Category: Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp

Prospect Of The Month, June 2019 – J.C. Millan

J.C. Millan (Photo by Danielle Bleau)

JUNE STATS 2019 STATS
.299/.386/.471 .278/.336/.364
3 HR, 6 2B, 13 RBI 4 HR, 13 2B, 33 RBI
12 K/13 BB 40 K/20 BB

 

Though he may not have laced up a pair of cleats until he was a teenager, Juan Carlos Millan Jr’s love for the game was born in him at an early age. As a young child, JC spent many hours watching his father, Juan Carlos Senior, prepare off the field and perform on the field in the family’s home country.

“Back in Cuba I played little baseball, but I remember watching him play in packed stadiums. It felt like the World Baseball Classic.”

When JC was eight, the Millan family emigrated to the United States, settling in South Florida. According to Junior, it was then that he started learning how to play the game. His tutor: none other than his hero, his dad.

“When we got here, I started playing more baseball and my dad started training me pretty much from scratch,” Millan said. “I wasn’t very good until everyday sessions became our thing.”

Junior’s rudimentary start would wind up being a blessing. Through many hours spent practicing together, ensuring fundamentals, creating a swing and building arm strength, the Millans strengthened their bond as father and son.

“He’s my right hand man, my brother; everything to me,” JC said. “I used to watch him, now it’s time to for him to enjoy watching me and see what he created. It’s really cool.”

When his high school age came calling, Millan devoted his services to Brito Academy in Miami, the same secondary school that berthed the likes of Manny Machado and former Marlin Gaby Sanchez. According to JC, the atmosphere created by the coaching staff at Brito (despite being hard at times) is plenty responsible for bridging the his gap between childhood hopeful and young adult prodigy.

“They opened the doors for me, giving me a place where I could develop myself as a baseball player and a human being. Everyone in the school is like a family,” JC said. “The coaching staff we had there were amazing people that helped me grow as a baseball player with their guidance on and off the field. I couldn’t be any more thankful for guys like David Fanshawe, Lazaro Fundora, JC Ruiz. Our head coach Pedro Guerra would be a pain sometimes and be hard on us, but I’m glad he was the way. That’s the reason why we won states and had no pressure on us on the field.”

From there, Millan took his talents to nearby Broward College in Coconut Creek. In a single season in the JuCo ranks, he hit .324/.406/.463, garnering the attention of scouts and eventually awarding him a free-agent contract, post-draft To Millan’s delight, the team that came calling was none other than his hometown Marlins. According to JC, being able to stay at home and maintain a close relationship with his family — especially his dad — has been advantageous for his career as well as his life.

“Playing here in Miami in front of my family and staying close was a huge help,” Millan said. Being able to stay close to my Dad has been huge because he has taught me pretty much everything I know about baseball.”

After signing, Millan attended spring training camp and was assigned to extended spring training before remaining in Jupiter as a member of the 2016 GCL squad. In his first taste of professional ball, Millan hit a modest .177/.250/.228, but his strong contact tool was already on the rise as he only struck out nine times in 79 ABs.

A season later, Millan wound up a ton of frequent flyer miles as the club attempted to gauge his level of maturation. Millan played at all four levels of the system, beginning in A Greensboro before a three day stay in AAA New Orleans. Following another two weeks back with the Grasshoppers, Millan spent 13 games in AA Jacksonville before ending the year with seven games in A+ Jupiter. According to Millan who always seeks the positive in any situation, he views his 2018 campaign as a good lesson on how to stay motivated and how to stay grinding, no matter where you are.

“I was healthy during that time; I was just moving up and down wherever the organization needed me to be,” Millan said. “I never lost sight of what I was trying to do. I always played hard and gave 100% whereever they sent me; it didn’t affect me at all. It just kept pushing me to be better each day.”

This season, Millan has not only stayed in one place for more than a few weeks, he’s spent his entire season with the Jacksonville Shrimp. According to Millan, getting the opportunity to build a relationship with his teammates and coaches and getting a feel for scouting his opposition have been the biggest catalysts for his success this season, including his big month of June. And of course, Millan has remained in constant contact with his biggest supporter and mentor, his father.

“Playing for one team for a while helps a lot since you face the same pitchers over and over, so you sort of have a feel of how they pitch to you. I just trust my preparation before the game and the game plan I have for each pitcher,” Millan said. “Also, my coaching staff and teammates have really helped me feel comfortable. Whatever I feel like I’m doing wrong, I ask the coaches and we go and work on things. Plus when I give my dad a call and he’s watching the game, he’s tells me a couple of the same things and I’m able to make the adjustments right away.”

Millan’s breakout has coincided with the changing of the guard; with the Marlins franchise coming under the control of the Jeter regime. J.C. says that is no coincidence.

“They have done a great job getting good prospects in the organization and giving guys a chance to show what they have before making any decisions,” Millan said. “Since day one, I knew these guys were going to change things around and find a way to get the best guys to make a winning team and it’s showing. Down here in the lower levels, there’s a lot more talent compared to past years and I’m sure this organization will have a lot of success in the near future.”

Approaching from a nearly straight-away righty stance, Millan uses a toe-tap trigger before slightly stepping in to an uppercut stroke that makes the most of his upper half. Where Millan has shown the most improvement this year has been his contact tool. By shifting his stance deeper into the box, Millan is reading pitches better and putting bat to ball on a much more consistent basis. The aforementioned opportunity of getting to face the same competition more than once has led to a much better average. With better plate vision and bat speed to his credit this year, Millan is profiling as a future catalytic bat off the bench. If he finishes filling out advantageously and begin integrating his lower half in his swing more, addding more launch angle and leverage (which he has flashed this past month), Millan, who also has eligibility at first base, would have a ceiling reminiscent of Josh Reddick, a .274/.322/.431 career bat.

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The State Of The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp

Success is a tradition long since born in the Jacksonville baseball franchise. From 2003 until 2009, the organization, then owned by Peter Bragan, Jr. and his father, facilitated a successful park rebuild and led the Southern League in attendance for six straight seasons. No matter the age of the park they were playing in, the Bragans never had a problem creating a winning culture within their organization. In their 30-year tenure owning the team, the family brought six league titles to Duval County.

So, when one Ken Babby surprisingly supplanted the Bragans in 2015, he had some big shoes to fill. The first move by the 30-something year old was one just as bold as the words Bold City which are now befittingly emblazoned upon the team’s third jersey: rebrand the team, turning the long-tenured Suns into the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

Across baseball and most professional sports, it is very common for a new team owner to go through the rebranding process as a first step towards recreating the organization in his/her own image. But according to Babby, his decision to make the Suns the Shrimp revolves around unselfish reasons, the most paramount being bringing a sense of pride back to a great and loyal MiLB market. It was about giving the team back to the fans.

“Each market and each community probably requires a more dedicated investigation to understanding the why. In our case, we felt like there was a historic love and real appreciation for great Minor League baseball in northeast Florida and had been for quite some time but that the experience of going to the ballpark, the experience of wearing your cap or your shirt out in the community had declined,” Babby said. “When we talked to people and asked them when was the last time they went to a Jacksonville Suns game, in lost cases the answer was 10 or 15 years ago. So what we did as part of this rebrand was as much as thinking about the identity and the experience of the ballpark as much as it was about team names or colors.”

So why the name Jumbo Shrimp? Babby expanded on that, citing how he, a board member at Jacksonville University and regular visitor of the area, views the region: a big community with a small-town feel and deep military roots.

“It’s actually the largest community in the US in terms of land mass, but a town in which everyone seems to know each other. So with ‘Jumbo Shrimp’, we honor that big/little mentality,” Babby said. “We are on the water both on the St. John’s River and along the ocean. Finally, we have a huge military presence with three active bases within driving distance of the ballpark so that was a good opportunity for us to really weave that light blue into our colors and play off that grittiness that the Shrimp stand for.”

While the rebrand was still in its infantile stages Babby is on record stating that he expected some resistance and backlash in response to the audacious changes to such a classical baseball market. The news of the rebrand hit the region so hard, it trumped then-President elect Donald Trump and then-president Obama both being in town at the same time in the battleground swing-state. Babby and Co. even advantageously placed children front and center during the unveiling, a tactic that the rebranding team half-heartedly referred to as “self-preservation”.

As it turns out, the only safeguarding that would be necessary in Jacksonville was that of the team’s fans’ wallets. Not only did the market accept the rebrand, they absolutely loved it.

“They took their time to really go in depth and figure out Jacksonville before the rebranding. They really wanted to incorporate the colors red, white, blue for our military town. I believe the rebranding caught the eye of many and a lot of people were inquisitive of what’s going on and what it would bring to Jacksonville,” longtime Duval County resident and Shrimp hype woman Jordan Price said. “Word-of-mouth also helped out the rebranding because people talked about how much fun they were having with promotions, giveaway nights etc. As the Jumbo Shrimp, we pride ourselves on affordable family fun and just the name in itself already brings a fun atmosphere to the ballpark.”

In addition to Jacksonville’s new logos and colors, the team has also added some attractions to Bragan Field friendly to fans of all ages. These sights include a boozy tiki bar beyond the left field wall that offers local craft brews and cocktails, a kids fun zone featuring batting cages and bounce houses beyond the center field wall and some of the best and most popular giveaways Minor League Baseball has to offer.

While Babby and Co. have focused on bringing the franchise into the 21st century, they have also made it a point not to forget the game’s roots and the bonding experiences enjoyed by the families of the region and those visiting the First Coast.

“In Jacksonville, we recognized early on that change is difficult and sports teams are very much part of people’s lives; their brands live in our homes whether it be shirts or hats but more importantly in memories,” Babby said. “You remember where you took your kids for their birthday parties or where a grandfather might take his grandson on a Sunday afternoon. Those memories are cherished and are really important.”

According to Babby, his vision in rebranding wasn’t to simply re-color his team but to recreate the fan encounter with the ballpark.

“The cost of creating a new brand and the cost of developing and trademarking all of those merchandise items really does not make it worthwhile to change it even if you’re gonna sell an incredibly high volume,” Babby said. “The real value of why teams rebrand, change identities and change colors really is to change an identity, change an experience and to redefine what I means to come to a game.”

Relative to Miami, their rebrand and their stadium improvements many of which have been requested by fans, in this young Marlins regime, Babby sees a lot of what he saw in himself as the new owner of the Shrimp two seasons ago: more community involvement and a much more fan-friendly ballpark experience with on-field success very much on the horizon.

“It’s an exciting time to be a Marlins fan. I am personally really excited for what they are doing from a player development standpoint; we have a front row seat to that. I think it’s a time to be excited about what this brand means and I think he new colors speak to the heritage of Miami and speaking to the vibrancy of the community “ Babby said. “I’m excited to see how it performs and I can pretty much guarantee that that logo and that brand is gonna catch on quickly in town.”

From a business standpoint on the Jacksonville front, the Marlins’ player development agreement with the Shrimp will be up for renewal this coming offseason. With the recent success of the Jacksonville franchise, there has been talk of the team deservedly moving up the minor league ladder to the AAA level. However, Babby has no such immediate plans.

“We are a really proud affiliate of the Marlins and we are proud to be their AA affiliate and really proud to be in the Southern League. We are the owners of not one but two AA franchises. We are huge champions of AA baseball and huge champions of this level of baseball. I can tell you with great certainty that we don’t have any plans to change that at time. I think time is on our side and there is going to be great success from the Marlins at this level and at the Major League level for years to come. And we are so glad to be a part of that.”

And we are glad to have you, Mr. Babby.

As it has been for quite some time, the state of the Jacksonville baseball franchise as well as their relationship with the Marlins which stands to continue, are both very strong.

God’s Plan: Nick Neidert Trusting Faith, Stuff In Journey Through Minors

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Looking at the career of Nick Neidert in a nutshell, one would be inclined to question how he made the near-impossible possible. The answer to that query lies in the faith and trust the now 22-year-old top prospect holds in a power much bigger and higher than anything baseball has to offer.

At the beginning of his baseball career, Neidert was a middle infielder at Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, Georgia. Then, one day, in his third amateur season, his coach tasked him with manning the mound. It didn’t take long for the PRHS coaching staff to realize the natural gifts Neidert had been endowed with by his creator. And thus, the teenager began down the path destined for him.

“In high school, I was trying to get the feel for pitching. Just trying to get the grasp on how hitters think, what kind of sequences to use, just the basic stuff,” Neidert said. “God blessed me to make the huge velo jump [in my senior year] and he allowed me to have better stuff fairly quickly, getting me on a bunch of team’s radars.”

Upon the completion of his senior year, Neidert was reaching as high as 96 MPH with both fade and run, spotting his heater at will all over the strike zone. His 86-88 MPH slider and 75-77 MPH curveball, though sometimes blending into each other, both showed plus potential and he was already starting to throw a 86-88 MPH changeup. Lauded as the 29th best high school prospect in the 2015 draft, Neidert forwent a commitment with the University of South Carolina in favor of signing for the Mariners who selected him with their second round pick.

For the second time, Neidert’s life path took a sudden turn. But once again, the newly-turned adult didn’t question things; he just went with it, trusting in faith and prayer to guide him through the maturation process both as a pitcher and a person. In his first taste of pro ball, Neidert provided a good glimpse at his potential as he held down a 1.53 ERA via a 0.96 WHIP and 23/9 K/BB.

“When I went out to Arizona, it was definitely a big change for me. I was definitely a little nervous, but I knew that that was in God’s plan and what he wanted in my life so I just trusted in him,” Neidert said. “It was a good first season. It helped me grow as a person. You gotta mature really quickly when you go away for 3-4 months. It was a great experience.”

Neidert was spectacular in 2017, pitching to a career best 10-3, 2.76 ERA, 1.073 WHIP, 107/17 showing in the A+ California League, marks which made him one of the circuit’s best pitchers. His ERA was led the league as did his 78.8 LOB%, his 6.41 K/BB ratio ranked third and his 3.39 FIP ranked second only to teammate Pablo Lopez. On top an All-Star selection, Neidert won the California League’s Pitcher Of The Year Award, a title formerly won by the likes of Felix Hernandez, Ervin Santana and Brad Penny. By way of those accolades, Neidert rocketed up prospect rankings, placing as high as number two organizationally heading into 2018.

There was little time for Neidert to reflect on his first full-season campaign as, exactly four months after he threw his final pitch, the newly-turned 22-year-old was traded to the Marlins in the Dee Gordon trade.

“It came as a shock to me because a lot of people were saying I was an untouchable prospect for [Seattle], but in my mind, nobody’s untouchable. So when I got traded, I was kind of caught off guard, but I knew God had a plan for that and I knew there was a reason behind it.”

Two months after being dealt from the only system and baseball family he’d ever known, Neidert was back at spring training on a different coast with a team in a completely different situation; with a team in the early stages of a rebuild rather than one on the verge of the playoffs. As if that weren’t enough, at the start of the year, the righty was tasked with making the full-time jump to AA, quite possibly the hardest task in professional baseball. Despite changing coasts, joining a different organization for the first time in his career and joining the upper minors full-time against competition over three years his elder, Neidert didn’t miss a beat. In a career-high 26 starts, he lasted a career-high (and Southern League most) 152.2 IP and held down a 3.24 ERA via a 1.13 WHIP, marks which placed 4th and 6th circuit-wide among pitchers with at least 100 IP. His 154 Ks were second-most only to D-Backs top prospect Taylor Widener and his 20.1 K/BB ratio placed third.

According to Neidert, his ability to continue to develop positively despite joining a brand new club lay in the fact that with the recent regime change, everyone was acclimating to the Marlins’ reconstructed organization. In essence, everyone was the new kid in town.

“When I came to the Marlins, they had a whole new front office so it kind of helped me coming in because everyone else was learning a new front office, it wasn’t just me,” Neidert said. “The players and the guys, I connected with them very quick because we all have the same dream ahead of us, the same goal. So it wasn’t too bad trying to fit in.”

And, as always, despite whatever circumstance came his way, Neidert maintained his allegiance to his faith.

“Throughout all last year and throughout whatever has gone on, I’ve put my trust in God,” Neidert said. “My identity is in Him, as a child of God. So I haven’t really been too nervous or anxious on what has been going on around me and the places I’ve been because I’ve always felt He has a plan for me.”

Along the path created for him, Neidert has been the beneficiary of the expertise of many different mentors, including five pitching coaches in the past four seasons. According to Neidert, he picked up something useful from each of them.

“It’s hard pick just one,” Neidert chuckled when asked to name his most helpful mentor. “I want to say Rich Dorman because he was my very first pitching coach. He was there for me in the AZL in my very first season and taught me about how pro ball goes and how to become a pitcher who can succeed. I had Peter Woolworth after that. He taught me how to contain myself. Then this year we had Storm Davis and Dave LaRoche, both legends in the game of baseball. They taught me so much how to slow down the game and change timing, how to disrupt a hitters timing, how to change speeds and how to keep hitters off balance. Collectively, if we could combine all of them into one, that’d be incredible.”

Despite the jump in level in 2018, Neidert’s swing-and-miss potential followed him from A ball where his K rate was 26% in 104.1 IP to AA where it was 25.2% over 152.2 IP. According to Neidert, that persistence had less to do with an improvement in stuff and more to do with a better psychological understanding of his opposition.

“I’ve always been a pitch-to-contact kind of guy because I’d rather a guy ground out or pop out in two pitches because pitch count is big now; get your team back in the dugout quicker. I’ve really never tried to do much different. But just learning pitch sequencing more, learning what hitters are trying to do in every situation; that kind of stuff, just taking my knowledge and trying to apply it every single time to keep hitters messed up at the dish and to try to have more success.”

Although his stuff showed true two seasons ago, Neidert’s pitcher’s IQ has absolutely soared in that time, not only allowing him to better understand hitters but to further understand himself. Through this unique but very advantageous route, Neidert has grown into a near-MLB ready hurler in just a four year tenure in minor league ball. As we enter 2019, Neidert, the owner of a four-pitch arsenal including a changeup that he made huge strides with in 2018, catching it up to his low-mid 90s heat which he throws with both two and four seams, sits on the precipice of realizing his Major League dream.

As he has been for every other challenge that life has thrown his way, Neidert will undoubtedly be up for the jump to the Major League ranks, but for now, he isn’t concerned with when it occurs.

“I don’t look at the prospect rankings because everyone has an opportunity to make it to the big leagues. Once you’re there, you stay there. If not, you go down,” Neidert said. “I’m just working on really mixing up my sequencing, my pitches and trying to be as deceptive as I possible can be. Just to try to have the most success with the things I have. I am going to try to build off last year and try my best to work even harder and to put in even more just to get 1% better every single day.”

One of those days not too far in the future, Neidert will find himself pulling on an official “Our Colores” Marlins’ uniform. Not only is Nick a fan of the look, he’s a huge supporter of what it stands for.

“I love the new colors. It basically states that we are in a rebuild and this is a completely new organization than it has been in years past,” Neidert said. “I’ve been here since the start of the start of the new front office and I can tell you that in everything they’re doing, the Miami Marlins are going to be competing for World Series championships for years to come. The culture they’re creating in the clubhouse is absolutely incredible and the fact that one day I’ll be blessed enough to pitch in a big league ballpark, that’s equally incredible.”

As exceptional as the prospect is, Neidert isn’t concerned with the date and time of that occurrence. Rather, he is leaving that to date and living in the moment. Overall, Neidert doesn’t view himself as the driver in charge of his career, but rather as a passenger.

“I’m just along for the ride, man,” Neidert said. “Just allowing God to use me.”

Keep enjoying riding shotgun, Nick. We are thoroughly enjoying the view from the backseat.

2019 Top Prospects

At this time last year, despite being under new management, Marlins fans and the rest of the baseball collective were turning up their noses at the once again rebuilding Marlins, scoffing, “Same old, same old.” However, it quickly became evident that this Jeter and Co: reboot starkly contrasted the many orchestrated Loria and Co: it was being done and properly and most importantly of all, completely and thoroughly with the fanbase’s best interests in mind.

Rather than holding on to parts of failed core(s) year after year, Jeter traded away all of the Marlins’ biggest MLB assets (J.T. Realmuto pending) and began building a core of his own down in the minor leagues. Jeter ensured the best trade returns possible by not asking partners to eat bad contracts a la Loria, creating a hand-picked nucleus. Then, by doing some strategic wheeling and dealing, he capped it all off by landing the top free agent on the international market. After ending 2017 with the 28th-ranked farm system, the Marlins are now a top-15 organization. When all is said and done this offseason, they could have a top-10 system, something Loria never even got close to sniffing due to his penny-pinching and living off distant hopes and dreams.

Add to the pot the fact that they have facilitated solutions to fans’ material factors surrounding the team such as updating the logo and colors, ridding the stadium of the egregious home run sculpture and lowering prices on both tickets and concessions, in just over a year, this new regime has given the team back to Miami and created a culture that promotes the term ‘community’ in every possible way.

Nothing brings a sports community closer than winning games. And by 2020, thanks to the blueprint Jeter’s administration has laid out and executed so well in such a short time, the M stands to be flipped on a regular basis. At the forefront of those occasions will be these faces and names that Marlins fans should start getting plenty used to seeing and hearing.

Without any further ado, we present our 2019 Top Prospects list.

1. OF Monte Harrison
2019 (AA) – .240/.316/.399, 19 HR, 48 RBI, 28/9 SB/CS

Harrison, who came to the Marlins in what wound up being one of the biggest moves of this past offseason, the deal that sent eventual NL MVP Christian Yelich to Milwaukee, was a Brewers draftee in 2014. Considered one of, if not the best athlete in that year’s draft, it cost the Brewers a pretty penny, $1.8 million, to sway Harrison to sign with them rather than honoring a two-sport commitment with the University of Nebraska.

Harrison had a rough start to his professional baseball career, breaking his tibia and fibula while running the bases in his first season in 2015 which limited him to just 76 games. Harrison was understandably slow out of the gate in 2016, hitting just .163/.245/.209 in his first 39 games before he began to settle in game 40. From May 26th-June 17, Harrison went 24-79 (.303) with six homers, showing the Brewers his true potential for the first time. Then, Harrison went under the knife again, this time for a broken hamate bone in his dominant hand. Despite missing almost two month’s worth of action, Harrison returned on August 11 and finished the season by going a respectable 17-59 (.288).

This past season was a turning point for Harrison in more ways than one. First up on a long list of happenings for Harrison was his trade to Miami in exchange for Christian Yelich. Accompanying Monte to the Marlins were Lewis Brinson who just graduated prospect status and the duo of Isan Diaz and Jordan Yamamoto, each of whom will appear in the top ten in these rankings (spoiler alert). 

While some pundits have stated that the Marlins didn’t get enough back in this trade, they have done so as they have stared directly at the accomplishments of Yelich while simultaneously turning a blind eye to Harrison’s athletic pedigree and the nature of the two hard-luck injuries, one suffered on a hustle play and one on a hit-by-pitch, that stunted his growth as Brewers property. In his first year as a Marlin, Harrison was able to wholly avoid the injury bug and make up for lost time. Positive adjustments began to reward Monte late in the season as he went 23-70 in his final 22 games. He ended the regular season with a .240/.316/.399 slash line with 19 homers, fourth in the Southern League.

This winter, Harrison participated in the Arizona Fall League. There, as a Salt River Rafter, Harrison perfected the changes in his approach he showed late in the regular season campaign, including a much more closed stance and a much smaller front leg timing trigger. These changes have allowed Monte to keep his head and shoulders stationary and via a shorter swing that better employs his plus bat speed, cover much more of the plate much more advantageously. This re-tooled version of Harrison promotes much better contact rates and drastically lower K rates than the MiLB-leading 37% factor he posted during the regular season. In 19 Arizona Fall League games (81 PAs) against competition a half a year older than him, Harrison hit .290/.348/.343 with a 19/10 K/BB. The only thing glaringly missing, both in the month of August and in Arizona, from Harrison v. 2.0’s potential five-tool game was the over-the-fence power prowess that was his calling card as a younger prospect. However, now that he has been properly coached to simplify his plate work, prolong counts and use his elite bat speed properly, Harrison, who has always owned good hands and horizontal movement in his elbows as well as an uppercut swing plane that promotes barrel contact and lift, he is much closer to realizing his five-tool type ceiling than he ever has been. By being coached to step into the ball in sync with his downward swing slope and by adding torque to his presently fairly stationary hips, he can get all of his power back and then some, creating a near-complete offensive threat. That will be the 22-year-old’s focus as he begins 2019 at the upper-most level of the minors as a New Orleans Baby Cake. With similar output that he showed at the end of last season and this fall, Harrison could be a Miami Marlin, joining his former Brewers organizational Brinson in the same MLB outfield by the All-Star break.

2. OF Victor Victor Mesa

One of the biggest free agent sweepstakes revolved around Cuba’s Victor Victor Mesa. The attention was well deserved.

Mesa began his professional playing career in the Cuban National Series as a 16-year-old in 2012. Through four seasons playing at his home country’s top level, Mesa hit .275/.334/.378 including a .354/.399/.539, and 40/10 SB/CS in 2016-17, leading to the fanfare  surrounding his free agency this year. At one time, more than ten teams were rumored to be heavily involved in the Mesa sweepstakes. The Marlins has their eyes on the brothers from the start and remained focused throughout the offseason, making them a-priori. The team shrewdly began racking up bonus pool money in the middle of the season when they flipped Cameron Maybin to the Seattle Mariners for $250K in pool space and infielder Bryson Brigman. At season’s end, the Fish made a trio of trades, sending Ryan Lillie to the Cincinnati Reds for $750K in cap space and Kyle Barraclough to the Washington Nationals for $1MM. On October 16, the Marlins dealt Dominican Summer League prospects Adonis Giron and Brayan De Paula to the Astros for another $500K. The dealings vaulted the Marlins from $4MM past the Orioles, who sat at $6.7MM.

“We had to put in all our chips,” Michael Hill said, “and add chips.”

On October 22nd, 2018, the Marlins claimed their long-sought after prize, signing Víctor Victor Mesa for $5.25MM (as well as Victor Jr for an even $1MM). In addition to acquiring the special talent, Jeter told ABC News he wants the signings to set a new standard for the Marlins’ organization.

“We want Miami to be the destination for top international talent,” Jeter said. “This organization should reflect the diversity of the South Florida community.”

In Cuba, Victor Victor personified the term baseball phenom by way of a skillset that promotes all five tools. Well recognized and touted for his explosive defensive arm and plus-plus speed on top of advanced contact readability and route-running knowledge acquiescent of any of the three outfield positions, Mesa is even more ahead of the curve on the offensive side of the ball — figuratively and literally. Setting up in the back of the box via a slightly open stance to the third base side, Mesa owns a compact back leg load and vertical power transfer. Through his swing, Mesa maintains his skyward-pointed back elbow and lateral front elbow, creating natural arc and lift to his explosive swing. Though he doesn’t quite have the size or raw power to match, Mesa’s mechanics are reminiscent of Giancarlo Stanton.

Where Mesa easily trumps Stanton is in his his pitch recognition, plate coverage ability and the IQ needed to adjust mid-count and prolong his chances. While he won’t walk a ton, Mesa has an offensive skillset that promotes tons of contact. With 70-grade speed capable of 30+ steals and 60-grade defense, Mesa is a small uptick in over-the-fence power away from owning all five tools. And he’s still just 22. The only thing that keeps Mesa out of the top spot in these preseason rankings is the fear of the unknown as he breaks into full-season ball in America. That said, there Mesa shows more than enough natural talent to break in to the affiliated ranks and succeed as the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp’s starting center fielder. From there, the sky is the limit. We place Mesa’s ceiling sky high: a potential .290/.340/.430+ annual hitter with an average of greater than 20bSBs and a plus-plus dWAR.

3. RHP Nick Neidert
2018 (AA) – 152.2 IP, 3.24 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 154/31 K/BB

Neidert is a 6’1”, 180 pound righty hailing out Suwannee, GA. Seven months before the draft, in his junior year of high school, Neidert was already showing a unique brand of pitch mix, placement and deception via late movement on his already deep and well advanced four-pitch arsenal which ranged from 92-76. Already flashing a big sweeping hook, a sinking changeup and a running fastball to all parts of the zone, a 17-year-old Neidert was already well on his way to big things.

Upon being drafted by the Mariners 60th overall in the 2nd round in 2015, Neidert finished the year by making 11 starts for the Arizona Mariners of the rookie ball Arizona League. Despite somehow not earning a win (0-2), Neidert held down a 1.53 ERA via a 0.96 WHIP and 2.56 K/BB. In 2016, Neidert made 19 starts for the Clinton LumberKings but was limited to 91 innings as the Mariners nurtured his development. Still, the solid numbers persisted as Neidert posted a 2.57 ERA via a 0.97 WHIP and 69/13 K/BB.

Come 20-7, Neidert’s leash was lengthened. That factor along with the advancement of his changeup which caught up to the rest of his staff allowed him to hold down a 2.74 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 104.1 IP in the A+ California League. Most noticeably improved was Neidert’s K rate which rose from 19% a year previous to 26%. All the while, his impeccable control persisted (1.47 BB%). Among California League pitchers with at least 80 IP, Neidert’s (.41 K/BB ranked third just behind teammate Pablo Lopez (6.85 K/BB).

This past season upon joining the Marlins in the Dee Gordon trade, Neidert made his way to AA Jacksonville. There, despite the big jump in level, Neidert’s success continued as he went 12-7 with a 3.24 ERA in a career high 152.2 IP via a 1.13 WHIP and 154/31 K/BB. With a complete arsenal and equally complete head for pitching, Neidert got inside the head of hitters with four completely different looks. Despite not owning overpowering stuff, he was able to post the Southern League’s third best K/BB ratio (20.1%).

Feauturing a velo mix ranging from 93 (with the ability to reach 95 when he ramps up) via a two-seamer with arm side run, Neidert drops down to 73 with a 12-6 curve. He mixes in an 86-88 mph 11-5 slider with great delineation from the aforementioned offering as well as an 89 mph change that he masks well and which piggybacks the fastball perfectly. While he won’t overpower you or light up radar guns, Neidert is a thinking-man’s hurler that hides the ball well in his low 3/4 arm slot. Despite limited size, he maintains the same stride and arm angle when coming home with four completely different looks, making him a master of deception. A guy who has always played above his age, we like Neidert to break into the Marlins’ big league rotation not long after spring training and quickly recognize his ceiling as a 2-4 slot starter.

4. RHP Jordan Yamamoto
2018 (A-A+) – 68.2 IP, 1.83 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 85/14 K/BB

Jordan Yamamoto is another product of the Yelich trade. At the time the trade was made, he was thought to be the sugar of the deal, sweetening it on a throw-in level. A season later, Yamamoto has proven he’s much more than that.

Yamamoto is the product of St. Louis High School in Honolulu, Hawaii. When Yamamoto gets his MLB call, he will become the third man from the state capital to pitch for the organization, joining Justin Wayne and the man who threw the first pitch and earned the first win in team history on April 5, 1993, Charlie Hough. Judging by his current level of progression, that future isn’t too far away from the 22-year-old’s realization.

Yamamoto was selected by the Brewers with the 356th overall pick in round 12 of the 2014 MLB Draft. In his first 83.2 innings as a pro, Yamamto’s statistics were very becoming of a teenager taken in that kind of low-risk draft slot as he posted a 1-7 record, a  ERA and a. WHIP. However, since being the unfortunate owner of a 7.84 ERA and 1.95 WHIP as a member of the Pioneer League’s Helena Brewers in 2015 and finding himself on the verge of exploring life outside of baseball, Yamamoto made a concerted effort to succeed, resulting in him becoming a top-tier pitching prospect.

The difference for Yamamato from then until now lies in the simplification of his delivery and a change in his arm slot.

The most noticeable change in Yamamoto’s pre-pitch mechanics are a smaller step back toward the first base side, the erasure of toe-tapping which served as a tip to hitters on breaking balls and a much lower 3/4 arm slot which has allowed Yamamoto to hide the ball better and to prevent himself from flying open. Coupled together, these improvements have given Yamamoto the ability to repeat his delivery much more efficiently and to place pitches much more accurately, creating more deception and more advantageous counts.

From there, Yamamoto relies on his stuff to he hitters out. And he has a very deep arsenal of plus pitches to dip into. While he is another guy who won’t blown you away with velo, he is a strike-zone resident who will wow with his secondaries. For proof, see some of Yamamoto’s latest exports from the Arizona Fall League below:

Yamamoto’s 90-93 MPH fastball holds great spin rates and is workable in every area of the zone, giving him the ability to change a hitter’s eye level and/or completely take their vision away, setting up his two plus secondaries that he commands very well on the lower half. Coupling late break on his tight 83-85 mph curveball with his 86-88 MPH changeup that runs arm-side and holds late fade to his arm side.

By making adjustments necessary to catch his command tool up to his stuff, Yamamoto has enjoyed great success of late in the minors. This past season, he pitched to a collective 1.83 ERA by way of a 0.83 WHIP and 6.07 K/BB, aided in part by his 13/0 K/BB performance on (), an outing in which he set the record for most strikeouts in a single game by a Jupiter Hammerheads pitcher. Jordan then parlayed that performance into a standout campaign in the Arizona Fall League where as a Salt River Rafter, he went 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 27/13 K/BB in 26 IP.  During that time, in a pleasant bit of foreshadowing, Yamamoto was among the first few players to pull on a new Marlins’ jersey. With continued success in spring training, it won’t be very long before Yamamoto, owner of a complete three-pitch arsenal and a good mix of swing-and-miss and limited contact inducing stuff, dons the same jersey again in his first MLB game. Place his ceiling at a 2-3 starter and floor at the back end of a major league rotation.

5. C Will Banfield
2018 (A) – .238/.308/.385, 3 HR, 43/11 K/BB; 37/23 SB/CS

Banfield is the Marlins’ CBA Round B pick from 2018. Hailing out of Brookwood High School in Snellville, GA, the native of nearby Lawrenceville was highly heralded for his defensive capabilities including a 1.74 second pop time and an 84 MPH arm behind the dish. He proved his throwing arm was capable of growth by clocking in at 94 MPH velo he flashed from the opposite side of the mound. Coupling the aforementioned canon with solid glove-to-hand transfer times, a good and growing throwing accuracy and solid receiving abilities including framing prowess and the agility to go well out of the zone, Banfield was considered one of if not the best defensive catchers in the draft. It was on that basis that Marlins selected Banfield with a CBA pick at 69th overall.

This past summer, Banfield joined the GCL Marlins. In his first 22 pro games, the 18-year-old threw out 18 of 44 potential base stealers (41% CS%), allowed just five passed balls and held down a perfect fielding percentage by way of a 8.05 range factor before being called up to A Greensboro. As a Grasshopper, Banfield committed just one error while catching five of 16 potential base stealers (31% CS%). In those 107 innings catching more advanced stuff, he didn’t allow a passed ball.

Offensively, Banfield also played pretty closely to his scouting report which states that he has above-average raw power stemming from his athletic 6’1”, 210 frame with room to grow, but that he also owns just average bat speed. Banfield will need to make some adjustments in reading opposing pitchers, timing swings and shortening his stroke in order to tap in to his raw power potential, but at just 19 entering his first full professional season with pro coaching and facilities at his disposal, we see a fully-grown Banfield as an elite defender with a respectable bat capable of at least a Mendoza line average with plus power numbers. He is the franchise’s cornerstone catching prospect. Entering a big season in his developmental process, if things go well, a fully-grown Banfield could be ready for the Show by 2021.

6. RHP Sandy Alcantara
2018 (AAA) – 115.2 IP, 3.89 ERA, 1.254 WHIP, 88/38 K/BB

Alcantara is a 6’5”, 185 pound righty signed by St. Louis in 2013. Upon building his way to being named the Cardinals’ ninth best prospect by the end of 2016, he became Marlins property last offseason in the trade for Marcell Ozuna.

Alcantara spent most of 2018 in AAA New Orleans where he threw 115.2 IP and managed a 3.89 ERA via a 1.254 WHIP and 2.32 K/BB differential. Sandy accomplished all of this while throwing against competition nearly five years his elder.

Upon the MLB’s September roster expansion, his exports earned Alcantara a call to the bigs. In his first action as a Marlin, Alcantara held down a 3.44 ERA in 34 IP via a 1.41 WHIP, a .214 BAA and a 30/23 K/BB. Alcantara’s bread and butter that he used to climb up the MiLB ranks is his fiery velocity on his four-seamer which he can ramp into triple digits but which usually sits in the 96-99 MPH range. He shows the same consistent command and usage of his two-seam sinker which has great arm side action and allows him to add and subtract, keeping hitters guessing. But, while the rest of his arsenal which includes an 85-91 MPH changeup and a tight 12-6 power curveball that has sharp downward action, have shown flashes of brilliance, what his secondaries lack most is that same C word when it comes to controlling them: consistency.

If Alcantara hopes to stick as a starter, he will need to gain a better feel for his stuff, most significantly the grip and release point on his changeup which currently comes in mostly straight, and when he isn’t at his best, misses spots more than it hits them. The sharp break on his curve and the differential in velo, dropping 20 MPH lower than his heat, plays up, but he will need to refrain from overthrowing it. While these are certainly issues, they are the type which should work themselves out with age and proper coaching.

Alcantara should enter 2019 at the back end of the Marlins’ rotation. Still in his age 23 season and entering his first full season at the behest of MLB coaching, there is plenty of time for Alcantara to recognize his ceiling potential as a front end starter.

7. IF Isan Diaz
2018 (AA-AAA) – .232/.340/.399, 13 HR, 56 RBI, 140/68 K/BB

Along with Harrison and Yamamoto, Diaz is the final return piece in the Yelich trade with the Brewers and at age 21, the youngest of the trio acquired by Miami in the deal.

Diaz, a native of Puerto Rico, moved to Springfield, MA when he was four, bringing an ironic beginning to a life which has been full of quick and stark changes of scenery. When of age, Diaz began to attend Springfield Central High School where he became a two sport athlete, playing both baseball and basketball. After entering the 2014 draft as the eighth ranked infielder and the 38th ranked overall prep prospect according to MaxPreps, Diaz was selected 70th overall by the Diamondbacks in the 2014 draft. Forgoing a collegiate commitment to Vanderbilt, Diaz signed with Arizona for $750K.

Upon moving to the opposite side of the country as an 18-year-old, Diaz broke in to pro ball with the Arizona League D-Backs, hitting .187/.289/.330 in 182 ABs. After partaking in eight games in the Puerto Rican Winter League, Diaz spent the rest of the 2015 offseason under the close tutelage of pro coaches, simplifying his swing.

Through streamlining of his pre-pitch timing mechanics and some shortening of his swing, Diaz broke out in a big way in 2016. For the short season A Missoula Osprey, Diaz hit .360/.436/.640. His BA and OBP each ranked sixth while his SLG led the league. The power figure was made possible by 13 homers, second most on the circuit and a league-most 25 doubles, adding up to 174 total bases, also a Pioneer League best. Among his many highlights that year was hitting for the cycle on August 23rd.

After being named the Pioneer League’s MVP, Missoula’s first in 14 years as well as a Pioneer League All-Star, Diaz was traded to the Brewers in the deal that brought Jean Segura to the desert. In 2016, the eight-ranked Brewers prospect made his full season debut with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. In almost twice as many games as he played in a year previously in brand new surroundings, Diaz held up well, both physically and statistically hitting .264/.358/.469. He once again appeared on league leaderboards in a multitude of categories. Playing on the same circuit as baseball’s current number two ranked prospect Eloy Jimenez, Diaz’s 20 homers led the league, his 34 doubles ranked 5th, his 75 RBIs were 3rd, his .469 SLG placed 13th and his .827 OPS came in 20th. With a 149 wRC+, Diaz was named the Brewers’ minor league player of the year.

Following an appearance in the Arizona Fall League (17 G, .239/.338/.373), Diaz spent 2017 in A+ Carolina. There, a nagging wrist injury limited him to a pedestrian .222/.334/.376 slash line and 104 wRC+. On August 31, the Brewers shut Diaz down for the year, bringing an end to his season after just 110 games. The slight hiccup in Diaz’s production allowed the Marlins to buy low on the infielder as they swayed Milwaukee to include him in the three-piece deal for Yelich. On January 25, 2018, Miami became Diaz’s third organization in his young four year career.

Despite his mundane 2017 season, the Marlins challenged Diaz to take on the AA level with the Jumbo Shrimp in 2018. Back at 100%, Diaz fared well, slashing .245/.365/.418 with 10 homers and 19 doubles, not too far off the pace which resulted in his aforementioned .264/.358/.469, 20 HR, 34 2B season back in low A in 2016. His walk rate of 14.89, a career high, resulted in a 1.79 K/BB ratio, a career low. Playing second base full time, he flashed some of his best defense, collecting a career high 153 putouts and 200 assists and being part of 45 double plays. By way of a 4.30 range factor, he held down a .975 fielding percentage. Diaz spent the final 36 games of the 2018 regular season in New Orleans, getting his feet wet at the AAA level. The highlight of that tenure was a 3-5, 2 3B, HR, 5 RBI performance against Albuquerque on August 4th. In 137 ABs with New Orleans, he slashed .204/.281/.358. Despite finishing the season rather slowly (7 for his last 52), Diaz proved he isn’t far away from competing for an MLB starting job at second base. With another slight push forward in maturation and production, the realization of Diaz’s Major League dream would allow the Marlins to shed another $21 million in owed money (Starlin Castro) and possibly bring back a mid-lower level tier prospect or two and/or mid-round draft selections.

Where Diaz needs to improve for that to occur is in recognizing and identifying major league quality stuff, especially secondaries, something that should come naturally as he gets more ABs in the uppermost level of the minors. 5’10”, 185, the stout Diaz with surprising pop profiles as a lefty-hitting Dan Uggla with slightly less power, built for more doubles than homers and slightly better defense capable of manning both shortstop, second base, and, the Marlins hope third base. The team gave him a look at the hot corner this winter when Diaz partook in the Puerto Rican League. In 99 innings played at the hot corner, Diaz committed just one error. Oh, and he also hit .276/.348/.366.

An athletic gamer who is showing versatility both on the field and off adjusting to whatever circumstances come his way, we like Diaz to reach a ceiling somewhere around .260/.340/.460 with room for 20+ homers and 30+ doubles sooner rather than later.

8. OF Connor Scott
2018 (A) – .218/.309/.296, 1 HR, 24 RBI, 56/24 K/BB

Scott is the Marlins first rounder from last season and the fifth straight prep the franchise has spent their top selection on. Leading up to the draft, the first draft pick of the Jeter era drew close comparisons to his former teammate turned MLB’s fifth ranked overall prospect Kyle Tucker. If that weren’t enough, according to draft connoisseurs including Keith Law and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, Scott draws reminiscence of current NL MVP Christian Yelich. Watching Scott play, it’s easy to see the similarities.

In his senior year at Plant High, Scott was .526 hitter with 20 homers via barrel velocity of 89 MPH which ranked in the 57th percentile. Scott also showed off a plus arm, tossing 90-93 from the hill. Despite missing valuable playing time against top talent in the summer due to the removal of his appendix, the Marlins selected Scott as an outfielder with 13th overall pick.

Upon inking his $4 million signing deal, the 18-year-old spent his first 27 pro games in the Gulf Coast League where he slashed .223/.319/.311 before joining the single A ranks in Greensboro. In 23 games as a Grasshopper he hit .211/.295/.276. His first career homer came on August 20th, 2018.

Though he is still very raw, Scott exhibits all five tools loudly. From a split stance in which he points his front foot up the first base line, the lefty hitter has a compact approach with good power load in his hands and elbows which maintain their height throughout his swing which holds great speed and through which the barrel spends advantageous time in the zone. Scott favors pull, but has already shown enough plate coverage to go to all fields. Where the teenager stands to improve is in getting his mostly stationary lower half more involved in his approach which will aid in the recognition of his power ceiling as well as in more contact to pitches on the outer half via a better step into the ball. Similarly, on the other side of the ball, Scott could use to improve his footwork leading to more power behind throws and better routes to balls. However, with already present foot speed, good bat to ball instincts and overall feel for hitting should allow Scott to bridge the gap from amateur standout to professional pretty smoothly. Scott should start 2019 with A Clinton and, with success, could move up to Jupiter sometime in the second half, but entering his age 19 season, there should be no reason to rush his development. His ceiling, although uncertain at this point in his career, could potentially be that of a .270 average hitter with 20/20 HR/SB capacity.

9. 3B James Nelson
2018 (A+) – .211/.262/.280, 2 HR, 28 RBI, 66/13 K/BB

Picked by Miami in the 15th round of the 2016 draft, Nelson hails out of Cisco Junior College in Cisco, Texas. Previously, he was selected by the Red Sox in round 18 of the 2015 draft out of his high school alma matter, Redan High in Stone Mountain, GA.

“Going to Junior college was probably the biggest and best decision I could’ve made to be honest,” Nelson told us last year. “I don’t think I got enough exposure in high school as far as seeing the pitchers I did.”

In his junior and senior seasons, Nelson hit a total of four homers. In his single JuCo season, a more physically matured specimen hit 17. The jump in power production was a major precursor for Nelson’s earlier draft slot which awarded him $75K, over $20K more than the slot Boston signed him in.

After breaking in with the GCL Marlins, Nelson spent 2017 absolutely raking in single A. Highlighted by a .372/.425/.540, 8 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 5/1 SB/CS month of May, Nelson slashed .309/.354/.456 with 31 doubles, three triples and seven homers. His BA ranked 11th and his two bagger count ranked sixth league wide. At the end of 2017, Nelson was named the Marlins organizational Minor League Player of the Year (LINK).

After opening the eyes of those who underrated him due to his brief amateur career, the 19-year-old headed in to last offseason riding high, primed to build on a more than solid debut full season. However, just before camp began, Nelson suffered a torn meniscus, an injury that, with no past history of knee trouble, he says “just sort of happened”. The injury required surgery and kept Nelson out of action until June. Upon making his season and Jupiter Hammerheads debut on June 3rd, Nelson played in five games before he quickly landed back on the DL due to a setback. From there, it was a slow go for Nelson who went 10 for his first 71 (.140). However, by going 33 for his final 143 (.230) with at least one hit in 23 of his final 37 games, Nelson proved he was adjusting well to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. He will likely begin 2019 back in Jupiter. With success, he could move up to AA sometime in the second half.

Approaching from a slightly split stance, the righty hitter owns a middle-high timing trigger which he uses in concert with his plus plate vision to both stay behind the ball and get extended to it. From there, Nelson executes an absolutely explosive swing that is lightning fast, short and well-leveraged, allowing him to use all fields with hard line drive contact. On the frequent occasion that he barrels up, the ball absolutely flies, giving him some of the best exit velo in the organization. Past his good plate approach and mechanics, Nelson owns 50-grade speed and a good glove at third base, one which he has quickly grown in to since beginning to learn the position upon becoming a pro. The Marlins bought in to Nelson’s future at the both offensive and defensive demanding hot corner based on his second-to-none athleticism, his already advanced offensive makeup and his growing frame which looks to have improved this offseason.

A guy who looks to have spent his offseason getting healthier and stronger, Nelson appears to have all the tools necessary to become a constant power threat with both gap-to-gap and over-the-fences power. Nelson should begin the 2019 season back in Jupiter and, with consistent health, looks primed to make the jump to the upper minors not too long after. Place Nelson’s ceiling at that of a .270/.320/.450, 25+ 2B, 20+ HR, 15+ SB yearly offensive threat with above replacement level defense.

10. OF Tristan Pompey
2018 (A-A+) – .299/.408/.397, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 47/32 K/BB, 10/5 SB/CS

Pompey is a Marlins’ 2018 first rounder out of the University Of Kentucky and the owner of a great baseball pedigree. Born to parents that prefer he play football rather than a sport they barely understood or even liked, both Tristan and his brother Dalton before him, opted for the diamond.

Being supporters of their dream no matter which path they chose, the Daltons’ parents learned the game along with their sons and at a young age, taught them both to switch hit. The gift bestowed upon Dalton allotted him a .279/.364/.405 Minor League career including .283/.396/.462 leading up to his MLB debut, but due to frequent injury and an overcrowding of outfield candidates in Toronto, his Major League career has been limited to just 64 games.

Now, after a standout three-year .321/.426/.521 career at the University Of Kentucky including the posting of a 1.005 OPS in both his sophomore and junior seasons, accolades which earned him multiple All-American selections and allotted him being named as high as the 14th best player in the 2018 Draft, it’s younger brother Tristan’s time to shine. After joining the Marlins upon the inking of his $645,000 signing bonus, Tristan spent just four games conditioning in the GCL before joining the full season single A ranks. But after hitting .314/.422/.430 with a 22/16 K/BB in 24 games, Pompey was quickly back on his way down to Jupiter, this time to play in the big park with the A+ Hammerheads. He spent the rest of his rookie year slashing .291/.396/.384 with a 21/13 K/BB. These loud results earned Pompey an invite to play in the Pan-American games for his home country of Canada, a pre-qualifier for the 2020 Olympic Summer Games. He is the third youngest player on the roster. From there, Pompey should begin 2019 back in Jupiter but results permitting, could be a quick mover up to the AA level.

Already the more physically mature Pompey brother, Tristan, who will turn 22 in March 23rd, still exhibits the same front leg timing trigger that caused some scouts to look down on him leading up to the draft. However, as a pro, Pompey has improved his back leg mechanics, keeping it planted and using it to drive forward into his downward planed and well-leveraged swing. He’s also closed his stance a bit and is approaching from further back in the box, allowing his plus plate vision to go to work for him on a more frequent basis. 

With a great feel for the barrel from both sides of the plate via a short stroke path to the ball, a good first step out of the box and a plus-plus runner when he gets to full-stride, Pompey, who has stayed healthy most of his playing career and adjusted well to his environment with each jump in level, profiles as a future 20/20+ threat. If his throwing arm improves past it’s current grade of 45, he is on a great track to reach his ceiling as a middle-of-the-order starting right fielder.

11. RHP Edward Cabrera
2018 (A) – 100.1 IP, 4.22 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 93/42 K/BB

Cabrera is a Marlins’ 2015 international signed out of the Dominican, heavily lauded for his upper 90s velo. With just 182.1 IP under his belt, Cabrera has spent his early career learning how to pitch stateside. The Marlins have been methodical with Cabrera’s development, limiting him to 82.2 combined IP in his first two seasons. Last season, Cabrera was stretched out to an even 100 IP. Cabrera held up well both physically and statistically in his first elongated look, holding down a 4.22 ERA by way of a 1.47 WHIP, 11.6 K/BB%, and a 44% GB%.

A tall, lanky righty who weighs in at 6’4”, Cabrera gets every bit of his body involved in his delivery, nearly completely turning his back to the hitter and exploding through his 3/4 slot. His current mechanics already allow him to hold 94+ MPH velo throughout his starts, but issues repeating the delivery cause him to struggle with command, causing him to miss spots, often missing wide to his arm side where the pitch naturally runs to. Past the four-seamer, Cabrera owns the solid blueprint for a good slurvy slider that comes in at 77-80, a pitch that would both accentuate and counteract his fiery heat beautifully, but he will need to improve his release point and follow-through in order to create proper deception. Cabrera also owns an 88-90 MPH changeup, a pitch which has the prospect of being a great accompaniment to the high heat and the low bender, but it is an offering that is still very much in the beginning stages. Still many years away from the majors though and with room to grow physically, Cabrera is far from a finished product and is already quite intriguing. With a fastball that already plays up via natural plus-plus velo and a good foundation for at-least average, if not better secondary stuff, Cabrera, although still being very much a work-in-progress, has youth on his side and the work ethic needed to become a ceiling 3-5 starter.

12. RHP Trevor Rogers
2018 (A) – 72.2 IP, 5.82 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 85/27 K/BB

Rogers is the Marlins top draft pick in the 2017 Draft, a spot and $3.4 million payday he garnered after a 26-5, 0.73 ERA, .138 BAA, 325/52 K/BB prep career at Carlsbad High in New Mexico. In 182 career innings pitched, Rogers only allowed one home run. An All-American preseason selection in his senior year, Rogers defended that honor by going 11-0 with a 0.33 ERA and 134/13 K/BB. The top ranked draft prospect out of the state of New Mexico, Rogers signed on with the Marlins for $3.4 million.

Suffering from a mild forearm strain, the Marlins, a franchise all too familiar with prep picks going awry, erred on the side of caution and assigned Rogers to the instructional league. However, that entire campaign was washed out due to Hurricane Irma, keeping Trevor sidelined. After participating in minor league camp, Rogers finally made his pro debut on May 22nd. Following a bit of an adjustment period in pitching to professional hitters and in getting back into in-game action for the first time in 364 days, Rogers went on a nice run as things began to click. From July 6th to August 18th, he went 43.1 IP while holding down a 3.13 ERA with a 42/13 K/BB. The highlight of Rogers’ rookie campaign was a 7.2 IP, 1 H, 12/2 K/BB outing in which he flirted with a no hitter on July 29th.

A 6’4” 220+ specimen, Rogers makes the most of his size on the Hill, throwing downhill into the strike zone thereby gaining an extra few ticks on his fastball which comes in in the 92-96 MPH range and stays there throughout his outings. Coming out of high school, Rogers had a quality slider but trying to take too much off of it was causing him to tip it to opposing hitters. Since then, Rogers has quickly been coached to not overthink pitches, throwing everything with the same arm speed, a modification that has worked out well in his favor, aiding his confidence and pitchability. Rogers also owns the makings of a plus curveball with 12-6 action and good late bite and an at least average changeup with good fade to the arm side.

A coachable asset with youth and projection both on his side, we like Rogers, who also impressed during the instructional league this offseason, we like Rogers to break the Marlins’ spell of high school draft picks gone wrong and, upon further growth in A-A+ this coming season, realize his ceiling potential as a top end starter come 2020-21.

13. RHP Luis Palacios
2018 (A) – 63.2 IP, 0.85 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, 62/4 K/BB

Palacios is a lefty hurler who signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican in 2016. It is there, with the DSL Marlins, that the teenager has spent the first two seasons of his professional career making a clear cut name for himself. As a 16-year-old in his debut season, Palacios worked 46.2 IP, holding down a 2.70 ERA via a 1.14 WHIP and 2.87 K/BB%. This past season, Palacios worked in the same capacity (4 starts, 11 relief appearances), lasting 63.2 IP and managing a sparkling 0.85 ERA by way of an even more dazzling 0.60 WHIP. Somehow, the 17-year-old allowed even less baserunners his previous campaign while tossing in nearly 20 more frames. While leading the league in IP, he also led it in ERA, in WHIP and absolutely blew it away in K/BB% (25.4). In 2019, Palacios, a Dominican League stud, will first participate in the Marlins’ Captains’ Camp before making his regular season stateside ball debut, likely with the Batavia Muckdogs but possibly with the full-season LumberKings.

After a high leg kick, Palacios, a 6’2”, 160 pound specimen, comes home with a well-balanced 3/4 delivery. His whip-through follow-through on all three of his pitches allows him to mask them all advantageously. From there, the stuff speaks for itself. His fastball comes in at 93-95 with good bite to his arm side. Palacios’ best secondary is his 88-90 MPH changeup which fades late and holds corner-painting prowess. Palacios has similar control over his 86-88 MPH power slider which owns late 11-5 run. Palacios’ stuff, which is well beyond his years, proved to be nearly unhittable for his countrymen.

This coming season as Palacios makes his US debut, he will need to improve the consistency of his release points as his pitches can sometimes get away from him. That said, Palacios is a kid who shows good feel for all three of his pitches, a trio which already good velo mix. At just 18, growing both mentally and physically, Palacios has plenty of room to add even more MPH and quite possibly a fourth pitch to his arsenal (he shows the beginnings of a big curveball).

Given how far along he is at such a young age, Palacios, who will remind Marlins fans of a miniature Dontrelle Willis, has a huge ceiling, that of a potential ace. Though still pretty far out, pay close attention to this name which is likely to rise up these prospect rankings sooner rather than later.

14. RHP Jorge Guzman
2018 (A+) – 96 IP, 4.03 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 101/64 K/BB

Guzman is an Astros 2015 international signee out of the Dominican. After learning how to pitch stateside in the pro ranks by tossing 55 IP to the tune of a 5.04 ERA and 1.68 WHIP with three different rookie ball teams that year, the 20-year-old improved his peripherals to a 4.05 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 2016. In just 40 IP, the righty struck out 54 and walked just 17. That offseason, Guzman was dealt to the Yankees along with Albert Abreu in the trade that sent Brian McCann to Houston.

Guzman spent 2016 in short season A ball compiling a 5-3 record and 2.30 ERA by way of a 1.03 WHIP and 88/18 K/BB. His 11.88 K/9 ranked second league wide. By way of that season in which Guzman flashed the beginnings of a power slider to piggyback his tremendous blow-it-by-you fastball that sits at 96 and tops at 103 that he climbed the Yankees’ prospect ranks and wound up at number 25. That offseason, Guzman became the centerpiece of the trade that sent Giancarlo Stanton to New York. Starlin Castro and Jose Devers also joined the Marlins.

Upon his arrival in Miami, the Marlins were extremely careful with Guzman’s development, not inviting him to spring training or assigning him an affiliated squad at the break of camp. Instead, Guzman, whose career high innings count was 66.2, conditioned in extended spring training. On April 28th, Guzman finally joined the Jupiter Hammerheads and made his first start. Ninety-six innings later, Guzman sported a 4.03 ERA. Judging by his extended numbers including a 4.45 FIP, a 1.45 WHIP and lowly 38.7 ground ball rate, it looks as though Guzman benefitted from throwing in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.

Guzman’s biggest and currently only mature weapon and the reason for his prospect status is his aforementioned heat which rarely ticks below 96, hits as high as 103 and persists throughout his starts. However, Guzman has yet to show the consistent ability to harness the potential 70-grade tool. Though he shows flashes of dominance, Guzman fails to repeat his delivery and gets hurt when the mostly straight pitch misses spots, causing his walk and contact rates to rise. Moreover, Guzman’s lack of a secondary arsenal allows hitters to sit on the heat, negating his best asset even if he does hit the zone.

2019 stands to be a make-it-or-break-it type year when it comes to Guzman’s future as a starter. In order to stick in a rotational role long-term Guzman will need his curveball to play up to its 60-grade potential. An 11-5 power hook, the pitch has shown the ability to partner well with his heater but he currently lacks the feel and arm speed to throw it with any sort of consistency. Guzman began to learn a changeup last year, but that pitch is still in the foundational phase and is very little more than a waste offering. Unless Guzman takes a big jump this year, he will probably start working out of the bullpen as a closer, a role in which he could absolutely dominate.

15. OF Brian Miller
2018 (A+-AA) – .295/.338/.355, 21 2B, 5 3B, 66/32 K/BB, 40/13 SB/CS

Miller is a Marlins’ CBA pick, taken 36th overall in 2017 out of the University of North Carolina. He earned his draft spot and $1.8 million payday by way of a .332/.419/.453, 0.88 K/BB%, 55/13 SB/CS three-year career in Tarheel blue, a team he made via a glorified try-out (LINK). Add to his resume a 327/.369/.387 showing in the Cape in 2016 as well as his league-leading 77 hit, .476 OBP, 38 SB campaign in the Coastal Plain League following his rookie season, it’s easy to see the potential the Marlins saw and continue to see in Miller’s slap hitting, speed-first game that holds room for more gap-reaching growth.

“My approach is pretty simple in the box. I just try to be on time and hit a ball hard up the middle of the field. I think always staying to the middle of the field puts me in a good position to succeed because it helps me hit any pitch at any location in the strike zone,” Miller told us last year. “Also, when I mishit a ball I have a good chance of beating it out with my speed because the middle guys have to move the most and sometimes make far throws on the run.”

That skillset has been on full display in Miller’s first 185 career games in which he has matured all the way to the double A level, making him one of the quickest rising prospects in the organization. After breaking in to pro ball with a .322/.384/.416, 17 double, 21 SB 58-game campaign and being selected our Minor League Player Of The Year in 2017, Miller absolutely torched A+ pitching during the first half of last season. Upon slashing .324/.358/.398 with 13 doubles and 19 steals, the 23-year-old made it to AA Jacksonville where he hit a respectable .267/.319/.313. The owner of a career .304/.353/.374 slash line, a 76% success rate in stolen base attempts and a 20% XBH%, Miller heads into spring training this year as a member of the Marlins’ 40-man roster.

Though he isn’t the biggest name nor the most flashy prospect in the organization and even though he needs to show sustainable success against upper minors pitching this coming year, Miller is a guy who understands his potential skill-set well and doesn’t try to overdo it. A contact-first swinger who picks and chooses his quick line drive hacks well and uses his plus speed to turn virtually anything that drops into extra bases, Miller lines up well as a ceiling .280/.340/.340, 25+ SB top of the order catalytic threat and floor fourth-outfielder off-the-bench spark plug.

2018 Prospect Of The Year – Dustin Beggs

When you jump from single A all the way to AA and hold down a collective 2.12 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 111/20 K/BB along the way, you beg to be awarded postseason accolades — especially when your name is Dustin Beggs. This season, we are happy to oblige and award the 25-year-old righty with our Prospect Of The Year Award.

Beggs, born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, attended high school in northwestern Georgia. Beggs lettered in both his junior and senior seasons, the latter of which he also earned his team’s MVP award as well its Cy Young award. At season’s end, Beggs appeared in many Perfect Game showcases, not placing any worse than in the 50th percentile on fastball velocity and flashing a velo mix of more than 20 MPH before departing for junior college. There, as a Georgia Perimeter College Jaguar, Beggs compiled a 17-5 record in 150.1 IP while holding down a 1.86 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP via a 175/27 K/BB. Most of Beggs’ dominance was done in 2014, a sophomore season in which he struck out a league most 125 and managed a league leading 1.65 ERA. Following his second collegiate season, Beggs was drafted by the Cardinals in the 17th round of the 2014 draft. That same offseason, Beggs was recruited by the University Of Kentucky. Ultimately, he decided to go back to school.

“That decision was made by talking with my parents and coaches at UK,” Beggs explained. “I think the main message I got from them was that going to play at an SEC school for a year or two would help me develop not only physically, but more importantly, mentally.”

In his first season as a Wildcat, Beggs made the full-time transition to the rotation.

“The jump from JuCo to the SEC seemed pretty big when I first got there,” Beggs said. “I remember giving up 3-4 runs in my first intrasquad and thinking, “Wow, these guys are really good 1-9. It was definitely an adjustment process.”

In 14 starts that year, Beggs posted a 3.65 ERA via a 1.09 WHIP and 75/20 K/BB, numbers very respectable for a first-year D1 hurler, marking the first time but certainly not the last that Beggs would show that he is very capable of adjusting to competition level.

After posting a 9-2 record and a 3.01 ERA by way of a 0.95 WHIP and 80/16 K/BB in 98.2 IP in his senior year in 2016, Beggs was drafted for a third time. On this occasion, the Marlins took him in the 16th round and Beggs obliged, signing with Miami and earning a $10,000 signing bonus. He came to the Marlins as the fifth of seven Kentucky alums the organization has drafted from 2012 to the present. Other Wildcats turned Fish over that span include JT  Riddle and Beggs’ former teammate and current 25th ranked prospect, Riley Mahan. Beggs says the fact that Michael Hill and company keep going back to the UK honeypot draft after draft is a testament to the strength and stability of a program that will only get better in the years to come.

“I think it speaks to the University of Kentucky coaching staff and how well they have done at preparing players for the next level,” Beggs said. “They take pride in, not only in winning games and competing in the SEC but also in helping players get the most out of the talent they have. With them building that beautiful new stadium, I think that trend is going to continue for a long time.”

After breaking in to pro ball at the end of 2016 with Batavia, Beggs rode the aforementioned preparedness borne in him from Kentucky to a fantastic rookie pro season in full season A in 2017. There, as a Greensboro Grasshopper, Beggs held down a 10-6 record and a 3.86 ERA. He K’d a team-high 107 in 149.1 IP, another team high, the second most in the South Atlantic League. According to Beggs, staying both healthy and effective over the course of his first full pro league season was a challenge, but, thanks to his years spent at UK learning how to create, execute and maintain an advantageous weekly regimen, a challenge he was able to stare down and conquer.

“Throwing almost 100 innings in both of my seasons at Kentucky helped a lot not only with understanding how that feels physically on your arm, but mentally understanding that you have to have a good routine and pace yourself over the course of the year,” Beggs said. “The routine helps you categorize your days off and have an idea of what to do when you get on the field each day.”

As well equipped as Kentucky made him for the rigors of life in the minor leagues, Beggs attests to the fact that pitching in Greensboro taught him many more valuable lessons such as learning how to advantageously pitch to contact. Accordingly, Beggs labels his first MiLB season as a very important foundation laying process that he will build off for the rest of his career.

“Since Greensboro’s field is so small, it really taught me the value of pitching down and inducing ground balls,” Beggs said. “[The 2017 season] was a very helpful building block just to give me confidence going forward. A lot of times confidence is the biggest key to getting people out, knowing your stuff is good enough to get people out and compete at each level. That really helped me going forward.”

This season, Beggs, a second year pro, used his newfound confidence to jump two levels all the way to AA. After starting the year back in Greensboro and holding down a 2.66 ERA and 1.08 WHIP with an 8.33 K/BB in 40.2 innings, Beggs got the promotion to A+ Jupiter. There, he returned to exclusive rotational work. In seven starts for the Hammerheads, Beggs had a tiny 2.01 ERA with a 35/6 K/BB in 44.2 IP. The highlight of his A+ career was a 7 IP, 1 ER, 10 K, 2 BB start on July 7. Six of his seven Jupiter starts were quality outings. 

Between A and A+ in 2018, Beggs had a 2.32 ERA and allowed just 84 baserunners in 85.1 IP (0.98 WHIP) while compiling an 88/12 K/BB. Those accolades earned Beggs his second promotion of the season, this time to AA Jacksonville, on August 15.

Making the difficult leap from the lower to upper minors, all four of Beggs’ starts with the Shrimp were of the quality variety. During those 25 innings, he limited opponents to a .193 BA and just four earned runs. His impeccable control numbers persisted as he struck out 23 and walked just eight. Beggs, who trades any sort of fiery velocity for hitting spots, missing barrels, says the key to his continued success as he’s traveled through the minors, has been maintaining a great working knowledge of himself and his abilities, staying true to that persona and avoiding the urge to become something he is not.

“I think the key has been consistency and keeping an even temperament on the mound. As the levels pass and the opponents and teammates change, you have to keep attacking hitters and throwing strikes,” Beggs said. “I understand that I’m not going to blow it by people so I use offspeed and location to my advantage.”

Following a head-turning 2018 campaign, the 25-year-old Beggs will head into 2019, a campaign in which, with continued success at the AA level, could include his Major League debut. However, the 25-year-old is determined not to let anything — not even the pending realization of his childhood dream — alter his steadfast concentration.

“It’s very exciting to think about, but I am a very in-the-moment focused person,” Beggs said. “I have to keep working this offseason to put myself in a good position to compete this spring. I’m just going to keep staying the course and focus on how I can better myself.”

A 6’3” 180 pound specimen, Dustin August Beggs literally DAB-bed on the competition no matter where he pitched in 2018 via his best tool: impeccable control. While his low-90s heat won’t light up radar guns or the eyes of scouts, the placement of his huge 12-6 curve that clocks in at 72-74 MPH, his sweeping 9-6 slider that sits 75-78 MPH and his 82-84 MPH changeup that shows late arm-side run to the black provide Beggs with the ability to use any pitch in any count. He masks each of his pitches by repeating his windup, arm speed and follow-through. A guy who is extremely averse to a free pass and who limits pitches per AB and is more than capable of erasing what few baserunners he does allow via a lightning quick pickoff move, Beggs has the ceiling of a 2-3 starter and the floor of a back end swing man, capable of eating many innings.

A guy who earned the reputation of a more-than-reliable starter in college, Beggs has begun to pave a path to do the same as a Major Leaguer. With similar success in both spring training and early in the minor league season with the Jumbo Shrimp, Beggs should be among the first handful of Marlins hurlers to earn a major league promotion in 2019.

Monte Harrison Making Strides In Arizona Fall League

In 2018, his first season with the Marlins, the organization’s new top prospect Monte Harrison played to the tune of a famous Billy Joel song: he went to extremes. Too high and too low, there was no in between as the 23-year-old struck out 215 times, the most in all of AA and at a 37% rate, and walked just 44 times at a 7.5% pace. His excellent raw talent and power potential allowed Harrison to swat 19 homers, a career high and fourth most in the Southern League. However, if Harrison hoped to match and/or better that number when he arrived in The Show, he had some adjustments to make heading into his second Arizona Fall League campaign.

It is undeniable: Monte Harrison has always owned many plus-plus offensive tools. With great overall strength stemming from his 6’3”, 220 pound frame, Harrison uses an advantageous vertical path in his hands and wrists during his load leading up to the execution of his superb bat speed which gives him exceptional leverage. His menacing physicality and good upper half mechanics give him a figurative leg up on his opposition before a pitch is thrown. However, this past season, not long after an opposing pitcher came set, Harrison had too much of a leg up — literally.

 

Harrison had been trading attempting to recognize pitches for trying to time a pitcher’s motion. Through his aforementioned fantastic core strength, good hands and 60-grade power tool that still has room to grow, Harrison was been able to exhibit fence-clearing power, but that success had been had nearly exclusively in either obvious fastball counts or on mistake pitches that floated into his wheelhouse. The habit that Harrison formed disallowed him from staying back and led to off-balance long hacks that expanded the zone. This was the main culprit feeding Harrison’s gargantuan strikeout rate. For that reason, Harrison’s hit tool is currently capped at 45.

After this fall though, that number will undoubtedly rise.

“He did have the high leg kick when he got here,” Salt River Rafters Head Coach Tommy Watkins corroborated. “Since then, he’s cut it down a bit and he’s been having good ABs.”

Here are some of the ABs Watkins speaks of:

So far this Arizona Fall League season, Harrison has shown a much more simplified approach, allowing him to utilize his superior bat speed and upper half mechanics to the best of his advantage. The drop in lower half involvement has led Harrison to drastically drop his strikeout total and improve his contact rates. But as positive as these adjustments have been, has Harrison negated his lower half too much?

Looking at the new Harrison, his lower half is nearly stationary, limiting his fence clearing ability, especially at his future home of Marlins Park. The minuscule hip torque and lack of power transfer will cause his hit tool to rise but his power tool, which currently stands at 55, to drop.

The question is can Harrison put it all together and become the complete offensive threat the baseball world foresaw when the Brewers offered him nearly a $700K signing bonus and when the Marlins traded soon-to-be NL MVP to Milwaukee for him last offseason. While that remains to be seen and while Harrison will need to make several more adjustments in order for it to happen including closing his very wide stance, his willingness to learn and change his approach in order to improve is very encouraging. For evidence, peep one of Harrison’s latest efforts: 2-3, 3B, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB 2 SB. He’s reached base in all 13 of his Arizona Fall League games.

By losing a literal first step, Harrison has taken a big proverbial leap towards becoming a more complete hitter this fall. From a development standpoint, he’s following a similar path as the guy who he accompanied to Miami, Lewis Brinson. Already making positive strides this fall, Harrison looks forward to a spring training campaign in which he will share a dugout, a clubhouse not only with Brinson but with MLB coaches and facilities at his disposal. All things considered, we like a near-complete five-tool outfielder to join Brinson and potentially another piece of the Yelich trade, right hander Jordan Yamamoto, in Miami for regular season action in the second half of 2019.

Prospect Of The Month, July 2018 – Dylan Lee

This past week, the United States celebrated National Left Handers’ Day. But for Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp reliever Dylan Lee, forcing his competition to respect his southpaw arm was so two months ago.

For a month and a quarter, if the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp had to have a clean inning or two, all they had to do was call upon number 37 who, from June 22 until July 26, turned in 15 straight scoreless innings, 10 of which came in the month of July. Over that span, he allowed just five hits and recorded a 19/0 K/BB. Lee finished the seventh month of the year running that audacious scoreless stretch to 17 IP by tossing two near-spotless in his first game at the AAA level.

For taking literally no time to become a purely dominant arm at the AA level and earn the call to the highest level of the minors where his success has continued, Lee, who began the year in A+ Jupiter only to find himself a stone’s throw away from his MLB debut in four months’ time, earns our Prospect Of The Month honors for the month of July.

Lee, who just celebrated his 24th birthday on August 1, attended high school at Dinuba High located between Fresno and Visalia in California’s southeastern valley. Lee was a  letterman in all three of his varsity seasons by way of an 18-8 record and 1.39 ERA, a .164 BAA and a 230/85 K/BB in 180.2 IP. This included a 69.2 IP, 9-3, 0.40 ERA, .117 BAA, 112/22 K/BB IP in his senior season in 2012 at the end of which Lee was named Dinuba’s Player Of The Year by MaxPreps.

Following high school, Lee attended junior college at the College of the Sequoias in nearby Visalia. As a 19-year-old sophomore in 2015, he had one of the best seasons in school history and earned the titles and accolades to match. By winning a school record 13 games (all of which came consecutively before he lost his first and only game) by way of a 2.34 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 3.00 K/BB in 103.2 IP, Lee was named to the All-California State Team and labeled the Central Valley Conference’s Pitcher Of The year.

After his superb sophomore season, Lee was recruited to Division I ball at powerhouse Fresno State. While his first season was very much like his first year in JuCo — an adjustment process — Lee rebounded well in his senior year. Focusing solely on relief work, Lee’s ERA shrunk over two full points (5.31 in 2015 to 3.45 in 2016), his WHIP came down almost half a baserunner (1.54 to 1.19) and his K/BB rose from 1.67 to 2.93. According to Lee, owner of a bulldog mentality, his transition to pitching exclusively out of the pen and in high leverage situations was met with a shot in the arm and led to a rise in his overall compete level.

“Coming out of the pen at Fresno State was different for me, but I liked the adrenaline and being called in for late relief during close games,” Lee said.

Eventually, the comfort in knowing when and in what type of situation his number was going to be called upon allowed Lee to solidify his game plan and made the former swing man a much more effective pitcher. Lee contributes that sense of consistency, being able to maintain the same ideology from outing to outing and time spent analyzing it to his great July run and believes it will further assist him as he fills out and moves closer to his big league debut.

“Mindset is different from starting and in relief. The situations you are in during a game will determine the pitches and locations you should use. I’ve learned your mindset should be the same throughout your outing,”  Lee said. “I will continue to work on my mechanics and recognizing what the hitter is trying to do in his at bat so I can continue being effective.

The work Lee refers to has lay within his delivery. Still a very deliberate and seemingly effortless tosser at the beginning of the year, Lee has focused on putting more into his delivery without discounting his control. Formerly a guy who would rarely touch above 91, he has between 93-96 and topped out as high as 97 this season. This has created a more advantageous velo mix to his bread-and-butter FB/CH combo and an even further velo distance from his developing curveball.

According to Dylan, the rise in fastball velo can be attributed his ability to remain upright, creating a better arc to his release and creating a better downward plane to his stride towards the plate. 

“I’m definitely not the biggest pitcher in the organization, but I worked on staying tall and staying over my back leg for as long as possible at Fresno State,” Lee said. “I have worked on it during my throwing program, flat grounds, and pens to be consistent during the game.”

Most of all though, this current and very spicy brand of Dylan Lee heat has been made possible by each of coaching, the organization and Lee himself removing any sort of leash. A guy who looked like he was tossing BP at times while still hitting 89-92, this new and unlimited version of Lee is a much better suitor for his bulldog mentality and huge compete level.

“It felt like I was playing catch out there,” Lee said. “I was getting frustrated that I wasn’t letting it go.”

As much as incorporating his physicality in to his approach and plan of attack on the mound has allowed him to flourish of late, Dylan attributes the bulk of his accomplishments to a gargantuan intangible factor that has stuck with him throughout his pro career: confidence.

“My faith has been the biggest thing for me. Staying in the moment and appreciating everything that has put me in this situation, Lee said. “It doesn’t matter what level I am at or who is in the box; the rubber and the plate is going to be the same distance apart and that’s how I have and will continue to keep my composure.”

On top of his improved heater, Lee still hold on to the pitch that was his calling card as a draftee: his 83-85 mph changeup. Thrown with the exact same arm speed as his fastball, Lee masks the pitch well and has a good feel for the release. The pitch both sinks and fades away late from opposite side hitters, creating tons of weak ground ball outs (see his 0.82 GO/AO rate and sub-.140 BAA vs RHB in A+ and AA this year).

Lee‘s aforementioned developmental offering is a slow 76-78 MPH curve. Nothing more than a below average mix-in prior this year, Lee has focused on improving the grip and release points on it in his warmups and has used it much more frequently during in-game action. Accordingly, Lee has put much better spin rates on the ball and a higher 12-6 arc, bringing the pitch out of the dirt and into the lower half of the zone. Formerly a pitch he’d throw maybe two times over the course of an inning, the curve has become a major part of Lee’s repertoire and a pitch he can use in any situation.

“I’m throwing it the most I ever have and I’m throwing it to LHH and RHH and both early and late in the count,” Lee said. “But most importantly I’m throwing it with conviction.”

A guy who has jumped multiple levels from A+ all the way to the highest level of the minors, managing to adjust to each by maintaining his supreme level of poise and also building up his arm, Lee, a floor pitch-count limiting middle reliever and ceiling late-innings setup man/closer, should get a look in spring training next season. The lefty who is having fun every time he toes the rubber should at the very least be at the very top of the list of bullpen call-ups next season. When his moment comes, Lee, who has been sold short since graduating high school, will allow it to serve as a resounding “I told you so”. And undoubtedly, that will be fun, too.

“Mr. Irrelevant. That’s always been me,” Lee said. “But being underestimated pushes me. It’s always fun beating the big name guys.”

Adjust your radars, baseball world. Lights out lefty appearing on heading 2019.