Although the Marlins may be on the wrong side of the win-loss column now and for the rest of the season in in-game action this year, they are very much so on the right side of that equation when it comes to offseason moves and regarding the culture they are hoping to build in the future. One of the biggest figures that speaks to that success is right handed pitcher Pablo Lopez who after an impressive spring training with the big league club, has had an absolutely unprecedented start to his 2018 campaign at the AA level. For his most recent success this past 30 days with the Shrimp, Lopez earns our Prospect Of The Month honors for the month of May.
Lopez is a 6’3”, 200 pound righty who hails out of Cabimas, Venezuela. He’s just the fourth player in history to come from the city on the shoreline of Lake Zulia on the northwestern edge of the country. However, as Pablo explains, his hometown region is rich in baseball tradition which created a great support system during his tenure there. Mileage aside, that support has followed Lopez into his career as an American ballplayer.
“Baseball is very popular in Venezuela and especially where I’m from, so it was always really fun and exciting. I got to represent my state three times for national tournaments. Games would be very exciting and the stadiums would be packed with families of the players supporting and yelling all game long, which was really cool for when you’re 10-12 years old,” Lopez said. “I played with a lot of great players and friends of mine. It’s really special to have such great support from everyone back home. They’ve supported me through everything since the beginning of my career and my entire life and I’m forever grateful for that.“
Of the countless many that have supported Lopez throughout his baseball career through, he says one individual stands head and shoulders above the rest.
“My dad,” Lopez said. “He’s been my mentor, coach, doctor and everything I could have asked for.”
As paramount as his relationship with his family was, Lopez found himself at a crossroads after he was drafted in 2012. After competing in his native country’s affiliated Ball summer league that year, the Mariners pegged him for his North American pro debut the following season. Suddenly on his own still in his teenage years away from the confines of everything he’d ever know and still even somewhat of a stranger to his new nation’s native language, Lopez admits it was a bit of a nervous experience. But with the help of some friendly squadmates as well as some advantageous surroundings, Lopez says he was able to adapt fairly quickly.
“I signed as a 16-year-old and spent my first season back home in the Venezuelan Summer League during 2013. After the season was over, I came to the United States for the first time to participate in the Instructional League when I was 17 years old. It was a completely different experience, not just because of the language barrier (I was lucky enough to know some English back then), but getting acclimated to the culture would take longer! I created great friendships right away with the teammates I was able to meet. They were always willing to help me and the other young players,” Lopez said. “At times it was really hard though, I would get back from the baseball complex to the hotel where I was staying at and I would just hang out in my room not knowing what else to do or where to go! Luckily the hotel was near Bell Road, which had a lot of American restaurants so I was able to eat tons of American food and it was a way to get to know the different culture.”
Despite the mileage, home remained close to Lopez. He was always in regular contact with his family including his father whom Lopez mentioned earlier was able to help him in a medical capacity. That is because Lopez’s dad (as well as Lopez’s mother before her untimely death when Pablo was still just a child) was a medical internist. Pablo’s father’s expertise was beneficial to him when he was forced to miss the entire 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Lopez says his dad was quintessential during that process and in giving him the advice needed to get back into playing condition.
“I injured my elbow in instructional league in 2013 and went through some rehab. After that I was throwing a bullpen and that’s when I injured it again and found out I was going to need Tommy John surgery to repair my UCL. My dad came all the way from Venezuela to Seattle to be with me the day of the surgery. He explained to me the medical process, how the surgery worked, what my body was going to go through and what to look forward to in the future and in the rehabilitation. It was going to be a long process, both mentally and physically.”
According to Lopez, even though he wasn’t able to physically throw a baseball for an entire season, the thought of doing so and strategizing on how to do so in a better capacity never left his mind. In fact, those thoughts filled his mind every day, allowed him to maintain his focus, turn a bad experience into a positive one and ultimately come back stronger than ever, maintaining his effectiveness while staying within the limits of his physical capacity.
“Having the game taken away from you is not fun. You kind of just become a spectator. But I realized there were so many ways for me to keep learning, not just about the game but also about my body. So I spent the following year of rehab getting to know my body to its fullest, learning what’s best for me, how to take care of my body and I also explored the mental aspect of the game,” Lopez said. “I would watch all the games from the stands paying close attention to details, I visualized myself in certain game situations and pictured how I would handle it. I kept trying to learn about pitching and baseball, even though I was not able to play at the time.”
Finally in 2015, Lopez toed the rubber on a state side field for the first time. Immediately, Lopez showed the same effectiveness that allotted him to hold down a 2.56 ERA and 37/11 in his first 66.2 IP in the VSL back home. Over his first 37.1 IP in the US, Lopez tossed to the tune of a 3.13 ERA in 37.1 IP via a 28/6 K/BB and 1.15 WHIP in rookie ball competition for the Arizona League Mariners.
A year later, Lopez got his first call to full season ball with the Clinton Lumberkings and at the same time transitioned back to the starting rotation. In 17 appearances (13 GS), Lopez managed a 2.13 ERA by way of a 0.91 WHIP and 56/9 K/BB. Amongst hurlers with at least 80 IP, Lopez’s WHIP was the best in the league, his ERA was third best and his 6.22 K/BB was second best.
In 2017, Lopez made the jump to A+ Modesto Nuts of the California League. In one of the most hitter friendly leagues in all of Minor League Baseball, Lopez’s ERA ballooned to 5.04 due to a massive .341 BABIP. However, his FIP stood at just 3.36. Still this did not stop the Mariners from flipping Lopez to the Marlins as what was thought to be an add on piece to a trade involving centerpiece Brayan Hernandez and fellow organizational hurlers Brandon Miller and Lukas Schiraldi. For the rest of 2017, Lopez showed his true potential holding down a 2.18 ERA and 32/7 K/BB in 45.1 IP for the Jupiter Hammerheads. Lopez says his jump in production can be attributed to his work done in the offseason concentrating on better releases and more advantageous pitch spotting.
So far this season in his call-up to the AA Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp has done more than not skip a beat — he has taken a massive step forward. It is an impression that began in spring training when Lopez tossed 4.1 scoreless IP in 3 appearances which put him in the conversation to make the Opening Day roster out of camp. Although a freak minor injury Lopez suffered on a line drive come-backer late in the spring campaign ruined that prospect and afforded him to be assigned to AA Jacksonville, Lopez, after making a slightly abbreviated season debut on April 21, was one of the best pitchers in all of Minor League Baseball in the month of May. In 34.2 May innings, Lopez limited his Southern League opposition to just three total runs for a 0.78 ERA via a 0.92 WHIP and .195 BAA. While his BAA and WHIP each placed second in the Southern League, his ERA marked the lowest monthly ERA since August 2017 when Freddy Peralta of Biloxi had a 0.40 in nearly half as many IP (22.1). It is the best May ERA for a Southern Leaguer since Blake Snell held down a 0.72 ERA in the month in the year 2015. What’s more is that Lopez was maintaining a 0.24 ERA until a 6 IP, 2 ER quality start caused his ERA to “balloon” to what it concluded at for the month.
For his success to begin the season and his Marlins tenure this past month, Lopez credits the ideology and strategic way of approaching at bats that the Marlins’ organization maintains throughout the system. He also credits his coaches and teammates who have created a positive environment for him to compete in.
“The Miami Marlins as an organization have created the philosophy of attacking the strike zone, commanding the fastball, pitching to your strengths, and know who you’re facing. That’s been working really well and not just for me but for all of our pitching staff, they all see confident on the mound and it’s really fun to watch them. We also do a lot of studying and we help each other out as pitchers, we are constantly talking and we learn from each other with each game that passes,” Lopez said. “We have a great team with great chemistry and outstanding defense, knowing that you have them behind you making great plays for you gives us great confidence. The catchers have been amazing as well, they work so hard and they’re always helping us to get better.”
Lopez’s calling card is a mid-80’s changeup that he spots at will with great depth and late fading action. He both pitches off of it and pitches into it off of a low 90’s sinker which he commands well in the lower half (proven by his 42% ground ball rate and 95% LOB%) and a mix-in curveball. Above all, by his own admission, Lopez is a weak contact artist who works through hitters quickly en route to making it deep into starts. Although the strikeout numbers have begun to pile up this year due to Lopez’s impeccable control (51/8 K/BB in AA), Lopez says he is remaining focused on sticking to his roots as a to-contact pitcher.
“I’ve always known I’m not a power pitcher with power stuff so being able to throw strikes has been my main focus since the beginning of my career. It has been very important to try and improve it because hitters just keep getting better and better as you move up through the minor leagues, they have better pitch recognition, control of the zone, they put better swings, and they make pitchers pay for their mistakes in the strike zone,” Lopez said. “I try to implement game like situations in my bullpens that allow me to work on controlling the strike zone with my pitches, simulating counts, runners on base, and sequencing.”
That said, although Lopez knows himself and his craft well has his mind set on limiting pitches per AB and contact allowed, he isn’t ruling out a bump in velo as he finishes out his tenure in the minors and begins his MLB career.
“I’m most concerned with throwing strikes, I try to limit free bases as much as I can. As a starter, I have to learn to administrate my energy throughout the baseball game, so I can’t throw as hard as I can with every single pitch,” Lopez said. “There are certain moments or situations where I will put more effort behind it, but then I go back to trying to locate and execute better instead of throwing hard. Right now I’m working and learning on how to use my whole body when I’m pitching and not just relying on my arm to create power. So maybe as I improve at that, there could be room to grow and create more velo.”
Even at present, Lopez has all the tools and then some to succeed as a starter at the MLB level and his phenomenal month of June as well as his solid start in AAA (3.27 ERA in his first two starts) prove that. Pencil this strike thrower who trades nasty whiffs for quick weak contact outs in to make his Marlins debut sometime in the second half of this season.
Prior to struggling with injuries that kept him out of action for much of 2014 and all of 2017, Austin James Dean is turning in a tour-de-force performance for the Marlins organization as he heads toward making his mark upon the professional ranks.
Dean was born on October 14, 1993 in Spring, Texas where he attended Klein Collins High School. Following in the footsteps of David Murphy and Josh Barfeild, Dean earned underclass honors in both 2010 and 2011. In his senior year, Dean hit .379 with 10 doubles, 12 homers and 44 RBI on his way to a 2nd team All American selection where he joined the likes of Oakland A’s #9 prospect James Kaprielian and St Louis Cardinals and Tate Matheny, a Red Sox prospect who was a .408/.338/.408 hitter at the A level last year and who is off to a .304/.411/.342 start in AA this season.
Following his breakout 2015 season, Dean signed with the Marlins who selected him in the fourth round, a spot which earned the 18-year-old a $379,000 paycheck. Upon putting pen to paper on his first professional contract, it started Dean down a path of stark maturation both as a player and as a man, quite the set of tasks for a newly anointed adult. Though he admits that the first year was tough as he adjusted to the shock of both living independently and the level of competition, by keeping his family as close as possible and by feeding off the advice of his elders, Dean has been able to conquer both challenges, turning a wide-eyed kid with a dream into a focused man with a plan.
“Being a high schooler in pro ball was a big wake-up call. You go from being the best player on your high school team, to going and playing with everyone who is just as good or even better then you. My first year in pro ball was definitely life changing. Being away from home, and being away from your family is tough. But ever since then it’s been a growing up thing,” Dean explains. “You learn how to take care of yourself and be an adult while your playing. I’ve definitely matured a lot since 2012 when I got drafted. On the baseball side, I’ve come across many of different coaches and players, and you tend to pick things as you go and learn different things from them. I’ve learned a lot of thing over the past 6 years, and I have think that’s helped me as a player.”
According to Dean, there have been many supporters and proponents that are responsible for getting him to where he is today. However, one person’s encouragement and advice has catalytically stood above all the rest.
“My dad. He’s always been supportive of my baseball career and he will always be my number 1 fan,” Dean said. “His biggest thing he loves telling me is, “You don’t want to be doing my job, sitting behind a desk and dealing with people all day.” I always laughed at it, but he was right. I love baseball and I am very blessed to be playing this game, continuing to chase my dreams of making it up to the big leagues.”
Dean’s path to the realization of that dream hasn’t come without some bumps in the road.
After getting his feet wet in the GCL at the end of his draft year, Dean began his pro career by hitting .268/.328/.418 for the 2013 Muckdogs, totals which included the second best SLG on the team and 15th in the New York Penn League. The numbers which were paved by his 12 doubles and seven triples which were the most in the NYPL earned Dean a look in Greensboro to end that season.
In 2014, Dean began the year in Greensboro and was tasked with the most extensive action of his young baseball career. Though Dean’s body would falter under the pressure, his drive, grind, resolve and fantastic baseball skill set remained strong. Dean began that season by hitting .288/.343/.403, earning a nod in the 2014 South Atlantic League All-Star Game.
However, just before the break, Dean hit the DL for the first time with a right hand injury he suffered during a slide. After spending more than two weeks off the field completely, things went from bad to worse for Dean during his rehab stint in extended spring training when he suffered a nasal fracture after being hit by a pitch. But none of that hindered Dean. Showing the poise of a veteran well beyond his years let alone a 20-year-old playing in his first full season, Dean returned in early July. That month, he had one of the better months by a Greensboro player in recent memory, hitting .377/.459/.500 before he went down with injury again in early August due to a groin strain. As frustrating as this may seem, Dean once again returned undeterred, swatting six more XBHs in his final 14 games and rounding out a fantastic .308/.371/.444, 33 XBH, 72/38, 128 wRC+ season. His SLG stood at 15th best as did his wRC+, his BA was 9th best and his 24.7% line drive percentage was third best in his league. Quite the breakout season from a kid nearly a year and a half younger than the league average competition grinding through the most extensive single season action of his career.
After Dean was promoted to Jupiter and the Florida State League in 2015 where he was equally as advertised as he showed a season previous when not playing in the extremely pitcher-friendly Roger Dean Stadium (.289/.337/.410 on the road versus .244/.298/.317 at home) and after Dean tore up the Arizona Fall League by hitting .323/.364/.452 against some of the top young talent in baseball that offseason, he began 2016 in AA Jacksonville marking a third straight season he’d received a promotion. That year, Dean had a solid first half hitting .261/.345/.426 with a 53/32 K/BB over his first 68 games but seemed to be pressing a bit at the plate in the second half when he hit just .212/.262/.320 with a 57/16 K/BB. Overall, Dean hit .238/.307/.375, setting him up to repeat a level for the first time in his career in 2017.
At this very untimely moment, when Dean was working on adjusting to hitting consistently at the upper levels where scouting reports and number crunching are utilized much more, Dean would once again be bitten by the injury bug. Just seven games into the season, he broke his right hand in an outfield collision with Yefri Perez. The injury would cost Dean nearly three full months.
It’s been 8 weeks since I broke my hand, and I finally got see live pitching for the first time 🙌🏻🙌🏻.
— Austin Dean (@AustinDean_3) June 2, 2017
However, Dean once again refused to succumb to the ailment. After a short stint in the GCL in which he went 7-13 in three games, Dean returned to the Jumbo Shrimp on July 3. He lived out the rest of the 2017 season by hitting .283/.325/.415, more than impressive numbers given the timing of his injury and the amount of time missed at such a disadvantageous time in his development.
So how was Dean once again able to overcome the damage to both his body and psyche during this difficult time? Despite the distance between them, Dean says the biggest impetus during the entire process was the same one that has been throughout his baseball career: his family.
“My parents last year were a big help. We’d talk every day or try to and obviously this was something new to me not being able to play,” Dean said. “They kept me motivated, and they were very supportive as well, and I probably couldn’t have done it with out them.”
This season in Jacksonville, a 100% Dean is paying homage to his support system by being the best hitter in the entire Marlins’ organization. Through his first 22 games this season facing the same level of competition that gave him fits in the second half of 2016, Dean has been on fire. In fact, Dean’s bat has been so hot it’s made history. In his first 81 ABs, Dean has hit a ludicrous .420/.466/.654 with three homers, eight doubles, a triple and 14 RBI. His slash line marks the best offensive April in the Southern League since 2005 when Matt Murton hit .437/.505/.621. To put it another way, Dean just had the league’s best offensive month of April in over a decade. By way of a ridiculous 92% contact rate, Dean hit in 16 of 22 games and reached base in 18 of 22 including 17 of 18 to begin the season. His monthly success has been met with a promotion to AAA New Orleans to begin May.
After simplifying his stance and approach in his rookie season, Dean, a 6’1”, 190 pounder, has learned how to fill some holes in his swing and come by power with ease. This month with the Shrimp, Dean has also shown much improved patience, a greater ability to take close pitches, foul off tough pitches (proven by his 0.86 BB/K) and wait for his inside pitch in order to feed off his pull-happy instincts. He’s also shown a better feel for getting his hands extended to pitches on the outer half, either taking them to his pull side via his great raw strength or in the very least, making contact, limiting his K rate. The catalyst for this has been a shortened approach and heightened bat speed. Older and wiser, Dean has learned how to settle for what is given to him. He isn’t pressing and simply allowing his raw skill to drive his game. Smooth, fluid and effortless at the plate, the numbers are coming naturally to Dean, a fantastic sign. The only thing that was consistently missing from Dean’s game in April was the ability to lean in to pitches and go the other way (24% opposite field hit percentage). But so far in AAA (small sample aside), Dean has rectified that issue and for the first time in his career, is actually favoring his opposite field (47.6% opposite field hit percentage). If Dean continues to show these same contact rates and plate coverage ability at the highest level of minor league ball, there isn’t going to be much left for him to prove below the Major League level and if the stats persist, the organization isn’t going to be able to hold him back much longer.
After all of his trials and tribulations, Dean, who holds the ceiling of a familiar friend of ours Jeff Conine (career .285/.347/.443, 17 HR 162 game average), is on the verge of his Major League call.
His parents probably already have their plane tickets.
Ben Meyer: A Golden Gopher with a golden arm and a golden future. The Minnesota alum spent the past 30 days continuing to prove himself worthy of those titles, tossing to a 1.01 ERA via a 0.79 WHIP and in so doing, earned himself another accolade: Fish On The Farm’s July Prospect Of The Month.
35.2 IP, 1.01 ERA, 0.79 WHIP
100.1 IP, 2.06 ERA, 0.94 WHIP
39/3 K/BB, 10.0 K/9, 0.75 BB/9
121/21 K/BB, 10.9 K/9, 1.88 BB/9
.188 BAA, .266 BABIP, 73.3 LOB%
.204 BAA, .298 BABIP, 76.8 LOB%
Benjamin K. Meyer was born on January 30, 1993 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In his high school days at Totino-Grace, Meyer lettered in both baseball and basketball but upon his graduation, Ben, who comes from very athletic bloodlines, followed in his father’s footsteps rather than his twin siblings and gave up the court in favor of the mound. In 2012, he became a second generation University of Minnesota pitcher proceeding his dad, Bob and by so doing, made a childhood dream reality.
“I wanted to do the same [as my dad] ever since I was younger,” Meyer said regarding toeing the rubber for the Golden Gophers.
Although he became a quality basketball player late in his amateur career, Meyer says he didn’t fully acquire the physical size for it until his high school tenure was finished which made him focus more on and gain more of a passion for baseball.
“I was a late grower, so I was better at baseball at a young age,” Meyer said. “I wasn’t done growing until my freshman year of college, so my basketball skills developed later in my high school career.”
Even though his basketball days are behind him now, Meyer credits his time on the hardwood to his ability to adjust to his body, remain well conditioned and most importantly for him, keep baseball fresh and exciting.
“I think it’s important for kids not to specialize in one sport too early to keep from burning out,” Meyer said. “Basketball helped me become a better all around athlete which correlates to success on the mound.”
Focusing solely on baseball, Meyer quickly became the anchor of the Golden Gophers’ bullpen, holding down a 2.37 ERA via a 1.08 WHIP in his first 38 collegiate innings. This all came after he dropped two subpar offerings from his arsenal and rapidly developed two brand new pitches that backed up his low 90s cut fastball more advantageously. Meyer credits his Minnesota coaches for immediately turning him in to an effective collegiate arm and for starting him down the road to becoming a professional rotational arm.
“When I got to college I switched out my splitter and curveball for a changeup and slider,” Meyer said. “I worked a lot with my college pitching coach to improve their consistency and make them look more like my fastball out of the hand to keep hitters off balance. I’ve also found a bigger need for the changeup at the pro level as hitters bat speed is quicker.”
In his sophomore year, Meyer began the transition to the rotation, playing in 15 games and starting eight, doubling up his inning count from the year previous. The increased workload showed a bit as his WHIP rose .2 points and he gave up 2 more hits per nine than the year previous but he still held his ERA under 3 (2.80), improved his BB/9 by .45 points, tossed two eight inning shutouts and one complete game shutout, proving he belonged in the rotation.
The Golden Gophers staff took notice of Meyer’s overall successful tenure as a starter and made him one full time in his junior year. Despite taking on an even bigger workload and putting by far the most stress on his arm he ever has, tossing in his conference’s third most innings (98), Meyer placed sixth in the Big 10 in ERA (2.39), 12th in WHIP (1.13) and fifth in strikeouts (67). His K total combated the only area where the high inning total showed any effect on him, his heightened but still respectable walk rate (2.57). That career high BB/9 was completely offset by his career low 7.62 H/9.
After starting the Big 10’s second most games in his junior season, Meyer once again proved his durability by tossing in 14 more in his senior year. However, that same season and his draft year, Meyer’s stats became the victim of circumstance when the Big 10 modified their official baseball in an attempt to increase offensive production. Although his great control persisted (7.29 K/9, 2.46 BB/9), the result for Meyer was a 4.31 ERA by way of a H/9 over 9 and a HR/9 over 1.00, causing his draft stock to plummet. In hindsight though, Meyer says the change was an advantageous for him in that it allowed him to hurdle over some common struggles for young professionals at an earlier age.
“My last year of college they lowered the seams on the baseball. This made it more similar to a minor league baseball, which was a good transition for me,” Meyer said. “It taught me to pitch more effectively down in the zone and forced me to mix my pitches a little more.”
Meyer admits he sweated through the draft process as he watched the rounds pass him by, hoping to not have a bad case of deja vu from the year previous when he was not selected. His relief came on the final day in round 29 of 40 when he got his call from Stan Meek and the Marlins.
“The last day of the draft was definitely the longest day of my life as well as one of the most exciting, especially after I didn’t get drafted after my junior year of college.” Meyer said. “I was just hoping for an opportunity and was very grateful when the Marlins called saying they were going to take me.”
After seven innings in the GCL and five in Greensboro, Meyer lived out the rest of 2015 in Jupiter pitching against competition a year and a half older than him. That fact along with the wear on the 22-year-old’s arm (he racked up a total of 120 innings pitched, by far a career high), led to a 1.54 WHIP via a 9.13 H/9 and 11.7 BB% but thanks to a 76% LOB%, Meyer was able to hold down a 3.18 ERA, which was very respectable when all things are considered. His overall successful cup of coffee with Jupiter that year planted a good seed within the organization as he found himself just outside of its top 20 prospects.
Meyer lived out 2016 in Greensboro where he began his transition to starting as a pro. It was a bit of a learning curve for Meyer as he went 0-8 in 10 starts with a 4.23 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. He was much more effective out of the pen. Throwing in eight more innings as a reliever as opposed to a starter, he held down an ERA a full point lower (3.10), walked one less (10 vs 11) and striking out nearly twice as many (60 vs 34). However, Marlins didn’t give up on the prospect of one day seeing Meyer in their big league rotation. After beginning the year regaining his confidence tossing out of the Grasshoppers’ bullpen where he held down a 2.15 ERA and 0.95 WHIP, the Marlins brought Meyer back to A+. There, Meyer has started 10 of his 16 games appeared in and rewarded the confidence the organization has shown in his ability by producing a 2.03 ERA by way of a 0.93 WHIP, marks which rank second and first in the Florida State League among qualified players (>70 IP). Within that same group, Meyer’s 28.7 K% and 23.4 K/BB% each rank second. Even though he divulges that all of the moving around between the rotation and bullpen was a bit tedious, taxing on his body and wracking on his nerves, Meyer, ever the “big picture” guy, says the experience was a major catalyst in making him the pitcher he is today, able to pitch in any circumstance, understanding the mind of a hitter and mastering the art of pitch selection and location.
“Moving to the bullpen after college was a big transition for me because I was only in the bullpen for my freshman year of college. I had to learn how to warm up quicker, and come into the game with a different mentality,” Meyer said. “When I moved back into the rotation in 2016, the biggest adjustment for me was learning to throw on a 5 day rotation vs the college 7 day. It took some time to get my body to bounce back quicker. This year, my velocity has been up a little bit, which has helped, and my slider has been more consistent than it was last year. I have had more confidence in my slider to throw in more situations and keep hitters off balance.”
The impetus behind Meyer being allowed to experience all the things he has, learn from them and grow so quickly has been excellent health. In his entire baseball career, even though the stress on his body has doubled and sometimes even tripled, Meyer has never made a trip to the disabled list and has never been out of action for more than a few days. In addition to his overall fantastic athletic background imparted on him at birth and fully realized very early in his amateur career, Meyer attributes his good health to good fortune, staying active every day, and to the medical regimen assigned to him by the attentive Marlins’ medical staff.
“I have been very fortunate to stay healthy over the years,” Meyer said. “The Marlins have a great arm care program that I follow between starts, as well as running every day and staying on top of our strength program has helped keep my body and arm healthy.”
The fact that Meyer once succeeded as a basketball player is evident as he stares down his opposition from his towering 6’5″, 180 build. Meyer maintains his height advantage over hitters as he winds up from a straight up-and-down stance but creates deception as he planes his pitches in downhill. Viewing the strike zone from a birds eye, overhead angle, Meyer commands it wonderfully with all of his pitches, something he has done his entire career, something which he is very satisfied with and the basis of his confidence as a hurler. He plans to ride that confidence to the upper levels of the minors and beyond.
“I have always prided myself on my command of 3 pitches and ability to work ahead in the count. I would rather give up a hit than walk somebody and give them a free base,” Meyer said. “It’s definitely tougher as the competition gets better as the strike zone shrinks, and hitters get better eyes, but it comes down to trusting my stuff and preparation.”
Meyer will rarely touch any higher than 94 MPH with the fastball but his plus plus secondaries both of which he created in college and has established during his great minor league run more than make up for it. He throws all three of his pitches with the same arm speed which adds to his nearly impossible to pick up motion and mixes them beautifully which makes him nearly impossible to time or wait out. As a result, Meyer works quick tidy innings and limits pitches. Six of his 10 starts, including four in a row in July, have been quality outings. Meyer’s best pitch is his go-to slider which sits in the 82 MPH range, has hard bite and which he likes to run in on the hands of guys inducing plenty of whiffs. He will also bury it in favorable counts and due to the late break, get guys fishing. The Meyer changeup sits in the 86 MPH range. Due to its good depth and his shortened stride to the plate, it is one of the more deceptive pitches in the Marlins’ system right now. As with all of his pitches, Meyer will throw it in any count but he shows an affinity for pitching off of it. The change sets up Meyer’s “show me” fastball, a 9o-94 MPH offering which he can run to either corner and which he likes to put in the eyes of hitters in two strike counts. In most cases, a three pitch arsenal isn’t translatable to Major League rotational success but in the case of Meyer, who throws all three pitches interchangeably with similar arm speed and great control and command, he should be able to succeed with it. If not, judging by how quickly he established two brand new pitches, he has the ability to quickly re-develop and fall back on the split change and 11-6 curve that he threw as a high schooler.
A battle tested thinking man’s thrower, Meyer sets up as a 4-5 inning eating rotational option and floor bullpen anchor in that same capacity. With similar success in the upper minors which he stands to break into soon, the 24-year-old should be fast-tracked to his MLB debut, realizing not only his dream but fulfilling a family legacy. But for now, Meyer, as per usual, as staying level headed and letting the process work itself out.
“Playing in the big leagues would obviously be a lifelong dream of mine. I’ve put in a lot of hard work, and still have a ways to go, so I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself,” Meyer said. “I’m just trying to stay day to day and get better each outing.”
Meyer should make the jump to AA next season.
Adjustment and perseverance. If there are two words that sum up the career of Chris Mazza, these are them. Despite having to adjust to pitching after spending most of his amateur career as a shortstop and although he had to persevere through some difficult mental and physical circumstances including ignoring his doubters and naysayers, coming back from a serious injury and being released by his first team which nearly forced him to contemplate life after baseball, Mazza did it. He overcame. Today, he is one of the best starting pitchers in the Southern League, on the verge of realizing his Major League dream. The latest of his fantastic exports this season is a month of June in which, despite some more rough luck proven by a .322 BABIP, he limited damage, stranding 83% of his runners and holding down a 1.04 ERA lowering his seasonal ERA to 2.71 sixth best in his league. Mazza’s June not only continued to prove his ability to pitch effectively but proved once again his ability to rise above. For those reasons, he is our June Prospect Of The Month.
26 IP, 1.04 ERA, 1.46 WHIP
79.2 IP, 2.71 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
14/10 K/BB, 3.5 K/BB%
51/23 K/BB, 8.5 K/BB%
.277 BAA, .322 BABIP, 82.5% LOB%
250 BAA, .287 BABIP, 76% LOB%
Chris Mazza was born on October 17, 1989 in the San Francisco area as not-so-distant relative to Joe DiMaggio. He has wanted to follow in the Hall Of Famer’s footsteps ever since he could pick up a baseball.
“He was my grandmother’s cousin,” Mazza said. “I’ve wanted to play since I was 6 years old.”
Mazza attended high school at Clayton Valley High in nearby Concord where he barely reached a nonathletic 5’6″, 120 pounds and struggled statistically, hitting just .238/.322/.266 in his junior and senior years, causing him to go recruited. So Mazza took his talents to nearby Menlo Oaks College where he spruced (pun intended) up and began realizing his true potential. After making the team in tryouts his freshman year, Mazza became the college’s all time leader in home runs and triples. In his junior year, Mazza would usually start games at his normal shortstop but would be called upon to pitch in save situations. Doing so, he posted a team low 2.37 ERA, and 19 saves, another school record thus making him a prominent fixture in Menlo’s first ever Conference Title run. Following his success leading both the offense and defense that year, Mazza, for the first time ever, garnered the attention and selection of clubs at a variety of levels, including prestigious collegiate schools, independent ball and affiliated ball. One of those clubs was the Minnesota Twins who drafted Mazza as a pitcher in the 27th round of that year’s MLB Draft. Although a mixture of flattered, excited and nervous, was faced with what he describes as a very difficult decision in terms of where to and how to continue his baseball career. But with a bit of guidance and some motivation provided by his Menlo squad mates, Mazza chose to accept the Twins’ offer.
“It was a really tough decision to make because we had just won our league and made it to the conference tournament for the first time in school history. It was also tough because I had teams that looked at me to play shortstop and that’s really what I wanted to do because wasn’t 100% ready to give up playing shortstop and becoming a pitcher only,” Mazza said. “But after having a long talk with teammates, my high school coach Bob Rolsten who played in the Twins organization, and my dad, we came to the decision that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and that I didn’t really have anything else to prove in college ball. Also my college teammates said they would kick my butt if I came back for my senior year.”
Mazza broke into his pro career with the rookie ball GCL Twins and Elizabethtown Twins. Even though the numbers looked great over his 18 appearances in his rookie season, (30.2 IP, 2.05 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 28/2 K/BB), Mazza attributes that success to throwing to a similar level of hitters as those he faced in college who were also just beginning to get acclimated to using wood bats. He divulges that despite the solid numbers, he really didn’t have a full understanding of what he was doing on the mound.
“The biggest adjustment for me was learning how to pitch. When I got to pro ball, I didn’t really know how to actually pitch,” Mazza said. “In college, I just got on the mound and threw as hard as could. And when you throw in the mid 90’s in college, you get away with a lot things.”
Here Mazza was, virtually a brand new pitcher who was simply taking the mound and putting the stress of throwing as hard as he can with every pitch on his arm with underdeveloped mechanics. Accordingly, just seven starts into his 2013 season, his arm blew out. Despite every effort to avoid surgery, Mazza eventually went under the knife. It cost him more than an entire season’s worth of playing experience.
“I went on the DL because of an issue with my ulnar nerve. The nerve was popping in and out of the groove every time I would throw cause my arm to go numb. It was like getting hit in the funny bone every time I threw,” Mazza described. “At first, we just tried resting it for about four weeks of no throwing. I was in a brace where I could bend my elbow. After that, I started up a throwing program to build my arm up. About three weeks into the throwing program, my arm started going numb again because of the nerve. About a week later, I had to fly up to Minnesota and have surgery to move my nerve. They call it an ulnar nerve transposition. So I ended up missing the rest of the season.”
Upon returning to the mound on May 26, 2014, Mazza went on to play the best ball of his career. In 25 appearances out of the Cedar Rapids’ bullpen, he held down a 2.79 ERA via some of the best control numbers in the league. Striking out 62 and walking just 11, his 25.5 K/BB% ranked 4th in the Midwest League. He also had the second lowest FIP in the league (1.93). However, much like his rookie season, a lot of Mazza’s success would come at another hefty price. Unbeknownst to Mazza, he threw the final two and a half months of that season with a broken right wrist.
“I fell up the stairs one night during a power outage and broke my scaphoid bone between my hand and wrist on my throwing arm. At first I didn’t even know it was broken. I thought I just jammed my wrist really bad because I could still move it. So I didn’t throw for five days then when I started playing it hurt a little bit but not enough for me to say that I can’t throw. Plus when I would actually pitch it didn’t hurt at all.”
Then, that offseason, things came another very unfortunate head.
“During the offseason, it was still bugging me a little bit until I was working with my dad and I went to hand him up a pile of bricks and my wrist bent back I just collapsed in pain,” Mazza said. “So this whole time from when I fell in July to me handing up my dad some bricks I couldn’t do a push-up or anything that caused my wrist to bend back because it hurt. But since it didn’t hurt to throw a baseball I didn’t think anything of it.”
A few days later, Mazza found himself back in another waiting room with the prospect of once again being absent from baseball for a lengthy period of time very real, if not a forgone conclusion. The diagnosis and treatment curtailed exactly that.
“I finally went a got my wrist looked at and got an MRI and the doctor said I had a broken scaphoid nonunion in my right hand. He told me he doesn’t know how I was even able to throw a baseball. I just said I’ve always had a high pain tolerance which in this case isn’t always a good thing,” Mazza said. “I had surgery in November of 2014 and they had to put a screw in my scaphoid bone to fuse the bones back together. So I had to be in a cast for 6 months because of course the scaphoid bone is the worst bone to break in your entire body because it only has two little veins blood supply so the healing process takes longer.”
Almost eleven months from when he was last permitted to pick up a baseball, Mazza finally did so again on July 3, 2015, beginning a rehab assignment with the GCL Twins. After five appearances there, Mazza was ready to return to Cedar Rapids, to get back on the horse. However, after just two outings back in single A, he was knocked back off said horse once again when the Twins. Being forced off the mound once again after he had just returned from a second hiatus was admittedly a tough pill for Mazza to swallow, especially after the promise he showed when he was healthy (and sometimes even when he wasn’t 100% healthy) but the close relationships he built within the organization including the one he had with his head coach helped keep Mazza afloat in a deep sea of adversity.
“When he called me in to his office I had a pretty good idea was getting released,” Mazza said. “One thing that helped was Jake Mauer who was my manager for three years in the Twins’ organization. Being with Jake for three years, we got to know each other really well and became pretty close. So hearing get choked up as he’s telling me he has to release me because they simply don’t have a spot for me kept positive that this wasn’t the end of my baseball career.”
Mauer had that same confience that he hadn’t seen the last of Chris Mazza and vowed to put in some calls to some independent league teams that he had connections with. But before those calls came to fruition, Mazza got a call of his own.
“About a week later, me and my brother are out golfing and we are on the 14th green getting ready to putt and my phone rings and when I answer it Brett West is on the other end and tells me that the Marlins want to sign me as a free agent,” Mazza recalls perfectly. “I was so excited. I was getting a second chance.”
Mazza, who was able to stay professional through two lengthy injuries, the disappointment of being cut and through one of the best and most relieving phone calls he’s ever received hung up the phone. From there, the emotion poured out of him and created a scene that must have resembled one from Happy Gilmore.
“When I got off the phone I told my brother and he started screaming,” Mazza said. “We were jumping around looking like two idiots out on the golf course.”
After Mazza signed his minor league deal on August 4, 2015 he headed to Jupiter to begin his Marlins’ career as a Hammerhead. After he finished out that season by tossing to the tune of a 3.60 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP over 15 innings and following another 15 innings worth of 1.09 ERA, 0.93 WHIP ball to begin 2016, the Marlins would present Mazza with the biggest challenge of his career: transitioning to the rotation and adjusting to life as a starting pitcher.
“As I got to about my seventh start is really when I felt the number of innings start to catch up to me and wear my body down. At the time I was just doing the same body maintenance that I did as when I was a reliever. So I just I just had to start doing more, whether it was running more, getting more physical therapy or extra work in the gym,” Mazza said. “It was tough because my body wasn’t ready for that extra work load. Unfortunately it led to inconsistency the last month and a half of the season. It was a definitely a learning curve but helped me prepare for the offseason. It gave me an idea on how much more I had to get my arm and body in shape so I can take on the innings of a starter.”
Although he was still relying on the same stuff he used as a reliever, Mazza admits it was tricky having to face hitters more than once and thus having to learn how to select pitches advantageously as he got into more deep counts. However, with some help from his battery mates, he was able to conquer that feat.
“Things really didn’t change much on my approach to attacking hitters that year. I was only a three pitch pitcher so I still went after hitters the same way,” Mazza said. “The biggest thing was not to get stuck in the pitch sequences but I had a lot of help from my catchers with that.”
As much as Mazza learned from himself and his teammates that year, the best piece of advice he got came from Hammerheads’ pitching coach Joe Coleman in spring training. It was then Coleman noticed a hitch in Mazza’s game that the Twins never did, an issue that when fixed, would allow Mazza to become a much more effective hurler and will allow him to succeed at the next level. The issue lay in the amount of effort Mazza put behind each pitch, sometimes throwing the ball as hard as he could trying to blow hitters away and the other painting corners and trying to induce weak contact. Coleman informed Mazza that whichever brand of pitcher he wanted to be, a max effort late relief type or a more methodical innings eating back end starter, was acceptable but he could no longer be both at the same time.
“Joe sat me down and asked me what kind of pitcher do I wanna be. He said after my first couple outings in spring training it looked like I was trying to be two different kind of pitchers at the same time. The first was the pitcher that want to throw the ball past guys and the being the pitcher that wants to sink the ball and get ground balls,” Mazza said. “He told me yeah, I have a plus plus sinker but when I try to throw the ball past guys, it stays straight and doesn’t sink. He said if you want to be a guy that throws past guys, that’s fine and if I wanted to be a guy that sinks the ball. that’s fine too. We just need to pick the guy that you want to be so can have a plan when you are on the mound. Then told me with a sinker like mine, he felt like I would be more successful and have a better chance of getting to the big leagues. So the next day I went up to him and told him that I wanted to be a guy that sinks the ball and ever since then, my career has been going in a positive direction.”
Following his transitional year in 2016, via the assistance of Coleman and his most extensive year of uninterrupted on field experience, Mazza entered the 2016 offseason with a firm grasp on being part of the rotation as well as his own identity as a pitcher. With that knowledge, he dedicated the next six months to one thing: truly becoming a starting pitcher.
“I went in to the offseason last year telling myself that I’m going to get in shape to be a starter. I worked really hard on developing a change-up because it’s just a pitch that you need to have as starter. Even though I’m most really on my sinker and cutter I can throw my change-up a few times a game to keep hitters honest.” Mazza said. “I also need to thank my strength coach Rob and trainer Cesar who have kept me in shape and kept up with physical therapy to make sure I’m healthy and ready to go.”
Coleman’s ability to recognize and fix Mazza’s issue in trying to throw two different styles from pitch to pitch during spring training in 2015 and Mazza’s own drive and extra work put in that offseason had him well on his way to becoming an effective starter. But he still had some work to do mechanically and mentally. That’s where Jacksonville pitching coach Storm Davis’ expertise has come into play.
“I’ve been more consistent in my delivery and being able to make the adjustment when I get out of wack one or two pitches rather then it taking me two or three batters to get back to where I need to be. And that’s all because of Storm Davis,” Mazza said. “Whether it’s looking at film, fixing my arm slot, seeing how hitters are reacting to certain pictures I throw during the game or talking about pitch selection. And when we make a mistake, asking why did we make that mistake and how do we change our approach so we don’t make that mistake again and so much more. He’s really helped me mature as a pitcher.”
Through all of Mazza’s trials and tribulations whether it be going unrecruited, suffering two major injuries early in his career, being released after he finally began to enjoy some success and so many more factors that would have made a lesser man throw in the towel, Mazza is finally a near finished product this year. The exports of that finished product speak for themselves: a 3.01 ERA that ranks 12th in the Southern League, a 1.29 WHIP that ranks 17th, a 7.0% walk rate than ranks 15th and a 75% LOB% that ranks 13th. All of this has been made possible by a very balanced arsenal which includes his bread-and-butter groundball 90 MPH sinker, a 92 MPH cut fastball that he can ramp up to 94 and which he will throw interchangeably with the sink peice to keep hitters guessing, an 84-86 MPH changeup that is emerging as the secondary pitch Mazza has the best feel for despite his learning how to throw it this past winter and a slider that has lessened to a mix-in offering since his surgery but which he will still bury for strikes in pitcher’s counts.
Much like the way he has approached his baseball career, Mazza won’t shy away from any challenge. He is an in-your-face style pitcher who won’t pick at corners but instead comes right after his opposition and dares them to beat him. He can get in trouble doing so at times, giving up baserunners, proven by his 8.5 hits per 9 innings but his ability to keep the ball down almost exclusively and induce groundballs keeps runs off the board and his pitch counts in check. According to Mazza, that bulldog, win-above-all style mentality approach to pitching as well as every other aspect of his life is something that was inborne in him and has, above all else, been his biggest and best companion along the way. As long as he hasn’t let the beast run completely wild.
“I hate losing. I hate losing more than I like winning. I’ve always been that way. I don’t care if I’ve given up 10 runs, I want the ball in my hand and I’m not coming out off the game. Even though Storm has told me I gotta keep the bulldog on a leash at not let him run out of control,” Mazza said. “I’ve just always been super competitive ever since i was a little kid. It doesn’t matter if it’s baseball or tic-tac-toe; I’m going beat you. My mom gets mad at me cause I don’t let my six year old nephew win when we play video games together.
With the Marlins on the verge of a firesale and Mazza continuing to turn in quality outings, he is on the verge of realizing his Major League dream and in so doing, beating all of those individuals, teams, schools and organizations who thought he would lose. For the 27-year-old and those who have been by his side since the start no matter what, his call to the big leagues will symbolize the biggest win of his life. Without having to actually speak a word, Mazza will tell a lot of people “I told you so.”
“It’s crazy to think about sometimes. I’ve had lot of people tell me I wasn’t able to play at the the next level and the started in high school. I got told I was too small or you good but you’re not good enough to play college ball. And when I got to college it was the same thing people would say, “Go to a Division III school, you can’t play pro ball.””, Mazza said. “I just always had that chip on my shoulder to prove people wrong.”
Attention all naysayers and doubters: grab your foot and prepare to insert it into your own mouth. Chris Mazza is about to arrive.
Woah, it’s Nelly! Not only is it befittingly his Twitter handle, it’s the exact phrase the South Atlantic League, its scouts, the Marlins’ organization and anyone who follows it are exclaiming regarding James Nelson’s season to date. One look at the stats including his absolutely unprecedented month of May, it’s easy to see why.
Nelson was born on October 18, 1997 in Rex, GA and attended Redan High School in nearby Stone Mountain. Other than the budding Nelson, Redan is famous for producing MLB talents such as Wally Joyner and Brandon Phillips. As Nelson relates to, Redan is a place that is very proud of that past and their long-tenured heritage and Raiders players, including Nelson, coaches and parents quickly learn that. Rahter than just being part of for four years, they are part of a brotherhood forever.
“Baseball tradition at Redan is probably the best I’ve ever been a part of,” Nelson said. “It was all about winning and being a part of a family.”
After his graduation in 2015, Nelson was selected by the Red Sox in the 18th round of that year’s Draft. However, Nelson forwent signing with Boston to attend junior college in Cisco, Texas in an attempt to raise his draft stock.
“Going to Junior college was probably the biggest and best decision I could’ve made to be honest,” Nelson said. “I don’t think I got enough exposure in high school as far as seeing the pitchers I did.”
Despite his great high school tenure, Nelson only hit four total home runs in his junior and senior seasons. In his one year at Cisco, a bulked up Nelson hit 17. After going off the board 531st overall a year prior, some scouts had Nelson going off the board as early as round 12. The Marlins selected Nelson with the 443rd overall pick in round 15 thus making his decision to attend Cisco a success. This time, Nelson forwent the rest of his college career to sign a pro contract at the age of 19, another big choice and another one he and his family does not regret.
“Baseball is what I loved to do and I believed I was ready to take on the next level,” Nelson said. “My family was proud. Everyone thinks it was a great decision and I get all the support I need.”
Upon his arrival in the professional ranks last season, Nelson supported evidence that he was indeed ready to make the jump. In 43 games in the Gulf Coast League, he hit .284/.344/.364. His BA ranked 15th in the league and his OBP ranked 20th. Among his impressive countable stats were 24 RBI and a 7/3 SB/CS. Despite appearing at the plate just 162 times, the Marlins were impressed enough to promote Nelson to full season ball at the ripe age of 19, 2 1/2 years younger than the average Sally League player. After a bit of a feeling out process in his first eight games in April when he hit .207/.324/.345, Nelson absolutely exploded in May, responding and rewarding the Marlins’ vote of confidence by becoming one of the best hitters in the league and a sure-fire choice for the upcoming All-Star Game. His ridiculous month of May consisted of a .372/.425/.540 slash line along with 8 doubles, a triple, 3 homers, 17 RBI and a 5/1 SB/CS. Overall this season, Nelson’s .338 BA ranks third in the Sally, his .404 OBP ranks fourth and his .500 SLG ranks ninth. He ends the month of May riding a 17-game hitting streak.
So how has this teenager with just a year’s worth of college experience and 43 games worth of pro experience under his belt, responded so well to playing against the best competition that he ever has gone up against while being under the pressure and microscope that goes along with being regarded as the club’s 10th best prospect and how will he keep it up over the course of a 140 game season, three times as many games as he’s ever played in in a single year? Simple: he won’t change a thing and most importantly, he will not get too far ahead of himself. Because after all, whatever level you’re at and wherever you are or aren’t ranked within the organization, the game remains the same.
“It’s baseball, man. I’m just taking it day by day, making sure I’m staying healthy and staying on top of my game,” Nelson said. “I just take it one at bat at a time. If I don’t get it done one at bat, just get it done the next, and also keeping my routine I’ve been doing is a major deal as well. It’s all about playing baseball, it’s the same game, just with better competition. The biggest thing is focus, if you don’t focus you won’t succeed how you want to.”
If there was a knock on Nelson’s offensive game from his days in the GCL it was his production against lefties which he hit at just a .231/.286/.269 clip. This season, again, against much more advanced competition, he has remedied that by hitting southpaws at a .388/.492/.694 pace. Once again, Nelson credits what he believes is the end-all, be all, vision. After that, it has been his ability to stay inside the ball a lot more consistently that has made the difference.
“All about the focus,” Nelson said “From last year to this year, I think my middle-oppo approach has gotten a lot better and I am actually driving the ball to right field and I think that was a big advantage against lefties, especially this season”
Nelson has accomplished all of these offensive accolades over the past two years while also learning how to play a new position, third base, where the Marlins believe his growing frame, plus power and strong arm will be better suited in the long run. While learning the hot corner has been and will continue to be a process for Nelson, he doesn’t mind; as long as he’s on the diamond.
“I took the news [of the switch] great. If they see me playing there in the future then I’d be happy to be there,” Nelson said. “Any way I could help the team. I love shortstop, but as long as I am on the field, I’d play catcher.”
Nelson’s at-bats are a sight to behold. After the 6’2″ specimen stares down his opposition from a straight vertical stance, he times his swing with a front leg trigger that is less reminiscent of a batter and more so of a pitcher. From there, there’s only one word to describe him: explosive. Stretching his arms all the way back for as much power as possible while somehow maintaining extremely good balance and very rarely, if ever, falling off to either side of the plate, Nelson’s bat is barely recognizable as it whips through the zone with uppercut action. After exhibiting some of the best bat speed within the organization, he stays through the ball with two hands on the bat and two eyes down all the way and looks the ball off the barrel, keeping him from pulling off. Mechanically, everything looks close to perfect for the still-maturing Nelson, making him a near lock to become a 20+ home run hitter. While on base which Nelson has been a ton this season, he has more than above average speed, especially for a guy his size. Add to that the ability make great reads and you have the acumen of a 20+ base stealer. As a GCLer in 2015, he stole seven bags and was caught three times. In less games this year, he has already swiped five while being caught just once.
If there has been one consistently below-average area of Nelson’s offensive game throughout his career it’s been his ability to walk, common for any power-first hitter but not an area which Nelson is willing to go to the wolves. He has proven that by walking more in less ABs this season compared to last season and which he hopes to improve even further by advancing and utilizing his plate vision, no matter the situation.
“The biggest thing is not wasting at bats, bearing down and getting the job done with runners on or not,” Nelson said. “If they are gonna give me a walk, I gotta take it and not press.”
Nelson will be the first one to admit he is far from a finished product and he has work to do. However, the 19-year-old who will not even turn 20 for another two months, defines the word ‘athlete’, has a baseball IQ well beyond his years, and is already on the verge of a call-up to A+. With 20/20 club type talent, the ability to hit for both average and power and great fielding instincts, footwork and hands, he is a 5-tool type talent that could arrive in the majors as early as 2019. But for now, the extremely modest and level-headed Nelson ins’t worried about that.
“Baseball is a crazy sport man,” Nelson said. “I’m just trying to trust the process, so I’m just doing me.”
Keep doing you, James. If baseball is crazy, you’ve found the remedy.
Jupiter Hammerhead’s outfielder Stone Garrett came into 2017 as the sixth ranked prospect in the organization. But through 22 games, Garrett’s Jupiter teammate, fellow outfielder and owner of a similar surname has been the one playing up to that title. Introducing our April Prospect of the Month, Kyle Barrett.
Kyle Barrett, a Georgia native, was born August 4, 1993 and spent his college days in Wildcat blue at the University of Kentucky. There, he spent three seasons amassing a .324/.386/.391 slash line with an 8% walk rate and 21 steals in 34 tries, beginning to lay the foundation for the type of bat he is currently becoming. Playing in the same conference as current top MLB prospect Andrew Benentendi, in his junior year, Barrett finished seven spots underneath the league leading Benentendi in BA, hitting .354. He also appeared just inside the top 10 in his freshman year when he hit .349.
Following the 2015 collegiate season, Barrett entered the MLB Draft and was selected 446th overall in round 15 by the Marlins. He signed on June 19 of that year and took his talents to Batavia to begin his big league career. However, the excitement of being drafted and the prospect of making a quick first impression soon came to a grinding halt. In his fourth game with the Muckdogs, Barret broke his right hand, an injury that cost him the rest of the year. Going from the high of being drafted only to, after just 11 ABs, land on the DL for an extended period was an experience Barrett admits was very frustrating.
“I was pretty crushed,” Barrett said. “I worked so hard my whole life to get drafted and it happens and I start my career off on the wrong foot.”
Even though Barrett was able to return for the start of the 2016 season and although he made the jump to full season ball strictly on a confidence vote by the team, he still wasn’t completely over the injury. Despite rehabbing during the offseason, the strength in his dominant hand still hadn’t completely returned and it showed. In his first 22 games as a Grasshopper, Barrett went just 12-72 with a 17/6 K/BB. For Barrett, it was probably the lowest he’s been mentally in his baseball career.
“It really affected me that off season because I really wasn’t able to hit without being pain free,” Barrett said. “I got the opportunity to go to Greensboro that year and I really struggled at first because I was out of baseball for nine months.”
However, despite a disappointing start to his career that lasted 11 months and must’ve seemed like 11 years, the pure talent of the grinder Barrett finally prevailed. On May 29, he went 3-5 with a walk and scored two runs in a 6-2 Greensboro win. It began a stretch in which Barrett would reach via a hit in 55 of his last 79 2016 games, a stretch in which he went 88/282 (.312 BA).
“I finally got some mechanical things adjusted and the success and confidence came,” Barrett said.
After ending that season hitting .282/.333/.345, very respectable considering how the year started, Barrett got his second call up in as many years which was, all things considered, spectacular. This season with the Hammerheads, a 100% healthy Barrett has once again become the guy the Marlins drafted out of UK. Hitting at the top of the order, he has gotten on base in 20 of his 22 games and collected at least one hit in 19. He’s slashing .330/.376/.372 with a BA and an OBP that rank among the top 10 in the Florida State League. It may have taken him a little longer than he would have liked, but through determination and perseverance through adversity, Barrett has now fully arrived on the Minor League Baseball scene. Barrett was able to overcome the disappointing start to his career not only because of fantastic raw talent but also because of the understanding that in baseball, like any sport, it’s not about how the game knocks you down; it’s how long you let it keep you down that really counts.
“Baseball is full of ups and downs and how you overcome adversity,” Barrett said. “You can’t let one bad game from the day before affect the next game.”
Not only is Barrett’s bat exporting similar results to those he provided during his time at Kentucky, he is making them happen via the exact same approach and mechanics. Barrett and his coaches agree: if it isn’t broken, why fix it?
“My approach has stayed the same since I was in college so I’m really comfortable with it,” Barrett said.
Because of that comfort and the confidence he has in his game, Barrett is playing stress-free despite knowing that he is a few months of similar play away from a call-up to AA.
“There’s no pressure to keep hitting like this at all,” Barrett said. “I don’t look too much ahead on whether or not I’ll get called up; instead, I control what I can control and I make the most of it and don’t take anything for granted.”
During an average Kyle Barrett AB, there is rarely a strike that goes by without him getting at least some part of the bat on it. A stout 5’11”, 185, the lefty hitter minimizes an already small strike zone via an extremely quick snap swing which gives him the ability to wait out the break on pitches, select one he likes and drive it. At the very least, the result of a Barrett swing is almost always some sort of contact, even if it is just to foul off a tough pitch and the result of his ABs, nearly all of which last at least five pitches, either end with him on base or at the very least, with him inside of a pitcher and catcher’s heads, setting up his next chance. While most of Barrett’s hits go for base hits, he does have some hidden gap-to-gap power which allotted him 12 doubles in his final year in college and has already led to four two-baggers this season. As the 23-year-old completely reaches his ceiling, that number should increase.
On the base paths, Barrett exhibits great instincts on top of plus speed. Last year in Greensboro, he swiped 17 bags in 22 chances. This year, Barrett is already 5/7 in stolen base attempts. Barrett puts his plus jets to good use in the field as well where he makes good reads off the bat, runs good routes and exhibits an above average throwing arm.
With a swift singles first swing, some disguised strength, good speed and good outfield prowess, Barrett appears to be nurturing a skill set similar to Chris Coghlan and his personal hero, Brett Gardner. Excellent on-field play coupled with an outgoing personality and a sound head for the game make Barrett a great teammate and an extremely easy guy to root for. An all-around great athlete, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Barrett to reach the bigs by next season.
- * This is Kyle Barrett’s second time being named Prospect Of The Month.
The baseball world is very familiar with the exports of the Bad News Bears, a bumbling fictional team who just can’t seem to do much of anything right. This year, in reality, a very non-fictional Kyle Barrett, although being similarly named, somewhat thanks to a .342/.405/.474 month of July, has become the polar (pun intended) opposite and is proving himself to be one of the best players in the Marlins’ minor league system this season.
Andrew Kyle Barrett, who just celebrated his 23rd birthday on August 4th, is the Marlins’ 2015 fifth rounder out of Kentucky. Prior to his collegiate days, Barrett attended high school in Douglasville, GA. After playing basketball as a freshman, he hit .485 as a junior and as a senior he hit .564 with a combined six homers and collected two combined All-America team honors. The accolades kept coming upon his graduation to the Wildcats in 2013 when he lead his entire team in batting average (.349) and OBP (.407) in his freshman season on a team which also held current Marlins’ MiLBer J.T. Riddle. His BA also placed 12th in the entire SEC, a league which held the likes of top prospects Alex Bregman, Hunter Renfroe, and Tony Kemp. After finishing that season reaching base in 19 straight games (which attributed to him reaching safely in a total of 34 of his 38 games), Barrett earned a spot playing alongside the aforementioned Bregman on the All-SEC Freshman Team. In 2014, Barrett ran his total of games reached safely in to 35 as he reached in 16 straight, all via a hit to open his sophomore year. On the whole that year, he took a bit of a step back numbers wise as the sophomore slump bit him and spelled out a .253/.354/.312 slash line. However, Barrett came back with a vengeance in summer league play in the Cape Cod league, hitting .317/.354/.358 with the Harwich Mariners. His BA ranked third on his team as did his 10 stolen bases. As the 11th best for-average bat in the league, he earned a spot in the Cape’s All-Star Game. Barrett rode that momentum in to his junior year where he enjoyed his best season to date, placing second on the team in BA (.354), third in OBP (.394) and third in slugging (.443). He showed off his blazing speed on the regular, stretching would-be singles into doubles and doubles into triples. He also added seven steals in 11 attempts. His BA ranked second on the Wildcats, his OBP and SLG both third.
With a career .324/.386/.391 slash line in college along with a 57% stolen base success rate, great defense, and plus speed on top of two great seasons in the summer leagues, Barrett attracted attention as early as the 10th round of the 2015 draft. He fell to the 15th round where the Marlins drafted him 446th overall. Minus four games with the Muckdogs at the end of 2015, Barrett is getting his first taste of pro ball this year with the Grasshoppers. And my, what a tasty morsel it is. After getting his feet wet with a .182/.243/.212 April and a .260/.309/.260 May, Barrett exploded onto the scene in June when he hit .337/.352/.372. Things only got better for the stout left hander in July when he hit .342/.405/.474. Over that two month span he reached in 32 of his 45 games via a hit and in 36 of 45 overall, spelling a .377 OBP mostly out of the lead-off spot. Over that span, his yearly BA rose from .230 to .302. He also added seven total steals in nine attempts.
Standing at a petite 5’11” and weighing just 185, Barrett cuts down on his strike zone by getting low in his straight away stance. His light load, good bat speed and slappy singles bat have allowed him to enjoy a more than decent contact rate and an ability to still barrell up balls despite committing to a swing late into the pitch, a great sign for a future leadoff man. On the contrary, Barrett is a bit too of an aggressive bat early in the count as he looks to barrell up fastballs which often leads to him failing to maintain his soft hands and instead trying to do too much and lose his balance. This is what has led to his heightened K/BB for all of his career so far. If he hopes to succeed as a top of the order man, Barrett will need to be a bit more patient early in ABs and learn to go with breaking pitches as well as he does on heaters. If he can do that, the level-headed speedy baserunner and overall heady player who isn’t afraid to take advantage of what the defense gives him as he is always a candidate to squeeze a bunt down successfully for a hit if the infield plays back and reach thanks to his plus jets, most definitely has a future as a top of the order catalyst.
On the common occasion that Barrett, who once ran a 6.77 60 yard dash, reaches base, he is a threat to steal every time. He utilizes that speed in the outfield well by making good straight reads and covering all the ground necessary and then some. He finishes off his five-tool skill set by possessing a plus arm which can make on-line throws from all three positions, though his best suited position is probably center.
With a great makeup already in a very immature career, if Barrett, who just turned 23, can receive some nurturing regarding his approach early in counts, he has more than a potential future as a fire starter in the upper levels of the minors and further. I will be watching him closely as his career progresses.