From waiting on a late blind date to waiting for the car in front of you to hit the gas at a green light to waiting for the loud chewer next to you to run out of popcorn in the movies, there are some things every American hates being patient for. Since his ridiculous month of May in which he hit .344 while the likes of Jeff Mathis was building to his current pace of just .222/.261/.483 line and Chris Johnson was barely managing to hit .237 and while the likes of Don Kelly, a .223/.288/.273 AAA hitter this year and Yefri Perez who has played zero games above AA were rewarded with roster spots, every Marlins fan with a knowledge of the minors felt the same way when it came to waiting for Tomas Telis to be called up. Their patience, including my own, were finally rewarded on Friday when Telis joined the Marlins for the second time, taking the roster spot of Justin Nicolino who was sent back to New Orleans.
I recapped Telis’ career leading up to this season earlier this month as part of my May Prospect of the Month write-up. For those details, give this a click.
To sum his career to this point up, which is a bit longer than most guys who just turned 25 thanks to him starting his career at 17 after being signed out of Venezuela, he is the latest product of the Texas Rangers’ rich tradition of scouting and signing quality catching help. The organization which once drafted future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez, held the likes of the game’s top three catching prospects Max Ramirez, Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the same 40-man, and which currently owns Brett Nicholas, the best hitting catcher in AAA (.303/.380/.514) brought Telis to the American major league scene in 2008. After a .317/.328/.434 start to his career in the Dominican affiliated league, short season single A and the Arizona Fall League, Telis came to full season ball in 2011. For the next three years, he jumped a level with each passing year, reaching AAA as a 23-year-old before receiving his first major league call up at the end of 2014. His Marlins career began during that offseason when the Marlins gave up quality pitching help in reliever Sam Dyson to acquire him.
This season, Telis has proven well worth that kind of investment as he has enjoyed his best season at the highest level of the minors. Aided by the second best full month of his career above rookie ball, a .344/.394/.508 June, piggybacking a .325/.438/.375 April and thus an overall .337/.420/.455 start to his season and a 14 RBI month of June, his third best run providing month in full season ball, Telis has become arguably the best all-around hitting catcher in the Pacific Coast League by way of a .311/.363/.413 overall slash line, 27 RBI, a 16/25 BB/K, and 13 XBH. The switch hitter has enjoyed sustained success against both lefties and righties slugging over .400 against both and batting well over .300 vs lefties very close to it vs righties, whom he has faced more frequently. He comes to the Marlins in the midst of an 18-56 run (.321/.360/.393) since June 19th.
A stout 5’8″ 220, Telis gets low in the box and minimizes a strike zone that he has good working knowledge of. While he isn’t a guy that is going to reach via walks a lot, he also will not strike out much thanks to a quick bat produced by good mechanics including soft hands that get horizontal quickly, elbows which he keeps pointed down toward the ball and a head which stays in a stationary downward position all the way through the ball. Due to limited size and strength, Telis isn’t a guy who is going to hit a lot of balls over the wall. But his knack for finding the barrel of the bat and surprisingly above average speed especially for a backstop makes him an XBH threat and a great for-average hitter that limits Ks and makes for a great bottom of the order candidate plenty capable of turning the lineup back over. On top of average defense behind the plate (32% CS% this year and 42% for his career), Telis, at his present, provides a solid platoon bat for J.T. Realmuto who is hitting just .167 vs LHP and a solid fill in fot Justin Bour who is on the DL, against righties, especially considering Chris Johnson is OPSing just .644 against them over the course of his past three seasons. Have the Marlins finally realized the value Telis provides to the current situation of this team, which is trying to stay in the wildcard hunt? Only time will tell. If not, I’ll be back with an update in the coming days.
UPDATE: As feared, Telis has been sent back to the minors in favor of Yefri Perez, who has never played a game above AA and who struck out 125 times last year as a member of the Jupiter Hammerheads. Although Perez was off to a much improved start to the year this year with the Jacksonville Suns and is the fastest man this organization has ever seen, the fact the Marlins sacrificed a quality switch hitting bat for him can only suggest to me that the Marlins do not think very highly of Telis, especially considering the likes of Kelly and Johnson remain with the team. It would not surprise me at all to see Telis traded as part of a package to bring back a back end starting pitcher before the trade deadline, nor would it surprise me to see Telis go on to bigger and better things as a type B prospect.
With the uncertainty surrounding their rotation, it’s a very advantageous time to be a long relief pitcher in the Miami Marlins’ organization. The team proved that on Monday when they called up Adam Conley from AAA to replace an injured Bryan Morris. Conley is the third such candidate the Marlins have promoted in the last two weeks.
Conley is a 6’3″, 185 pound lefty who has enjoyed a good minor league career, graduating to the next level with each passing season. He arrives in the majors at 25, right on schedule for his prospect status to expire. After being drafted out of Washington State in 2011 after a senior year which saw him become the ace of the staff, total the team’s second best K/BB (3.07) and the second best WHIP (1.3), Conley made his way to Greensboro. In his first 74 major league innings, he struck out 84 while only walking 24 and allowing 58 hits (1.1 WHIP) and holding down a realistic .289 BABIP, earning him the promotion to A+ Jupiter for the second half of the season. At just 22, Conley was on the fast track to make it to the majors. Conley then spent 2013 in AA Jacksonville where he put his endurance on display, leading the team in innings pitched with 138. Conley once again held baserunners to a minimum compiling a minuscule 1.06 WHIP. He allowed less hits (125) than IP and hung nearly as many Ks (129).
In 2014, Conley received his third call up in two years time. It was there with the Zephyrs in AAA that his numbers came crashing back down to earth. Averaging less than 6 innings per start, Conley averaged 6 earned runs on nearly 10 hits both career highs. He also posted career highs in BB/9 (3.9) and WHIP (1.52), assuring himself another year in the minors. While his 2014 season was a bit more realistic of the type of year Conley’s stuff translates to, the numbers were heightend by an extremely high .333 BABIP in his first year in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.
In almost exactly as many innings this season as last with the Zephyrs, Conley’s BABIP has normalized to .293 and with it, so have his H/9 (8.54) and WHIP (1.34), giving us our best inclination as to what to expect from him at the big league level. Though most of the offense he has given up has been his fault (4.35 FIP), Conley is pitching extremely well with men on base, stranding 77.4% of his runners, leading to a 2.86 ERA, making him the Z’s second best starter (amongst current roster members) in that category. Conley has been on a roll as of late, tossing five quality outings in his last seven tries.
Stuff wise, Conley has a fastball that tops out at 95 but his velocity varies in each start. While he has made improvements upon his secondary stuff, a low 80s changeup and a high 70s slider, neither has yet to become an above average pitch. Where Conley excels is in the way he delivers with a fluid motion and from a very low arm slot which makes him very affective against lefties and any hitter that struggles against a southpaw. He also has good control and a good knowledge of the strikezone, allowing him to place his pitches well and avoid big contact. Conley’s arsenal along with the aforementioned fact that he has been great at stranding runners this year point to him being effective in the role the Marlins have called him up to fill: a mid to long relief bullpen slot who can spot start.
The bottom line: Conley is a second round pick who graduated quickly through the system but one who translates much better as a bullpen arm than a starter. He is better from the stretch and strands runners with good varying heat that tops out at 95. His secondary stuff is average at best, causing him to rely heavily on the fastball but he has great control and a good working intellect of the strikezone. Delivering from a low arm slot, he is very tough against lefties and batters who struggle against lefties. He works quickly and mixes pitches well, keeping hitters guessing. Right now, as his prospect status ends, he isn’t rotation ready. There is still some slight room for improvement which could allow him to become a 4-5 starter but the fact that he is more comfortable from the belt makes him a perfect candidate to serve in the capacity the Marlins have called upon him to fill: mid-long reliever.
It’s been a rough start to the season for the Marlins’ starting rotation. While they expected to be without the services of their ace Jose Fernandez who underwent Tommy John surgery last year, there is no way they were prepared for what happened next. After starting 0-2 with a 4.5 ERA, #2 starter Henderson Alvarez went to the DL with shoulder issues. He returned on May 17th only to go right back on the shelf after back-to-back 5 inning, 4+ ER starts. Mat Latos, an arm who the Marlins gave good value to acquire was shelled in his last spring training start, shellacked in his first regular season start, and battled through seven more outings despite missing a few miles an hour off his fastball before it was revealed that the injury to his knee which has hampered him before in his career had flared back up. Latos, pitching out of the #3 spot, also went to the DL. Finally, Jarred Cosart was good in the month of April, pitching into the 6th in three of his four starts and notching three quality outings before also hitting the DL with vertigo after three subpar May starts. At the beginning of the season, Miami looked to have a solid squad that would perform well only to be pushed over the line by the return of Fernandez in mid June. Consequently, it has been far from that simple as the Marlins who have had to get creative with their rotation, calling upon anything close to major league ready starter as well as a few guys past their prime to get the job done. Predictably, the makeshift rotation of veterans Dan Haren and David Phelps and youngsters Tom Koehler, Brad Hand, and Jose Urena has struggled. In 45.1 IP since Alvarez and Latos went to the DL on May 22nd, Marlins starting pitchers have posted a 2-2 record with four no decisions along with a terrible 5.18 ERA on 47 hits and a 20/27 BB/K. The average start has lasted less than six innings (5.2), included 6 hits, over 3 runs, 3 walks, and 6 Ks. The rotation’s collective WHIP since May 22nd is an elevated 1.5. With current production down and uncertainty surrounding the health of Fernandez, Latos and Cosart when they return, the Marlins have loaded the bullpen with guys who can pitch multiple innings of relief and if need be, step in to the rotation. On Tuesday, Kendry Flores became the latest in a line of such options to join the club, replacing Steve Cishek who was optioned to AA Jacksonville on Monday.
Flores is 23-year-old righty who comes to the Marlins despite having never played a single game in AAA. While the current state of affairs which sees the Marlins in need of relief help that can go more than one inning earned him the call over guys like late inning reliever and closer Nick Wittgren and while it came at a bad time for the organization’s third ranked prospect Justin Nicolino who has struggled over his last six starts definitely played dividends in allowing Flores to skip a stop in AAA, he has done plenty on his own that warrant the call to the bigs. Flores’ best asset is exactly the thing the Marlins pitching staff as a whole has lacked the most this season: consistent control. While members of the staff have looked great at times, their handle on their pitches can exist or not exist depending on the day. In his minor league career, Flores has rarely had such problems. Two years ago as a member of the single A Augusta Greenjackets, Flores posted an unheard of 8.06 strikeouts to walk ratio by way of a 137/17 K/BB. A year later, while his fastball picked up an extra few miles an hour going from a maximum 92 to a maximum 95 MPH, and the improved movement on his slurvy curveball made it a plus pitch while maintaining good bite on his changeup (which is probably his most comfortable pitch), Flores didn’t fall in to the trap of trying to overthrow. Another great K/BB resulted because of this. This time it was 112/32 and ranked sixth in the California League. Flores’ 9.51 K/9 was fourth in the entire California League. His 4.09 ERA (which still ranked eighth in Cali League) and 1.25 WHIP (which still ranked fifth) were significantly higher year but this can be attributed to the fact that he was playing in a much more hitter friendly league and the highest BABIP he has ever posted, .307. After coming to the Marlins this offseason as the center piece in the Casey McGehee trade with the Giants, Flores has began his AA career by flashing the same brand of control he has enjoyed for his entire career. The arsenal is similar to what it was last year (92-95 MPH heat, mix in mid 80’s change, and a sharp out-pitch curveball that lives in the high 70s), Flores has managed to hold down a 2.08 ERA in his first 56 IP at the highest level he has ever played at. While Flores’ .201 BABIP and his 3.57 FIP indicate he has been a bit lucky to post such minuscule numbers, he has continued to throw the ball well, the strikeouts keep coming and the walks remain at a minimum. While it definitely would have been nice to see Flores throw more than nine games above A ball and while he is doubtfully ready to become a mainstay in a major league rotation, Flores has still developing stuff that should serve him well as he attempts to make a name for himself. With a good showing out of the bullpen this year, however short it may be (Cosart, Latos and Fernandez are all returning soon which will need to clear up some spots in the pen), the 23-year-old can ensure himself an extended look in spring training next year and, at the very least, ensure he makes another minor league level jump for a fifth consecutive year.
The bottom line: Flores is a kid who currently possesses still developing stuff that fringy for the major league level. He’s a four pitch pitcher who has always had spectacular control which has made him one of the stingiest pitchers in the organization when it comes to allowing walks. This skill set allowed him to total more strikeouts than IP in A+ in 2014 along with a minuscule walk total. With a 42/15 K/BB, has continued to have a great hold on his stuff this year. While his high BABIP and FIP prove he has been fortunate to post the ERA and H/9 which rank near the top of the Southern League, while his early call to the majors has undoubtedly been aided by circumstance and while his first stint with the Marlins will likely be a short one, Flores has earned the opportunity and will provide a look in to the not-so-distant future of potential rotation arms. With a good showing, he can imprint his name in to the forefront of the front office’s minds.
Juancito Martinez, RHP
A+ Jupiter » AA Jacksonville
2015 Stats: 22.2 IP, 1.59 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 4.00 K/BB
If there were ever a guy who personifies the term diamond in the rough, Martinez is it. A 2010 free agent signee out of the Dominican in 2010, Martinez began his career as an outfielder. While he wasn’t able to muster much in the way of offensive production, the Marlins took notice of Martinez’s arm which allowed him to compile 29 outfield assists over his first five years in the minors. Up until two days ago, that same arm was the best one in Jupiter’s bullpen and ranked amongst the best relievers in the Florida State League. Before an off night in his thirteenth outing, Martinez’s ERA remained sparkling in his 12 previous appearances. The three runs he gave up that night account for 3/4 of the damage opposing hitters have been able to muster against him this season. His spectacular year this year comes on the heels of great beginning to his pitching career with short season Batavia in 2014. In 21 games for the Muckdogs that season, Martinez held down a 2.51 ERA and a 1.186 WHIP (10th in the NYPL) while striking out three times as many as he walked (33/11). At 6’1″ 170, Martinez uses his big frame to get behind his fastball which is some of the highest heat in the Marlins’ organization. Martinez is just 40 something innings in to his career as a pitcher but watching him display the control he does, you would have no idea. With good knowledge of the zone and an uncanny knack to hit the glove wherever it is set up, Juancito looks like a guy who has been doing this for his entire life. Although he is already 25, there is still reason to be excited about this guy. Should his success continue in to the higher levels of the minors, you could see his name mentioned as a possible bullpen candidate as early as next season.
Jose Adames, RHP
A Greensboro » A+ Jupiter
2015 Stats: 38.1 IP, 2.35 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 1.53 K/BB
Adames is a 22-year-old who the Marlins purchased out of the Domnican Republic in 2011. Following two seasons with the DSL Marlins, one with the GCL Marlins and a stint with short season Batavia, he got his first taste of full season ball in the second half of 2014 in Greensboro. In 10 games, 8 starts and 44 innings, Adames flashed lights out stuff at times, compiling a 7.77 K/BB, building off the 9.22 mark he posted with the Muckdogs but by posting a career-high 1.45 WHIP by allowing nearly 10 hits per game, he proved his command still needed some work. It has been a similar second full season so far for Adames: in his first 38.1 IP and 8 starts with the Hoppers in 2015, he has posted good K numbers. In a similar number of IP to 2014, the WHIP has slightly improved thanks to a 7.98 H/9. By way of improving in those categories, his ERA is down to 2.35, tops on the Hoppers’ staff and deserving of the call to Jupiter. But with the walk total elevated from 3.68 to 3.99, a career worst, Adames has proven he still has plenty to work on. The downside to Adames is he is pretty much a one-pitch pitcher. That one pitch is a great, explosive fastball topping out at 95 with good life. However, his lack of command of any of his pitches including this one gives Adames a very poor handle on the strikezone. As for the rest of his repertoire, it isn’t much at the moment. Adames flashes a 76-78 MPH 12-6 curve which more often than not turns into a 10-6 hanger. This is probably the pitch he has the most command of though as he hits the zone with it more often than not. With work, it could become a plus pitch. The third and final offering Adames brings to the table is a 83-85 MPH changeup. He has even less feel for it than the fastball. Even at its best the pitch has little to no movement and he leaves it up in the zone. Adames’ future rides on the development of his curveball and improving the command of his fastball. If he can turn the curve in to a consistently solid plus secondary pitch as well as gain a better working knowledge of the zone and where his heater will wind up, he could wind up becoming a major league middle to late inning reliever. For now, we put the 22-year-old at the shallow end of the prospect pool with a long ways to swim.
Greg Nappo, LHP
AA Jacksonville » AAA New Orleans
2015 Stats: 17.2 IP, 2.04 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 4.17 K/BB
Nappo is a 6′, 210 pound lefty who had an up-and-down college career at Connecticut. Barring his time spent in AAA last year, he has had a spectacular minor league career, including this season with the Suns where he has posted a 2.04 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and a 25/6 K/BB over his first 17.2 IP. Last season in Jacksonville Nappo was equally impressive, compiling a 40/7 K/BB and a 1.74 ERA along with an unheard of 0.75 WHIP, which lead the team. However, he got a rude welcome to AAA, nearly allowing as many earned runs (5) in just 5 innings. Nappo will be hoping for a better start and finish to his stay with the Zephyrs this year which proves to be a much more extended look. Nappo’s arsenal consists of a high 80s to low 90s heater, a mid 80s cut fastball and mix-in slurvy curveball with good dive. On the surface, most of his pitches appear to be of the average variety. What gives Nappo a positive edge is the deceptiveness in his delivery. Throwing from a 3/4 arm slot, Nappo hides the ball in his glove very well, not transitioning to the hand until his front foot is nearly back on the ground and is extremely quick to the plate. His motion to the mound is straight and fluid and his follow-through is well composed. All of this has allowed Nappo to never post a K/BB under 4 in any of his full minor league seasons. To succeed at the higher levels, Nappo’s stuff is going to need to improve slightly. He needs to gain a few more miles per hour on his fairly straight heater in order to be able to rely on it and the curve will need to be as effective at the start of his outings as it is the further he gets in to them. The down side to all of that is that Nappo is already 26-years-old and is as matured as he is going to get. We will keep an eye on him but it appears as if he is destined to be an organizational guy.
Justin Bohn, SS/INF
AA Jacksonville « A+ Jupiter
2015 Stats: .161/.223/.218, 2 XBH, 6 RBI, 30/6 K/BB
Bohn is a 22-year-old utility infielder who enjoyed a good college career and a good start to his minor league career. After a .374/.447/.563, 31/48 K/BB two year career at Feather River College in Nevada, the Marlins drafted Bohn in the 7th round in 2013. After short stints with Batavia and Greensboro that year, he entered his first full season last year. After a .293/.397/.452 start with the Grasshoppers, Bohn became a Hammerhead. His success continued in Jupiter where he nearly replicated those numbers hitting .296/.347/.372, allowing him to make the jump to AA to begin this year and placing him on the fast track to the majors. However, with the Suns this year, Bohn has proven to be over-matched. Although his patience is his best assett, Bohn has struck out 30 times to just 6 walks and he has gone just 14 for his first 87. However, there is still plenty of promise here. Not only does Bohn have some of the best eyes in the organization he owns above-average speed and the ability to play three defensive positions around the infield, all of which he plays fairly well. At just 22, there is plenty of room for improvement for the 6’0″, 180 pounder. Bohn will likely spend the rest of the year building confidence back where he is more comfortable in Jupiter. While it may take him longer than three seasons to come to fruition, he has the potential to become a starting major leaguer. A current top 25 prospect in the organization, Bohn is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
With injuries to Mat Latos and Henderson Alvarez both of whom will serve time on the DL, the Marlins had two vacancies in their rotation to fill. On Monday, we found out who will serve the first one when the Fish called up Jose Urena from AAA. He will make his first start on Tuesday night.
Urena spent time with the Marlins to begin the year but only got in to two games, both as a reliever before being sent back to the minors. With Latos (and his troublesome knee) and Alvarez (with his nagging shoulder issues) both out for what looks to be an extended period, Urena will get his first real look as a major leaguer rather than just warming the bench. Urena’s call-up and first real shot in a Marlins’ uniform is the culmination of a childhood dream as well as a lot of hard work which allowed him to go from international signee at 17 years old to MLB starter in just five years’ time.
Urena is a native of the Dominican Repubic, a country rich in the tradition of starting their children as soon as they can grip a baseball. Accordingly, it is no shock that his playing career is already five years old even though he is just 23. Urena’s professional playing career began in 2009 when he was still a teenager after he signed with the Marlins for $52K (not a bad payday for a 17-year-old). After getting accustomed to facing professional hitters in his rookie year, Urena posted impressive numbers in 2010, posting a 2.61 ERA a team high 66 Ks, a minuscule walk total (7) and a team leading K/BB (9.43). In 2011, Urena made the move to the United States to play for the short season Jamestown Jammers. Again, it was a bit of a transitionary period for him as he got adjusted to a new set of rules and style of ball played in America. However, he was still able to hold down respectable numbers including 48 strikeouts, third on the team. In 2012, Urena got promoted to single A Greensboro for his first full season. It was here where he first started to attract the attention of scouts. The attention was well warranted. Urena finished the season with numbers that rivaled the likes of Jose Fernandez and Andrew Heaney. In 27 games (22 starts), he posted a 9-6 record with a 3.38 ERA. He struck out 101 batters in his 138.1 IP or an average of about 7 per game. His 1.9 BB/9 ranked third on the team ahead of Fernandez. He did so on the backs of a great fastball/changeup combo, a developing slider, and well above average control for a 20-year-old getting accustomed not only to baseball but also life in the USA.
2013 greeted Urena with another jump in level, this time to A+ Jupiter. He greeted the promotion by pitching more innings (149.2), totalling more Ks (107), posting the same amount of walks (29), and, for the first time in his American baseball career, allowed less hits (155) than IP. His ERA slightly rose but his FIP improved from 3.99 to 3.21. Urena’s stuff continued to improve. The flatness that his fastball sometimes had during his first few seasons seemed to disappear and the velocity was well maintained at 95-96 with the ability to reach 98-99. The mix in changeup maintained its good life and his work-in-progress slider continued to improve with more tilt thanks to better arm action.
Urena continued to march his way through the Marlins’ system in 2014 with another promotion and another good showing, this time with AA Jacksonville. Again, Urena’s durable young frame allowed him to improve upon his totals in IP (162) and Ks. Outstandingly, for a third straight year, Urena walked just 29 hitters, proving his command had turned the corner. His 4.17 K/BB was a career high and led all Suns’ pitchers with at least 50 IP. His 121 Ks blew away the rest of the competiton on the team and his 3.33 ERA was the lowest he had posted since his days in the Dominican Republic. With his best season to date, Urena found himself climbing in to the top 10 best organizational prospects. Urena proved he deserved yet another call-up, his fourth in four years, by finishing the season with a 2.09 ERA and a 52/10 K/BB over his final ten starts while never allowing an XBH in any of them.
In his first 37.1 IP this season, Urena has proven that he is major league ready. With his fastball consistently sitting at 96, his changeup darting outside away from hitters, and a slider that has become a plus pitch, Urena has outperformed the likes of Justin Nicolino, who was always ranked above him on top prospect boards on their way up, to become the Zephyr most deserving of getting the call. Not only does Urena lead his team’s rotation in a pluthera of categories including ERA, WHIP, K/9 and fewest hits allowed, his 1.21 ERA leads the entire Pacific Coast League.
So what can you expect to see with Urena on the hill? You can expect to see a tall lanky righty who works with confidence and remembers his roots. Taking after his on-again-off-again teammate Jose Fernandez who came from a similar beginning, very seldom in his starts will you see Urena without a smile on his face. His now fully developed arsenal includes a high-90s fastball usually sitting in the 95-97 MPH area with good movement but with the ability to ramp up as high as 99. His mix-in changeup which he throws just as variably as the heat, softens up to the lower end of the 90 MPH spectrum. He will also mix in the occasional curveball when ahead in counts. By far Urena’s best secondary pitch though is the slider that he has been working on since his days in single A. It is thanks to this pitch that starts well outside and tails back over the plate with high 80s velo that has allowed the scouts that pegged him as a high leverage releiver wrong and wind up starting today’s game for the Marlins.
The bottom line: Overall, Urena is a kid with a great backstory that is proof that from maturity, hard work and confidence in yourself can take you as far as you want to go in life. When he takes the mound tonight, he will undoubtedly have the eyes of not only the baseball scouting world including the Marlins’ front office but also of his home nation upon him. However, Urena has never been phased by pressure. Rather, he has embraced it. If his reputation of rising up to any challenge continues to show itself, Urena could become a fixture in the Marlins’ rotation for not only the rest of the year but for the forseeable future.
Justin Bour racked up the frequent flier miles in 2014, going back and forth from AAA to the majors four times. Wherever the first baseman happened to be on any given week though, he performed well. His first sample of playing with the big boys was a tasty morsel. as he collected 21 hits in his first 74 ABs including his first major league home run in his 31st career game. His performance in the bigs and as well as his best season as a pro in AAA (.308/.372/.517, 18 HR) in 2014 far outdid his projection as a borderline C prospect and probably would have earned him an extended look at first base in spring training this year. But when the Marlins signed Michael Morse to a two year contract in the offseason, it assured that Bour would begin his ninth year as a professional in the minors.
Fast forward to 2015. It appears as though Bour’s spurning by the Marlins has motivated him even more. Through 14 games with the Zephyrs, Bour is hitting .275/.403/.353. While the power numbers are down so far, you know they will come to the 6’4″ 250 mammoth who has never totaled less than a .436 SLG and 12 homers since his first year in rookie ball. What is most encouraging about Bour’s start are his numbers in the patience department which greatly improved last season and have continued to do so far this season. A perrenial 100+ strikeout victim over his first three full seasons (and a probable one in 2013 if not for a hairline fracture in his wrist only allowing him to get in to 83 games in which he K’d 63 times), Bour posted a 57/39 K/BB. So far this year, he has done something that would have seemed impossible two years ago: walked more than he has K’d (6/11 K/BB). Since coming to the Marlins from the Cubs’ organization, he has improved his BB/K from 0.53 to 0.69, including the at-bats he got in the his first major league experience in 2014. Since his Marlins career has started, Bour has developed the ability to work counts deeper a lot more frequently and has been more selective, which has allowed him to get back to his dead pull hitting roots and pepper the right side of the field. The increase in patience and production that cut his K totals nearly in half and lead to success at the major league level are a testament to the work of both Bour and his coaches.
Looking at simple photographs from his last season in the Cubs’ organization to his time spent with the Marlins last year, the adjustments Bour has made are obvious.
Remaining more upright, Bour is getting the most of what his massive legs can give him. His hands are more in line with the baseball and his shoulders are much more square. He is driving off his back foot on to his plant foot much better allowing him to drive through the zone much more efficiently. All of these positive adjustments have developed a much better approach at the plate and resulted in the most encouraging improvement for Bour: the ability to go the other way, preventing teams from putting the shift on him. His one homer so far this year was hit to an area he did not touch at all in 2014, down the left field line. Bour has come a long way since he struggled mightily to find his swing again after coming off the DL in mid-2013 with the Cubs. He attributes his success to studying video of his swing with his coaches, a practice which followed him all the way to the big leagues.
Defensively, Bour is average but his big frame best suits him for a designated hitter role in the AL. That is who he will be trying to attract in his fourth stint as a major leaguer. If he succeeds, Bour could garner surprisingly decent value at the deadline.