and smacking his sixth homer of the campaign to help Mesa to the league championship crown.

Anderson is a third baseman by trade and is extremely athletic making him good for the occasional spectacular play. However, his 6’3″, 185 pound frame along with his inaccurate throwing arm that was the primary culprit in him racking up 27 total errors last year and 18 in 2015 make him a much better fit at the other corner.

While Anderson will need to continue his positive development in the upper minors to start 2017, his successful 2016 campaign along with his showing in the AFL definitely has him in very good standing with the organization. With a good showing in spring training and continued success with the Shrimp, Anderson could put himself in the running for an MLB debut this year, especially if the Marlins follow through with not signing a lefty hitting platoon partner for Justin Bour in favor of carrying an extra reliever. Last year, Anderson hit lefties at a .303/.370/.500 clip.

JT Riddle3 – J.T. Riddle, SS

Riddle, the Marlins’ 13th rounder from 2013 comes into 2017 as the club’s ninth best prospect. He earns that title after a .276/.326/.366 campaign in 389 ABs with the Suns followed by a .268/.281/.357 15 game tenure in AAA to end the year. The 25-year-old has had success in every level he has played at. His .274/.318/.369 career bat has helped negate the fact that he entered the majors as a 22-year-old following a three-year college career at the University of Kentucky in which he slashed .283/.358/.384. He has extremely quick bat speed within his snappy line drive approach, which allows him to limit Ks as he fights off tough pitches (he boasts a an above average 14% K rate for his career) but he does need to improve his patience and career walk rate of just 6% in order to become every day starting material.

What puts Riddle in the conversation to be an every day contributor to an MLB lineup someday soon despite owning a slightly above average career MiLB .274 BA and .687 OPS at age 25 is the fact that he is a wizard defensively. In regards to middle infield prospects, Riddle is perhaps one of the best in baseball. In 2020.1 MiLB innings at shortstop, Riddle has made just 34 errors and posted a 4.17 career range factor. He is equally as good at second base, the position he played most in college and in which he has been at fault for just one single error in 262.2 career minor league innings. Riddle boasts equally as impressive range at second via a 4.13 range factor. His arm which has been clocked as high as 93 MPH as well as his ability to make fantastic reads off the bat also give him eligibility at third base and all three outfield positions. Should Riddle improve his plate vision and learn to work counts a bit better, he lines up as an elite defender with average offensive skills and speed, exemplary of a bottom of the order catalyst advantageous to turning the lineup back over. At the very least, his glove already makes him a more than solid defensive replacement. Thanks to his flexibility and prowess at a range of defensive positions, with a good showing this spring and continued improvement in New Orleans, Riddle could make his major league debut later this year.

4 – Tayron Guerrero, RHP

Guerrero, the organization’s 26th best prospect, came to the Marlins as a secondary piece in the Andrew Cashner trade but may prove to be the only valuable piece the Marlins get out of it. That is if Guerrero can iron out one big issue: body control. Once a tall lanky arms and legs guy, Guerrero bulked up, going from 170 pounds to 210 pounds in a single offseason. While the extra poundage and muscle turned his once mediocre 86 MPH fastball ranking 45-50 on the 30-80 scale into a sizzling 95 MPH offering with the ability to reach triple digits, giving it a 65-70 rating, the same problems he’s had since the beginning of his career in keeping his long extremities under his control have persisted. This stems from a herky-jerky delivery that holds little to no fluidity and fluctuating unstable release points. Guerrero has showed flashes of a successful late inning reliever at times offsetting his straight and narrow fastball with a good late sweeping out pitch slider but his inability to stay consistent is what has kept him out of MLB bullpens and instead mired in the minors.

Albeit in a tiny sample of 14 IP, Guerrero has had a good start to his Marlins’ organizational career, tossing to the tune of a 1.93 ERA by way of a 1.00 WHIP and .212 BAA but aside from the fact that it was at the AA level, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Guerrero’s career has been a roller coaster that has seen him go from showing the make up of a good closer only to regress back to him barely being worthy of a spot in AAA. That trend reared its ugly head again this past year. After the aforementioned solid start with the Suns, he went to the Dominican Winter League and allowed eight runs in 3.2 IP.

The reason why Guerrero makes this list despite his struggles is that when he has been on, he has resembled Carter Capps, whom, along with slugger Josh Naylor, the Marlins gave up in the trade that brought Guerrero and Cashner to Miami. With a short distance to go to the plate, a downhill delivery, some of the hottest heat in the league and a great slider that he tilts and commands well to the corners when he’s going good, if Guerrero finds his consistency, he could become a mainstay at the back of the bullpen and could at least partially Band-Aid another woeful Marlins trade that saw one of their bullpen anchors as well as a budding young power hitter go away in favor of 11 rental starts worth of a 5.98 ERA, provided by Cashner before he himself left town for Texas this offseason.

Even if Guerrero has a lights out spring, he likely won’t make the club out of camp, but by making a positive impact and getting off to a steady start in AAA, Guerrero could be a candidate to join what is shaping up to be an eight man Marlins bullpen later this year. At 25, it is pretty much make it or break it time for Guerrero. Despite not being able to find his groove on the mound on a regular basis, Guerrero has always been a fierce competitor. So, struggles aside, I wouldn’t count him out to finally put it all together and break through this season.


5 – Jarlin Garcia, LHP

Garcia is a 24-year-old 6’3″, 215 pound lefty in his seventh year in the Marlins’ organization. He came to the Fish as an international signee out of the Dominican in 2011 and impressed early in his pro career, tossing 52.0 3.29 ERA innings in his native country then coming to the US and adjusting to stateside ball very quickly and easily, tossing a very similar 40.0 innings worth of 3.60 ERA ball. He continued to fly through the minors in 2013, posting a 3.10 ERA in 69.2 innings with Batavia, by way of a 1.09 WHIP. His 74 strikeouts that year were fifth most in the New York Penn League and his K/BB% of 19.7% was second best. Garcia took a step back in adjusting to full season ball but was still a fairly decent 4.38 ERA in by far the most extensive season of his baseball career and more than double the innings he pitched the year previous. However, by being the best control pitcher in the Sally proven by the fact that he struck out the league’s tenth most batters, 111, and walked its fewest hitters, 21 thereby posting its best overall K/BB of 5.29%, Garcia was able to erase a high .280 BAA by posting a 1.29 WHIP, 12th lowest in the Sally. Because of the amazing authority he had over his arsenal, Garcia’s heightened .332 BABIP and even more decent than his ERA, 3.77 FIP as well as being honored with a Futures’ Game selection that season tells us he once again pitching like a top prospect worthy of a call to the next level. Garcia got that call at the beginning of the year in 2015 and got off to a 3.06, 1.227 WHIP, 3.00 K/BB% start in 97 innings with the Hammerheads before receving yet another callup to AA. Making the tough jump and pitching against competition an average of three years older than him, Garcia struggled in seven Suns’ starts. However, stats aside, backed by the fact that the Marlins added him to the 40-man at the time of his Jacksonville call-up, Garcia had successfully put himself on the radar to make his MLB debut sometime in the very near future, perhaps as early as 2016.

However, that season, Garcia’s progression would take a very unfortunate step back. After getting a peak in spirng training and after 35.2 innings of 4.04 ERA ball with 25/9 K/BB, the Marlins called Garcia, a starter, up to the bigs in order for him to apparently help an injury-riddled bullpen only to leave him sitting on the bench for the next eight days. Upon his return to the minors, Garcia’s first start lasted two innings. The control-first pitcher only threw 29 of his 45 pitches for strikes. In his second start, he was removed in the third inning after allowing four runs. Five days later, it was revealed that Garcia had a triceps injury and he was placed on the DL retroactive to his first outing back with the Suns.

After missing nearly three full months, Garcia returned to the mound on a rehab stint in the Gulf Coast League preceding him ending his season with the Hammerheads. In those 10 innings against talent below his level, he allowed just one run and held down an 11/1 K/BB. Following the MiLB season’s end, Garcia continued his rehab first in the Arizona Fall League then in the Dominican League where he posted a combined 3.56 ERA in 20.2 IP with a 14/5 K/BB and a 1.18 WHIP. He enters spring training this season as a guy who is still on the Marlins’ radar by way of him being their number three prospect and one of the best control arms in the entire organization but at 24 on his way back from a serious arm injury, he may be destined for the bullpen which is a bit depressing considering Garcia’s ceiling when he came into the professional ranks.

Still, even if Garcia doesn’t start, he can provide great value to a bullpen by way of his four quality above-average pitches and the control he has over all of them. Throwing from a delivery incredibly smooth from a guy of his 6’3″, 215 pound build. Where he deceives hitters best is on his follow-through which he explodes into after the aforementioned slow methodical windup which itself comes after a slow methodical look-in to his catcher and pace of play as he owns the mound and gets inside the mind of his opposition. His snappy follow-through and size allow him to generate easy low-mid 90s velo which at times can go higher. Garcia’s best breaking pitch is his changeup which is shows a good velo drop off of at least 10 MPH from his heat. Usually sitting in the 80-82 MPH range and shows good fade and depth. Garcia’s third pitch curve is a more average pitch which he struggles with the release point of because of his aforementioned ramped up follow-through but which he has shown the ability to throw with good downward bite. The fourth pitch slider is Garcia’s least developed pitch. He doesn’t have a great feel for it but he does run it well away from hitters at times giving it good mix-in value.

While Garcia’s future as a rotation piece is in doubt due the fact that he needs to develop a lot more command in a short period of time, he is still a guy that, based on his control alone, could provide solid innings eating relief help out of the bullpen. It’s doubtful he makes the squad in any capacity out of camp, but he is a guy to watch this spring and in the minors thereafter as he tries to get back on track after being bitten by the injury bug last year. A fierce competitor as shown by the fact that he played as much as he could at two different levels basically all offseason long trying to put the missed time behind him, I wouldn’t put it past Garcia to return with a fire lit under him this year.

Trade Analysis: Luis Castillo, Austin Brice, Isaiah White To Reds For Dan Straily

Dan Straily

A few months back at the winter meetings, the Marlins passed on a multitude of offers they had on the table offering proven MLB pitching help for their top pitching prospect above A, Luis Castillo. They passed on all of them. This week, the Marlins dealt Castillo along with swing man Austin Brice and raw but talented outfielder Isaiah White, three of their top 16 prospects, for first-year Reds’ starter last year, Dan Straily whom they claimed off of waivers last April.

Straily is a 24th round draft pick by the Oakland Athletics from 2008. He had an average to mediocre start to his minor league career, posting a 4.09 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP before breaking out in AA and AAA in 2012. In 152 IP that year, he had a 3.02 ERA and an even 1.000 WHIP before getting his first major league cup of coffee in August. In two combined short stints with the A’s that equaled 39 IP at the end of that season, he held down an ERA just shy of 4 (3.89) and a 1.322 WHIP. Despite the fairly solid year, Straily was left off the A’s 2013 Opening Day roster and began a second year in AAA. But after holding down a 1.14 ERA in his first five starts, he was called up to begin his first full year in the majors. Pitching in 27 starts and 152.1 IP, the 24-year-old rookie was moderately impressive. He negated a pretty high walk rate of 3.4 by allowing just 132 hits, spelling out a 1.241 WHIP and a 3.96 ERA Five years younger than the average major leaguer, it looked as though Straily, with a solid enough for a back-end starter rookie year in his pocket even though he had a very limited arsenal of just two plus WAR pitches, good heat and a nasty slider and was very susceptible to the homer (2.5 HR/9), had plenty of room to grow.

However, in 2014, Straily faded back into mediocrity. He made his first Opening Day roster and despite one start in which he allowed six runs, was his usual self, posting a 3.5 walk rate and a 2.1 HR/9 but again negated them by allowing a total of 33 hits, leading him to another solid WHIP of 1.252. On the forefront his 4.93 ERA beginning to his second MLB season was hideous but erase the aforementioned one bad start and his ERA was 3.54 with four quality starts. However, the A’s apparently couldn’t look past that one unfortunate outing. They sent Straily back to AAA on May 8th. For the next two seasons, Straily would remain mired in the minor league systems of three different organizations, unable to return to the form he flashed in 2013 and 2014. From a 4.71 ERA, 1.270 WHIP first half of 2014 with the Sacramento Bees of Oakland’s system to a 4.09, 1.436 second half with the Iowa Cubs whom he joined as part of the Addison Russell/Jeff Samardzija trade to a 4.77, 1.402 full season with the Fresno Grizzlies, Houston’s AAA affiliate whom he joined after the trade that sent Dexter Fowler to the Cubs in 2015 with a few equally unimpressive MLB spot starts sprinkled in, Straily was in serious danger of putting a label on himself that no baseball player wants: AAAA player.

This past year, the Reds gave Straily perhaps his final chance to prove he can make it in the majors. After joining the Padres in a minor trade only to be DFA’d by them before ever appearing in a game for their organization, the Reds, Straily’s fifth club in four seasons, claimed him off waivers. In a do-or-die year in reference to his career in Major League Baseball, it would appear on the forefront that Straily was able to return to to form. In the most hitter friendly park in the league, he posted a 3.76 ERA by way of a 1.19 WHIP. However, if we delve deeper into Straily’s stats, it is revealed that he seems to have been a very fortunate beneficiary of circumstance.

First, let’s take a look at Straily’s BABIP. Where the major league average is .298 and Straily’s career MLB average is .255, he put up a .239. Unsustainable. Also unsustainable is Straily’s LOB%. Where that MLB average was 72.9% and Straily’s career average is 74.3%, he stranded runners at a ridiculous 81.2% rate. Unless you believe Straily has suddenly become comparable to guys like Jon Lester, Ian Kennedy, Max Scherzer and Kyle Hendricks (all of whom had higher BABIPs than Straily), he will not be capable of posting metrics like that again. The numbers from Straily’s good full season with the Astros are astronomically different. That year, his BABIP was a much more realistic .266 and his LOB% a much more regulated 70.3%. So again, Straily didn’t return to that form last year; he was just lucky. What aided him in his good fortune was a good Reds’ defense. Even though it committed the seventh most errors in baseball, the Cincinnati D only lost a total of 6.5 runs to them. In nearly every other one of their advanced fielding metrics including their 17.1 range runs above average which ranked ninth in baseball, their 6.0 ultimate zone rating which ranked 13th, their 10 runs above average good fielding plays which ranked third and their overall 11.0 Def rating, the Reds’ defense was one of the better manned fields in the league.

The luck Straily had and the aid he got from his defense is further proven by the 5.02 xFIP, the rate at which Straily could’ve been expected to give up runs independent of fielders. It was the highest xFIP among NL starters. Straily’s good fortune is also proven by the rate at which he gave up hard contact, 32.2%, 11th highest among NL starters. Straily induced ground balls at the absolute lowest rate in the NL among starters, 32% which is fine for a pure fly ball pitcher. But he also allowed the most homers in baseball, 31, by way of the 15th highest HR/FB ratio among NL starters. Great American Ballpark which had the fourth highest park factor in baseball is to blame, right? Well, no. In almost the exact same amount of innings on the road (92) versus at home (99), Straily gave up 18 homers. His total surrendered at Great American was 13. Looking at those same home/road splits a bit further will just baffle you even more and points to just how much of a ridiculous anomaly Straily’s 2016 campaign was. He was overall better — a lot better — at the his hitters’ haven band box of a home park as opposed on the road. Again, in nearly the same amount of innings at home versus on the road, he held hitters to a .193 BA and posted a 2.90 ERA. On the road? .242 BAA and a 4.70 ERA. His home and road BABIPs? A virtually unheard of (especially considering where he was pitching and a mark which very well may be the lowest ever posted at that park) .213 versus a much more regulated .266 on the road.

So here we have in Straily, a guy which had one decent full season in the majors before spending most of the rest of his career in the minors, a guy the Reds threw a bone by giving him quite possibly his final chance to succeed in the majors, and a guy who did so by having one of the luckiest seasons imaginable. It is only fair to mention that Straily’s 2016 season shouldn’t be completely written off as nothing but good fortune. He appeared to make some adjustments for the second half which brought an 8.3 K/BB% all the way up to 11.2% and he had one of the best sliders in baseball, value wise at 13.9 wins above replacement. It is on those hopes and the move to pitcher friendly NL East that the Fish are basing their hopes on Straily continuing to “rediscover” himself. If he can’t, at least he won’t be costing Miami much money. He is under club control until 2020.

While that all would be well and good to confide a couple B-C type prospects in, the Marlins parted with Luis Castillo (for the second time in a year, no less which raises questions about what the Marlins thought of his ability despite great on-field performance) their best minor league pitching prospect above single A, a guy who has the ability hit triple digits with his great sinking fastball and who has a fantastic changeup as well as great control over both of them and who is very close to making a major league debut, especially if he can continue to improve his command. They also lost a very solid hurler in Austin Brice, a guy who can pitch either from the back of the rotation or out of the bullpen thanks to a free and easy repeatable delivery despite his large size. Pitching in a swing man role this past year, he appeared to iron out the rest of his control issues on his way to a 2.74 ERA via a 1.098 WHIP between AA and AAA on his way to making his MLB debut. Brice has a debilitating curveball and, getting his 6’4″ 235 pound frame behind his pitches, a fastball that consistently sits mid 90s and has the ability to go even higher. He shortens the distance to the plate by throwing from a full circle arm angle in which he hides the ball well. Whether it be as a back end starter or a reliever, he definitely has a future in the majors that, like Castillo, isn’t far away.

The Marlins could have simply given their final rotation spot to Jeff Locke, a guy who has struggled last year but, with his return to the tutelage of the famous “pitcher whisperer”, Jim Benedict, the guy who made him an All-Star in 2013 and a 3.69 ERA, 1.365 WHIP, 4.02 xFIP contributor from 2013-15 in Pittsburgh, had as good a chance if not a better one as Straily did to return to his former “glory”. If Locke didn’t, Castillo, with continued success in AA/AAA, would be waiting in the wings to join the rotation and/or Brice, who already made his MLB debut last year, would be waiting to join either the rotation or the bullpen in long relief, allowing the Marlins to move David Phelps back to the rotation. Instead, the Fish lose both of those young prospects for a 27-year-old former journeyman with very little self-made major league success in his pocket.

All things considered, what can we expect from Straily? If he does manage to win the final rotation spot out of spring training, something the Marlins have yet to commit to him in favor of saying they will still run an open competition, home league aside, there is no way he will post another BABIP as low as he did in 2016. That said, even though the Marlins have a better defense than the Reds did last year, his ERA, unless he’s on the same level a two-time lottery winner, should be closer to his xFIP. With Straily turning 28, making an educated guess, I would credit him with no better than a 4.50 ERA via a 1.3 WHIP and 20+ homers allowed. That is what not one, not two but three of our top 16 prospects will have cost us.

Bravo, Mr. Hill. Bravo.