Zac Gallen, Jordan Yamamoto, Braxton Garrett, Trevor Rogers, Edward Cabrera. These names you know and are getting to know well this season. One which you may not have heard of but should start speaking aloud in your household on a regular basis, especially after a lights-out month of May: Chris Vallimont.
Chris Ryan Vallimont, a native of Erie, Pennsylvania, just celebrated his 22nd birthday on March 18th. His amateur baseball career began in 2011 at Mercyhurst Prep where he also competed in football and basketball. In 43 games played from the mound, despite having the projectable size to succeed, Vallimont’s success was fairly limited due to his suffering the same fate as many prep hurlers, especially those that play other positions: being given the baseball and simply being told to go throw it as hard as you can without being taught the craft.
“I was bigger, but I wasn’t really fine-tuned,” Vallimont said. “Coming out, I only had three D-II offers and not many D-I, because I didn’t have everything. I didn’t throw that hard, just sort of did my thing.”
However, showing poise and maturity beyond his years, Vallimont was able to use the fact that he was sparsely recruited to his advantage, successfully turning a usually-negative teenage experience into a positive one. Knowing he still had plenty of innings ahead of him, this is when Vallimont truly got to work on becoming a pitcher. As fate would have it, being under the radar became an ally for Vallimont and allowed him to find his most advantageous companion: Mercyhurst College.
“I went into college with a chip on my shoulder in knowing that I had to put in the work if I wanted to play past it,” Vallimont said. “It actually helped me out being underdeveloped and going into the program at Mercyhurst with the success that their pitching staff and the coach there created, it was the perfect fit. I fitted really well into the system and it worked out.”
According to Vallimont, his being recruited by Mercyhurst wasn’t by chance but rather by a design. That blueprint was laid out by their head coach Joe Spano, the same mind responsible for berthing Mariners reliever Dan Altavilla as well as Royals outfielder David Lough.
“The way Joe does it is he looks for people who are underdeveloped. He works with them and sees in them the potential to get to the next level,” Vallimont attested. “With Dan also being there a year before me, just knowing that it wasn’t all about going D1 in order to make it to the next level, but just if you put on the work, you can make it. That’s really what made the difference.”
Above all though, Vallimont credits the turning point of his amateur career to one moment. That occasion happened during his first season at Mercyhurst when the ball was forced away from him by a teammate. According to Vallimont, it is that bear-down mindset that is passed down from Spano and then from player to player that gives Mercyhurst a more-than-viable reputation for berthing MLB caliber hurlers.
“It was freshman year in the regionals I was supposed to start the championship game to get us to the World Series. Colin McKee ended up begging for the ball, telling coach he wanted it,” Vallimont said. “It was just that dog mentality that he got from Dan and I got from him. There are a few young guys there is now that get that mentality from myself.”
Following that aforementioned game in which McKee wound up begging the ball away from him, McKee imparted this quote upon Vallimont, one which has stuck with him ever since and is partly responsible for making Chris the pitcher he has become.
“I’ll never forget it. After that game, he told me, “if you put in the work, you can be the best pitcher this school has ever seen,”” Vallimont said. “It was at that moment where everything clicked. He had seen so many people there that had success and when he said that, it pushed me to work harder and really get serious about everything.”
With a new means of motivation, Vallimont used a building block sophomore season (60 IP, 2.69 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 88/41 K/BB) to vault into a completely dominant junior campaign in which he set Mercyhurst’s single season mark in strikeouts (147).
“My sophomore year I was up there in the country in walks per nine, I was just trying to throw hard I didn’t care where it was going,” Vallimont attested. “That offseason, I started focusing on control and staying mechanically sound. It helped my velo and my control by focusing on little things that I didn’t think about before.”
Vallimont attributes that success to building around his fastball rather than exclusively building on it, keeping his opposition guessing and, above all, the desire to pitch to 100% of his ability.
“More than anything, It was just the mentality to be the best that I knew I could be. I would always want to throw harder and everything just started to click, “My changeup came along a bit in my junior year and the curveball was a big pitch. Keeping hitters off balance was big, but overall it was just the mindset of just keep doing my thing and not giving in to anyone else, no matter who it was, was doing in the box.“
After a 21-5, 166.2 IP, 2.59 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 14.47 K/9, 3.57 K/BB tenure at Mercyhurst, the Marlins turned their heads towards Vallimont and called his name with the 147th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft.
This is where Marlins 5th-rounder Chris Vallimont was when his name was called pic.twitter.com/CIR4ORd0eh
— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) June 6, 2018
Days later, Vallimont decided to ink an entry level contract with the Marlins for $300K, forgoing his final collegiate season. According to Vallimont, that decision was attributed to the Marlins’ new ownership having the faith in him to stay true to his own training while also fitting in with what they were seeking.
“I figured it was a great opportunity; it’s what I’ve always wanted to do is play professional baseball. When they called, I couldn’t have been more happy to be with Miami,” Vallimont said. “I’m a big Driveline guy and I knew the old regime wasn’t really a big fan of it. Once they got Gary [Denbo] and everybody, they were telling me it’d be a little easier to do my thing while also staying in the lines of what they wanted as well. Having them trust me to be able to be me has been great.”
Upon his arrival in the instructional league last year, it didn’t take the Marlins long to recognize that Vallimont had many tools. One which was absent though was the ability to use the strike zone advantageously. Immediately, Marlins’ Minor League pitching coordinator Chris Michalak got to work with Vallimont on spotting his pitches. According to Vallimont, that tutelage has made a huge difference so far this season.
“Michalak really helped out with keeping me under control more. Whereas in college, I was just throwing it down the middle, now it’s more about inside/outsiding the fastball with the curveball in the dirt,” Vallimont said. “It’s not commanding he zone but just spotting stuff now. That’s what I’ve been working on and it’s working out well.”
Since learning how to get the most out if his projectable 6’5”, 220 pound frame by incorporating a downward plane to the plate, Vallimont has grown into heat reaching up to 97 MPH and resting between 93-95. Offsetting the heat is Vallimont’s best breaking pitch, his curveball which holds tight 11-6 arc and run to his corner of choice. He can also bury the pitch via its late break, making it a viable swing-and-miss pitch. Vallimont also mixes in a shapely mid-80s changeup plays up and a power slider with frisbee action in the high 80s.
Along with his already deep arsenal that holds plus velo expanse, Vallimont further messes with timing by showing hitters two completely different looks from the wind and the stretch. With the bases empty, Vallimont steps back to the first base side, executes a high leg kick when loading up his back leg and comes home deliberately. With bags occupied, the righty speeds up his motion, diminishes his leg kick and limits time between pitches.
Already an awesome mix of stuff and headiness just 25 games into his professional career, Vallimont is a guy who has barely missed a beat in a huge jump from JuCo to the affiliated ranks. Should he continue to respond to challenges during the rest of his journey through he minors, the 22-year-old who was once overlooked coming out of high school has the potential to become a more than viable 2-4 starter.
The next of Vallimont’s assignments should come in the next few days when he is promoted to A+ Jupiter.
Bubba Hollins: aesthetically, one of the best names in the Marlins system, if not in all of MiLB. That you probably know. What you may not know is that Bubba is actually David Hollins, Jr, the son of a 17.8 career WAR corner infielder. Accordingly, Bubba is the owner of a pedigree, upbringing and support system that spawned a fantastic amateur career and is beginning to birth professional success. By hitting .338/.411/.508 this past month, Bubba is our first 2019 Prospect Of The Month.
Born on December 6th, 1995, Hollins was named after his father, carrying the name David Jr. However, Hollins did not go by that name for very long before he was given an alternate everyday moniker. According to Hollins, his stout build even as a child is what led to the nickname. It’s stuck with him ever since.
“When I was a baby I was really fat and chubby with chubby cheeks. My mom said you could barely see my eyes when I was a kid. So she just started calling me Bubba, Bubs, nicknames like that,” Hollins said. “I don’t know, it just sort of stuck with me through the years. All my close friends and family have all called me Bubba and never really called me David at all. I loved it and it’s all I really knew. It’s a funny story.”
In addition to earning the title given to him by his mother early in life, Hollins also importantly benefited from growing up within the game. As the son of Dave Sr, spent many an occasion watching and and under the tutelage of a .260/.358/.420 career hitter. According to Bubba, he made the most of the days he was able to spend with his dad, under the
“He was gone a lot, but every time he was home we’d work together almost every day. When it came to college ball and pro ball, he has helped me tremendously on the mental side; just to adapt faster to the game and to slow it down. To be around him and [fellow major leaguers] at a young age, it’s been very helpful. For him to watch me now play at his level, it’s pretty cool. It’s weird, but it’s a cool feeling.”
Along with his alternate title given to him by his parents, the thing that caused Hollins to garner it — his physique — also remained with him through his amateur career.
“I was always one of the smaller players on the team. I was only about 5’11”, 180 my senior year but before that, I was even smaller,” Hollins said. “I always took that with a chip on my shoulder to go out there as the smaller guy and play with an edge. That’s how I looked at things.”
Hollins used said shoulder-chip to refuse to let his limited size and stature limit his production. After doubling in football as the starting quarterback for his alma matter’s squad, Hollins hit .310/.393/.451 in two years in junior college. He credits that tenure spent with the Titans as a huge stepping stone in his career, one which truly allowed him to ready himself for a professional career in the game.
“My freshman year was definitely a bit of a shock with how fast the game was. It helped me get acclimated to the speed of the game being around that competition in the conference,” Hollins said. “My sophomore year I felt much more comfortable and got used to playing at that speed. My head coach Ryan Beckman has been an amazing help to me. Whatever you need, that guy will always be there for you. My teammates there — we were all competing for a job at the next level. So we all made each other better. It was a great group of guys.”
In 2017, Hollins made the jump up Division I ball at St. Bonaventure in upstate New York. In a single season there, the 24-year-old Hollins hit .290/.379/.485 with eight homers and nine doubles. During that tenure, Hollins tied Bonnies’ team records by recording six hits and eight RBIs in a single game.
“Bubba is an extremely hard worker and a great teammate. He has always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps (former Major League All-Star Dave Hollins) and St. Bonaventure baseball is very happy for him,” Bonnies head coach Larry Sudbrook said at the time. “We would’ve loved to have had him back, but we certainly respect him taking a shot at the dream and we wish him the best.”
Hollins didn’t head back to St Bonaventure in favor of signing with the Marlins who inked him as a minor league free agent in August of 2017. According to Hollins, the decision to forego his senior year of college was spurred not only by more reps against better competitors but by work he did physically leading up to the draft.
“I took off playing summer ball because I wanted to get more do more with my body to prepare me for my senior season. So I was an eight out of 10 in terms of being more ready for pro ball,” Hollins said. “Mentally, I was always ready to go. But physically I was much more prepared that time around.”
— Bonnies Baseball (@BonniesBaseball) August 1, 2017
Last season, the Marlins experimented a bit with Hollins, trying to gauge his current level of expertise. During that time, Bubba saw reps at three different levels from rookie ball to A+. Although his tenure at each level was limited over his 57 game campaign was limited, Hollins says he picked up something from each stop in his travels that have aided him in his hot start this year.
“I was bouncing around so much and not in the lineup regularly, but watching from the bench, it was pretty easy to see the difference in [levels]. In high A, those guys know how to command 2-3 pitches really well, low A maybe two pitches and short A was more like wildly effective; guys that just try to throw really hard,” Hollins said. “I think it is a big jump between low A and high A. Pitchers at that higher level really know how to pitch. They’re really good up there.”
The big difference for Hollins this season has been two-fold: being more comfortable in his approach and being able to maintain the mindset to take the game as it comes to him. Via that outlook, Bubba has put together one of the best months on the Midwest League circuit, slashing .338/.411/.508. Among hitters with at least 70 ABs, Hollins’ May BA ranked second and his OBP ranked fifth in the Midwest League. Furthermore, Bubba’s 177 wRC+ ranked third. Hollins credits the hot start to being able to repeat his approach stemming from a stance which he is more cozy in as well as to his ability to take the game as it comes to him, resisting the urge to force things.
“I think the most important lesson is to take everything a day at a time. I’ve been telling myself in the offseason that this year was going to be different and to just take one at bat at a time and on the field one pitch at a time,” Hollins said. “I’ve got a batting stance I’m finally comfortable in and I’m just able to focus on the baseball. Just to try to stay on the heater and stay middle. Whatever happens from there, happens.”
Via his fantastic month of April, the 23-year-old has succeeded at a very advantageous time, one in which a rebuilding organization is looking for young players to step up and make themselves known. However, much in the same way that he has learned how to take one at-bat at a time, Hollins is staying in the moment, focusing on the day and task at hand. According to Bubba, he’s concerned with only that and not with what is in front of him. In this way, he is limiting distraction and streamlining his achievements, ones which should follow him up the MiLB ladder and beyond.
“I just come to the ballpark and take care of business every day. If you’re taking care of your business, you’re helping the ball club, wherever you are,” Hollins said. “At the end of the day, I’m not thinking about anything else. The best thing to do is to focus on yourself and helping your team out.”
From a compact and low straight-away stance, the 6’1”, 200 pound Hollins cuts down on an already small strike zone. The difference for Bubba this season has been in his aforementioned comfortability in his stance and approach. By setting up from further back in the box, Hollins has garnered the ability to let the ball to get deeper, aiding in his plate vision, swing selectiveness and consistency in getting the to drop. Couple that with his ability to cover the plate extremely well and Bubba is already painting beautifully over his hit chart canvas.
Hollins’ swing itself has always held good speed through the zone. The mostly-straight through line drive cut is built for a big average and, due to good raw upper body strength and lightning quick hands, the occasional gap and/or fence. At current, his offensive ceiling is that of a constant on-base threat capable of respectable power numbers, a la Martin Prado, a similarly sized 6’0”, 215, 289/.337/.416 career stick.
In the field, Hollins is a natural third baseman with good off-the-bat instincts and a strong right arm that makes accurate throws across the diamond. In 61 games, he’s committed just five errors. Hollins also has eligibility at first base.
Bubba’s name — although recognizable — is not one the average fan might have heard mentioned too often, especially during the current state of the rebuild. However, that all could be about to change. Rule 5 eligible next season, if his hot hitting continues, Bubba, 23, should be placed on the fast track up the minor league ladder.
In 2019, Marlins baseball will expand westward as Clinton, Iowa will be provided with a taste of Miami. There, future Fish will compete as Clinton LumberKings, the oldest franchise in the Midwest League. The Marlins, on a two year player development contract, are Clinton’s sixteenth MLB affiliate.
“Gosh, I hope they’re gonna be happier than a pig in slop. I hope they come in here and go, “holy cow!”” Tornow said of his organization’s hospitality, both on and off the field. “We’ve got a great host family situation. Believe it or not, in Clinton, Iowa, we have a great Latino connection. We’ve got great clubhouse facilities and great player amenities. We might be small, but we have first class facilities.”
The manager making those judgments will be former Marlins’ first baseman Mike Jacobs who gets the promotion to full season ball after spending the first two seasons of his managerial career at the helm of the Batavia Muckdogs. According to Jacobs, during his first two years on the other side of the bench, the most important skill he garnered was the ability to remain acquiescent with his understudies.
“I think one of the things that you learn from it is the patience you need to have with the young guys,” Jacobs said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things in this job: just being able to have patience.”
Regarding the full season A team switching cities and, Jacobs says that while the process is rousing, his and his team’s MO remains the same.
“I think that when you go to a new place regardless of whatever the environment is we are still out there to play baseball,” Jacobs said.
In that spirit, Jake is going to do everything in his power to create a squad and a culture northeastern Iowa can take pride in.
“It’s exciting to be somewhere new and I know (the fans) are excited about it and are looking forward to us getting out there,” said Jacobs. “They can be sure we are going to go out there and play the game the right way every day. They’re going to get a good chance to see some of the great young prospects the Marlins have and that should be exciting for them.”
These are the names Jacobs speaks of that should make up most of his positional squad:
CF Connor Scott
2B Christopher Torres
RF Jerar Encarnacion
1B Sean Reynolds
C Will Banfield
DH Thomas Jones
SS Demetrius Sims
3B Bubba Hollins
LF Michael Donadio
CF Connor Scott
2018 (ROK/A) – .218/.309/.296, 3 2B, 4 3B, 1 HR, 56/24 K/BB
Scott is the Marlins’ highly-heralded first round pick from this past season out of Plant High School in a Tampa, FL. Ranked as the second best outfield prospect in the Draft, the Marlins took Scott with the 13th overall selection after he hit .526/.640/.929 with five homers and 11 XBHs. An effervescent athlete, Scott also turned in plus work on the mound, topping out at 92 and showing a plus slider, allowing him to hold down a 2.13 ERA and a 28/7 K/BB in five appearances. That same arm strength showed true in the field where, during a PerfectGame showcase, he threw as high as 91 MPH. He signed with Miami for a bonus worth over $4,000,000.
“I committed to Florida pretty early in high school as a freshman. It was a big dream of mine to play college baseball,” Scott said. “I never thought I’d take that extra step and go straight into pro ball, but I worked my butt off and it paid off. I’m happy with where I’m at.”
Scott broke in to pro ball by hitting .223/.319/.311 with a 29/14 K/BB in 103 ABs in the Gulf Coast League. Scott spent the final 23 games of the season nearly mirroring those totals at the level in which he will begin the 2019 season. In 75 ABs with the Grasshoppers, he slashed .211/.295/.276 with a 27/10 K/BB. During that tenure, he also hit his first professional homer. While those numbers don’t necessarily jump off of this page, it should be noted that in his first 50 games across multiple levels and in by far the longest season of his playing career, the 18-year-old enjoyed sustained success and showed that his tools are already worthy of plus-plus projection. According to Scott, he has his high school alma matter and the nurturing he received from the coaching staff at Plant, the same school that produced Hall Of Famer Wade Boggs and more recently Mets’ top prospect Peter Alonso and Astros’ standout Kyle Tucker, to thank.
“I would think of [Plant] as a small college team. We practiced every day but we took care of ourselves. We stretched a bunch before practice and also stretched after practice. We conditioned all Fall and preseason so we were all in great shape,” Scott said. “They just cared about us. I think that’s the biggest thing. I think a lot of high schools don’t; they just care about winning. But they didn’t care if we went 0-28, just as long as we got to be better men and better people.”
.@connorscott24 with warning track power in his first AB. Worked into 3-0 before nearly homering on 3-1.
— Fish On The Farm (@marlinsminors) March 14, 2019
.@connorscott24 steals a second base off the battery of Guerrero and Banfield. Elite baserunning instincts, picking up the slider to run on and getting another great jump.#MarlinsST pic.twitter.com/5S7lPZ2iZM
— Fish On The Farm (@marlinsminors) March 25, 2019
Already with a 70-grade run tool via exceptional acceleration rates and a 60-grade arm on top of a 55-grade hit tool, there aren’t many holes in Scott’s game. If there is one area of improvement, it’s in getting his legs, which are currently mostly stationary, involved in his swing allowing him to tap in to more over-the-fence power. According to Scott, that has been an area of focus this offseason and early on in camp.
“We’ve been working on it a lot and we’ve improved drastically. Good things are happening,” Scott said. “I think one of the big things would be getting stronger. In getting stronger, the legs start working better, the hips start working better and you get faster too. I’ve been working in the weight room a lot. It’s gonna do big things for us.”
At 19, the lefty hitting Scott currently weighs in at 6’4”, 180. At the same age, a young Marlins prospect by name of Christian Yelich was 6’4”, 181. Yelich even had a similar pedigree: good contact rates via great bat speed, a good speed tool (Scott’s is probably better) and good fielding grades but adjustments needed to complete a five-tool skill set.
Seven years later, Yelich hit the 12th most homers in the majors en route to becoming the National League MVP.
While Scott views the comps to Yelich as well as to future teammate Lewis Brinson and past teammate Kyle Tucker, he is out to make his own name a unique household fixture.
“Nowadays it’s hard not to see stuff like that because of social media and all of that,” Scott said. “Obviously the comparison is cool but I want to be me, I want to be me. I want to be Connor Scott.”
Scott has a lot to be in being himself. Already advanced, especially for his age, in four of five tools, the still-teenaged prospect is building towards an All-Star worthy future. We like Scott to begin collecting ASG selections this year as a member of the LumberKings and foresee his future ceiling as one that would allow Marlins fans to forget about the loss of Yelich. We pin Scott’s full-time arrival in the big leagues to the year 2021.
RF Jerar Encarnacion
2018 (A) – .236/.269/.363, 20 XBH, 26 RBI, 80/9 K/BB
Encarnacion is a heavy-hitting strong-armed right handed power threat signed by the Marlins out of the Dominican jn 2016. After breaking into pro ball by slashing .218/.232/.345 with four XBHs including his first homer back home, Encarnacion received his first stateside assignment with the GCL Marlins. Not only did Jerar impress during his first 25 games against North American pitching, he blew the usually-difficult initial challenge of facing it out of the park. Literally. In 42 games spanning 154 ABs, Encarnacion slashed .266/.323/.448. On top of leading his team in SLG (among full-time GCLers), Jerar also led the squad in homers (5) and RBI (26) while placing second in doubles (7).
This past season, Jerar moved up to A ball with the Muckdogs. Despite competing against competition a full year older that he was, Enc managed a .284/.305/.448 line with four homers and a team-leading 14 doubles. His outfield arm also grew as he contributed seven outfield assists. That arm persisted in his cup of coffee with the Grasshoppers in full-season A, where he spent his final 16 games of the season. However, his bat was a bit overmatched against pitchers 1.5 years his elder as he went just 4-54.
It is there to the same full-season A ranks that Jerar returns this season. Another year older with at least another 15 pounds added to his 6’4” frame, we like Encarnacion to meet his latest inquisition well, just as he has with every test he’s come across in his past.
In order to do so though, Encarnacion has some adjustments to make. Though his doubles-first power which he has the ability to grow into frequent over-the-fence power is unquestioned, Encarnacion‘s mechanics are entirely too pull happy.
Watching his lower half, Jerar approaches from a straight away stance before turning his hips inward then snapping them out. While this provides him success on inside pitches, it leads to him pulling off on pitches on the outer half and to his swing getting long and frequent on pitches out of his field of vision. In order for Encarnacion to take the next step, he will need to improve his plate vision and coverage. If he can adjust accordingly at the behest of pro coaching, Encarnacion has the ability to be a pure power hitting talent, capable of 20/20+ production.
While his past success is encouraging, Encarnacion is very much a work in progress, but still just 21, he has time and the ability to become an “out of nowhere” top 25 prospect. He’s a guy we will follow intently this coming season.
SS Osiris Johnson
2018 (ROK-A) – .250/.276/.378, 16 XBH, 19 RBI, 53/5 K/BB, 7/4 SB/CS
Johnson is the second pick in the Jeter era selected last year at 53rd overall out of Encinal High School in Alameda, CA. In his four year career there, the prep hit .403/.452/.688 with 37 stolen bases in 43 attempts. Those marks included a .535/.588/.965 senior year in which Johnson earned All-American and Top Prospect Team honors. In Perfect Game’s 2017 National Showcase, he ran a blistering 6.72 60 and showed an elite maturing power tool that nearly earned a perfect grade via an average barrel exit velo of 93 MPH which ranked in the 66th percentile. It is worthy to note that Johnson was one of the youngest players taking part in that event.
“I think he’s a first or second-round pick,” said Johnson’s high school coach Jim Saunders who also coached the likes of . “Whoever gets him is going to be very, very happy. He’s a pure baseball talent. He runs like a deer. He’s got a great glove and a big-time arm. And God gifted him with an incredible body.”
Johnson’s fantastic natural gifts stem from the same family tree that produced another Encinal standout: 2007 NL MVP, four time Gold Glover and three time All-Star Jimmy Rollins. The pair are second cousins. Where Osiris is still very raw and very much growing physically, the teenager has the beginnings of leveraged swing mechanics and more than the start of plus-plus foot speed as well as a potentially elite fielding tools including great hands and swift footwork.
Johnson needs to make the biggest jump is at the plate. Though he shows leveraged swing mechanics that provide him with a 50-grade power tool, a mark that should grow as his physique improves and although he also has a good hitters IQ and the same soft hands that he maintains on the other side of the ball, allowing him to both lengthen his swing in favorable counts and shorten it in unfavorable situations, he has trouble recognizing sequences and visualizing pitches. This led to him being over-matched in his brief appearance in full season A last year (.188/.205/.294, 34/1 K/BB). It should be noted however that the teenager was playing against competition nearly five years older than him. It was also, by far, the summation of the longest season of his playing career.
A year later, Osiris, who turns 19 in October, is ready for another, longer crack at full season A ball. Along with being better prepared mentally for life in full season ball, Johnson’s physique also looks to have improved over his first offseason on a professional regimen. Still billed at 6’0, 180 by MiLB.com, Johnson appears to have put on at least 20 pounds worth of muscle mass.
While Johnson still has plenty of growing to do offensively, the holes in his game are very common for a prep hitter just starting his journey up the minor league ladder and can all be remedied by effective coaching. What is positively uncommon in Johnson’s game is his exceptional defensive skill set that already plays up to the big league level. If his bat catches up to his glove or at the very least, gets anywhere close, the Marlins will have a special talent at their disposal. With youth on his side and stemming from bloodlines that produced a potential future Hall of Famer, we place Osiris’ floor and ceiling both very high. Fully mature, we like Johnson to reach the level of current Marlins’ middle infielder Starlin Castro (.281/.321/.411 162-game average, 1.6 career dWAR) with the potential for even more.
UPDATE: On May 29th, it was announced that Johnson will likely miss the entirety of the 2019 season with a stress fracture in his tibia. This is a huge blow for Johnson who, after a solid 2018, was entering an important developmental season. On the plus side, Osiris still has youth on his side and an outstanding pedigree. Even after missing an entire year, we don’t put it past Johnson to come back and make a huge impact. In fact, knowing Johnson’s mental drive and mindset, we expect it.
SS Demetrius Sims
2018 (A) – .227/.306/.294, 10 XBH, 16 RBI, 53/18 K/BB, 9/4 SB/CS
Filling the void for Johnson at short for the LumberKings will likely be Demetrius Sims, a 6’2”, 200 pounder out of Bethune Cookman who hit .227/.306/.294 with the Muckdogs last year. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, they were well up from the .186/.262/.237 line he posted in 17 games at the same level in 2017. While the soon to be 24-year-old is a bit old to be receiving his first full season ball assignment, he’s a kid that has shown the ability to adjust well to his environment including in going from metal to wood bat leagues and he’s a guy who owns plus speed on the basepaths (29/10 K/BB in college, 9/4 SB/CS last year).
D-Sims comes from great bloodlines. He’s the brother of NFL tight end Dion Sims. While he has work to do in repeating his swing and perfecting his timing mechanics, especially as the pitching gets harder to face, we wouldn’t put those tasks over the head of this great an athlete. If that happens early this year, he could be fast-tracked up to A+.
1B Sean Reynolds
2018 (A) – .193/.306/.441, 17 HR, 12 2B, 52 RBI, 133/42 K/BB, 13/1 SB/CS
Reynolds, currently 6’7”, 240+, is the Marlins’ fourth round pick from 2016 out of Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, CA. As a prep senior, Reynolds hit .364/.454/.742 with nine homers and a 7/1 SB/CS. Reynolds was even more impressive on the mound where he earned 11 wins by way of a 1.08 ERA and 94 Ks in 84 IP.
Reynolds tells the story of his early career in baseball, adjusting to being the biggest kid on the field and growing into his body this way:
“I was always big for my age but I never really was towering over everybody until my sophomore and junior year of high school I grew about six and a half inches in a 12-18 month span. That was obviously really quick development and I had no idea what to do with my body,” Reynolds said. “I knew I was big and I started to get some more power but I didn’t know how to run, didn’t really know how to throw hard yet. My senior year, I gained a little more weight and started getting behind everything.”
While many teams had Reynolds on their radars as a mid-late round pitcher, few viewed him as a position player due to his inflexibility in the field. The Marlins however, quickly fell in love with Reynolds’ power potential, selecting the then-gargantuan-but-lanky 6’7, 205 pounder as a positional player 113th overall.
Upon being drafted, even before he took the field for the first time, Reynolds received a big wake-up call.
“When I got drafted I was 18, 6’7”, 195-200. My first day I was getting changed and getting ready next to grown men,” Reynolds said. “It was a shock, just how I thought I was so ready physically then I got out there and I was like, “man I’ve got a lot of work to do.””
For the still physically immature Reynolds playing in the field full-time for the first time in his career and for the first time with a wood bat, his break-in to the professional ranks was pretty rudimentary. In his first 148 MLB-affiliated ABs, he hit .155/.262/.196 with a 64/22 K/BB. He had two homers and two triples but failed to homer. This came as Reynolds attempted to learn a brand new position, the outfield as he split time between both corner spots, mostly on the strength of his throwing arm. A season later, Reynolds returned to the GCL, this time as a first baseman, a position that is much less physically demanding. This allowed Reynolds to focus much more significantly on improving his hit tool. As his contact rates made leaps and bounds, his stats reaped the benefits as he slashed .214/.303/.311 with five doubles, a triple and his first pro homer.
This past season, with an offseason of physical growth under the watchful eye of coaches and trainers under his belt, Reynolds’ power tool flourished as the lefty hit 17 homers, most in the New York Penn League. However, the pure power hitter also showed tons of swing and miss, whiffing 133 times. Put another way, Reynolds was the epitome of all or nothing. 32% of his ABs ended in a homer and 49% resulted in a K. He was the only player in MiLB to hit sub-.200 while slugging over .400.
Reynolds attributes his unique stat line to learning how to take the good with the bad and gaining the knowledge to not be careless but to not be too careful, either.
“I made a big jump last year in taking the tension out; going from “oh there’s a guy on third, I have to get him in” to “there’s a guy on third? Perfect.””, Reynolds said. “Staying true to what I know I’m good at; that’s what the mindset is. Trying to change something every day and working on something new every day just doesn’t work. It’s just going to be about staying with what works and knowing what I’m capable of and knowing that at the end of the day, you’ve got to tell yourself you’re the best player on the field.”
Heading into 2019, Reynolds feels that he is better prepared mentally thanks to time spent reflecting on his first professional stint. According to Sean, learning how accept deficiency last year and this offseason as well as learning how to separate amateur success from professional growth will be lessons that allow him to take the a very important next step in his first full season this year.
“I’m coming into this year after having a lot of time alone reflecting on the season I had and going over previous swings and just letting go of the fear of failure. That’s something a lot of people that don’t play baseball don’t understand: you have to be okay with falling on your face and looking like an idiot, like you’re swinging a sword in the box. You have too many ABs over the course of a season to look good every time,” Reynolds said. “In high school you’re always the man that everyone is looking forward to getting up and watching. You’re gonna be the one driving in the runs every game. Then you come into pro ball and you’re just another guy. So letting go of that fear and just not worrying about. That‘s something I feel like is gonna let me make a big jump this year.”
In addition to changing his thought process, Reynolds has also made some mechanical adjustments, including approaching from deeper in the box and maintaining a more upright stance. According to Reynolds, these modifications will allow him to make the most of his reach and cover more of his big strike zone.
“That has been a big focus for me, changing some things around in my swings and my mechanics and the way I go about hitting, improving the contact rate. All the numbers will increase by default if the contact rate increases and I know that,” Reynolds said. “Staying linear and trying to catch the ball out in front where I know I can use my leverage and my long limbs and power. Staying through the middle and not try to get too pull happy. That’s what it’s been about for me.”
In making the trip up the ladder to Clinton, Reynolds will be playing in almost twice as many games as he ever has in a calendar year and all within a five-month span. But according to Reynolds, he is not only ready physically, but just as prominent, mentally.
“Physical endurance has a lot to do with it keeping your body healthy and ready but overall, I think once you get into that 100-game range it’s just mental,” Reynolds said. “You’ve got to convince yourself that for three hours a day, you’re good to go, even if something is not feeling right. If you’re at 80%, then you’ve gotta give 100% of that 80%. Just gotta do he best with what you’ve got. Mental toughness, making sure that you’re able to play, even if you know in the back of your mind you’re not 100%. That’s what it’s about to me.”
Jacobs, who rostered Reynolds in Batavia last season, speaks very highly of his abilities both as a player and as a mentor.
“The power is obviously legit and he’s made great strides defensively from where he was at at the beginning of the year to where he ended up. You don’t get a lot of guys with that size and the ability to hit the ball as far as he can. The biggest thing is getting the ball in play a little bit more but it’s all a work in progress,” Jacobs said. “He wants to be really good and he’s impressive to watch. He’s a great kid, he’s a hard worker, he’s a leader in the clubhouse and he wants to be out there every day. I’m excited for what he’s gonna bring to the table. It’s been fun watching him make the adjustments he’s made already and I expect him to have a great year this year.”
— Fish On The Farm (@marlinsminors) February 21, 2019
Reynolds enters his second season as a professional already in a better state of mind and in an overall better position as a maturing player. According to Reynolds, the new attitude and new direction of the franchise has created a better sense of comfortability while also invigorating him and it will be a major catalyst in his further development.
“Before it was kind of a foregone conclusion that if you were a sought after prospect you were gonna be traded, the closer you get to the big leagues,” Reynolds said. “It definitely adds a bit of excitement when you think about the direction that Gary and the rest of the staff are taking this organization and how everything is being conducted in such a professional way. It’s definitely a big change from what it was before.”
A guy who can be seen around the cage coaching up his teammates, we see Reynolds as both a current and future locker room leader ceiling at that can approach the ceiling of Chris Davis (.238/.319/.471).
C Will Banfield
2018 (ROK-A) – .238/.308/.385, 12 XBH, 18 RBI, 43/11 K/BB; 38% CS%
Banfield is the Marlins’ second round pick from last year’s draft, taken 69th overall out of Brookwood High School in Snellville, GA. A force in his two-year varsity career, Banfield followed a .409/.511/.686 12/22 K/BB junior season with a .398, 49 RBI, 15 2B 9 HR senior campaign. A guy who was already clocking in at 95 from the mound as a sophomore, Banfield built his throwing arm up to being the best in last season’s draft. On top of that, his 1.74 second pop time ranked in the 99th percentile during PerfectGame showcases.
After a season of professional coaching as well as an offseason spent under the watchful eye of a pro organization, here is what Will is looking like headed into his first full season in the minors:
— Fish On The Farm (@marlinsminors) February 22, 2019
With more physical maturity to his credit (looks like at least 10-20 pounds of muscle mass added), the 29-year-old stands to enter his first full year as a pro at around 6’1”, 220. Approaching 2019, Banfield’s improved physique should allow him to tap into his raw power potential as well as cover even more area behind the plate. Areas in which he still needs to improve on the offensive side are barrel speed and swing length. If he’s able to shorten up a bit and get barrel in the zone at advantageous times, the righty hitter who approaches from the back of the box and recognizes pitches well, should be able to turn into a .260+ for-average threat with the potential for 15+ homers and 20+ doubles.
- Alberto Guerrero
- Humberto Mejia
- Josh Roberson
- Chris Vallimont
RHP Josh Roberson
2018 (ROK-A) – 48.1 IP, 1.30 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 34/12 K/BB
Roberson is the Marlins’ twelfth round pick from last season out of UNC Wilmington in his hometown of North Carolina. Primarily a reliever in his first two collegiate seasons, his big velocity and the maturation of his slider allowed him to assume regular rotational work in 2017. That year, Roberson held down a 1.80 ERA and 1.40 WHIP by way of a 23/8 K/BB. As was the case in 2016 though, recurring throwing arm injuries limited him to just 20-something innings. Just before the draft in June, it was revealed that Roberson would require Tommy John surgery which cost him the rest of the 2017 season. Thought to be a late-first to early-second day pick, Roberson fell to the Marlins in round 12, 359th overall.
— UNCW Baseball (@UNCWBaseball) June 14, 2017
This past season, Roberson returned to the mound with a vengeance. One-hundred percent healthy for the first time in a long time, he held a 1.06 ERA through eight GCL starts, limiting his opposition to a .184 BAA with a 0.94 WHIP and a 31/12 K/BB. His five wins far and away led the GCL Marlins. Those exports earned Roberson a late-season call to Batavia where he made two starts, spanning a total of six IP. He allowed two earned runs (3.00 ERA), struck out three and didn’t walk any.
This season, Roberson, 22, makes the jump up the ladder to the full-season ranks. He also participated in the post-season instructional league. A tall and lanky 6’3″, 175, he owns two plus pitches, a calling card heater that is capable of 97+ MPH and a hard-biting 86-88 MPH slider. He has the blueprint of a changeup, but that pitch is very much in its infantile stages and is currently little more than a mix-in waste pitch. Given his injury history and past spent throwing mostly in relief, Roberson’s future would sensibly lie in the bullpen. However, we wouldn’t put it past this very hungry hard thrower to surprise a lot of people this season, allow the organization to throw his medical record out the window and continue to develop him as a back-end starter. He’s a very interesting piece to watch and, given his drive, could wind up being a diamond in the rough.
RHP CJ Carter
2018 (ROK-A) – 29.2 IP, 3.64 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 38/17 K/BB, .179 BAA
One of the most interesting guys in the system, Carter is a 6’, 165 pound righty out of Troy University in his home state of Georgia, preceded by Alvin Community College In Texas. A full time JuCo starter where he held down a 2.64 ERA via a 1.13 WHIP and 84/32 K/BB, he made the transition to the pen after being recruited to Division I. After 69.2 IP worth of 3.75 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 90/23 ball out of the pen as a Trojan, the Marlins selected him in the 29th round of last season’s draft.
Although he has worked exclusively out of the bullpen in his first 29.2 professional IP between the GCL and Batavia, it looks as though the organization is impressed enough with Carter to allow him to at least return to a swing-man role. Watching him throw against some of he Marlins’ top prospects as well as current big leaguers this spring, its easy to see what the organization sees.
Carter is one of the more unique arms not only to observe but more importantly for hitters to face. He combats his limited size by creating deception stemming from a high leg kick and extremely short arm action and a low sidearm slot. Stuff-wise, he is a complete offspeed artist, rarely reaching over 90 MPH and dipping all the way down to 72. It is in his ability to repeat his delivery and in his swing and miss potential that the Marlins view him as a future rotational piece. Everything has good movement when it comes to Carter’s four pitch arsenal, including a biting two seamer, a dancing changeup, a loopy curveball with late sink and a disappearing slider.
An extremely fun guy to watch work, Carter has the ceiling of change-of-pace back end starter ala Dan Haren and the floor of an innings-eating bullpen anchor.
.245/.322/.390, 115 HR, 320 XBH
4.29 ERA, 1.34 WHIP
At this time last year, despite being under new management, Marlins fans and the rest of the baseball collective were turning up their noses at the once again rebuilding Marlins, scoffing, “Same old, same old.” However, it quickly became evident that this Jeter and Co: reboot starkly contrasted the many orchestrated Loria and Co: it was being done and properly and most importantly of all, completely and thoroughly with the fanbase’s best interests in mind.
Rather than holding on to parts of failed core(s) year after year, Jeter traded away all of the Marlins’ biggest MLB assets (J.T. Realmuto pending) and began building a core of his own down in the minor leagues. Jeter ensured the best trade returns possible by not asking partners to eat bad contracts a la Loria, creating a hand-picked nucleus. Then, by doing some strategic wheeling and dealing, he capped it all off by landing the top free agent on the international market. After ending 2017 with the 28th-ranked farm system, the Marlins are now a top-15 organization. When all is said and done this offseason, they could have a top-10 system, something Loria never even got close to sniffing due to his penny-pinching and living off distant hopes and dreams.
Add to the pot the fact that they have facilitated solutions to fans’ material factors surrounding the team such as updating the logo and colors, ridding the stadium of the egregious home run sculpture and lowering prices on both tickets and concessions, in just over a year, this new regime has given the team back to Miami and created a culture that promotes the term ‘community’ in every possible way.
Nothing brings a sports community closer than winning games. And by 2020, thanks to the blueprint Jeter’s administration has laid out and executed so well in such a short time, the M stands to be flipped on a regular basis. At the forefront of those occasions will be these faces and names that Marlins fans should start getting plenty used to seeing and hearing.
Without any further ado, we present our 2019 Top Prospects list.
1. OF Monte Harrison
2019 (AA) – .240/.316/.399, 19 HR, 48 RBI, 28/9 SB/CS
Harrison, who came to the Marlins in what wound up being one of the biggest moves of this past offseason, the deal that sent eventual NL MVP Christian Yelich to Milwaukee, was a Brewers draftee in 2014. Considered one of, if not the best athlete in that year’s draft, it cost the Brewers a pretty penny, $1.8 million, to sway Harrison to sign with them rather than honoring a two-sport commitment with the University of Nebraska.
Harrison had a rough start to his professional baseball career, breaking his tibia and fibula while running the bases in his first season in 2015 which limited him to just 76 games. Harrison was understandably slow out of the gate in 2016, hitting just .163/.245/.209 in his first 39 games before he began to settle in game 40. From May 26th-June 17, Harrison went 24-79 (.303) with six homers, showing the Brewers his true potential for the first time. Then, Harrison went under the knife again, this time for a broken hamate bone in his dominant hand. Despite missing almost two month’s worth of action, Harrison returned on August 11 and finished the season by going a respectable 17-59 (.288).
This past season was a turning point for Harrison in more ways than one. First up on a long list of happenings for Harrison was his trade to Miami in exchange for Christian Yelich. Accompanying Monte to the Marlins were Lewis Brinson who just graduated prospect status and the duo of Isan Diaz and Jordan Yamamoto, each of whom will appear in the top ten in these rankings (spoiler alert).
While some pundits have stated that the Marlins didn’t get enough back in this trade, they have done so as they have stared directly at the accomplishments of Yelich while simultaneously turning a blind eye to Harrison’s athletic pedigree and the nature of the two hard-luck injuries, one suffered on a hustle play and one on a hit-by-pitch, that stunted his growth as Brewers property. In his first year as a Marlin, Harrison was able to wholly avoid the injury bug and make up for lost time. Positive adjustments began to reward Monte late in the season as he went 23-70 in his final 22 games. He ended the regular season with a .240/.316/.399 slash line with 19 homers, fourth in the Southern League.
This winter, Harrison participated in the Arizona Fall League. There, as a Salt River Rafter, Harrison perfected the changes in his approach he showed late in the regular season campaign, including a much more closed stance and a much smaller front leg timing trigger. These changes have allowed Monte to keep his head and shoulders stationary and via a shorter swing that better employs his plus bat speed, cover much more of the plate much more advantageously. This re-tooled version of Harrison promotes much better contact rates and drastically lower K rates than the MiLB-leading 37% factor he posted during the regular season. In 19 Arizona Fall League games (81 PAs) against competition a half a year older than him, Harrison hit .290/.348/.343 with a 19/10 K/BB. The only thing glaringly missing, both in the month of August and in Arizona, from Harrison v. 2.0’s potential five-tool game was the over-the-fence power prowess that was his calling card as a younger prospect. However, now that he has been properly coached to simplify his plate work, prolong counts and use his elite bat speed properly, Harrison, who has always owned good hands and horizontal movement in his elbows as well as an uppercut swing plane that promotes barrel contact and lift, he is much closer to realizing his five-tool type ceiling than he ever has been. By being coached to step into the ball in sync with his downward swing slope and by adding torque to his presently fairly stationary hips, he can get all of his power back and then some, creating a near-complete offensive threat. That will be the 22-year-old’s focus as he begins 2019 at the upper-most level of the minors as a New Orleans Baby Cake. With similar output that he showed at the end of last season and this fall, Harrison could be a Miami Marlin, joining his former Brewers organizational Brinson in the same MLB outfield by the All-Star break.
2. OF Victor Victor Mesa
One of the biggest free agent sweepstakes revolved around Cuba’s Victor Victor Mesa. The attention was well deserved.
Mesa began his professional playing career in the Cuban National Series as a 16-year-old in 2012. Through four seasons playing at his home country’s top level, Mesa hit .275/.334/.378 including a .354/.399/.539, and 40/10 SB/CS in 2016-17, leading to the fanfare surrounding his free agency this year. At one time, more than ten teams were rumored to be heavily involved in the Mesa sweepstakes. The Marlins has their eyes on the brothers from the start and remained focused throughout the offseason, making them a-priori. The team shrewdly began racking up bonus pool money in the middle of the season when they flipped Cameron Maybin to the Seattle Mariners for $250K in pool space and infielder Bryson Brigman. At season’s end, the Fish made a trio of trades, sending Ryan Lillie to the Cincinnati Reds for $750K in cap space and Kyle Barraclough to the Washington Nationals for $1MM. On October 16, the Marlins dealt Dominican Summer League prospects Adonis Giron and Brayan De Paula to the Astros for another $500K. The dealings vaulted the Marlins from $4MM past the Orioles, who sat at $6.7MM.
— Victor Victor Mesa (@victorvmesa) November 20, 2018
“We had to put in all our chips,” Michael Hill said, “and add chips.”
On October 22nd, 2018, the Marlins claimed their long-sought after prize, signing Víctor Victor Mesa for $5.25MM (as well as Victor Jr for an even $1MM). In addition to acquiring the special talent, Jeter told ABC News he wants the signings to set a new standard for the Marlins’ organization.
“We want Miami to be the destination for top international talent,” Jeter said. “This organization should reflect the diversity of the South Florida community.”
In Cuba, Victor Victor personified the term baseball phenom by way of a skillset that promotes all five tools. Well recognized and touted for his explosive defensive arm and plus-plus speed on top of advanced contact readability and route-running knowledge acquiescent of any of the three outfield positions, Mesa is even more ahead of the curve on the offensive side of the ball — figuratively and literally. Setting up in the back of the box via a slightly open stance to the third base side, Mesa owns a compact back leg load and vertical power transfer. Through his swing, Mesa maintains his skyward-pointed back elbow and lateral front elbow, creating natural arc and lift to his explosive swing. Though he doesn’t quite have the size or raw power to match, Mesa’s mechanics are reminiscent of Giancarlo Stanton.
Where Mesa easily trumps Stanton is in his his pitch recognition, plate coverage ability and the IQ needed to adjust mid-count and prolong his chances. While he won’t walk a ton, Mesa has an offensive skillset that promotes tons of contact. With 70-grade speed capable of 30+ steals and 60-grade defense, Mesa is a small uptick in over-the-fence power away from owning all five tools. And he’s still just 22. The only thing that keeps Mesa out of the top spot in these preseason rankings is the fear of the unknown as he breaks into full-season ball in America. That said, there Mesa shows more than enough natural talent to break in to the affiliated ranks and succeed as the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp’s starting center fielder. From there, the sky is the limit. We place Mesa’s ceiling sky high: a potential .290/.340/.430+ annual hitter with an average of greater than 20bSBs and a plus-plus dWAR.
3. RHP Nick Neidert
2018 (AA) – 152.2 IP, 3.24 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 154/31 K/BB
Neidert is a 6’1”, 180 pound righty hailing out Suwannee, GA. Seven months before the draft, in his junior year of high school, Neidert was already showing a unique brand of pitch mix, placement and deception via late movement on his already deep and well advanced four-pitch arsenal which ranged from 92-76. Already flashing a big sweeping hook, a sinking changeup and a running fastball to all parts of the zone, a 17-year-old Neidert was already well on his way to big things.
Upon being drafted by the Mariners 60th overall in the 2nd round in 2015, Neidert finished the year by making 11 starts for the Arizona Mariners of the rookie ball Arizona League. Despite somehow not earning a win (0-2), Neidert held down a 1.53 ERA via a 0.96 WHIP and 2.56 K/BB. In 2016, Neidert made 19 starts for the Clinton LumberKings but was limited to 91 innings as the Mariners nurtured his development. Still, the solid numbers persisted as Neidert posted a 2.57 ERA via a 0.97 WHIP and 69/13 K/BB.
Come 20-7, Neidert’s leash was lengthened. That factor along with the advancement of his changeup which caught up to the rest of his staff allowed him to hold down a 2.74 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 104.1 IP in the A+ California League. Most noticeably improved was Neidert’s K rate which rose from 19% a year previous to 26%. All the while, his impeccable control persisted (1.47 BB%). Among California League pitchers with at least 80 IP, Neidert’s (.41 K/BB ranked third just behind teammate Pablo Lopez (6.85 K/BB).
This past season upon joining the Marlins in the Dee Gordon trade, Neidert made his way to AA Jacksonville. There, despite the big jump in level, Neidert’s success continued as he went 12-7 with a 3.24 ERA in a career high 152.2 IP via a 1.13 WHIP and 154/31 K/BB. With a complete arsenal and equally complete head for pitching, Neidert got inside the head of hitters with four completely different looks. Despite not owning overpowering stuff, he was able to post the Southern League’s third best K/BB ratio (20.1%).
Feauturing a velo mix ranging from 93 (with the ability to reach 95 when he ramps up) via a two-seamer with arm side run, Neidert drops down to 73 with a 12-6 curve. He mixes in an 86-88 mph 11-5 slider with great delineation from the aforementioned offering as well as an 89 mph change that he masks well and which piggybacks the fastball perfectly. While he won’t overpower you or light up radar guns, Neidert is a thinking-man’s hurler that hides the ball well in his low 3/4 arm slot. Despite limited size, he maintains the same stride and arm angle when coming home with four completely different looks, making him a master of deception. A guy who has always played above his age, we like Neidert to break into the Marlins’ big league rotation not long after spring training and quickly recognize his ceiling as a 2-4 slot starter.
4. RHP Jordan Yamamoto
2018 (A-A+) – 68.2 IP, 1.83 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 85/14 K/BB
Jordan Yamamoto is another product of the Yelich trade. At the time the trade was made, he was thought to be the sugar of the deal, sweetening it on a throw-in level. A season later, Yamamoto has proven he’s much more than that.
Yamamoto is the product of St. Louis High School in Honolulu, Hawaii. When Yamamoto gets his MLB call, he will become the third man from the state capital to pitch for the organization, joining Justin Wayne and the man who threw the first pitch and earned the first win in team history on April 5, 1993, Charlie Hough. Judging by his current level of progression, that future isn’t too far away from the 22-year-old’s realization.
Yamamoto was selected by the Brewers with the 356th overall pick in round 12 of the 2014 MLB Draft. In his first 83.2 innings as a pro, Yamamto’s statistics were very becoming of a teenager taken in that kind of low-risk draft slot as he posted a 1-7 record, a ERA and a. WHIP. However, since being the unfortunate owner of a 7.84 ERA and 1.95 WHIP as a member of the Pioneer League’s Helena Brewers in 2015 and finding himself on the verge of exploring life outside of baseball, Yamamoto made a concerted effort to succeed, resulting in him becoming a top-tier pitching prospect.
The difference for Yamamato from then until now lies in the simplification of his delivery and a change in his arm slot.
The most noticeable change in Yamamoto’s pre-pitch mechanics are a smaller step back toward the first base side, the erasure of toe-tapping which served as a tip to hitters on breaking balls and a much lower 3/4 arm slot which has allowed Yamamoto to hide the ball better and to prevent himself from flying open. Coupled together, these improvements have given Yamamoto the ability to repeat his delivery much more efficiently and to place pitches much more accurately, creating more deception and more advantageous counts.
From there, Yamamoto relies on his stuff to he hitters out. And he has a very deep arsenal of plus pitches to dip into. While he is another guy who won’t blown you away with velo, he is a strike-zone resident who will wow with his secondaries. For proof, see some of Yamamoto’s latest exports from the Arizona Fall League below:
Yamamoto’s 90-93 MPH fastball holds great spin rates and is workable in every area of the zone, giving him the ability to change a hitter’s eye level and/or completely take their vision away, setting up his two plus secondaries that he commands very well on the lower half. Coupling late break on his tight 83-85 mph curveball with his 86-88 MPH changeup that runs arm-side and holds late fade to his arm side.
By making adjustments necessary to catch his command tool up to his stuff, Yamamoto has enjoyed great success of late in the minors. This past season, he pitched to a collective 1.83 ERA by way of a 0.83 WHIP and 6.07 K/BB, aided in part by his 13/0 K/BB performance on (), an outing in which he set the record for most strikeouts in a single game by a Jupiter Hammerheads pitcher. Jordan then parlayed that performance into a standout campaign in the Arizona Fall League where as a Salt River Rafter, he went 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 27/13 K/BB in 26 IP. During that time, in a pleasant bit of foreshadowing, Yamamoto was among the first few players to pull on a new Marlins’ jersey. With continued success in spring training, it won’t be very long before Yamamoto, owner of a complete three-pitch arsenal and a good mix of swing-and-miss and limited contact inducing stuff, dons the same jersey again in his first MLB game. Place his ceiling at a 2-3 starter and floor at the back end of a major league rotation.
5. C Will Banfield
2018 (A) – .238/.308/.385, 3 HR, 43/11 K/BB; 37/23 SB/CS
Banfield is the Marlins’ CBA Round B pick from 2018. Hailing out of Brookwood High School in Snellville, GA, the native of nearby Lawrenceville was highly heralded for his defensive capabilities including a 1.74 second pop time and an 84 MPH arm behind the dish. He proved his throwing arm was capable of growth by clocking in at 94 MPH velo he flashed from the opposite side of the mound. Coupling the aforementioned canon with solid glove-to-hand transfer times, a good and growing throwing accuracy and solid receiving abilities including framing prowess and the agility to go well out of the zone, Banfield was considered one of if not the best defensive catchers in the draft. It was on that basis that Marlins selected Banfield with a CBA pick at 69th overall.
This past summer, Banfield joined the GCL Marlins. In his first 22 pro games, the 18-year-old threw out 18 of 44 potential base stealers (41% CS%), allowed just five passed balls and held down a perfect fielding percentage by way of a 8.05 range factor before being called up to A Greensboro. As a Grasshopper, Banfield committed just one error while catching five of 16 potential base stealers (31% CS%). In those 107 innings catching more advanced stuff, he didn’t allow a passed ball.
Offensively, Banfield also played pretty closely to his scouting report which states that he has above-average raw power stemming from his athletic 6’1”, 210 frame with room to grow, but that he also owns just average bat speed. Banfield will need to make some adjustments in reading opposing pitchers, timing swings and shortening his stroke in order to tap in to his raw power potential, but at just 19 entering his first full professional season with pro coaching and facilities at his disposal, we see a fully-grown Banfield as an elite defender with a respectable bat capable of at least a Mendoza line average with plus power numbers. He is the franchise’s cornerstone catching prospect. Entering a big season in his developmental process, if things go well, a fully-grown Banfield could be ready for the Show by 2021.
6. RHP Sandy Alcantara
2018 (AAA) – 115.2 IP, 3.89 ERA, 1.254 WHIP, 88/38 K/BB
Alcantara is a 6’5”, 185 pound righty signed by St. Louis in 2013. Upon building his way to being named the Cardinals’ ninth best prospect by the end of 2016, he became Marlins property last offseason in the trade for Marcell Ozuna.
Alcantara spent most of 2018 in AAA New Orleans where he threw 115.2 IP and managed a 3.89 ERA via a 1.254 WHIP and 2.32 K/BB differential. Sandy accomplished all of this while throwing against competition nearly five years his elder.
Upon the MLB’s September roster expansion, his exports earned Alcantara a call to the bigs. In his first action as a Marlin, Alcantara held down a 3.44 ERA in 34 IP via a 1.41 WHIP, a .214 BAA and a 30/23 K/BB. Alcantara’s bread and butter that he used to climb up the MiLB ranks is his fiery velocity on his four-seamer which he can ramp into triple digits but which usually sits in the 96-99 MPH range. He shows the same consistent command and usage of his two-seam sinker which has great arm side action and allows him to add and subtract, keeping hitters guessing. But, while the rest of his arsenal which includes an 85-91 MPH changeup and a tight 12-6 power curveball that has sharp downward action, have shown flashes of brilliance, what his secondaries lack most is that same C word when it comes to controlling them: consistency.
If Alcantara hopes to stick as a starter, he will need to gain a better feel for his stuff, most significantly the grip and release point on his changeup which currently comes in mostly straight, and when he isn’t at his best, misses spots more than it hits them. The sharp break on his curve and the differential in velo, dropping 20 MPH lower than his heat, plays up, but he will need to refrain from overthrowing it. While these are certainly issues, they are the type which should work themselves out with age and proper coaching.
Alcantara should enter 2019 at the back end of the Marlins’ rotation. Still in his age 23 season and entering his first full season at the behest of MLB coaching, there is plenty of time for Alcantara to recognize his ceiling potential as a front end starter.
7. IF Isan Diaz
2018 (AA-AAA) – .232/.340/.399, 13 HR, 56 RBI, 140/68 K/BB
Along with Harrison and Yamamoto, Diaz is the final return piece in the Yelich trade with the Brewers and at age 21, the youngest of the trio acquired by Miami in the deal.
Diaz, a native of Puerto Rico, moved to Springfield, MA when he was four, bringing an ironic beginning to a life which has been full of quick and stark changes of scenery. When of age, Diaz began to attend Springfield Central High School where he became a two sport athlete, playing both baseball and basketball. After entering the 2014 draft as the eighth ranked infielder and the 38th ranked overall prep prospect according to MaxPreps, Diaz was selected 70th overall by the Diamondbacks in the 2014 draft. Forgoing a collegiate commitment to Vanderbilt, Diaz signed with Arizona for $750K.
Upon moving to the opposite side of the country as an 18-year-old, Diaz broke in to pro ball with the Arizona League D-Backs, hitting .187/.289/.330 in 182 ABs. After partaking in eight games in the Puerto Rican Winter League, Diaz spent the rest of the 2015 offseason under the close tutelage of pro coaches, simplifying his swing.
Through streamlining of his pre-pitch timing mechanics and some shortening of his swing, Diaz broke out in a big way in 2016. For the short season A Missoula Osprey, Diaz hit .360/.436/.640. His BA and OBP each ranked sixth while his SLG led the league. The power figure was made possible by 13 homers, second most on the circuit and a league-most 25 doubles, adding up to 174 total bases, also a Pioneer League best. Among his many highlights that year was hitting for the cycle on August 23rd.
After being named the Pioneer League’s MVP, Missoula’s first in 14 years as well as a Pioneer League All-Star, Diaz was traded to the Brewers in the deal that brought Jean Segura to the desert. In 2016, the eight-ranked Brewers prospect made his full season debut with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. In almost twice as many games as he played in a year previously in brand new surroundings, Diaz held up well, both physically and statistically hitting .264/.358/.469. He once again appeared on league leaderboards in a multitude of categories. Playing on the same circuit as baseball’s current number two ranked prospect Eloy Jimenez, Diaz’s 20 homers led the league, his 34 doubles ranked 5th, his 75 RBIs were 3rd, his .469 SLG placed 13th and his .827 OPS came in 20th. With a 149 wRC+, Diaz was named the Brewers’ minor league player of the year.
Following an appearance in the Arizona Fall League (17 G, .239/.338/.373), Diaz spent 2017 in A+ Carolina. There, a nagging wrist injury limited him to a pedestrian .222/.334/.376 slash line and 104 wRC+. On August 31, the Brewers shut Diaz down for the year, bringing an end to his season after just 110 games. The slight hiccup in Diaz’s production allowed the Marlins to buy low on the infielder as they swayed Milwaukee to include him in the three-piece deal for Yelich. On January 25, 2018, Miami became Diaz’s third organization in his young four year career.
Despite his mundane 2017 season, the Marlins challenged Diaz to take on the AA level with the Jumbo Shrimp in 2018. Back at 100%, Diaz fared well, slashing .245/.365/.418 with 10 homers and 19 doubles, not too far off the pace which resulted in his aforementioned .264/.358/.469, 20 HR, 34 2B season back in low A in 2016. His walk rate of 14.89, a career high, resulted in a 1.79 K/BB ratio, a career low. Playing second base full time, he flashed some of his best defense, collecting a career high 153 putouts and 200 assists and being part of 45 double plays. By way of a 4.30 range factor, he held down a .975 fielding percentage. Diaz spent the final 36 games of the 2018 regular season in New Orleans, getting his feet wet at the AAA level. The highlight of that tenure was a 3-5, 2 3B, HR, 5 RBI performance against Albuquerque on August 4th. In 137 ABs with New Orleans, he slashed .204/.281/.358. Despite finishing the season rather slowly (7 for his last 52), Diaz proved he isn’t far away from competing for an MLB starting job at second base. With another slight push forward in maturation and production, the realization of Diaz’s Major League dream would allow the Marlins to shed another $21 million in owed money (Starlin Castro) and possibly bring back a mid-lower level tier prospect or two and/or mid-round draft selections.
Where Diaz needs to improve for that to occur is in recognizing and identifying major league quality stuff, especially secondaries, something that should come naturally as he gets more ABs in the uppermost level of the minors. 5’10”, 185, the stout Diaz with surprising pop profiles as a lefty-hitting Dan Uggla with slightly less power, built for more doubles than homers and slightly better defense capable of manning both shortstop, second base, and, the Marlins hope third base. The team gave him a look at the hot corner this winter when Diaz partook in the Puerto Rican League. In 99 innings played at the hot corner, Diaz committed just one error. Oh, and he also hit .276/.348/.366.
An athletic gamer who is showing versatility both on the field and off adjusting to whatever circumstances come his way, we like Diaz to reach a ceiling somewhere around .260/.340/.460 with room for 20+ homers and 30+ doubles sooner rather than later.
8. OF Connor Scott
2018 (A) – .218/.309/.296, 1 HR, 24 RBI, 56/24 K/BB
Scott is the Marlins first rounder from last season and the fifth straight prep the franchise has spent their top selection on. Leading up to the draft, the first draft pick of the Jeter era drew close comparisons to his former teammate turned MLB’s fifth ranked overall prospect Kyle Tucker. If that weren’t enough, according to draft connoisseurs including Keith Law and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, Scott draws reminiscence of current NL MVP Christian Yelich. Watching Scott play, it’s easy to see the similarities.
In his senior year at Plant High, Scott was .526 hitter with 20 homers via barrel velocity of 89 MPH which ranked in the 57th percentile. Scott also showed off a plus arm, tossing 90-93 from the hill. Despite missing valuable playing time against top talent in the summer due to the removal of his appendix, the Marlins selected Scott as an outfielder with 13th overall pick.
— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) June 5, 2018
Upon inking his $4 million signing deal, the 18-year-old spent his first 27 pro games in the Gulf Coast League where he slashed .223/.319/.311 before joining the single A ranks in Greensboro. In 23 games as a Grasshopper he hit .211/.295/.276. His first career homer came on August 20th, 2018.
Though he is still very raw, Scott exhibits all five tools loudly. From a split stance in which he points his front foot up the first base line, the lefty hitter has a compact approach with good power load in his hands and elbows which maintain their height throughout his swing which holds great speed and through which the barrel spends advantageous time in the zone. Scott favors pull, but has already shown enough plate coverage to go to all fields. Where the teenager stands to improve is in getting his mostly stationary lower half more involved in his approach which will aid in the recognition of his power ceiling as well as in more contact to pitches on the outer half via a better step into the ball. Similarly, on the other side of the ball, Scott could use to improve his footwork leading to more power behind throws and better routes to balls. However, with already present foot speed, good bat to ball instincts and overall feel for hitting should allow Scott to bridge the gap from amateur standout to professional pretty smoothly. Scott should start 2019 with A Clinton and, with success, could move up to Jupiter sometime in the second half, but entering his age 19 season, there should be no reason to rush his development. His ceiling, although uncertain at this point in his career, could potentially be that of a .270 average hitter with 20/20 HR/SB capacity.
9. 3B James Nelson
2018 (A+) – .211/.262/.280, 2 HR, 28 RBI, 66/13 K/BB
Picked by Miami in the 15th round of the 2016 draft, Nelson hails out of Cisco Junior College in Cisco, Texas. Previously, he was selected by the Red Sox in round 18 of the 2015 draft out of his high school alma matter, Redan High in Stone Mountain, GA.
“Going to Junior college was probably the biggest and best decision I could’ve made to be honest,” Nelson told us last year. “I don’t think I got enough exposure in high school as far as seeing the pitchers I did.”
In his junior and senior seasons, Nelson hit a total of four homers. In his single JuCo season, a more physically matured specimen hit 17. The jump in power production was a major precursor for Nelson’s earlier draft slot which awarded him $75K, over $20K more than the slot Boston signed him in.
After breaking in with the GCL Marlins, Nelson spent 2017 absolutely raking in single A. Highlighted by a .372/.425/.540, 8 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 5/1 SB/CS month of May, Nelson slashed .309/.354/.456 with 31 doubles, three triples and seven homers. His BA ranked 11th and his two bagger count ranked sixth league wide. At the end of 2017, Nelson was named the Marlins organizational Minor League Player of the Year (LINK).
After opening the eyes of those who underrated him due to his brief amateur career, the 19-year-old headed in to last offseason riding high, primed to build on a more than solid debut full season. However, just before camp began, Nelson suffered a torn meniscus, an injury that, with no past history of knee trouble, he says “just sort of happened”. The injury required surgery and kept Nelson out of action until June. Upon making his season and Jupiter Hammerheads debut on June 3rd, Nelson played in five games before he quickly landed back on the DL due to a setback. From there, it was a slow go for Nelson who went 10 for his first 71 (.140). However, by going 33 for his final 143 (.230) with at least one hit in 23 of his final 37 games, Nelson proved he was adjusting well to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. He will likely begin 2019 back in Jupiter. With success, he could move up to AA sometime in the second half.
Approaching from a slightly split stance, the righty hitter owns a middle-high timing trigger which he uses in concert with his plus plate vision to both stay behind the ball and get extended to it. From there, Nelson executes an absolutely explosive swing that is lightning fast, short and well-leveraged, allowing him to use all fields with hard line drive contact. On the frequent occasion that he barrels up, the ball absolutely flies, giving him some of the best exit velo in the organization. Past his good plate approach and mechanics, Nelson owns 50-grade speed and a good glove at third base, one which he has quickly grown in to since beginning to learn the position upon becoming a pro. The Marlins bought in to Nelson’s future at the both offensive and defensive demanding hot corner based on his second-to-none athleticism, his already advanced offensive makeup and his growing frame which looks to have improved this offseason.
— Jupiter Hammerheads (@GoHammerheads) January 16, 2019
A guy who looks to have spent his offseason getting healthier and stronger, Nelson appears to have all the tools necessary to become a constant power threat with both gap-to-gap and over-the-fences power. Nelson should begin the 2019 season back in Jupiter and, with consistent health, looks primed to make the jump to the upper minors not too long after. Place Nelson’s ceiling at that of a .270/.320/.450, 25+ 2B, 20+ HR, 15+ SB yearly offensive threat with above replacement level defense.
10. OF Tristan Pompey
2018 (A-A+) – .299/.408/.397, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 47/32 K/BB, 10/5 SB/CS
Pompey is a Marlins’ 2018 first rounder out of the University Of Kentucky and the owner of a great baseball pedigree. Born to parents that prefer he play football rather than a sport they barely understood or even liked, both Tristan and his brother Dalton before him, opted for the diamond.
Being supporters of their dream no matter which path they chose, the Daltons’ parents learned the game along with their sons and at a young age, taught them both to switch hit. The gift bestowed upon Dalton allotted him a .279/.364/.405 Minor League career including .283/.396/.462 leading up to his MLB debut, but due to frequent injury and an overcrowding of outfield candidates in Toronto, his Major League career has been limited to just 64 games.
Now, after a standout three-year .321/.426/.521 career at the University Of Kentucky including the posting of a 1.005 OPS in both his sophomore and junior seasons, accolades which earned him multiple All-American selections and allotted him being named as high as the 14th best player in the 2018 Draft, it’s younger brother Tristan’s time to shine. After joining the Marlins upon the inking of his $645,000 signing bonus, Tristan spent just four games conditioning in the GCL before joining the full season single A ranks. But after hitting .314/.422/.430 with a 22/16 K/BB in 24 games, Pompey was quickly back on his way down to Jupiter, this time to play in the big park with the A+ Hammerheads. He spent the rest of his rookie year slashing .291/.396/.384 with a 21/13 K/BB. These loud results earned Pompey an invite to play in the Pan-American games for his home country of Canada, a pre-qualifier for the 2020 Olympic Summer Games. He is the third youngest player on the roster. From there, Pompey should begin 2019 back in Jupiter but results permitting, could be a quick mover up to the AA level.
Already the more physically mature Pompey brother, Tristan, who will turn 22 in March 23rd, still exhibits the same front leg timing trigger that caused some scouts to look down on him leading up to the draft. However, as a pro, Pompey has improved his back leg mechanics, keeping it planted and using it to drive forward into his downward planed and well-leveraged swing. He’s also closed his stance a bit and is approaching from further back in the box, allowing his plus plate vision to go to work for him on a more frequent basis.
With a great feel for the barrel from both sides of the plate via a short stroke path to the ball, a good first step out of the box and a plus-plus runner when he gets to full-stride, Pompey, who has stayed healthy most of his playing career and adjusted well to his environment with each jump in level, profiles as a future 20/20+ threat. If his throwing arm improves past it’s current grade of 45, he is on a great track to reach his ceiling as a middle-of-the-order starting right fielder.
11. RHP Edward Cabrera
2018 (A) – 100.1 IP, 4.22 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 93/42 K/BB
Cabrera is a Marlins’ 2015 international signed out of the Dominican, heavily lauded for his upper 90s velo. With just 182.1 IP under his belt, Cabrera has spent his early career learning how to pitch stateside. The Marlins have been methodical with Cabrera’s development, limiting him to 82.2 combined IP in his first two seasons. Last season, Cabrera was stretched out to an even 100 IP. Cabrera held up well both physically and statistically in his first elongated look, holding down a 4.22 ERA by way of a 1.47 WHIP, 11.6 K/BB%, and a 44% GB%.
A tall, lanky righty who weighs in at 6’4”, Cabrera gets every bit of his body involved in his delivery, nearly completely turning his back to the hitter and exploding through his 3/4 slot. His current mechanics already allow him to hold 94+ MPH velo throughout his starts, but issues repeating the delivery cause him to struggle with command, causing him to miss spots, often missing wide to his arm side where the pitch naturally runs to. Past the four-seamer, Cabrera owns the solid blueprint for a good slurvy slider that comes in at 77-80, a pitch that would both accentuate and counteract his fiery heat beautifully, but he will need to improve his release point and follow-through in order to create proper deception. Cabrera also owns an 88-90 MPH changeup, a pitch which has the prospect of being a great accompaniment to the high heat and the low bender, but it is an offering that is still very much in the beginning stages. Still many years away from the majors though and with room to grow physically, Cabrera is far from a finished product and is already quite intriguing. With a fastball that already plays up via natural plus-plus velo and a good foundation for at-least average, if not better secondary stuff, Cabrera, although still being very much a work-in-progress, has youth on his side and the work ethic needed to become a ceiling 3-5 starter.
12. RHP Trevor Rogers
2018 (A) – 72.2 IP, 5.82 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 85/27 K/BB
Rogers is the Marlins top draft pick in the 2017 Draft, a spot and $3.4 million payday he garnered after a 26-5, 0.73 ERA, .138 BAA, 325/52 K/BB prep career at Carlsbad High in New Mexico. In 182 career innings pitched, Rogers only allowed one home run. An All-American preseason selection in his senior year, Rogers defended that honor by going 11-0 with a 0.33 ERA and 134/13 K/BB. The top ranked draft prospect out of the state of New Mexico, Rogers signed on with the Marlins for $3.4 million.
Suffering from a mild forearm strain, the Marlins, a franchise all too familiar with prep picks going awry, erred on the side of caution and assigned Rogers to the instructional league. However, that entire campaign was washed out due to Hurricane Irma, keeping Trevor sidelined. After participating in minor league camp, Rogers finally made his pro debut on May 22nd. Following a bit of an adjustment period in pitching to professional hitters and in getting back into in-game action for the first time in 364 days, Rogers went on a nice run as things began to click. From July 6th to August 18th, he went 43.1 IP while holding down a 3.13 ERA with a 42/13 K/BB. The highlight of Rogers’ rookie campaign was a 7.2 IP, 1 H, 12/2 K/BB outing in which he flirted with a no hitter on July 29th.
A 6’4” 220+ specimen, Rogers makes the most of his size on the Hill, throwing downhill into the strike zone thereby gaining an extra few ticks on his fastball which comes in in the 92-96 MPH range and stays there throughout his outings. Coming out of high school, Rogers had a quality slider but trying to take too much off of it was causing him to tip it to opposing hitters. Since then, Rogers has quickly been coached to not overthink pitches, throwing everything with the same arm speed, a modification that has worked out well in his favor, aiding his confidence and pitchability. Rogers also owns the makings of a plus curveball with 12-6 action and good late bite and an at least average changeup with good fade to the arm side.
A coachable asset with youth and projection both on his side, we like Rogers, who also impressed during the instructional league this offseason, we like Rogers to break the Marlins’ spell of high school draft picks gone wrong and, upon further growth in A-A+ this coming season, realize his ceiling potential as a top end starter come 2020-21.
13. RHP Luis Palacios
2018 (A) – 63.2 IP, 0.85 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, 62/4 K/BB
Palacios is a lefty hurler who signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican in 2016. It is there, with the DSL Marlins, that the teenager has spent the first two seasons of his professional career making a clear cut name for himself. As a 16-year-old in his debut season, Palacios worked 46.2 IP, holding down a 2.70 ERA via a 1.14 WHIP and 2.87 K/BB%. This past season, Palacios worked in the same capacity (4 starts, 11 relief appearances), lasting 63.2 IP and managing a sparkling 0.85 ERA by way of an even more dazzling 0.60 WHIP. Somehow, the 17-year-old allowed even less baserunners his previous campaign while tossing in nearly 20 more frames. While leading the league in IP, he also led it in ERA, in WHIP and absolutely blew it away in K/BB% (25.4). In 2019, Palacios, a Dominican League stud, will first participate in the Marlins’ Captains’ Camp before making his regular season stateside ball debut, likely with the Batavia Muckdogs but possibly with the full-season LumberKings.
Finally, some highlights of LHP Luis Palacios from the Dominican Summer League.
63.2 IP, 0.85 ERA, 0 HR, 62 K.
Palacios was the best baseball player in the entire organization this season. pic.twitter.com/mgvCtgHQM2
— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) September 6, 2018
After a high leg kick, Palacios, a 6’2”, 160 pound specimen, comes home with a well-balanced 3/4 delivery. His whip-through follow-through on all three of his pitches allows him to mask them all advantageously. From there, the stuff speaks for itself. His fastball comes in at 93-95 with good bite to his arm side. Palacios’ best secondary is his 88-90 MPH changeup which fades late and holds corner-painting prowess. Palacios has similar control over his 86-88 MPH power slider which owns late 11-5 run. Palacios’ stuff, which is well beyond his years, proved to be nearly unhittable for his countrymen.
This coming season as Palacios makes his US debut, he will need to improve the consistency of his release points as his pitches can sometimes get away from him. That said, Palacios is a kid who shows good feel for all three of his pitches, a trio which already good velo mix. At just 18, growing both mentally and physically, Palacios has plenty of room to add even more MPH and quite possibly a fourth pitch to his arsenal (he shows the beginnings of a big curveball).
Given how far along he is at such a young age, Palacios, who will remind Marlins fans of a miniature Dontrelle Willis, has a huge ceiling, that of a potential ace. Though still pretty far out, pay close attention to this name which is likely to rise up these prospect rankings sooner rather than later.
14. RHP Jorge Guzman
2018 (A+) – 96 IP, 4.03 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 101/64 K/BB
Guzman is an Astros 2015 international signee out of the Dominican. After learning how to pitch stateside in the pro ranks by tossing 55 IP to the tune of a 5.04 ERA and 1.68 WHIP with three different rookie ball teams that year, the 20-year-old improved his peripherals to a 4.05 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 2016. In just 40 IP, the righty struck out 54 and walked just 17. That offseason, Guzman was dealt to the Yankees along with Albert Abreu in the trade that sent Brian McCann to Houston.
Guzman spent 2016 in short season A ball compiling a 5-3 record and 2.30 ERA by way of a 1.03 WHIP and 88/18 K/BB. His 11.88 K/9 ranked second league wide. By way of that season in which Guzman flashed the beginnings of a power slider to piggyback his tremendous blow-it-by-you fastball that sits at 96 and tops at 103 that he climbed the Yankees’ prospect ranks and wound up at number 25. That offseason, Guzman became the centerpiece of the trade that sent Giancarlo Stanton to New York. Starlin Castro and Jose Devers also joined the Marlins.
Upon his arrival in Miami, the Marlins were extremely careful with Guzman’s development, not inviting him to spring training or assigning him an affiliated squad at the break of camp. Instead, Guzman, whose career high innings count was 66.2, conditioned in extended spring training. On April 28th, Guzman finally joined the Jupiter Hammerheads and made his first start. Ninety-six innings later, Guzman sported a 4.03 ERA. Judging by his extended numbers including a 4.45 FIP, a 1.45 WHIP and lowly 38.7 ground ball rate, it looks as though Guzman benefitted from throwing in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.
Guzman’s biggest and currently only mature weapon and the reason for his prospect status is his aforementioned heat which rarely ticks below 96, hits as high as 103 and persists throughout his starts. However, Guzman has yet to show the consistent ability to harness the potential 70-grade tool. Though he shows flashes of dominance, Guzman fails to repeat his delivery and gets hurt when the mostly straight pitch misses spots, causing his walk and contact rates to rise. Moreover, Guzman’s lack of a secondary arsenal allows hitters to sit on the heat, negating his best asset even if he does hit the zone.
2019 stands to be a make-it-or-break-it type year when it comes to Guzman’s future as a starter. In order to stick in a rotational role long-term Guzman will need his curveball to play up to its 60-grade potential. An 11-5 power hook, the pitch has shown the ability to partner well with his heater but he currently lacks the feel and arm speed to throw it with any sort of consistency. Guzman began to learn a changeup last year, but that pitch is still in the foundational phase and is very little more than a waste offering. Unless Guzman takes a big jump this year, he will probably start working out of the bullpen as a closer, a role in which he could absolutely dominate.
15. OF Brian Miller
2018 (A+-AA) – .295/.338/.355, 21 2B, 5 3B, 66/32 K/BB, 40/13 SB/CS
Miller is a Marlins’ CBA pick, taken 36th overall in 2017 out of the University of North Carolina. He earned his draft spot and $1.8 million payday by way of a .332/.419/.453, 0.88 K/BB%, 55/13 SB/CS three-year career in Tarheel blue, a team he made via a glorified try-out (LINK). Add to his resume a 327/.369/.387 showing in the Cape in 2016 as well as his league-leading 77 hit, .476 OBP, 38 SB campaign in the Coastal Plain League following his rookie season, it’s easy to see the potential the Marlins saw and continue to see in Miller’s slap hitting, speed-first game that holds room for more gap-reaching growth.
“My approach is pretty simple in the box. I just try to be on time and hit a ball hard up the middle of the field. I think always staying to the middle of the field puts me in a good position to succeed because it helps me hit any pitch at any location in the strike zone,” Miller told us last year. “Also, when I mishit a ball I have a good chance of beating it out with my speed because the middle guys have to move the most and sometimes make far throws on the run.”
That skillset has been on full display in Miller’s first 185 career games in which he has matured all the way to the double A level, making him one of the quickest rising prospects in the organization. After breaking in to pro ball with a .322/.384/.416, 17 double, 21 SB 58-game campaign and being selected our Minor League Player Of The Year in 2017, Miller absolutely torched A+ pitching during the first half of last season. Upon slashing .324/.358/.398 with 13 doubles and 19 steals, the 23-year-old made it to AA Jacksonville where he hit a respectable .267/.319/.313. The owner of a career .304/.353/.374 slash line, a 76% success rate in stolen base attempts and a 20% XBH%, Miller heads into spring training this year as a member of the Marlins’ 40-man roster.
Though he isn’t the biggest name nor the most flashy prospect in the organization and even though he needs to show sustainable success against upper minors pitching this coming year, Miller is a guy who understands his potential skill-set well and doesn’t try to overdo it. A contact-first swinger who picks and chooses his quick line drive hacks well and uses his plus speed to turn virtually anything that drops into extra bases, Miller lines up well as a ceiling .280/.340/.340, 25+ SB top of the order catalytic threat and floor fourth-outfielder off-the-bench spark plug.
In 2019, Marlins minor leaguers at the A level will be crowned kings. Clinton LumberKings, to be exact. After spending over a decade affiliated with the Greensboro Grasshoppers, the Miami organization will make a westward expansion, partnering with the franchise hailing out of Clinton, Iowa.
Clinton is a township which has known baseball for a very long time. After originally beginning play in 1895, the Clinton baseball club endured through the Great Depression and two World Wars. Upon the completion of a new stadium, Ashford University Ballpark in 1937, the Clinton baseball franchise earned their professional baseball partnership, teaming up with Dodgers. On May 9, 1937, the Clinton Owls opened their new stadium and made their MLB-affiliated debut against their peers and elders from Brooklyn in an exhibition game. Appearances by future Hall of Famer Heine Manush and five-time All-Star Van Mugno highlighted the occasion. Career 4.6 WAR IF/OF Bert Haas suited up for Clinton.
Fast forward 61 years. In 1998, after Clinton spent time with many different MLB organizations including the Cubs, White Sox, Dodgers, Pirates (twice) and Giants and after it played innkeeper to the likes of Jim Leyland, Mike Scioscia, Orel Hershiser, Matt Williams, John Burkett, Royce Clayton and a host of other future stars, the team welcomed a new general manager to town: Ted Tornow. A longtime baseball man most recently known for the success he earned with the 1996 Butte Copper Kings, a season in which his team went 37-35, marking their first winning record in five years, and a year in which the club set a franchise record in total attendance, Tornow arrived in eastern Iowa to find the long-storied club in debt and their park which was built in 1937 and will become the oldest Pioneer League park this coming season, in rough shape.
“When I got here, it wasn’t good. We were given the death sentence by Minor League and Midwest League baseball,” Tornow said. “That’s when the whole concept of integrating Vision Iowa started.”
Vision Iowa (or SF 2447) was an Act passed by the Iowa General Assembly in 2000 with the purpose of providing State financial assistance, paid for by gambling receipts, to community attract and tourist (CAT) facilities. The Act created a 13-member panel which was charged with the duty of, among other things, reviewing applications and approving grant recipients based on a list of required criteria. After a few years worth of attempts, Tornow, the LumberKings and Ashford University Stadium were eventually selected to receive Vision Iowa funding of upwards of $3 million.
“It took a while but we finally got it done,” Tornow said regarding receiving government funding. “It turned out being in the $3.3 (million) range. The whole project really revitalized not only us but the entire area.”
With the gubernatorial backing plus $1.5 million of the franchise’s own, Tornow began to formulate a plan that would completely facelift Ashford University Stadium. The first thing Tornow did was enlist the assistance of HOK/Populous, a firm very well versed and world-renowned for its sports venue architectural success. HOK/Populous is the same company that crafted Joe Robbie Stadium, the original home of the Florida Marlins, in 1987 as well as Marlins Park, the current home of your Miami Marlins in 2012 They are also responsible for many other current MLB parks such as Coors Field, Minute Maid Park, Citi Field, new Yankee Stadium and SunTrust Park to name a few. Upon their arrival in Clinton, Tornow instructed HOK/Populous to proceed in a fashion that not only procured the longevity of LumberKings baseball but also promoted potential movement up the minor league ladder.
“When they came in, I told them to build it to AA standards,” Tornow said. “We didn’t know the next time the commissioner or PBA audit was going to come so we wanted to be well prepared.”
With the blueprint in place, Tornow and HOK/Populous began to work from the ground up — literally.
“The new playing surface is sand-based and it drains,” Tornow said. “We can take an inch of rain and be ready to play in an hour. It’s absolutely perfect.”
Accordingly, Tornow and HOK/Populus didn’t stop at the field surface. From there, they set their sights on getting the rest of Clinton’s facility completely in compliance with the Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA), the statute which binds minor and Major League Baseball together. The pair’s next venture became creating a better home clubhouse. To do so, Tornow and HOK/Populous chose to get creative and fashion what would become the LumberKings clubhouse out of what was originally created for the out-of-town squad.
“When I got here, we knew our limitations. The new home clubhouse is underneath where the visitors dressed and showered way back in 1937,” Tornow said. “But is is now palatial. And the visitors’ clubhouse, which was our home one, is still above PBA standards.”
Switching sides allowed Tornow and his constructionists to add a home batting cage which comes in handy during seasonal Iowa afternoons and evenings.
“The batting tunnel is 50×100; it’s lit, ventilated and heated,” Tornow said. “It’s a great clubhouse. Absolutely great.”
In their inaugural season with the Marlins in 2019, Tornow and the LumberKings will welcome many players who spent last season in Batavia, New York. Even though the Muckdogs’ original stadium, which was built in 1937 (the same year as Ashford University Stadium) was demolished and rebuilt in 1996, players have recently spoken of the horrors of the park belonging to a team that lacks an actual owner and is instead being run by the league itself. Some of those players have gone as far as to deem Dwyer Stadium unfit for professional play. It is Tornow’s ambition that those same players as well as the rest of the future Marlins he and his staff field this coming season and beyond will come to Iowa and promptly pose the question, “Is this heaven?”
“Gosh, I hope they’re gonna be happier than a pig in slop. I hope they come in here and go, “holy cow!”” Tornow said. “We’ve got a great host family situation. Believe it or not, in Clinton, Iowa, we have a great Latino connection. We’ve got great clubhouse facilities and great player amenities. We might be small but we have first class facilities.”
Those facilities are the product of what Tornow demanded from decision makers when he arrived in Clinton in 1995.
“I told my mayor and my city admin way back then that if you want to ensure the longevity of baseball here in Clinton, Iowa, we cannot skimp on it. We have to do this,” Tornow said. “And we made it happen.”
As much as the reconstruction of Ashford University Stadium helped Tornow and the LumberKings, it wouldn’t have been possible if not for the work turned in by Tornow in his earliest years in Clinton. During those first few seasons, Tornow got the team out of the red and began turning a profit for he and his partners despite battling a very crowded market.
“The renovation definitely helped but it was the success prior to that,” Tornow said. “We lost a little money in ‘99 but we made money in 2000, we made money in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005. That’s what really helped us.”
Tornow says that, in a baseball sense, he didn’t do many things differently than he believes peers around Minor League Baseball, including in nearby Cedar Rapids, Burlington, Kane County and Quad Cities, would have done. Alternatively, Tornow believes the biggest catalyst for his success in rebuilding the LumberKings was his adherence to a concept taught to every grade school child.
“Treat people the way you want to be treated and deal with them fairly and honestly,” Tornow said.
With the arrival of the Fish in Clinton, Tornow plans to honor Marlins history as well as their future on a weekly basis. His first blueprint for bringing a taste of Miami to northwest Iowa will involve a sneak peak at what Marlins prospects at the single A level could look like in a Miami uniform someday. In accordance, Tornow also wants to bring some of Clinton to South Florida at the end of the Minor League season.
“We want to do a “Marlins Monday” where we brand ourselves, maybe bring in some of your old jerseys and spring training stuff, maybe develop a new hat,” Tornow said. “Also, every Monday we want to run a progressive drawing where we draw a winner and during the final two weeks of the MLB season, take those fans that won and take them down to Miami to catch a game.”
Affiliation change aside, above all, Tornow, a longtime baseball man who was working in the park when Bo Jackson made his professional baseball debut, was present for the return of Jim Eisenriech and who housed the likes of Neftali Feliz, Gary Matthews, Jr., Jason Bay, Ian Kinsler, Grady Sizemore and most recently, Pablo Lopez and Nick Neidert, is dedicated to preserving the spirit and purity of the game of baseball in eastern Iowa.
“We play baseball. We have the game, we have a clean stadium, we treat people how we want to be treated,” Tornow said. “We have good food, cold beer, hot hot dogs and great customer service. Our advantage over other teams in the market is that we are just laid back and we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
Tornow says that although preparations and upgrades have been made to make their players and guests comfortable and informed in the 21st century, it has deliberately been kept in moderation in order for the LumberKings to maintain the same atmosphere and aura they have been known for for over eight decades.
“We got fancy this year and got a ribbon board six feet high by 60 feet long. Out in right field we got some monitors up and WiFi throughout the stadium,” Tornow said. “But what people don’t realize that between the four jumbotrons and the interactive games that everyone has on their cellphones, iPads and everything else is that it’s still a game. Another team in the area has a fair and rides. It’s literally a circus next to a baseball game. It works for them so more power to them. But we just play baseball. That’s what works for us.”
Looking towards the immediate future and the start of their relationship with the Marlins, Tornow says an advantageous beginning to their partnership can be achieved if and when the Fish become proactive in the Clinton community.
“Seattle was big on community. It didn’t matter if you were he number 1 or 328 pick; they made you go to community events. Jimmy VanOstrand, former player, helps handle [the Mariners’] community events. He was constantly in touch with our radio guy saying these guys need to do more community work and to get them out there. Seattle was used to that so if the Marlins are anywhere close, we’ve already got a good start.”
So starting in 2019, come to Iowa. Walk out to the bleachers and sit in the shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon where you’ll sit and cheer future Marlins’ heroes. And watch the game. Ted Tornow, his staff and his park are sure not to disappoint.