Introducing my yearly spring training power rankings where I will update positional and pitching battles happening in Jupiter. Rankings are based both off of stats and off of eyewitness accounts and reports, will be updated weekly throughout the remainder of camp. Stats for this update are current as of 3/14/16.
Gillespie ended the 2015 regular season with the Marlins hitting .290. He is off to a 7-14, 2/1 BB/K, RBI, SB start this spring. In the field, Gillespie didn’t commit an error in 15 games last year and is eligible at all three outfield spots. After a journeyman type AAAA career, he’s found some projectable pop, slugging .360 in AAA before slugging .428 with Marlins. It’s make it or break it time for this 31-year-old and he appears to be aware.
Here we have a guy that likely had the most personally frustrating 2015 campaign of anyone in the organization. Through the first month and a half of the season, all Shoemaker managed to do was become the Zephyrs’ best hitter by way of a .308/.390/.504 line. However, despite injuries to Christian Yelich and lackluster play by in-house options Ichiro and Michael Morse, the left-handed hitting power bat was ignored. To make matters worse, a month before Giancarlo Stanton hit the disabled list with a broken bone in his hand, Shoemaker had taken a trip to the DL himself with a similar injury, forcing the Marlins to look past him in calling up a replacement. Adding insult to injury (literally), even after he came back and picked up right where he left off hitting .279 and OBPing .346 with 11 XBHs, Shoemaker didn’t even make September callups over the likes of Jordanny Valdespin, Tom Tellis and Reid Brignac. Still, Shoemaker, being the pro he is, finished the year strong ending up with a .284/.359/.417 slash line consisting of 24 XBHs and 50 RBIs as well as a 36/49 BB/K. Although it should have come already, Shoemaker’s major league debut isn’t far away. And when it comes, it will be one that will turn heads.
Maxwell came to the Marlins this offseason amid the speculation that the team was looking to replace Marcell Ozuna. With tensions between the team and Ozuna’s agent, Scott Boras seeming to have quited down, the 32-year-old is now in the mix for the fifth OF job. He has served in a similar capacity for much of his major league career, which spans seven seasons and 441 games over which he has hit .220/.303/.399. Most recently, he hit .209/.275/.341 in 100 games with the Giants last year. Like Gillespie, Maxwell’s career has screamed AAAA player thus far (he was a fourth round draft pick and has mashed the ball in the minors, proven by a .260/.352/.450 career MiLB line), but watching him in camp thus far, it’s been hard to tell. After showing up to camp in what looks to be great shape, Maxwell, who’s huge 6’5″ 225 pound frame screams and personifies baseball player, has already homered twice including a walk off, doubled, and knocked in four runs. While, like any power hitter, Maxwell is susceptible to the K, everything his bat touches is of the cover-tearing-off variety. His brand of pop off the bench as a late inning replacement and pinch hitter is something the Marlins missed dearly last season. As a team, they only hit .179/.258/.238 in PH situations. Add to the fact that Maxwell will be being coached by the all-time leader in pinch hits, Lenny Harris and you have a prime situation for him filling this role. Defensively, Maxwell has been equally impressive this year, twice robbing hits and once venturing in to the deepest corner of Roger Dean Stadium to rob a home run with a leap at the wall. He gets around the outfield with ease. In 79 games last year, he contributed three outfield assists and was a +5 in the DRS category. Although he has only managed to hover just above replacement level in his career thus far, Maxwell looks to have come to Marlins camp rejuvenated and driven, perhaps a sign that he knows he isn’t getting any younger. Should his early success continue, he will likely find himself pulling on a Marlins uniform on Opening Day.
Having never hit more than .239 above AA, Wilson came in to camp as a bit of a longshot to do more than just gain experience with the major league squad. But after the year he had last season with the Suns and the start he has gotten off to in camp, the 26-year-old has begun to turn some heads. Following a .270/.348/.394 hitting line complimented by 37 steals (3.7 SB% above average) as well as 9 assists and a 2.45 range factor in the field, the 26-year-old has gotten off to a 3-7 start this spring, albeit in limited action. He has also shown an outfield arm well becoming of the position he is trying for by contributing 2 outfield assists and covering more than all the ground necessary to make it as a late inning replacement. If he can learn to temper his strikeout rate, Wilson, even at 26, is a guy who can still contribute very positively at the major league level.
After managing to hit just .249/.278/.358 last year with the Zephyrs, Galloway is another guy who came in to camp as a bit of a longshot to win the job. Though he remains that right now, his start has been impressive. He’s gone 6 for his first 16 with two doubles and played defense becoming of the 2.84 range factor he displayed last year, covering good ground and taking good routes. With eligibility at every OF position and above average speed, this 26-year-old is very becoming of the role he is trying to fill, a late inning pinch runner and defensive replacement. However, on an even much higher scale than Wilson, Galloway could use to put his strikeout total very much in check. Last year with New Orleans, he struck out 108 times to just 18 walks. Considering he has already struck out 5 times to 0 walks this year in camp, he still remains a longshot for this or any MLB job.
Scruggs came to the Marlins in the offseason via a minor league contract. A right handed power bat, Scruggs has never had a problem reaching the fences and beyond, homering 20+ times in five times in his six minor league seasons above low A. However, that has also come at the price of well over 100+ Ks in each of them. In 2013 and 2014, his .376 and .370 OBPs could be attributed to BABIPs of .335 and .336. That figure dropped substantially last season to .285 and for the first time in his minor league career, his ISO did not top .200. With only 14 long balls to his name, another career low, and after a second medicore cup of coffee, the Cardinals cut him. He comes to the Marlins as a low risk, high reward signee. At 28 with just a handful of major league appearances to his credit, it’s unlikely Scruggs is going to reach the potential he once appeared to be capable of and his spring performance this far shows it. In eight games and 17 ABs, Scruggs has just two hits (one being a homer) and a 3-1 K/BB.
Conley was one of the guys whom the Marlins were forced to turn to due to injuries in 2015. After spending just four seasons above low A in the minors, including a spectacular 19 starts with the Zephyrs in 2015 which equated to a 2.52 ERA, an 81/40 (9.4%) K/BB, a 1.17 WHIP and a 77.2 LOB%, numbers which made him the ace of New Orleans’ staff and one of the Pacific Coast League’s top hurlers, the 25-year-old lefty joined the Marlins on June 10th. Conley responded well to his first taste of MLB action, holding his ERA under 4 with a 59/21 (13.5%) K/BB over 14 games, 11 starts, and 67 IP. He was susceptible to giving up the long ball as a Marlin, allowing seven over that same span, something which the newly moved in fences at Marlins Park will definitely not help but which the improvements he’s shown this spring definitely will. After his fastball touched an average of just 91 MPH in 2015 during his time with the Fish, Conley has come in to camp flashing a heater reaching as high as 96. The pitch also has improved sinking action and allows him to get ahead far more often than not. The Conley changeup has also made some jumps by the looks of it this spring, with tighter spin and a better release point. Those pitches set up his low-70s slider which he has the ability to bury. Keeping hitters completely off-balance with his newly improved velo and the fact that he is and has historically performed better against righties, this southpaw continues to surprise and impress. Early in camp, he looks like the contender to beat.
Nicolino came in to 2015 as the Marlins’ second best pitching prospect and unlike top prospect Tyler Kolek, he hasn’t disappointed so far on his minor league career but he isn’t quite there yet. Following a 14-4, 2.85, 1.07 WHIP season in AA in 2014, Nicolino made his third jump in level in as many years, reaching AAA at the age of 22. There, the pitch-to-contact finesse thrower hit a bit of a bump in the road. In 115 innings with the Zephyrs in 2015, he posted a 7-7 record, had a .294 BAA, a WHIP over 1.4, and an FIP over 4.6. Injuries to the starting rotation forced a premature MLB debut for Nicolino. In 12 starts with the Marlins, he was able to hold down a 4.01 ERA by way of a very low .259 BABIP. That said, he also gave up eight homers in 74 IP, his FIP was a heightened 4.85 and his xFIP was above 5. While Nicolino isn’t far away from being a MLB ready 3-5 starter, he lacks any sort of quality out pitch offering. Without one, his sub-90 MPH fastball, still developing changeup (although it flashes plus), and 75 MPH curve that doesn’t quite have enough downward velocity to induce swings and misses aren’t going to cut it at the major league level. That said, Nicolino is better against righties than lefties and still has plenty of time to fill out as a starter. His progression during the 2016 season with the Zephyrs will be monitored closely.
Like Conley, Urena is another guy the injury-plagued Marlins were forced to turn to in 2015. Unlike Conley though, he didn’t respond well. Coming to the Fish after just 11 games and 67.2 IP above AA, Urena was tagged for a 5.25 ERA (4.64 FIP), and a 1.1% K/BB in 20 games including nine starts. While Urena has the stuff to succeed as proven by the fact that he went from rookie ball to AAA in less than five years, he’s still very green. He has both a two-seamer and a four-seamer to his credit, both sitting in the 93 MPH range. The two-seamer lacks sink and is more of a fourth pitch in the works right now. His slurvy curve is even more so of a pitch in the works. Sitting in the 80 MPH range, it doesn’t have the bite Urena would advantageously like to place on the corners and quite often floats back over the heart of the plate. The rest of his breaking arsenal consists of a slider which has made strides over the last two years and his best pitch, a mid-80’s changeup. With more experience at the AAA level, Urena has the stuff to become a worthy back of the rotation arm or late reliever but with still some potential to live up to as well as some hitches in his mechanics to iron out when it comes to his arm angle and release points, he will need at least another half to full season in the minors.
After inexplicably waiting to sign or do much of anything until well near the end of winter, the Marlins scraped the bottom of the free agent pitchers market barrel by inking Edwin Jackson to the minimum MLB contract. Jackson comes to the Marlins following three straight dismal seasons with the Cubs, totaling 16-32 record, a 4.4 ERA, and a 1.52 WHIP over 82 games, after which he was DFA’d. At the end of last year, he joined the rebuilding Braves and tossed 24.1 relief innings. Although it’s a small sample size, those innings and the 31 relief innings he threw with the Cubs last year have been the best product Jackson has turned in in years. In those 55.2 frames, he held down a 3.07 ERA and a 1.168 WHIP. Coming down the stretch of a long 15 year career, Jackson no longer has much value outside of that capacity. That said, his stuff retained the best velo it’s had since 2012 last year. Though he is not what he once was by any stretch of the imagination whatsoever and has less of an outside chance of making the rotation especially after giving up five runs in his first two spring innings, the veteran is a class act, a good clubhouse guy and can still contribute positively in a 2-3 inning role out of the pen.