344 days. That’s how long Trevor Rogers painstakingly waited after going from being drafted by the Marlins in the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft to actually taking the field for an organizational squad in live game action. Finally, after a series of unfortunate events, Rogers has arrived.
Hailing from Carlsbad High in southern New Mexico, Rogers enjoyed a highly decorated amateur career. In his four year varsity tenure, Rogers held down a 26-5 record by way of a 0.73 ERA and a 325/52 K/BB. This included an 11-0, 0.33 ERA 134/13 K/BB senior year in which Rogers collected first team All-American honors. Touted for his great mix of size and easy mid-high 90s velo and advanced second pitch slider, Rogers forwent a four year commitment to Texas Tech to become the second straight prep hurler to sign with the Marlins out of the first round of the draft. The signing garnered the 18-year-old a $3.4 million payday.
For that success as well as the check, Rogers says he has plenty of people to thank:
“My coaches gave me all the tools they had to make me a better ball player. And course my teammates. They were always their pushing me to get better each day.”
Also amongst the individuals Rogers has gratitude for is his cousin, former Marlin Cody Ross. According to Rogers, becoming a member of the same organization as an elder member of his family hits very close to home.
“We talked a little bit, he just said to enjoy the process and that it’s an exciting time for me to be apart of this organization,” Rogers said. “Watching him when I was younger playing for the Marlins and now I’m in the exact same position, that’s really special to me.”
At the investment the Marlins made in him and with Rogers nursing a light forearm strain and with the recent stories of fellow hard throwing high schoolers such as Tyler Kolek and Braxton Garrett gone awry still fresh in their minds, the Marlins organization erred on the side of extreme caution with Rogers. The team balked at giving Trevor his first professional assignment and instead relegated him to an instructional league that was set to begin at the end of the regular season. However, the entire season was washed out when Hurricane Irma struck on August 30.
Finally, after the painstaking wait and after beginning the season in extended spring training, Rogers has made his pro debut. And he couldn’t be more excited.
“Man, it’s been a very long wait. It’s been over a year since I’ve pitched in front of a crowd,” Rogers said. “It’s so exciting for me to eventually take this small step of many throughout my journey in organization. I can’t wait for the late night games under the lights in front of all the fans.”
Regarding how he dealt with and spent all the time off, Rogers had this to say:
“Just making sure a stay healthy and really buy in with the throwing program and bullpens, slowly building up my innings throughout extended spring, doing arm care with the trainers and resting.”
After almost a year long wait. I’m finally making my pro debut!!! Let the journey begin @GSOHoppers
— Trevor Rogers (@T_Raw1691) May 22, 2018
Rogers’ first start was a bit up and down. He started off his first professional inning by striking out his first two hitters faced then proceeded to give up two runs on a walk and two hits. He then threw a wild pitch and committed a balk before recording a third strikeout to end the frame. Rogers allowed a lead off double to begin the 2nd but got around it and an HBP by getting an out three different ways: a groundout, flyout and a third K. Rogers allowed another man to get into scoring position without a swing in the 3rd, walking a man and allotting a steal of second base. The run scored on his final pitch of the game on an RBI single in which the batter was tossed out at second base.
In regards to his first start, Rogers admits there were some nerves and rust present but that overall, it was a life-changing event.
“Yeah, there were definitely a little bit [of jitters] but it was a great experience,” Rogers said.
The first inning of Rogers’ second start on May 28 would prove to be one of the rockiest innings of his baseball career. After allowing a leadoff double, the Hagerstown Suns loaded the bases on a walk and another HBP. Following a strikeout, Rogers gave up a single and a grand slam homer to back to back hitters. Following a mound visit, the Suns put two more men in scoring position on two singles and a steal but Rogers was able to finally stop the bleeding via two fly outs.
As unfortunate as that first inning was, what happened next was all the more encouraging. In his next two innings, Rogers proved he could have a short memory, put adversity behind him and settle down, setting down six of his last eight including three by way of the K.
“There was plenty of ball game left and the plan was to keep out there as long as possible,” Rogers said regarding the message during his mound visit in the 1st. “I finally got in the grove all my pitches felt good and placed them where I wanted to.”
While it hasn’t been the perfect start to a career in any sense of the word from the get go to the present, Rogers has shown the ability to overcome in many more ways than one, whether it be waiting out the chance to make his debut or a rough start to a game. On top of that, his reputation and stuff at such a young age speak volumes to his potential ceiling. Rogers’ calling card is his easily leveraged and well disguised velo that is made possible by use of his extra large frame. His bread and butter pitch is his 92-96 mph fastball with good sink but a recent change in mechanics that has allowed him to mask his slider better and refrain from tipping it has allowed the pitch to make leaps and bounds, getting hitters out in front of it and leading to many more swings and misses or at the very least weak contact. Rogers says this simplification and not overthinking the pitch has resulted in a better feel and more confidence in the pitch.
“I always struggled with the secondary stuff, more with the slider because I would alter my mechanics and try to make it break instead of accelerating through the pitch and having the grip do the work,” Rogers said. “It’s going to be a big asset for me going forward and becoming more of the complete pitcher that I always want to be.”
As we saw in camp, the Rogers slider can get downright nasty when he’s hitting his marks.
— Fish On The Farm (@marlinsminors) March 15, 2018
Rogers also owns an already average curveball and the beginnings of a changeup that flashes late fade. The development of those pitches will be a large factor in how high up his ceiling he reaches but given his ability to learn, adjust and show composure well beyond his years in regards to all he’s already been through, the sky appears to be the limit for this yet-to-turn-21-year-old.
Welcome to the pros, Trevor. Your next challenge awaits your conquering.
Due to both offseason trades and the many promotions from last year’s great 75-61 Grasshoppers team, many Marlins draftees from the last two years look to make their presence felt in their first full season of pro ball this year. It’s a young squad and in most aspects a pretty raw one but with talent such as Jose Devers, J.C. Millan, Brayan Hernandez, Remey Reed and Brady Puckett on board, there’s plenty to be excited about this year in Greensboro.
.246/.321/.356, 70 HR, 414 XBH, 2.81 K/BB, 135 SB
1184.2 IP, 3.67 ERA, 1.205 WHIP, 3.34 K/BB
At all levels of the minors and especially in the lower levels, the focus is not on winning but rather justifiably on development. However, at any level of sport, in regards to a player’s intangibles such as his/her psyche and drive to succeed, there are few things more valuable than being on the victorious side of games. In his first year at the helm in Greensboro, Todd Pratt proved that, partnering wins with positive growth in perfect harmony. While compiling a 75-61 record, second best in the South Atlantic League and bringing the Hoppers to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, Pratt saw upwards of 10 players graduate to the next level. According to third baseman James Nelson who was a Sally League All-Star and MVP candidate and second place finisher for the batting title via a .309/.354/.456 slash line as well as a very likely promotee this season, Pratt was able to do so by managing a carefree, loose clubhouse and by so doing, successfully shielding his club from any brand of unwarranted pressure.
“Pratt is one of the coolest coaches I’ve had the pleasure to play for. He keeps the game fun but it gets serious if things aren’t how they are suppose to be,” Nelson said. “The clubhouse has a lot of laid back vibes. Baseball is already hard and he doesn’t want to make it harder by stressing out after losses.”
J.C. Millan echoes his teammates sentiments.
“Pratt is awesome overall. On the field and of the field, he lets us go out and play and have fun. He’s always going to be in a great mood no matter what and that always motivates us to always enjoy the game just like he enjoys his job as a manager,” Millan said. “He likes to do everything the right way and he is always encouraging us to play hard no matter what the circumstances are.”
Rounding out Pratt’s staff will be hitting coach Frank Moore who oversaw the Sally’s best team walk rate of 10% and a .246/.321/.356 slash line last year. Returning pitching coach Mark DiFelice managed the Grasshoppers staff to a 3.66 ERA by way of a 1.20 WHIP, third best in the Sally League. Their 3.35 K/BB also ranked third.
SS Jose Devers
LF Michael Donadio
RF Isael Soto
DH/1B Lazaro Alonso
CF Brayan Hernandez
1B/DH Eric Gutierrez
2B J.C. Millan
3B Micah Brown
C Jared Barnes
Devers is a 2017 Yankee’s draftee who came to the Marlins in the trade for Giancarlo Stanton. He was acquired as a distant second piece compared to his former teammate, fireballing hurler Jorge Guzman. However, judging by what he showed both last season and this year in camp, there may be more ceiling value than currently meets the eye.
Despite averaging just .246 last year, Devers at just 17 years old last year, OBP’d .359. He did so by exhibiting the brand of strike zone knowledge of a Major League ready leadoff hitter, a tool many pros find too difficult to come by. What’s more is he was able to accomplish this against pitchers who were on average, nearly four years his elder. Devers coupled his selective offensive approach with even more impressive work in the field where he shows good range to both sides, amazing athleticism and a strong and accurate throwing arm. He has the ability to dazzle with the glove and make “how did he do that?” type plays regularly, going completely across his body with jump throws and showing lightning quick transfer tools after flashing just as fast a reaction time and first step to the ball off the bat. Devers rounds out his game with absolutely blazing speed on the bass paths that allowed him 15 steals last year at a positively alarming 85% success rate.
A tall and lanky 6’0” 155, Devers in both stature and skill set bears a striking resemblance to Elvis Andrus who hit a similar .265/.324/.362 in his age 17 season in A ball and who is a +9.9 career dWAR player. Devers, who will turn 18 in December, has a bit of work to do in the areas of bat speed and overall physical approach in terms of weight transfer and balance but that should come as his body fills out. Watching him play and go 100% every time he’s on the field, it’s easy to see why he was a favorite of former Yankees farm director turned Marlins farm director Gary Denbo and a target of his this offseason. Expect Devers to get a long and healthy amount of attention by the organization going forward starting this season in Greensboro.
LF Michael Donadio
2017 – A- – 31 G, .278/.407/.392, 8 XBH, 13 RBI, 23/16 K/BB
Donadio is a 2017 Marlins draft pick who had a beastly collegiate career at St. John’s. As a member of the Red Storm, Donadio hit .323/.433/.463 over a four year career including a .374/.473/.547 senior season. He was the first player in St. John’s history to earn first team All-Conference honors in each of his four seasons. Looking at his collegiate stats, there isn’t much to dislike. The only thing that may have turned him off to scouts is his lack of power (28.8 career XBH%) and his pretty pedestrian .252/.344/.313 showing against top talent in the Cape Cod League in 2015.
For whatever reason, the Marlins stole Donadio in round 30 of the 2017 Draft. From there, he finished out his season with the GCL Marlins. The change in competition level didn’t phase Donadio one bit. In his first 97 pro ABs, he hit .278/.407/.392. His OBP ranked second on the team and tied him for 17th best in the league. Donadio parlayed that performance into a great showing this spring against older talent.
Standing 6’, 195, Donadio is an athletic specimen who gets low in his left handed stance, keeps his head down and views pitches all the way to the glove. He reads pitchers well, gets in their heads and anticipates the break on pitches advantageously, fights off tough pitches and rarely lets a mistake go to waste. There’s some uppercut action to his swing which allows him to go to all fields with line drives. His favorite area to attack is straight up the middle of the box. While the extremely quick reflexes and strike zone management are extremely encouraging, Donadio is currently all arms and very little legs. Getting his lower half involved in his swing a bit more could give his game another aspect: the ability to reach fences. He’s probably never going to be a guy who hits 20+ homers but with some slight mechanical alterations, he could be a 20+ doubles threat with a great eye, making him an atypical table setter for the middle of the lineup.
In the field, Donadio flashes a good arm and good range to either side. He projects best as a top-of-the-order left fielder with room to grow into more. With projection, I like Donadio as a diamond-in-the-rough type draft selection and a candidate to skip Batavia and start with the Hoppers this season. If he’s not in North Carolina on Opening Day, he will definitely be there at some point this year.
RF Isael Soto
2017 – DNP (injury)
Soto is a Marlins’ 2013 international signee out of the Dominican looking to reestablish his prospect status after missing all of 2017 with a broken foot. It was the second time he’s missed significant time. In 2015, he missed almost the entire season with a torn meniscus. Once as high as the Marlins’ #8 prospect, his future is in some serious doubt due to his inability to stay healthy.
At the plate, Soto makes up for fairly limited size (6’0”, 190) by showing awesome bat speed and a short barrel path to the ball, giving him plus plus power upside. However, he’s far too aggressive early in at bats and his approach carries tons of swing and miss potential with it as proven by his 115/43 K/BB in 2016. His plate vision and over-commitment to swings need to make some huge leaps if he is to reach his ceiling as a potential frequent fence finding threat with a plus defensive arm in right field. However, with all the time he’s missed, that ceiling is starting to slip away. Entering his age 22 season still in low A, he’s starting to enter make it or break it territory.
Lazaro Alonso is an interesting backstory. Once regarded as the eighth best prospect in Cuba by way of a great breakout .299/.436/.494 showing in the island’s national series and a .395/.495/.535 campaign in 2016 season in its 23-and-under league, Alonso joined the Marlins in the 2016 International Draft, the same draft that held picks such as Yoan Moncada and Yasiel Puig. While he is very much their inferior in terms of service time and MLB readiness, Alonso had a great showing in Batavia last year as he adjusted to stateside ball by hitting .255/.366/.348 with a 56/37 K/BB.
As you may guess by looking at Alonso who stands 6’3”, 230, he owns ridiculous raw power. However, the word raw should be emphasized here. As decent as he was in his introduction to pro ball, he has tons of work to do mechanically. His biggest issue is an off-balanced load spurred by a faulty power transfer stance in which he bends his back leg in and his front leg out. It looks as uncomfortable physically as it projects statistically at the upper levels. While he can rope pitches on the inner half, he gets handcuffed on pitches on the outer half and gets caught reaching, often falling off to the plate side, leading to weak contact outs. If he can be coached to close his stance, cover the plate more advantageously and go to his opposite field, he has the swing selectiveness, batter’s eye and muscle to be at least a 20/20 threat while also posting a good OBP. A heady hitter who lets his natural tools work for him and doesn’t try to overpursue, I like Alonso as a very under-the-radar candidate to come out of virtually nowhere and make a name for himself.
CF Brayan Hernandez
2017 – A-/AAA – .263/.309/.406, 14 XBH, 42/10 K/BB
Hernandez, the main return piece in the David Phelps trade with the Mariners hails from Venezuela. A .252/.306/.408 hitter in 28 games with the Everett AquaSox, he finished his season out with the Muckdogs hitting a very similar .271/.302/.407 in 15 games. Though he is scouted as a potential five tool threat, Hernandez has a way to go if he hopes to reach that ceiling both in physical and mental growth. Just a 6’2”, 175 pound 20-year-old, hope is that Hernandez is simply a late bloomer both physically as well as mechanically and mentally. Playing in the Mariners organization probably hasn’t helped the right fielder who has a career 5.7 walk rate and 21.1 K rate. Seattle hasn’t graduated a top-tier outfield talent since it assisted with Adam Jones prior to his trade to the Orioles in 2008.
Two things will be needed if Hernandez is going to reach his ceiling as a complete talent: a rigorous new training regiment centered around adding muscle and a supreme focus on improving his recognition of breaking pitches. He also has a bad habit of trying to do too much on pitches on the outer half, trying to pull them instead of going with them.
In the field and on the bases, there is little to dislike about Hernandez’s games. He has plus speed with good instincts and the ability to cover all necessary ground at all three spots. He projects best as a center fielder but given the current scope of the Marlins minor league system, he will probably start seeing more time in right field. Entering his age 21 season, Hernandez still has time to reach his Odubel Herrera-esque ceiling but if that is to become a reality, he will need to start making progressive advancements towards it this year.
Millan, a Cuba native, spent his high school and collegiate years locally in South Florida. After attending high school at Brito Academy, he was a standout in a single season at Broward College where he hit .324/.407/.443 where his batting average, OBP and .850 OPS all ranked top five in his conference. He also swiped 18 bags, second in the conference. Prior to the 2016 MLB Draft, the Marlins signed Millan as a free agent. After breaking in in the GCL that year, Millan began to show positive adjustments to the wood bat professional ranks last year when he hit .273/.304/.402 in 44 games in Batavia and earned himself a cup of coffee with the Grasshoppers at the end of the season. But as excited as he was to enjoy the success he did, Millan knows it was the beginning of a lengthy ride and that there’s still tons of work to be done, starting immediately.
“2017 was a good start for me but that’s already in the past,” Millan said. “This year is a fresh start. I’m excited to get back on the field and get rolling.”
Millan participated in camp this year on the main backfields and against the highest competition on low A-high A camp days, sometimes against competition as high as A+ and, by my estimation, looked great. He collected a few hits and made all the plays necessary of him in the field. Millan credits his readiness for his first full pro season to the cup of coffee he got in Greensboro at the end of last year, even though initially, it was a bit of a sharp learning curve, adjusting to both his competition and surroundings.
“Greensboro was great for me even though it didn’t come out how I wanted.” Millan said. “The speed of the game took over me the first week I went up. It was first time I got to play at such a nice stadium. But those were all learning experiences that I had to go through and I will be prepared for the upcoming season.”
Regarding how he is feeling heading into by far the most extensive season of his baseball career, Millan believes he is well prepared and is focused well focused on keeping his body at 100% capacity. With a lot of familiar faces around from his time in Batavia last year, he also believes there will be great camaraderie from the get go.
“I’m excited for this full season. I got a little taste of how it was going to be and it’s going to be a fun ride with all the guys I’ve played with,” Millan said. “It’s just a matter of staying healthy all year and going out everyday to give it your best.”
Millan is a 6’0”, 185 pound athletic specimen who swings from a preloaded split stance that stretches nearly the entire frame of the batters box. With slight bend in his back leg and a short stride to the ball, he generates good line drive contact from the barrel. He’s aggressive in the fact that he likes to crowd the inner half and shows good ability to get extended to pitches on the outer half. He could use to find more strength in his hands to fight off pitches high and in but his hands are still quick enough to get around on them. During his time in Greensboro last year, as he stated, was getting accustomed to the quicker pace of play, the speed of the field and the much higher level of competition. However, all of those are things that will and have already started to come with more innings and more at bats.
Heading into this season, I really like Millan to surprise a lot of people as a catalytic type singles threat with good foundational patience and mechanics and good footwork and range to either side in the field, and plus plus speed on the base paths. A potential ceiling leadoff threat and 20+ base stealer while hitting for a plus average, he’s a great story out of Cuba, reminiscent of Jose Fernandez with similar compete level who shouldn’t be slept on.
SP Tyler Kolek
SP Remey Reed
SP Tyler Braley
SP Brady Puckett
SP Brandon Miller
CL Colton Hock
2017 – A- (rehab) – 3.2 IP, 29.45 ERA, 4.91 WHIP, 0.07 K/BB
If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it is. After missing all of 2016 and nearly all of 2017 with Tommy John, Kolek will make his return to the Grasshoppers this season. A prized first round draft pick, second overall by the Marlins in 2014 after he wowed scouts by hitting as high as 103 mph as a high schooler, Kolek’s career so far has been an unbridled disaster that has cost the Marlins $6,000,000 in signing money.
After signing in 2014, the first two years of Kolek’s career were underwhelming at best. He showed similar plus velocity on his heat that he was valued for pre-draft (though he rarely hit triple digits and was definitely overthrowing when he did) but the pitch was dead straight. Each of Kolek’s secondary offerings were very immature to the level they were barely existent. He showed the beginnings of a 86-88 mph changeup and a similar velo slider but the release points are very inconsistent and he looks very uncomfortable throwing each of them. Another mechanical issue for Kolek was repeatability stemming from very little action in his lower half. Instead, Kolek appeared to be all arm, failing to push off the rubber and failing to throw downhill which is definitely what led to his arm being blown out.
Now 21 and returning from major injury, Kolek, who enjoyed very little pro success, will need to completely rebrand both his arsenal and tools if he hopes to succeed as a big leaguer. Can he do it? The answer is time will tell. What is undoubtedly evident is that Kolek has the compete level and drive to do so. However, it takes a special individual to become a different player at this point in his career. While such a high draft pick will be given every chance to do so, I suspect Kolek’s big league future lies in the bullpen.
A Marlins’ 6th rounder in 2016, Reed held down a 2.66 ERA in 122 innings at Division I Oklahoma State mostly out of the bullpen, Reed saw extensive time as a starter with Batavia last year, proving the Marlins are tabbing him as a future rotational candidate. Reed performed fairly well in this interview of sorts, especially considering they came in his first season as a professional. In his eleven starts, he held down a 4.15 ERA with a 42/12 K/BB over 43.1 IP. The highlight was a 6 inning 2 hit shutout in his second-to-last outing of the year against Mahoning Valley in which 47 of his 77 pitches went for strikes.
Reed is a massive 6’5” 230 which would make him the fourth tallest pitcher to ever throw in a Marlins uniform behind only John Rauch, Chris Volstad, Andrew Miller and Josh Johnson. The biggest knock on Reed’s game so far in his career is that he hasn’t been able to use his great size to his advantage. Rather than using his long limbs to generate plus velo, he is a slow and deliberate worker with an arsenal that matches. Rarely touching 90, he releases late from a high over the top slot without much deception in his delivery. He commands his fastball well and it has a flash of late life to it but each of his secondaries, an 83-86 mph changeup, an 86-88 mph slider and a slow 71-74 12-6 curve are very unpolished. He has the profile to pitch deep in games and be an effective low-effort innings eating starter but he will need to develop a better feel for his offspeed stuff. If he can modify his mechanics to include better lower body involvement, his ceiling could be that of a 2-3 starter. Right now though, with a lot of arms ahead of him in a similar time frame, he projects best as a reliever.
2017 – A- – 49 IP, 2.92 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 35/9 K/BB
Puckett is another huge specimen — 6’8, 220 — which would make him the second tallest hurler in Marlins history
Here, there’s a ton of plus projection. Though the Lipscomb University alum is another guy that won’t wow with velo, Puckett, 22, already owns a plus-plus secondary offerings on top of a good lively arm side running heater. He gets his size involved in his delivery well, leaning slightly to his arm side, creating a downward plane and throwing from a high 3/4 slot, making him incredibly difficult to pick up. Everything is commanded well on the lower half creating advantageous weak contact, and plenty of late swings, setting up the out pitch slider which has the capacity to be downright unfair when he’s painting the corners with it. From his high release point, the pitch planes down and sweeps to the corner with extremely late life. It’s a plus-plus pitch at this point and by far his best offering. Regarding the pitch, Puckett says he can throw it multiple ways. Depending on how good it is daily, he is able to hit both his arm side and inside opposite corners, giving it more of a cut fastball profile.
“I like to call it a cutter but some days it moves more like a slider,” Puckett said. “I’m pretty confident in it. I like to throw it to both left handed and right handed hitters.”
He also owns a solid 85 mph changeup that shows good depth and the beginnings of a slow curveball that shows flashes but at this point is just a mix-in.
A master at inside-outing hitters and working the entire zone when he is on, Puckett projects very well as a back end starter. He could use to improve a bit in terms of location consistency. Puckett says that trouble arises when he lets pressure get to him, leading to a tendency to overthrow. But he has a plan to remedy that issue.
“Whenever I try to throw the ball real hard is when I get myself into trouble,” Puckett said. “I just need to stay within myself and think miss smaller, not throw harder.”
Though he is headed into his first full professional season, Puckett says his past two years of work have made he and his body well equipped for the rigors of a large amount of work.
“The past 2 years I have thrown around 150 innings each year so I’m hoping that will help my body be prepared for a full season,” Puckett said.
Even though can be quite hittable when he doesn’t have his best stuff and is catching too much plate, he shows the ability to adjust and still does enough to limit damage. A guy who already has good command of two plus pitches, is developing two more, uses size by creating downward action and deception and has improving command, Puckett profiles as a good mix of a strikeout guy and limited contact guy. A hurler who can get outs multiple ways, I like Puckett to reach a ceiling somewhere comparable to Brandon McCarthy, a career 3.97 FIP, 2.97 K/BB starter.
.226/.307/.342, 56 HR, 375 XBH, 152 SB, 2.9 K/BB
1191 IP, 3.86 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 3.10 K/BB
The MLB draft is an experience that can either be the highest of highs or the lowest of lows, especially for a ballplayer in the middle of his collegiate graduation season. In 2016, Harrison White felt both ends of that spectrum.
“To be completely honest, I remember telling someone a couple days before the draft that we had a better chance of the ceiling falling in on us than me being drafted. It wasn’t that I didn’t have confidence in myself as a player, but I hadn’t received any contact whatsoever from anyone affiliated with pro ball or indy ball,” White divulged. “After my final game in college, I broke down in tears in right field after our team meeting because I thought my baseball career was over. Every time I think about that moment, the emotions come rushing back to me.”
It wasn’t that White couldn’t do great things outside of the baseball world. After all, he went to Yale and graduated with a major in political science and a would-be minor in pre-med (Yale doesn’t provide minor degrees). However, baseball was always Harrison’s first love and, if given the chance, he would commit to giving his heart to it.
“I realized that doing what you love is an absolute necessity. And I’m doing it,” White said.
White is still doing what he loves after he was selected by the Marlins in round 31 with pick number 929 of 1,215. White, who was busy preparing himself for life away from the game, didn’t even hear his own name called. Instead, it was a former teammate and fellow draftee who told him the news that fateful day, June 14, 2017.
“I was in my car and my buddy Richard Slenker, who was drafted a couple rounds earlier by the Astros, called me. I expected he was calling me to thank me for congratulating him on getting drafted, but when I answered the phone, he yelled, “Congrats dude! You just got drafted by the Marlins!” So I immediately went on my phone and checked the draft tracker and, sure enough, there was my name,” White said. “Words can’t express the thrill I felt in that moment, especially after thinking my baseball career was done forever. I think that was the first time in my life I’d ever felt shock and I still get goosebumps when I tell that story.”
When he wasn’t reviewing Supreme Court decisions, turning the pages of Marx, Locke and Paine and/or prepping for the MCAT, White spent his time at Yale on the baseball diamond slashing .289/.374/.404 with 26 career doubles and a 114/56 K/BB. A guy who went from a .266/.356/.297 slash line in his first 26 games at the collegiate level all the way up to a .293/.369/.479 line in his junior season and rounded it his tenure out by posting a career high .380 OBP via a 13.51 walk rate and getting his attached to an Ivy League championship, White lends his growth as a hitter at Yale to the attentiveness of his hitting coach Tucker Frawley.
”[Frawley] was really into statistics and metrics – what types of changes made each player attain the highest exit velocity at the plate and what made each player field the ball with the highest efficiency, that kind of thing,” White said. “I definitely started thinking about the game a little differently because of that.”
In addition to the positive impact Guarino left on him via his knowledge of the analytical side of the game, White says his time at Yale was paramount in teaching him the intangibles and in — you guessed, Ivy League aficionados — making him a more astute and heady player.
“On top of all the metrics, I think the four years of college ball I played only helped me develop a higher baseball IQ,” White said. “You can talk about metrics and do everything in your power to optimize them but at the end of the day you still need to know how to play the game and play it smart and I think my time in college helped me develop in that aspect.”
While posting respectable numbers at the plate, White also built positional flexibility by moving from the infield to the outfield, a process he describes as new and unique but overall, natural and comfortable.
“My entire life I played infield. I really don’t think I even logged an inning in the outfield until the season between my sophomore and junior years at Yale,” White said. “That transition was pretty easy, though. I worked hard in the off season, played every summer ball game in the outfield, took extra fungoes, and watched lots of videos of Mike Trout and Kevin Kiermaier. The toughest part was learning the new footwork for fielding out there as opposed to the infield. Fly ball reads, line drive reads, all that stuff – it came pretty easily to me. By no means was I perfect from the start but by the time my junior season at Yale came around, I was comfortable in right field.”
White rode his solid college career into the professional ranks last season with the Marlins. There in Batavia, he proved that his catalytic type offensive skill set wasn’t exclusive to the collegiate ranks nor to metal bat hitting. As a Muckdog, he slashed .280/.379/.348, almost identical to the .285/.380./.386 line he posted in his senior year as a Bulldog. According to White, his ability to turn in the same quality numbers despite the change in competition level which lead to the late-round pick opening eyes both inside the organization and out was a product of him staying within himself and not allowing himself to become hurried in his further development. However, he also felt as though he had something to prove. According to White, that’s what has kept him grinding.
“I really tried to minimize the pressure I put on myself by reminding myself that I was a late round pick from Yale that I don’t think many people thought could be a serious player. Obviously I was drafted for a reason, but there were a variety of labels on me that signaled to everyone else not to expect much from me as a player,” White said. “I took that mindset into the season and sought to disprove those labels. If I didn’t do well, fine. That’s sort of what everyone expected. But if I did do well, then maybe I’d have a chance to open some eyes and get myself noticed.”
As content as he was with his output in his rookie campaign, White understands there’s still a ton of work to be done for him to become a standout prospect. He intends to bring the same compete level this year as he continues to build toward his future.
“I’m happy that I was able to do what I did but by no means am I satisfied,”, White said. “Last season is last season and I can’t rest on a decent performance in 2017. I need to continue to make a name for myself this season.”
Overall, White is a contact-first threat who possesses a good eye, a good barrel path to the ball and extremely quick hands, giving him the ability to get inside any pitch. He also has the ability to adjust his approach anywhere in the count, making him an advantageous two hole hitter that reaches base for power behind him. For the often power-needy Yale during his tenure there, White was often moved around and pressed into action spots that did not necessarily match his skill set, which might’ve cost him some points off his average and OBP. Now back in his proper element, White is clear as to what his role is in the offense and plans to let his natural abilities as a count working line drive hitting run scoring on base spark plug take over full time.
“Ideally, I’d like to hit second. That’s been my favorite spot in the lineup since I was 12. That said, I also see myself as a leadoff hitter as long as I continue to work on my speed and get faster and also as a bottom of the order, 8 or 9 type of guy. I’m a table setter,” White said. “At Yale, I was more of a middle of the order, drive in runs and split gaps kind of guy who was also expected to put a few balls out of the yard each year. I think the biggest transition from Yale to pro ball was realizing that I’m not supposed to be a power guy. That’s not my role. If I run into a ball now and again and it happens to sail out, fantastic. But that’s not my game. I’m going to leave that to the guys that are over 6 feet. My goal this year is to focus on line drives with backspin to all parts of the yard. Hopefully that will lead to a consistent and successful season in Greensboro.”
White is a small but athletic 5’11, 175 lefty hitter who gets low in a semi-split stance, minimizing a strike zone that he knows very well. Early in ABs, he gets ahead in the count almost exclusively and from there, lets his body go to work for him. Despite being undersized he gets his entire frame involved in his approach, stepping into the ball nicely from a slightly off-center and backloaded split stance on pitches on the outer half and shows the ability to shorten up and get inside pitches thanks to quick and strong hands on the inner half. After a small front foot timing trigger, White engages a quick straight through line drive cut with excellent speed, allowing him to wait out the break on pitches advantageously. White’s knack for finding the proper path to the ball that allows him to put tons of balls in play including many of them on the ground and his plus speed make him a challenging out an on-base threat nearly every every time he puts wood on leather. One area of focus for White should be in replicating the great vision and line of sight and solid contact he shows against righties to his ABs vs same side pitching. Last season, nearly all of his success came against righties (101 ABs, 337/.417/.426 17/14 K/BB) while his 31 ABs against lefties (small sample aside) were nearly a total bust (.097/.263/.097, 15/7 K/BB). However, with more professional experience and coaching, this issue should rectify itself.
Defensively, White played a fine right field both in college where his strong arm actually even earned him some time pitching and in Batavia last year where he committed just three errors in 32 games. However, given his offensive background and the fact that he has good range to both sides I would expect White to make the transition out of a power heavy defensive position and back to his natural spot on the infield at shortstop. Though he hasn’t played it much since high school, White says with some reconditioning and practice, he’d welcome the switch back to the infield and believes it would be good for his career to prove he could be more versatile.
“I’d be fine with that. I love the infield,” White said. “I’d need a little while to get back in the groove and work on taking grounders but I’d definitely be excited to show everyone I have another facet to my game.”
Although he has a ways to go in his development, White is a possible diamond-in-the-rough type find by the Marlins. His floor should be placed at a super-utility type bench player and his ceiling should be that of a 70 grade for average threat and similarly graded defender. An extremely humble kid with leadership qualities by way of an outgoing, infectious personality which makes him a fantastic team player and with great athleticism and the raw tools to match it, if White turns puts in similar work and output as last season in what should be his first full pro year this year in Greensboro, he won’t fly under the radar much longer.
Mark Prior, Jason Marquis, Jayson Nix, Brian Jordan. These names make up an esteemed class of MLB draftees who have made a profound impact on the game after they were selected with the last pick of the first round of their respective drafts. After being drafted in that same slot last season, outfielder Brian Miller took a huge leap towards joining that group.
Reading up on Brian Miller’s background you might learn that after going undrafted he made the North Carolina Tarheels as a true walk on. However, as Miller tells us, it wasn’t exactly like that.
“It was actually a little different than a typical walk on situation. I ended up doing a workout for one of the assistant coaches at Carolina in the early summer, then they offered me,” Miller explained. “They added me to their class as a late addition because they were going to lose a lot of high school commits to the MLB draft. So I was technically a preferred walk on. I didn’t have to do a tryout during the year or any of that stuff to “make” the team.”
Despite not having to go through a formal try out though, Miller still had to prove himself worthy of cracking one of the nation’s best baseball programs. That would happen a little later that summer when he was amongst nearly 50 players trying to crack a 25-man roster.
“We had like 44 guys on the team in the fall, and had to cut it down to 35 by the end of the fall,” Miller said. “The whole fall felt like my actual tryout.”
Miller made the team as the Tarheels’ starting center fielder and proceeded to hit .288/.375/.326 as a freshman. He stole 10 bags in 12 attempts and was second on the team in K/BB% with a lowly 0.84 marker (16/19). A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, Miller often spent time on the other side of the fence at Boshamer Stadium, dreaming of pulling on the Carolina blue and white. Now, that dream was a pleasant reality, even if not in the way Miller envisioned it.
“North Carolina was everything I could’ve asked for as a baseball program and school as a whole,” Miller said. “I’ve been a huge UNC fan since I was very little so it was definitely a dream come true being able to go there. Growing up going to games and being around campus a lot I sort of formed my own image about what it would be like to go there, but then when I actually fulfilled that dream I realized the experience was a lot different than I had expected… in a good way!”
After his solid rookie campaign, Miller took his talents to the Coastal Plain League where he placed second in BA (.389) and led the league in OBP (.476) via its most hits (77) and also racked up a league-most 38 steals. He parlayed that to his sophomore year at UNC, where he absolutely exploded, hitting .345/.440/.469. His batting average ranked amongst the top 15 in the ACC, his 21 steals (in 26 chances) ranked fourth in the conference and his 56 runs scored ranked 10th. The 19-year-old continued to exhibit excellent plate vision, posting a 0.85 K/BB, a nearly identical mark to that of his rookie year and in almost 100 more ABs. During that breakout year, Miller started to become acclimated with the close-knit fabric that binds that UNC Baseball program together. According to Miller, it was a major catalyst in his success.
“There’s a huge feeling of comfort at UNC knowing that you’re a part of such a tradition of winning and excellence on and off the court/field. I think all of my teammates and peers would agree with that feeling. I can say very confidently that if I hadn’t played ball at UNC I would be no where near the player I am today,” Miller said. “The knowledge, resources, and facilities that we have access to helped me grow tremendously as a player in all areas of my game.”
After a .327/.369/.387 showcase in the 2016 Cape Cod League, Miller’s comfortability and compatibility with the UNC program continued to show true in his junior season last year when he hit .343/.422/.502. The biggest addition to his game here was a surplus of power as he slammed seven homers after managing just two in his first two seasons at the collegiate level. Once again, the emphatically patient Miller walked more than he struck out (38/35 BB/K), and he continued to be a menace on the basepaths where he added another 24 steals in 30 chances. He appeared on multiple ACC leaderboards including BA (11th), total bases (136, 9th), steals (2nd), hits (93, 2nd) and runs (61, 5th). All of it came in 271 ABs, most in the league. Miller was a key contributor to the Tarheels’ 23-7 record, their division title and their #11 ranking in the nation. Indeed, Miller and the rest of his UNC teammates did big things that year, but if you ask any of them, including Brian, they will tell you they weren’t the least bit surprised in themselves. According to Miller, the team is accustomed to success and counts on it day in and day out. According to Miller, this attitude had a profound impact on his career.
“The ideology surrounding the program is just to win and compete,” Miller said. “We expect to win and once I was surrounded by other players and coaches that embodied that mindset it really helped me improve as a baseball player.”
Enter Draft day 2017. Miller, by way of his five-tool type junior year, entered projected to go off the board in the second round only to hear the Marlins, with their competitive balance pick, call his name in the first round, 36th overall. Yes, the same Brian Miller that went unrecruited out of high school had become a first round draft pick. However, while he admits it was exciting hearing his name get called so early in the draft, Miller says his draft stock wasn’t really a concern while he was playing for UNC. Instead, Miller had his sights set on making his friends and family proud.
“Getting picked in the first round was pretty cool, but it’s not really a goal I had all along because I just wanted to play for a team that valued me and gave me a chance to succeed,” Miller said. “There are a lot of very very good baseball players that didn’t get picked that high and will have great careers. Your junior year there’s so much noise out there about you as a player or where you might get picked. I was very blessed to have great friends and family around me that helped me tune all of that out and just play as hard as I could for my school.”
Upon being selected, the Marlins forwent sending Miller to short season Batavia and instead sent him to full season A in Greensboro. This was music to Miller’s ears as it was a short 80 mile trek from his home in Greensboro and an even shorter 50 mile hike from Chapel Hill, meaning he would continue to be surrounded by his friends and family and could keep reaping the benefits of his college coaches’ expertise.
“Being close to home was such a blessing,” Miller said. “Having my parents and other family/friends at a lot of games was a really cool environment to start my career in.”
Feeding off the in-person support of his family and friends, Miller, despite being over a year younger than the average South Atlantic League player, started his big league career by slashing .322/.385/.416. He tore up the basepaths, stealing 21 bags in 27 attempts and scored 42 runs, quickly solidifying himself as the Grasshoppers’ leadoff hitter. Though he admits there was a noticeable leap in the opposition’s skill level that he had to adjust accordingly, Miller credits the successful start to his big league career to the time he spent facing some of baseball’s top rising stars in the ACC such as fellow 2017 first rounder Brendan McKay (Tampa Bay) and 2016 second rounder Connor Jones (St Louis) and picking the brains of his star rotational teammates, Astros’ 2017 first rounder Jacob Bukauskas who owned a 3.06 K/BB at UNC and Cardinals’ 2016 third rounder Zac Gallen who posted a 3.67 K/BB in Tarheel blue.
“The competition level was definitely a step up from college ball but I think the ACC helped prepare me for mostly everything I faced this past season in Greensboro,” Miller said. “I wasn’t really familiar with many pitchers or players in the SAL, so it took a little bit of time to adjust to how different teams and pitchers like to throw. There are some really good players in the SAL and it was fun being able to compete against them all for a few months.”
A contact-or-bust singles swinger, Miller uses his plus-plus jets to collect extra bases. He exhibits fantastic plate vision and patience via a knowledge of the strike zone well beyond his years, allowing him to work at least deep and usually favorable counts. Miller’s swing is one of the quickest in Miami’s system. Using his excellent vision, he is able to wait out the break of a pitch and follow it all the way to the back of the glove. When he engages, Miller’s swing flashes through the zone straight and narrow. His split stance allows him to step both in and out to his contact point and allows him to barrel up virtually any pitch on either side of the zone. All of that sounds and is great. But if you ask Miller himself, his mechanics are so soundly second-nature that he isn’t concerned with them. Instead, he approaches his at-bats with a very simple, refined attitude.
“My approach is pretty simple in the box. I just try to be on time and hit a ball hard up the middle of the field. I think always staying to the middle of the field puts me in a good position to succeed because it helps me hit any pitch at any location in the strike zone,” Miller said. “Also, when I mishit a ball I have a good chance of beating it out with my speed because the middle guys have to move the most and sometimes make far throws on the run.”
Where Miller wants to do the most of his offensive damage and where he believes he can disrupt the game most advantageously is on the bathpaths.
“When I’m on the bases I’m always trying to steal,” Miller said. “I always want the defense to be on their toes and feel pressured, which can also help my teammate in the box get a better pitch to hit if the pitcher and catcher is concerned with throwing me out.”
Miller uses that same speed to cover ridiculous ground in the outfield, making him one of the best range defenders in the system, rivaling the likes of teammate Aaron Knapp and former/future teammate Corey Bird. If the Marlins’ current system is rich with one thing it’s speedy, top of the order outfielders. However, due to left-handedness, his pre-pro pedigree and his untenable patience and the fantastic beginning to his career, Miller may have the highest leg up on all of them. While the recently turned 22-year-old only competed in 57 games worth of affiliated action last year and while he will have to prove that he can endure a full season’s worth of games, due to his coming virtually out of nowhere, turning into a first round draft pick, skipping short season ball and becoming one of the Greensboro Grasshoppers’ most valuable players, Brian Miller earns our Minor League Player of the Year Award. We expect this will be the first of many times you hear his name this coming year. He should start the season in Greensboro (after a possible spring training invite) but with continued success, could move up to A+ Jupiter by the midseason mark.
Woah, it’s Nelly! Not only is it befittingly his Twitter handle, it’s the exact phrase the South Atlantic League, its scouts, the Marlins’ organization and anyone who follows it are exclaiming regarding James Nelson’s season to date. One look at the stats including his absolutely unprecedented month of May, it’s easy to see why.
Nelson was born on October 18, 1997 in Rex, GA and attended Redan High School in nearby Stone Mountain. Other than the budding Nelson, Redan is famous for producing MLB talents such as Wally Joyner and Brandon Phillips. As Nelson relates to, Redan is a place that is very proud of that past and their long-tenured heritage and Raiders players, including Nelson, coaches and parents quickly learn that. Rahter than just being part of for four years, they are part of a brotherhood forever.
“Baseball tradition at Redan is probably the best I’ve ever been a part of,” Nelson said. “It was all about winning and being a part of a family.”
After his graduation in 2015, Nelson was selected by the Red Sox in the 18th round of that year’s Draft. However, Nelson forwent signing with Boston to attend junior college in Cisco, Texas in an attempt to raise his draft stock.
“Going to Junior college was probably the biggest and best decision I could’ve made to be honest,” Nelson said. “I don’t think I got enough exposure in high school as far as seeing the pitchers I did.”
Despite his great high school tenure, Nelson only hit four total home runs in his junior and senior seasons. In his one year at Cisco, a bulked up Nelson hit 17. After going off the board 531st overall a year prior, some scouts had Nelson going off the board as early as round 12. The Marlins selected Nelson with the 443rd overall pick in round 15 thus making his decision to attend Cisco a success. This time, Nelson forwent the rest of his college career to sign a pro contract at the age of 19, another big choice and another one he and his family does not regret.
“Baseball is what I loved to do and I believed I was ready to take on the next level,” Nelson said. “My family was proud. Everyone thinks it was a great decision and I get all the support I need.”
Upon his arrival in the professional ranks last season, Nelson supported evidence that he was indeed ready to make the jump. In 43 games in the Gulf Coast League, he hit .284/.344/.364. His BA ranked 15th in the league and his OBP ranked 20th. Among his impressive countable stats were 24 RBI and a 7/3 SB/CS. Despite appearing at the plate just 162 times, the Marlins were impressed enough to promote Nelson to full season ball at the ripe age of 19, 2 1/2 years younger than the average Sally League player. After a bit of a feeling out process in his first eight games in April when he hit .207/.324/.345, Nelson absolutely exploded in May, responding and rewarding the Marlins’ vote of confidence by becoming one of the best hitters in the league and a sure-fire choice for the upcoming All-Star Game. His ridiculous month of May consisted of a .372/.425/.540 slash line along with 8 doubles, a triple, 3 homers, 17 RBI and a 5/1 SB/CS. Overall this season, Nelson’s .338 BA ranks third in the Sally, his .404 OBP ranks fourth and his .500 SLG ranks ninth. He ends the month of May riding a 17-game hitting streak.
So how has this teenager with just a year’s worth of college experience and 43 games worth of pro experience under his belt, responded so well to playing against the best competition that he ever has gone up against while being under the pressure and microscope that goes along with being regarded as the club’s 10th best prospect and how will he keep it up over the course of a 140 game season, three times as many games as he’s ever played in in a single year? Simple: he won’t change a thing and most importantly, he will not get too far ahead of himself. Because after all, whatever level you’re at and wherever you are or aren’t ranked within the organization, the game remains the same.
“It’s baseball, man. I’m just taking it day by day, making sure I’m staying healthy and staying on top of my game,” Nelson said. “I just take it one at bat at a time. If I don’t get it done one at bat, just get it done the next, and also keeping my routine I’ve been doing is a major deal as well. It’s all about playing baseball, it’s the same game, just with better competition. The biggest thing is focus, if you don’t focus you won’t succeed how you want to.”
If there was a knock on Nelson’s offensive game from his days in the GCL it was his production against lefties which he hit at just a .231/.286/.269 clip. This season, again, against much more advanced competition, he has remedied that by hitting southpaws at a .388/.492/.694 pace. Once again, Nelson credits what he believes is the end-all, be all, vision. After that, it has been his ability to stay inside the ball a lot more consistently that has made the difference.
“All about the focus,” Nelson said “From last year to this year, I think my middle-oppo approach has gotten a lot better and I am actually driving the ball to right field and I think that was a big advantage against lefties, especially this season”
Nelson has accomplished all of these offensive accolades over the past two years while also learning how to play a new position, third base, where the Marlins believe his growing frame, plus power and strong arm will be better suited in the long run. While learning the hot corner has been and will continue to be a process for Nelson, he doesn’t mind; as long as he’s on the diamond.
“I took the news [of the switch] great. If they see me playing there in the future then I’d be happy to be there,” Nelson said. “Any way I could help the team. I love shortstop, but as long as I am on the field, I’d play catcher.”
Nelson’s at-bats are a sight to behold. After the 6’2″ specimen stares down his opposition from a straight vertical stance, he times his swing with a front leg trigger that is less reminiscent of a batter and more so of a pitcher. From there, there’s only one word to describe him: explosive. Stretching his arms all the way back for as much power as possible while somehow maintaining extremely good balance and very rarely, if ever, falling off to either side of the plate, Nelson’s bat is barely recognizable as it whips through the zone with uppercut action. After exhibiting some of the best bat speed within the organization, he stays through the ball with two hands on the bat and two eyes down all the way and looks the ball off the barrel, keeping him from pulling off. Mechanically, everything looks close to perfect for the still-maturing Nelson, making him a near lock to become a 20+ home run hitter. While on base which Nelson has been a ton this season, he has more than above average speed, especially for a guy his size. Add to that the ability make great reads and you have the acumen of a 20+ base stealer. As a GCLer in 2015, he stole seven bags and was caught three times. In less games this year, he has already swiped five while being caught just once.
If there has been one consistently below-average area of Nelson’s offensive game throughout his career it’s been his ability to walk, common for any power-first hitter but not an area which Nelson is willing to go to the wolves. He has proven that by walking more in less ABs this season compared to last season and which he hopes to improve even further by advancing and utilizing his plate vision, no matter the situation.
“The biggest thing is not wasting at bats, bearing down and getting the job done with runners on or not,” Nelson said. “If they are gonna give me a walk, I gotta take it and not press.”
Nelson will be the first one to admit he is far from a finished product and he has work to do. However, the 19-year-old who will not even turn 20 for another two months, defines the word ‘athlete’, has a baseball IQ well beyond his years, and is already on the verge of a call-up to A+. With 20/20 club type talent, the ability to hit for both average and power and great fielding instincts, footwork and hands, he is a 5-tool type talent that could arrive in the majors as early as 2019. But for now, the extremely modest and level-headed Nelson ins’t worried about that.
“Baseball is a crazy sport man,” Nelson said. “I’m just trying to trust the process, so I’m just doing me.”
Keep doing you, James. If baseball is crazy, you’ve found the remedy.
If you happen to make the pilgrimage through the small Central Florida town of Sorrento, you will hardly even recognize that you were there. However, in the near future, the baseball world is sure to recognize one of the town’s 765 residents’ names. That name is Colby Lusignan.
Lusignan was born in 1992 in the unincorporated township of Sorrento, a city that houses just 765 and encompasses just 1.3 miles. Because there are no schools in Sorrento, Lusignan was forced to make an 11.2 mile, 17 minute trip down State Road 46 every day to attend high school in Eustis. Being one of few out-of-towners at Eustis High, Lusignan admits his days there were a bit of a grind, but that staying close to both his immediate family as well as his extended baseball family stregnthened both his personal relationships as well as his professional relationships.
“High school days were pretty uneventful. I was a home body andjust liked hanging with the family,” Lusignan says. “Growing up in a small town where everyone knows everyone rraly makes you try to stay on top as well as respect the people around you.”
Upon his graduation in 2011, Lusignan made the decision to attend college at Sante Fe Community College, slightly upstate in Gainesville. Two hours away from Sorrento, it was not too far from home but it was just far enough for him to get the full college experience.
“Gainesville was one of the top junior college schools in Florida, and I just felt like it was the right place to go,” Lusignan said. “It was an hour and a half from home so I felt like it was far enough and close enough at the same time to be a college kid.”
After two years of placing within the top seven in OBP, the top 10 in SLG and the top five in BB/K, a combined 73 game span in which he slashed .329/.426/.488, Lusignan was recruited to Lander College in South Carolina. Depsite being as far away from his family and as far out of his comfort zone as he had ever been, Lusignan says making the choice to attend Lander was made fairly easily.
“The decision to go to Lander really was a family oriented decision in the sense that the coaching staff and community approached the team with that mindset,” Lusignan said. “Distance and not seeing loved ones is obviously not ideal, but knowing that they supported me chasing my dream, and that they made the trip to come see games made it much easier.”
Benefiting from the close relationships he had with his coaches and teammates including the one he had with his head coach Kermit Smith whom he describes as “a second dad who had great relationships with all the guys and made you feel very at home” and labels as a the leader of an extremely positive clubhouse whose “ideology spread through the other coaches and really made the team a close-knit group”, Lusignan hit .325/.429/.591 that season with the Peach Conference’s 10th best OBP, seventh best SLG and ninth best OPS (1.020). He also slammed the third most homers in the league (10) and drove in it’s eighth most runs (41).
With an overall .328/.425/.528 career collegiate line, Lusignan declared for the MLB Draft in 2016. He spent draft day back where it all started in Sorrento surrounded by his biggest supporters, his family and his best professional influences, his Lander coaches. It is those individuals that Lusignan credits most for having heard his name called. Selected in the 28th round at number 833 overall, Lusignan is just the eigth player to be selected out of Lander University. Even though he had to sweat out a lot of nervous hours waiting for his phone to ring that weekend and even begin contemplating his situation should he go undrafted, Lusignan recalls his draft experience as a picture perfect moment.
“Draft day was pretty surreal, spending it with my family who has been there all along was great,” Lusignan said. “My coaches at Lander were awesome, they really helped me develop my offensive game, and we had a really good team while I was there. Those two things really helped me to get exposure, and I’m proud that I can say I was drafted from Lander University.”
Not only was his draft day setting perfect, the setting of the result of his selection was nearly as ideal for the easily homesick 23-year-old. Being selected by the Marlins meant that Lusignan would spend time in the Carolinas, within a stone’s throw of his Lander coaches whom he could still look to for professional support and in Florida where moral support from his family would also be within very accessible reach. Asked what he thought of being drafted by the Marlins, Lusignan said his preference would not have had it any other way.
“It was exactly the way I pictured it to happen,” Lusignan said.
After beginning his career in the Gulf Coast League last season where he hit .319/.422/.469/.894, marks that ranked fifth, fifth and seventh and third on the circuit, Lusignan made the jump to full season ball in Greensboro this year. There, he has gotten off to a .299/.357/.442 start with a BA that ranks 26th in the Sally and an SLG that ranks 22nd. Most recently, he broke a 2-21 slump by going 5-5 with two doubles and three RBI. The five hits were the most Lusignan has recorded in a single game at any level he’s played at. In order to keep his current pace, Lusignan is learning to pace himself and let his body adjust to the rigors of, for the first time, playing 1,260+ innings in 150 days.
“I was fortunate enough to break camp with a full season club, and it will definitely be the most taxing year of ball on my body to date,” Lusignan said. “I’ve really been making sure to stretch and foam roll, and make sure to get enough sleep. Just overall body maintenance is something I think is super important to making it through a full season.”
Lusignan is a massive physical presence who menaces opposing pitchers as he stares them down from his 6’4″, 230 stature. He is growing into potentially plus plus power potential that scouts rank at a ceiling of 70 on the 20-80 scale. He owns a mechanically sound approach in which he maintains his looseness well and utilizes a big front foot timing trigger by which he transfers his weight all the way through the ball. Partnered with rotational energy from his back foot pivot and active hips, Lusignan gets the most out of his extra large frame.
Due to his size, Lusignan’s swing looks effortless and fluid but the deception in that is revealed when he makes contact and the ball absolutely flies off his bat. During his collegiate days, his power numbers ticked up with each passing year until he was ultimately hitting a homer once in every 15 ABs. Of course as he adjusts to much more staunch competition that figure will given and has already given way to a heightened K rate. In 77 ABs, Lusignan has struck out 25 times. However, with a 1.45 career NCAA K/BB and a 1.75 K/BB last year in the GCL, Lusignan shows the potential to be much more than an all-or-nothing power bat. With a great baseball IQ, he also exhibits the knowledge of what it will take for him to become an all-around offensive threat.
“I think that really sticking to my approach, and looking for what I want to hit will help to boost my walks, as well as tap into my power potential,” Lusignan said. “Staying within myself, not pressing and trying to make something happen will allow me to recognize pitches, as well as take a free smooth swing at pitches I think I can drive out of the yard.”
A look at Lusignan’s hit chart from the last two years will reveal that through excellent plate vision, good bat speed and the ability to fully extend his long arms, he distributes the ball evenly to all fields and can turn any pitch in the strike zone into a hit. Even though said strike zone is large due to Lusignan’s extra large frame and straight up and down stance, he covers the plate magnificently and selects swings just as well, making him a contact-first hitter with budding prodigal power.
If he can maintain the same plate discipline as he realizes his power potential, there’s nothing against Lusignan becoming a 20+ homer/20+ double hitter at first base, currently a very thin position for the Marlins’ organization. For those reasons, the 24-year-old Lusignan is a candidate to fast track through the rest of his minor league career and contribute to the Marlins by 2019. Not too shabby for a small town kid with a dream.
2015 Team Stats
69 HR/302 XBH
1203 IP, 3.40 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
LF Kyle Barrett
RF Dalton Wheat
CF Stone Garrett
DH Isael Soto
2B Justin Twine
C Korey Dunbar
3B J.J. Gould
SS Giovanny Alfonzo
The 2016 regular season wasn’t exactly a great time for Stone Garrett. On top of hitting just .213/.265/.371 on the field, the first baseman got into a bit of a pickle off the field when he had his finger cut nearly off by former teammate, Josh Naylor during the enactment of a practical joke. But Garrett refused to end his 2016 calendar year in baseball like that. At the end of the MiLB season, he accepted an invitation to join the Sydney Bluesox of the Australian Baseball League. There, he has produced numbers much more becoming of an organizational top five prospect, hitting .258/.302/.430. It is that brand of baseball Garrett will hope to continue playing and build upon when he comes back to America. There, in upstate North Carolina, he will join fellow returnees from 2016 such as Kyle Barrett, Isael Soto, Cody Poteet, Tyler Kolek and Justin Jacome as well as newcomers to full season affiliated ball Dalton Wheat, J.J. Gould and Brett Lilek in making up new head coach Todd Pratt’s 2017 Opening Day lineup for the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
Coming off a .297/.352/.581 season in Batavia, a year which saw him become the all-around best bat in the New York Penn League by way of a .933 OPS, the Marlins had very high hopes for Garrett in his first year in full season ball in 2015. Despite suffering an injury right at the end of the 2015 short season that caused him to cease baseball activities for that entire offseason and caused him to miss the first 16 games of 2016, Garrett was still able to come back and hit .244/.303/.450 in his first 35 games with the Hoppers. Then, following Greensboro’s June 1 game in Lexington, Garrett was injured in a freak accident by his then teammate, roommate and fellow top 10 organizational prospect Josh Naylor during a prank that according to Marlins’ president of baseball operations, Mike Hill, “went a little too far.” The injury was a near severing of the thumb on Garrett’s dominant right hand that required corrective surgery. He would miss a full month’s worth of action.
Garrett was well enough to return Greensboro on August 16 after a very short three game stint in the Gulf Coast League, but with the strength still very gradually returning to both of his injured hands, especially his more recently gimpy dominant right hand, Garrett was pretty much on an extended rehab assignment and it showed. Over the final 17 games of the Grasshoppers’ season, Garrett hit just .152/.188/.212 with a 24/3 K/BB.
As skimpy as those numbers look, Garrett did show some light at the end of the long tunnel he has traveled down with the injury bug attached to him at the end of the MiLB season, going 7 for 31 in his final nine games including his only homer his second half and first in over a month on August 30. In his tenure with the Sydney Bluesox in Australia this year, that light has gotten much brighter and it would appear as though Garrett is finally back near 100% headed into 2017. This is evidenced by a .258/.301/.445 slash line along with seven homers, most in the ABL, the fact that he at one point had 13 game hit streak and the fact that he has hit in 31 of his 39 games played. The strikeouts have continued to pile up for Garrett as he owns a 44/7 K/BB in Australia and while he is a power hitting free swinger, this is the area of his game he will need to temper if he hopes to succeed in the upper minors. Garrett can do this by improving his plate vision including doing a better job picking up pitches out of the opposition’s hand and not committing too early to a swing. Garrett has good mechanics which he worked on diligently as he came into the pros but right now, he is still all hands and arms. He stays back on the ball wall as he stands near the very back of the box, advantageous for a fly ball hitter, but he needs to work on getting his lower half more involved in his follow through and acquire the ability to transfer his weight from his back leg as he strides through the ball via active hips. If he does so and does not need to rely so much on his upper half, his true power potential which is still being realized by way of Garrett still growing into his already a 6’2″ 195 pound frame at age 21 will come to fruition much sooner. Should that occur, Garrett could turn into one of the better extra base hitting prospects in the league.
If Garrett comes back to the minors at the level he is playing the Australia, he likely won’t be with Greensboro long. It is what he does after that that will be telling of his level of maturation and status as a prospect. While this is far from a make it or break it season for the 21-year-old Garrett, it is a barometer for how far he could potentially go as a prospect. Should Garrett clean up his patience and get his legs more involved in his power hitting approach, Garrett, who can play all three outfield positions but projects best as a speedy corner guy due to an average arm, should get a look in the upper minors as a 22-year-old next season.
Kyle Barrett is a 23-year-old Marlins’ 15th round pick from 2015 out of the University of Kentucky where he enjoyed a .324/.386/.391 collegiate career and wound up 22nd on UK’s all time hits list with 174. He began his career in short season Batavia upon being drafted in June but just four games into his pro career, he was placed on the 60 day DL with an injury. Despite missing an entire season, he re-started in full season ball last year with the Hoppers last season. Due to lingering effects from the injury, Barrett got off to a slow start in 2016, hitting just .167/.225/.181 in his first 22 games, but as he got healthier, he began to show his true potential. From May 29 to June 19, Barrett hit safely in 16 of 22 games and went from the aforementioned .167/.225/.181 slash line to a .277/.311/.297 line. Going straight from playing in 50 games a year to playing in 101, Barrett ended the season with an impressive .282, second on the team with a respectable .333 OBP and .345 SLG. He also added 17 steals, another second-best total among Hoppers. The plus speed outfielder also had a very good year defensively, recording outs in 161 of 165 total chances by way of a 1.78 range factor. He committed just three errors while seeing time at all three outfield positions.
Barrett attributes his success last season to staying calm in the face of frustration, not trying to do too much too fast and letting the game come to him.
“I didn’t have the success I wanted the whole season due to the injury,” Barrett said. “It took me some time to get my timing, but I just trusted in the process and balls started finding holes.”
Barrett, who reached base safely in 81% of his games in college and followed it up by reaching in 70% of his games in his first full season in pro ball, is a speedy kid with a quickly developing top of the order catalyst type skill set and even a bit of hidden power underneath his small 5’1″”, 185 pound frame. Where he succeeds at getting on base more often than not is with his extremely quick bat speed and ability to shorten up and fight off tough pitches from his simple straight through line drive approach. What he needs to improve in order to put himself on pace to become a complete lead off or two hole bat is the rate at which he walks. (8.1% in college and just 6.4% last year). Heading into 2017, Barrett says he is making this a priority.
“I intend to get my walks up by having deeper at bats and having a more select zone and approach at the plate,” Barrett said.
Like every ballplayer, Barrett hopes his success last year in the face of adversity will allow him to crack some national top prospect lists, but if he doesn’t, he is completely fine with flying under the radar.
“The new list comes out pretty soon so I hope I am on it. If not, nothing changes,” Barrett said. “I’ll stick to my approach and do my best to prove people wrong.”
Like Garrett, Barrett should be another guy who is a fast graduate to Jupiter within the first half of the season. It is there, playing at a level whose average player is his exact age, that the 23-year-old will prove exactly where he is as a prospect. If he is indeed left off of nationally recognized lists this year, don’t be surprised if you see his name surface next season when he enters the upper minors in Jacksonville.
Isael Soto is a Marlins’ 2014 international signee out of the Dominican Republic. He broke into the league in his signing year by flashing prodigious power, dropping a .426 SLG on the Gulf Coast League as an 18-year-old before breaking into stateside ball in 2015. However, after just 17 games, he became yet another guy who is setting up to be a 2017 Grasshopper and the third of three players covered so far that fell victim to a lengthy injury. On May 3, the Hoppers placed Soto on the DL with a meniscus injury in his left knee that would cost him almost four months. What is worse for the power hitting lefty is that it was the knee of his front foot his plant leg. He spent the rest of that season on a rehab assignment in the GCL and in single A short season Batavia.
Soto returned to the Hoppers in 2016 after an offseason worth of conditioning and was able to post a .247/.320/.399 line with nine homers, tied for most in Greensboro while avoiding serious injury, but he still couldn’t avoid the injury bug altogether. An injury to a troubled achilles tendon first cost him nine days in April then another seven in June. This time, the injury was in his back right plant leg. While the numbers Soto posted were decent enough for a 19-year-old, few of them were becoming of a top six organizational top prospect which he entered that season as, especially not his 115/43 K/BB, even for a pure power free swinger. While some of that can be blamed on the time he missed, it is more so a product of his mechanics. From a straight up and down stance in the box, Soto uses a slight front foot timing trigger — and that’s where the inclusion of his lower half in his swing ends. He has a solid uppercut power swing which he can shorten up on and which he pulls the trigger on with extremely quick bat speed. However, keeping his hips and waste stationary and not exploding through his swing at all but rather relying completely on his arms, he wastes the most powerful part of his 6’0″, 180 pound (and still growing) frame. Soto has the ability to completely clobber straight stuff but not stepping into the ball leads to him struggling mightily against anything that bends or curves, especially towards the outer half of the zone where he is a prime victim to get caught reaching across his body. Soto especially struggles against same side pitchers. This past year, he only hit lefties at a .209/.278/.313 with a 44/11 K/BB.
That’s the bad news. The good news for Soto is that he is still just 20 years old with just 192 games under his belt, games in which, though mixed with some struggles and proof that he needs to rectify his mechanics, he has shown flashes of becoming a 25-30 home run threat, especially against righties (.262/.336/.434, 7 HR, 71/32 K/BB in 2016). Similar to his offense, Soto is still very raw in the field as well. However, he has also shown the ability to hold down right field with good speed and a solid accurate arm that produces throws that carry very well. Like his antics at the plate, he has offset it by making some pretty bad errors but again, the talent it there; it just needs to be perfected.
In what was his first season in pro ball after he missed essentially a full season (minus 29 games), Soto put the building blocks in place for a breakout year in 2017. Though he fell out of the organization’s top prospect rankings, if Soto, who’s die is not cast and can still be groomed, can manage to stay healthy, get his big lower half more involved in his swing by driving off his foot through the ball with active hips into his already solid power swing, improve his plate vision especially against lefties and continue to make strides toward playing consistent defense, he could wind up in Jupiter to end the year and break back into the Marlins’ top 30 next season. Right now, I put a healthy Soto’s ceiling at a platooning righty mashing corner outfielder with an average glove and a plus arm.
As I wrote a few months ago when the Marlins signed him out of the unaffiliated independent ball ranks, Dalton Wheat comes to the Fish as one of the organization’s most intriguing prospects in more ways than one. The 23-year-old out of Wichita, Kansas comes to affiliated ball after a roller coaster two year process which saw him go from the high of finishing off a .353/.435/.531, 149 RBI, 105 SB collegiate career to the low of somehow not being selected in that year’s MLB Draft which led him to contemplate his possible life after baseball only to return to the peak of becoming the best player in all of the indy leagues. After posting a .335/.414/.403 slash line in 67 games with the Kansas City T-Bones, Wheat finally comes to the professional ranks as a Marlin.
It is safe to say that things just keep getting brighter for Wheat after he endured quite the storm that nearly forced him out of baseball altogether just a year previous, making him the embodiment of the agage, “the dawn is darkest just before the dawn”. Through everything that has happened off the field though, one thing has remained constant: Wheat’s more than solid play on the field. Despite the aforementioned setbacks, Wheat continued to show up to the park with the same positive attitude and the same great work ethic. These are just a few of the things Wheat has stuck to that made him a standout collegiate player and a spectacular semi-pro and that he hopes make him an effective pro.
Among other things that Wheat has stuck to with his “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset are the “batting” gloves he dons at the plate. An avid outdoorsman in the offseason, Wheat has had a pair of old work gloves somewhere in his truck for as long as he can remember. One day before one of his practices at Butler College, the school he broke into collegiate baseball with, a teammate came to Wheat in need of a pair of batting gloves. Wheat obliged and hit bare-handed that day only to develop a blister on one of his hands. In order to protect it from getting worse, Wheat grabbed a pair of gloves fit more for a lumberjack than a baseball player and threw them on. He’s been wearing them at the plate ever since and will continue the tradition as a Grasshopper.
“I liked the way they made me feel like I didn’t have to over grip the bat so I’ve been using them ever since,” Wheat told me two months ago. “I plan on continuing to wear them unless I’m told otherwise.”
Moving to more traditional matters, we look at Wheat’s approach and skillset. A complete hitter all throughout college and the independent leagues, he boasts a lot of above average assets but his best tools are his plate discipline that allowed him to post a .414 OBP as a T-Bone preceded by a combined .435 OBP in college and his speed which has allotted him a combined 114 steals in 135 total chances (84%). There is very little wrong with Wheat’s mechanics and approach. The 6’2″ Wheat protects a big strike zone by exhibiting great vision and patience and strong hands needed to fight off pitches inside where opposing righties traditionally like to try to jam lefties. Despite his size, Wheat yields a power swing in favor of a straight through line drive hack with snappy bat speed. From there, he lets his legs and plus plus speed do the rest in turning would-be singles into extra base hits. An aggressive baserunner with great instincts, Wheat, though he was limited to just 12 attempts last season with the T-Bones, is a 30+ stolen base threat. All of this spells out a more than solid top of the order OBP machine with fantastic run creating prowess.
Wheat’s speed continues to serve him in the field where, paired with his good arm strength, he has the ability to play all three outfield positions. He makes good reads off the bat and makes accurate throws more often than not. Wheat has played right field most regularly and due to the fact that his throws from the corner are more frequently on line and show better carry than his throws from center, that is probably where his future will be.
Scouts are placing Wheat’s professional ceiling at a fourth outfielder but should he learn how to drop down bunts for hits and develop a bit more power which are the only two things pretty much non-existent from his game right now, the 23-year-old Wheat, who is still growing into a already large athletic frame, could become a complete lefty hitting top of the order threat. For those reasons, Wheat, whose signing was barely covered this offseason and who will probably be another quick graduate to A+ which is where I and others had him starting his pro career, is one of my top organizational picks to burst onto the scene with a great season (as long as he successfully adjust to a new level of competition, which he had no problem doing going from college to the independent circuit) and force the baseball world to notice his arrival. At this time next season, I foresee there will be a lot more written about Wheat than just a few blurbs in the deep dark corners of the baseball affiliated internet.
J.J. Gould is a Marlins’ 24th round draft pick from last season out of Jacksonville University whom he joined after spending his freshman year at Florida State. As a Jacksonville Dolphin, Gould enjoyed a .303/.403/.473, 12 HR, 62 RBI, 108/55 K/BB two year career before turning pro in 2016. Between 53 games with the Muckdogs and a short 11 game stint with the Grasshoppers at the end of the year, Gould’s pro career got of to a great start in the power department. After posting team high totals in slugging, .407, homers, 6, and doubles, 15, Gould wrapped his year up by smacking three more homers in 39 ABs with Greensboro. Still growing into a 6’0″ 195 pound frame, Gould, who just recently began to tap into his power potential when he went from three homers and 12 XBH in his junior year to nine homers and 28 XBH in his senior year two seasons ago before translating that success to the pros this year, definitely has room to grow into even more plus power ability.
Gould shows fantastic potential for a fit and muscley doubles first power threat but he is plate prescence is still very raw. Often a strikeout victim even in college, his patience and vision need to be groomed at least to the point that he isn’t striking out three more times than he walks if he plans to succeed as an every day bat. If Gould can improve that area of his game, his good mechanics which include him striding through his lofty swing fluidly and transferring his weight from back to front very well from a low stance and an even 6’0″ frame which diminishes his strike zone, he will become a solid middle of the order hitter with the abiliy to extend innings and help turn lineups over.
Defensively, Gould can play short, second and third. He shows good reflexes and a good first step toward the ball off the bat which allowed him to post a 2.47 range factor last year. A part time pitcher in high school, Gould’s arm was clocked as high as 82 MPH from the mound. With maturation into his body, that velo has grown to right around the 87 MPH mark. After spending his 2015 collegiate season at shortstop where he contriubted 128 assists and was involved in 32 of the Dolphins’ 50 double plays, Gould spent most of his 2016 season at the hot corner where he contributed 61 assists in 94 total chances and a solid 2.47 range factor. Considering that in half as many games at short he contributed more errors last year (8 Es at SS vs 5 at 3B), it would appear as though Gould is more comfortable making throws directly across the diamond. That and his power potential make him a better fit at third and that is where he will probably live out his future.
1. Cody Poteet
2. Tyler Kolek
3. Brett Lilek
4. Justin Jacome
Cody Poteet is a Marlins’ fourth rounder from 2015 out of UCLA where he enjoyed a 3.91 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 2.25 K/BB three year career, including a 2.45 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 2.27 K/BB junior year which earned him his draft stock in the first five rounds and the 190th best prospect in the 2015 draft, according to BaseballAmerica. Upon his arrival in the pros, Poteet would unfortunately become another 2016 Hoppers’ returnee that would fall victim to a serious injury. At the ripe age of 20 just 12.2 innings into his Marlins’ career, Poteet was placed on the 60 day DL thereby ending his season. It was thought at the time that, like most other players who suffer such an injury at such an early stage of their career, that Poteet’s development would be seriously hampered.
However, last year in his first year in full season ball and in the first action he’d seen in nearly a full calendar year against the best competition he’s ever faced, Poteet was not only able to prove those beliefs invalid, he was able to place himself among the Marlins’ top 13 organizational prospects by having a standout season. Throwing exclusively as a starter, Poteet posted a 2.91 ERA, fifth best in the South Atlantic League among qualifiers. This came by way of a .240 BAA, 11th best in the Sally and an 8.13 K/9, good enough for 15th best among the 34 qualfying starters.
The area that Poteet struggled in and which led to him posting the Sally’s 14th highest 1.30 WHIP was limiting walks. His 2.41 K/BB ranked 22nd among the same 34 qualifiers and his 3.38 BB/9 were 13th highest. Poteet has great command of his solid four pitch arsenal when he is going well but he needs to develop more control over it as he moves through the minors to complete his game. This is the biggest of few areas of concern for the 22-year-old.
Poteet’s repertoir consists of low-mid 90s heat that possesses good late run to the corners and good bite when low in the zone, where it usually lives but can get him in trouble when he misses up or out over the plate. Poteet’s best pitch is a power slider that sits in the 83-85 MPH range and which shows great late bend away from hitters. If he hits the right arm slot, the pitch has the ability to make the opposition look silly fishing out of the zone. Poteet keeps hitters guessing by throwing in a low 80s curve which he has the ability to spin in well with hard bite and not much arc, making the slightly above average pitch a good compliment to the slider which he keeps on the outer half. Again though, when the release point is off, it can cost him. If Poteet hopes to stick as a starter, his changeup, currently a work in progress and a mid 80s offering, will need to improve in order to become a piggybacking pitch to the fastball. He began to throw the pitch much more frequently last year since developing it late in his college career. At times, it showed flashes of the capibility to become a plus offering with good deep fade. If Poteet can develop the consistent arm speed and gain more of a feel for it as he moves up in the minor league ranks, it will be a perfect early and equal count partner pitch for his faster heat and slower curve and slider.
Poteet’s delivery mechanics before release are pleasure to watch. Slow and methodical through most of his rocker step wind-up, he explodes through his downhill release with great snappy force, making him extremely difficult for hitters to time. On the downside, the powerful release is where his control problems stem from due to his tendency to overhrow, leading to the aformentioned issues with his release points and arm speed. It is getting this in check and keeping it in check as he grows into his body and possibly more velo that will be the trick for the 22-year-old. If he can, his ceiling is pretty high: 3-5 starter. If not, his floor is still that of a solid back end reliever. Due to his success last year, Poteet is another guy who should be on the move quickly if he plays the same game to begin 2016.
Tyler Kolek is the Marlins’ top overall prospect from last year who slips to number two this year after the drafting of Braxton Garrett and a lot of struggles in 2015 before missing the entire 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery. A high schooler in 2014, Kolek surged up draft boards by throwing consistently over 100 MPH, making him one of the best velo guys in MLB Draft history, according to MLB.com. After a short stint in the GCL, Kolek joined the Hoppers in 2015 to a lot of buzz but delivered very little desired results. His velo dropped from the triple digits he showed before being drafted down to the mid 90s making his fastball which can flash good downward action but is usually straight as an arrow much more hittable. Compounding the situation was the fact that neither of Kolek’s breaking pitches, his slider or his change, showed much in the way of being any more than mediocre with control of his entire arsenal absolutely putrid. This led to an ugly 81/61 K/BB or a 4.0% K/BB%, fourth worst in the Sally and a tenth highest 4.56 ERA by way of a fourth highest 4.87 FIP.
In 2015, Kolek dropped his velo from his 100+ in his pre-draft days where he threw 100+ to 94 MPH. This probably came at the request of his pro coaches who likely suggested he was too max effort all the time. That same reason compounded by an apparently irresponsible high school coach who didn’t instruct him otherwise is likely what led to discomfort and ineffectiveness in 2015 and what led to him undergoing TJ at the young age of 20. A quote from Dr. James Andrews, the world renowned quintessential expert of Tommy John, points out the carelessness of coaches at the entry levels in a quote to DriveLine Baseball by saying the following:
“It used to be that we didn’t see these injuries until they got into high-level professional baseball. But now, the majority of the injuries are either freshmen in college, or even some young kid in ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th grade in high school. These young kids are developing their bodies so quickly, and their ligament … isn’t strong enough to keep up with their body, and they’re tearing it.”
Dan Jennings, who was the Marlins’ GM when Kolek was drafted and likely one of the big reasons for Kolek being instructed not to go 100% all the time, was quoted in the same article as saying:
“You get these specialized regimens where you build large muscle groups, but not the small muscles around the rotator and UCL. The large muscles get developed so large that when you try to decelerate, you can get badly hurt.”
During the 2015 Grasshoppers’ season, Marlins’ scouting director Marc DelPiano made a comment that would seem to confirm the ideology of Kolek was going max effort at all times during his high school days, which led to the injury.
“I think all of it’s been just energy-related, so he’s kind of modified his energy. He’s not as high-effort, he’s more effortless in how he approaches things with his delivery and his release.”
So, now that we know where the injruy came from, can Kolek, who suffered the injury in the most crucuial stage of his body growth, can the ligament make a comeback and allow Kolek to live out his true potential as a prospect? Recent findings and the miracle of modern medicine suggests that he can. Where Tommy John used to be thought to be a kiss of death for pitchers, it currently holds an MLB success rate of 78% according to the Hardball Times. This means that near 80% of those who underwent the surgery were able to come back to pitch in at least one major league game. That survey was done in 2015 and the number was steadily rising. In Kolek’s case, even though a return to the mound will be very exciting and he will want to do everything he can to make up for lost time, he needs to keep things in perspective. Still just 21, there is plenty of time for him to succeed in this league and that is the wisdom that needs to be imparted on him by his coaches. It will be a new way of life for a pitcher that went full bore for four full years in high school but it is an attitude which he needs to grow accustomed to if he wants to succeed in this league. During that time, Kolek needs to develop secondary stuff to compliment his 70/80 fastball. If he can do so, he has a potential ceiling of a future ace. At the very least, a healthy Kolek has the floor of a very effective fiery closer. As a second overall draft pick, the Marlins are going to take it easy with Kolek and give him every chance to succeed. For this reason, I expect Kolek to spend most of 2017 repeating low A where he will try to complete his arsenal before a potential call to Jupiter to end the year.
Brett Lilek is the Marlins’ second round draft choice from 2015 out of the Arizona State University. There, Lilek enjoyed a fantastic collegiate career, tossing to the tune of a 3.05 ERA via a 1.22 WHIP. Lilek struggled slightly with control in his college career, leading to a 4.33 BB/9 including a 4.69 mark in his draft year which is likely what kept the standout lefty from being selected even sooner than 50th overall. However, Lilek was able to iron out those issues in his pro debut season in Batavia, posting a 43/7 K/BB and a 3.34 ERA in his first 11 games and 35 IP. On June 24, 2015, Lilek was one of three pitchers to contribute to a Muckdogs’ combined perfect game, the first in the club’s storied 76 year history. Lilek credits his success in Batavia in perfecting his logistics and thereby nailing down his control and getting his walk totals in check to his pitching coach, Brendan Sagara.
“One thing I did to channel my walks was refine my mechanics and I believe working with Sags really helped me,” Lilek said. “He helped me understand the mechanics from the bottom up and make adjustments when needed.”
With a great debut season under his belt by way of both physical and mental improvement, Lilek entered 2016 as the fifth best organizational prospect according to BaseballAmerica and looked primed to place himself on the fast track to the majors. So when he came out and tossed to the tune of very uncharacteristic numbers including a 5.06 ERA and a 16/16 K/BB in his first seven games and 16 IP, it was obvious something wasn’t quite right. On June 4, it was revealed what that something was. On that date, the Grasshoppers placed Lilek on the DL with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. He would not return for the remainder of the year. The only mound Lilek saw for the rest of the year was in extended spring training in Jupiter. As dim as that may sound, Lilek praised the positive attitude of his fellow rehabbing teammates and laments it as a huge stepping stone to healing quicker.
“While in Jupiter, it really was just everyone wanting to see one another overcome their injury and have success,” Lilek said. “Every rehab person obviously doesn’t want to be there; they want to be playing the game that we all love so dearly so really taking advantage of your time there and making the most of it really helped propel myself into the offseason.”
Lilek’s return to the mound at NewBridge Bank Park and the Sally League will come this year when he returns to North Carolina for what he hopes to be his first real look in full season ball. However, he hasn’t been waiting until then to get back on the horse. Fortunately, able to avoid surgery, Lilek has stayed as active as possible putting in all the work necessary to come back stronger than ever.
“This offseason, I trained four times a week and through accordingly to the program that was provided by the Marlins,” Lilek said. “I believe following those guidelines have put me in a great place to perform during spring training to my highest potential.”
But the amount of hours and work Lilek has put in in order to ensure a healthy comeback hasn’t only been limited to following that training regiment. After getting the go-ahead to resume on-field workouts by the Marlins, Lilek promptly flew overseas to the Dominican Republic where he has been working out individually under the watchful eye of the Marlins’ staff. Lilek touts the time he has spent in the Dominican, which has been accompanied by some fantastic climate conditions that have allowed him to get the most out of each day, as a great catalyst for getting back to and even past the 100% he was at in 2015.
“I’m down in the Dominican refining my game, working one on one with the coaches and taking full advantage of the beautiful weather that I have been blessed with during my stay.” Lilek said. “I truly believe that this time down here has helped me become stronger, and more ready for the season and spring training that is ahead of me.”
Considering he was able to avoid going under the knife and since has not wasted a single hour of any day this offseason, thus putting in all the work and then some needed to get back to the mound healthier than ever, Lilek is a great candidate to take the next step this season. Before the injury, Lilek was already 6’4″, 220 with a fantastic downhill fluid, repeatable delivery from a deceptive arm angle. His arsenal included a 94-95 MPH heater, an already plus slide piece especially for his level of development which he threw with very controlled arm speed and sweeping action to the corners that got in well on the hands of righties allowing him to use it as either a setup pitch or an out pitch and a good mix-in which also flashed plus with good fade. He had great control over all three of his pitches and, with improved command, was setting up to realize his ceiling as a back end starter and realize it quickly. If Lilek can come back completely rebuilt physically and with another year of growing into his frame in the past which could spell even more power and a rise in velo, not only could he place himself back on the same track to fulfill his potential, he could raise his stock even further. Wherever Lilek’s future lies, one thing is for sure: at just 22, he has handled the harsh reality of a season ending injury in just his second year as a pro with maturity well beyond his years and gone above and beyond the call of duty in order to get back to playing the game he admires and respects. For those reasons, Lilek is an extremely easy guy to root for. This may be the start but trust me, if things play out advantageously and his health holds up, this won’t be the last time we hear the name Brett Lilek mentioned in the same sentence as great accomplishments this season.
Projected Team Stats
75 HR/385 XBH
1,190 IP, 3.62 ERA, 1.22 WHIP