Category: Season Previews

Batavia Muckdogs 2018 (Rest Of) Season Preview

Baseball in Batavia has lasted the test of time. It has remained through a World War and the Vietnam war as well as three other major United States affiliated conflicts. It has stood strong through two stock market crashes and the Great Depression. It has marked the times through 20 different US presidents. And although the team has lost a lot in recent years including its latest ownership group as well as the better condition of its stadium and playing field, Minor League Baseball, who will manage the team this season, refuses to let that history die. This year in the Batavia Muckdogs’ 79th season, they will welcome an impressive young crop of first and second year pro talent including Demetrius Sims, Sean Reynolds, Michael Donadio, Jeral EncarnacionSean Reynolds and Alberto Guerrero.

Returning as the Muckdogs head coach is second year manager Mike Jacobs. Yes, that Mike Jacobs. The same one that hit .258/.314/.483 with 69 homers from 2006-2008 with Miami. His 32 homer season in ‘08 ranks among the top ten in franchise history (9th). His .483 SLG as a Marlin ranks eighth 8th all time in team history. Fresh off his participation in the Marlins’ 25th Anniversary festivities, Jacobs heads back up north to assist in building the next quarter decade of Miami talent. That talent includes fellow first baseman Sean Reynolds who says due to his .253/.313/473 seven-year pro career, his 13-year .279/.353/.486 Minor League career and his five seasons spent in the Mexican leagues that allowed him to see a different type of discipline and playing style along with the fact that Jacobs isn’t very far removed from sitting on the other side of the bench makes him a perfect mentor and leader for players at such an early level of development.

“Mike is still a player in a lot of ways, even though he’s not out on the field with us during the games, he still thinks the game and is very easily able to stay in touch with what we are thinking as players. He likes to keep a loose clubhouse and let guys learn on their own, for the most part, how to conduct themselves in a professional way. He’s always very open if anyone has anything they want to talk about, and he’s always willing to help anybody get better who wants to put in the time and effort. Overall, having him as my manager for my first two years has been really great for me, and I think a lot of the other guys who have played for him would say the same thing.”

Rounding out Jacobs’ staff is hitting coach Jesus Merchan, pitching coach Jason Erickson and defensive coach Ronnie Richardson.

Merchan is a former infielder who spent time with the Twins, Blue Jays and Marlins organizations before ending his North American playing career with the Padres organization in 2013. He played five games in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2014 before hitting .270/.345/.345 in a single Indy ball season. Prior to that, Merchan hung ‘em up. This will be Merchan’s first season as a member of a coaching staff. A for-average bat who once hit over .330 in AAA and held down a .296/.349/.386 career Minor League slash line despite never getting an MLB call, Merchan is a guy with knowledge of success at every minor league level and akin to life in them. That coupled with his mechanically sound offensive background makes him a welcome contributor to the Muckdogs’ young offense.

Returning as pitching coach is Jason Erickson. Erickson was drafted by the Padres in 2009 out of the University Of Washington. He had a 3.94 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 3.65 K/BB stat line in 254 Minor League innings before retiring in 2011. According to RJ Peace who played under Erickson’s tutelage last season, Erickson is an extremely attentive coach who spends time one-on-one with his staff regarding their development.

“He sits down with me and watch video after every time I pitch to talk about what i can improve on and what I did well,” Peace said. “He’s a coach that really cares and tries to get his players better every day. He’s a high energy coach that brings it day in and day out no matter what, always trying to get his players better.”

Richardson, a Florida native and UCF graduate, played 1,514.2 innings in MiLB and independent ball outfields posting a .980 fielding percentage and 1.96 range factor. He also contributed 15 outfield assists while committing just 11 errors. He also held down an MiLB BA over .260 and OBP over .400 during three seasons between A and A+.

Projected Lineup

SS Demetrius Sims
CF Ricardo Cespedes
RF Jerar Encarnacion
1B Sean Reynolds
2B Michael Donadio
LF Albert Guaiarmo
3B Denis Karas
C JD Osborne
DH Matt Brooks


SS Demetrius Sims

2017 – Rk-A: .242/.349/.273, 31/15 K/BB

Sims is a 6’2”, 200 pound righty hitter out of Bethune Cookman in Daytona Beach where he hit .299/.375/.390 over a three-year collegiate career. Sims takes great pride in his time spent at the mostly-black college and is looking forward to making an impact on the game as a Bethune-Cookman alum and in doing so, putting the school which prides itself on its African-American heritage more significantly on the athletic landscape.

“You know, a lot of guys get over looked because they attend an HBCU. Being one of those guys, I’ve always had to play with a chip on my shoulder knowing that I have to make the best out of every single opportunity I get because you only get so many,” Sims said. “Just being able to represent Bethune Cookman University in pro ball is an honor in itself. There’s not too many African American baseball players so I’m glad I can be a sense of hope or determination to other young African American players all around.”

After tearing a labrum during his initial junior campaign, Sims his red-shirted in 2017. That season, he placed third in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in hits with 72 and led the conference in runs scored 52, triples with 7 and total bases with 96. Sims says his red-shirt junior season was made possible by his time spent sidelined. According to Sims, he views the usually negative experience of extended time on the shelf as a positive because it aided in his development as a player, making him view baseball in a completely different regard and teaching him how to respect it.

“I tore the labrum in my left shoulder during summer ball that sidelined me for awhile,” Sims said. “During the recovery process, it really allowed me to see the game from a different perspective. It helped me appreciate the game a lot more and I was able to grow mentally.”

Playing just under three hours south of his collegiate coaches last season allowed Sims to stay in close contact with them which attributed to a fantastic rookie pro season for Sims who hit .290/.417/.304 for the GCL Marlins. According to Sims, he holds his relationship as a Bethune-Cookman alum in high regard and says it was a major catalyst in his initial success as a Marlin.

“The coaches/staff/faculty are always so welcoming to the guys who want to come back and get their work in,” Sims said. “I’m so glad to be apart of the Wildcat family.”

Sims returns to Batavia this year after hitting .186/.262/.237 in 17 games as a Muckdog last year. While those stats may not look impressive from the outset, Sims enters 2017 with a blueprint for improvement.

“Just slowing the game down. Controlling the things that I can control and not trying to do too much.”

A .323 hitter with a .412 OBP in his collegiate career, Sims, the younger brother of pro football standout Dion Sims, is a still growing 6’2”, 200 pound 20-year-old heralded for his blazing bat speed and even better foot speed proven by his seven doubles and triples and 72% success rate while stealing 13 bags in his final season and 49% success rate in his final two at HBCU. Rounding out his skill set with astonishing range and a flashy glove in the infield, Sims, although raw, has the makeup of a top of the order catalyst with improving plate presence that can handle multiple infield positions but at 22, he will need to take some big strides to reach that ceiling. Still, Sims has the type of big league talent to earn him a roster spot as a utility infielder and for-average bat off the bench.

RF Jerar Encarnacion
2017 – GCL: .266/.323/.448, 5 HR, 15 XBH, 26 RBI, 51/10 K/BB

Yeral “Jerar” Encarnacion is a Marlins’ international signee from 2016 out of the Dominican Republic. Already 6’4”, 219 and still building muscle mass, the impressive physical specimen cut his teeth in the Dominican Summer League in his signing season before breaking out last season in the GCL where he hit 266/.328/.446 with five homers, seven doubles and three triples in 42 games. His SLG ranked 12th in the league, his .182 ISO ranked eight and his  .771 OPS was good for 23rd best in the GCL. All of this occurred in his first season of stateside ball.

So far this year, all Jerar has accomplished in 11 games is to post league-leading stats in all four slash categories: BA (.479), OBP (.500), SLG (.646) and OPS (1.146) by recording multihit efforts in nine of those appearances. A guy who has advantageously grown with his body and who is nurturing an elite level power tool, Encarnacion is THE guy to watch in Batavia this year.

1B Sean Reynolds
2017 – Rk-A: .198/.269/.350, 5 HR, 24 RBI, 85/18 K/BB

Reynolds spent most of his time in high school playing ball for the Redondo Union Seahawks in central California. But his dreams of becoming a professional baseball player began way before that.

“When he was a six years old, I literally had to beg him to come inside from playing catch with his friends,” Sean’s mother explained to us during Minor League camp this season. “Since then, somehow I always knew this is what he wanted to do.”

Sean confirms his mother’s suspicions.

“To be honest I always looked at playing professional baseball as the best job in the world my whole life leading up to actually being drafted, so I would say I guess I always knew I wanted to do this.”

A right handed thrower, Reynolds rode his size and power arm to 11 wins with a 1.08 ERA in his senior year of high school. As impressive as that output was, the Marlins opted to sign him based on the output of his nine homers, 34 RBI and .366 BA as a lefty hitter at the plate.

“Yeah, they like me more as a hitter,” Reynolds said at the time. “I’ll play right field or wherever they need me. I like to hit, so it’s something I’m ready to do.”

Reynolds joined the Marlins as just the 40th overall player to be drafted out of the central California institution. Of the previous 39, only one has cracked the major leagues (pitcher Scott Davison). Should Reynolds realize his dream, he will be the first positional player in school history to do so. No matter what, Reynolds, who won two regional titles, has been a major catalyst in starting to put the RUHS baseball program on the map, turning a small-town local school into the beginnings of an athletic destination.

“Coming into Redondo my freshman year, you could that the program was looked at as just another Southern California school with a baseball team. I definitely left that place better than I found it, and I can already see how the results and impact that winning two championships my junior and senior year is making,” Reynolds said. “Kids from surrounding areas want to come and play for Redondo by choice, even if it’s not their closest school.”

In pursuing his dream as a professional, Reynolds hopes to continue to do his alma matter proud and to continue to contribute to the future of it’s program.

“All I want is to continue having a positive influence on the school and the players that come after me,” Reynolds said.

Just five days after being selected by the Marlins, Reynolds made his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League. In that game, Reynolds went 2-5. Overall, Reynolds’ rookie season and much of his sophomore season in Batavia were very much a learning experience as he shifted his focus toward being a full-time offensive player at the pro level with a wood bat but his versatility and ability to positively adjust began to show through at the end of last year when he recorded hits in 10 of his last 19 games. Over that span, Reynolds hit () with four homers.

After an impressive camp, Reynolds has returned to Batavia breathing fire. On the young season so far this year, he is one of the best hitters in the New York Penn League, slashing .242/.360/.452 with an .812 OPS, 27th on the circuit. The biggest catalyst for Reynolds has been and will continue to be balancing his load, getting his lower half more involved in his approach and executing better swing paths making him more of a heady hitter and less of a guy who goes for the fences every pitch. While he is still a bit of a question mark at this point, with youth on his side as well as the likelihood to add more muscle to his power-first offensive skillset, Reynolds has a great opportunity to reach MLB slugger status by 2020. Place Reynolds’ potential ceiling somewhere around Lucas Duda, a career .242/.338/.453 hitter.

2B Michael Donadio
2017 – GCL: .278/.407/.392, 8 XBH, 13 RBI, 23/16 K/BB

Like his teammate Demetrius Sims, Donadio is another guy who comes from a bloodline rooted in athletic stardom. While his twin brother Mark was a .290/.370/.374 career hitter Fordham University, his father Jos was a football standout at quarterback 20 years earlier. According to Michael, he inherits his raw athletic skill from his father and the backing he gets from the rest of the Donadio clan.

“I believe I get my talent from my dad being a prestigious athlete,” Donadio said. “My family has always been very supportive through the ups and downs of my career.”

Mike hit .323/.433/.463 in a four year career with the St. John’s Red Storm. All the while, Donadio was able to maintain great academic standing and graduate with honors from the prestigious university. According to Michael, his time spent at St John’s didn’t only make him a better ballplayer but it made him a more valuable human being, all around.

“Balancing school and work and playing baseball was tough at times. It forced me to develop time management skills, be be resilient and stay focused at all times,” Donadio said. “Fortunately I graduated with a degree in business management. If I wasn’t playing baseball I’d be pursuing a career in the financial industry or as a sales rep, perhaps in the medical or technology business. The lessons I learned at St. John’s carry over into my baseball career.”

Last season, the Marlins selected Donadio in the 30th round of the draft. As fate would have it and as Michael recalls, he was actually with his brother Mark when the pair of twins found out Michael’s name was being called by Miami.

“I was in the car with Mark when I got the call and my phone was ringing off the hook from family and friends congratulating me,” Michael said. “It was a great moment for me and my family.”

Following his selection, Michael got off to a .282/.407/.392 start to his pro career with the GCL Marlins. By way of his 13.6% walk rate, Donadio’s OBP ranked 15th in the Gulf Coast League. So far this year with the Muckdogs, Donadio is showing a similar for-average pace, hitting .282.

A dynamic fielder with eligibility at three infield spots as well as two outfield spots, Donadio, who had a standout camp showing both well-timed swings and good range, enters 2018 for the first time with his focus solely on improving his athletic abilities. Should he reach his ceiling, the 23-year-old stands out as a flexible defender with a solid line drive swing and for-average capabilities with the growing potential for above average power.

Given his pedigree and drive, Donadio is plenty worth keeping an eye on as an under-the-radar prospect on the rise.

Pitching Rotation

  1. Alberto Guerrero
  2. RJ Peace
  3. Dakota Bennett
  4. Humberto Mejia
  5. Chris Valiamont

SP Alberto Guerrero
2017 – Rk-A: 48.2 IP, 2.59 ERA, 1.192 WHIP. 39/18 K/BB

Guerrero is a Marlins 2015 international signee out of the nation of Panama. In his first pro season at the ripe age of 17, Guerrero participated in both the GCL and Dominican Summer League, holding down an impressive combined 3.70 ERA in 41.1 IP with a 1.234 WHIP and 33/17 K/BB. Guerrero spent all of 2016 in the GCL where he managed a lowly 2.63 ERA as an 18-year-old. His accompanying stats were a 1.22 WHIP and 1.78 K/BB. Last year, Guerrero threw 40 more innings of 3.10 ERA, 1.05 WHIP ball in the GCL before getting a cup of coffee in Batavia.

Though that tryout in upstate New York didn’t go as planned (7 ER in 8 IP), Guerrero, who is still a year and a half younger than his average competition, has already started to reap his revenge on NYPL hitters this season. In his first three starts, Guerrero has held down a 2.81 ERA and 1.18 WHIP with a 14/7 K/BB. A zone pounding righty who will frequently touch 95 and can also pitch off an above average high 80s change, Guerrero, who has gone through some trials and tribulations in his young career, is a consistent release point away (on his high 80s power slide piece) away from completing a solid three pitch repertoire at age 20 with plenty of time to develop another offspeed pitch at the full season level.  There’s also the probability for even more velo as he fills out. Guerrero should be given a good amount of credence and attention this season as he starts back in Batavia but should be a pretty quick mover up to Greensboro.

Projected Stats

36-38
.237/.322/.401, 39 HR, 172 XBH, 4.2 R/G
652 IP, 4.07 ERA, 1.260 WHIP, 712/201 K/BB

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2018 Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Rest Of) Season Preview

According to crustacean experts, baby shrimp growth is dependent on sunlight. After absorbing the Jacksonville Suns last season, the newborn Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, led by Monte Harrison, Kyle Barrett, Colby Lusignan, Jeff Brigham and Max Duval are ready to make their mark on the Southern League.

2017 Stats

.242/.321/.360, 86 HR, 313 XBH
1185.1 IP, 3.69 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 2.64 K/BB

In their second season, the Shrimp will once again be lead by manager Randy Ready. A graduate of Cal State East Bay, Ready was selected by the Brewers in the sixth round in 1980. After jumping a level with each passing year from 1980-83, Ready made his MLB debut with the Brewers 1983 and went on to slash .259/.359/.387 over an 11 year MLB career. His best season occurred in 1987 when he hit .309/.423/.520 in 124 games for the San Diego Padres. Needless to say, Ready knows what it takes to proceed up the developmental ladder and make it at the highest level as a professional. According to Kyle Barrett who began playing for Ready last season and rejoins him again this year, Ready, by way of his many years of experience and a solid all-around skillset especially in the minor league circuit, makes a well-rounded minor league skip.

“Ready is laid back and a cool dude for sure. He had a long career in the bigs and knows his stuff,” Barrett said. “He’s really helped me with the smaller portions of the game such as bunting and baserunning.”

Rejoining Ready is his pitching coach Storm Davis. A Jacksonville native, Davis was a high school draft pick in round seven by the Baltimore Orioles out of University Christian High School in 1979. After flying through the minors jumping a level with each passing season despite still being in his teenage years in three of four of those seasons (including a stop in Fort Lauderdale with the Miami Orioles), Davis, by way of a collective 3.56 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, cracked the majors as a 20-year-old in 1982. Despite being over eight years younger than the average major leaguer, Davis, who made the Orioles out of camp, stormed out of the gate (pun intended) and collected a win in his first MLB start on July 3, 1982 against the Detroit Tigers. He would go on to post an overall 3.49 ERA, 1.232 WHIP and 2.39 K/BB over 100 innings in his rookie year.

Davis spent the next 12 years in a similar capacity pitching both as a starter and out of the pen, collecting a 113-96 career record and holding down a 4.02 ERA and 3.80 WHIP by way of a 1.392 WHIP and 1.53 K/BB (including over 1,000 strikeouts) over 1780.2 IP. In 1983, his sophomore season, Davis contributed a 13-7 record via a 3.59 ERA, 1.218 WHIP and 1.95 K/BB to the World Champion Orioles. He collected a second World Series ring in 1989 when he ran up a career high 19 wins (19-7) and was huge down the stretch for the Oakland A’s. In the second half, he held down a 3.61 ERA and went 12-3 in 17 starts. This year, Davis is bringing his expertise back to a level which he went 14-10 with a 3.47 ERA and 1.83 K/BB at despite being four years the minor to the average competition. A guy who grew up extremely fast, enjoyed a fantastic minor league career and borderline Hall Of Fame +17 WAR major league career, Davis simply knows what it takes to get the job done on the hill, no matter the level.

Marcus Crescentini who joins Davis’ staff this year has already begun to see the positive impacts of Davis’ much apprised but quite relaxed tutelage.

“I’ve only been with Storm a couple of weeks but what I’ve noticed with him is that his knowledge is endless and he is very approachable,” Crescentini said. “He also treats all of his pitchers like men; he doesn’t micro manage and he let’s us be who we are.”

Completing Ready’s staff is hitting coach Kevin Witt. Another Duval county native and graduate of Bishop Kenny High which is a short three mile drive from his current place of employment at the Baseball Grounds, Witt hit .481 as a senior before he became a first round pick by the Blue Jays in 1994. His #28 overall draft slot placed him ahead of fellow draftees Troy Glaus and AJ Pierzynski and just behind Jason Varitek and Nomar Garciaparra. After hitting .252 over his first three seasons including a .271/.335/.426 in A+ in 1996, Witt rose to AA in the Southern League, the same league he now holds managerial status in. There, Witt hit .289/.349/.539, tied for the league lead in homers and made the All-Star team as a utility infielder. In 1998, Witt began his AAA career and enjoyed immediate success leading the Syracuse SkyChiefs in homers with 23 while hitting .273/.354/.481. He made his MLB debut in September that season and recorded his first major league hit. Witt had a similar season in ‘99, once again leading the SkyChiefs in homers (24) and placing second in OPS (.896) before hitting .206 and recording his first MLB homer late in the season with Toronto. Following a 26 homer season in AAA in 2000, the Blue Jays cut ties with Witt a year later.

After a short stint in the Padres, Witt joined the Tigers in 2003. After a .316/.391/.594 performance in AAA, Witt got a mid season call to the majors. In his most extended look at that level, Witt hit a very respectable .263/.301/.407 with ten homers over 27 ABs. Witt was signed by the Cardinals where he enjoyed his best season as a pro hitting .306/.353/.600 and earning him the Pacific Coast League’s MVP trophy. However, on a stacked St Louis team, he never got a chance with the big league squad.

From there, Witt attempted to prove his worth in Japan, a very brief experiment, before rounding his playing career out with the Rays. After a .291/.360/.577 and whopping 36 homer performance with the Durham Bulls, a total which stands as Durham’s franchise record and the Rays’ organizational record and which earned him the International League’s MVP award. Witt got called up to the pros late in the season where he hit .148 in his final 19 MLB games. Witt rounded out his playing career back in Japan where he hit .174 in his last 40 games.

A fantastic .274/.336/.502 269 HR career minor league hitter with a plus plus power tool, Witt was unfortunately a victim of circumstance who never got his full shot in the majors in his prime. Regardless, Witt is a guy who knows how to adjust and get the job done at the plate no matter the level. He is a welcome contributor as hitting coach at a level he once dominated.

According to Austin Dean, Witt has good individual relationships with each hitter on the squad and is attentive and accommodating to each of their needs and routines. Describing his relationship with Witt, Dean says it’s one of mutual respect built on Witt’s trust in his players’ judgment and his overseer approach that lets them be themselves that stands out most. All in all, Dean says that on top of great expertise, Witt brings great reverence and leadership to the locker room, creating a more positive environment to play in.

“Being with Witt has been great. He’s very knowledgeable about the game and obviously he’s had great success as well,” Dean said. “Him and I’s relationship is a little bit different then everyone else. From spring training, he and I talked about routines and things I like to do in the season. And for me I don’t like hitting a lot. I like to take a couple rounds of five off the machine and then I go and hit BP on the field that day, and that’s it for me. And he’s respected that. He’s never tried to get me to do more then I wanted or that I needed. There’s times where I might be on my first round on the machine and I absolutely demolish five balls in row and he tells me to get and go back in the clubhouse. It’s things like that, he’s very encouraging and he knows what he talking about with us, and he’s been helping, you know, not just me but everyone else on team.”

Projected Lineup

DH Kyle Barrett
2B Isan Diaz
LF Austin Dean
RF John Norwood
CF Monte Harrison
1B Colby Lusignan
3B Brian Schales
C Rodrigo Vigil
SS Chris Diaz

Kyle Barrett
2017 – A+-AA – .276/.333/.324, 17 XBH, 65% SB%, 2.38 K/BB

Barrett is a Marlins 15th round draft pick from 2015 out of the University Of Kentucky, a pick which has been part of a shopping spree of the UK system from 2013 to present. Over the last five years, Stan Meek, Mike Hill and the Marlins have selected Wolfpack members in four separate drafts: J.T. Riddle in 2013, Barrett in 2015, Dustin Beggs in 2016 and Riley Mahan last year. Its been a “stick with what’s working” type approach from the scouting department to continue to return to Lexington on the regular year after year to scout and eventually select and sign players. Each of the four players selected has successfully parlayed a great collegiate career into at least some sort of positive progression since they’ve begun wearing a Marlins affiliated uniform.

While Riddle hit .275/.318/.364 over a four year minor league career, while Mahan has gotten off to a .289/.333/.458 over his first 20 pro games and while Beggs has posted a 3.61 K/BB in his first three seasons, Barrett has been one of the most consistent players in the entire organization. Barrett garnered the Marlins’ attention after a .324/.386/.391 collegiate career at UK which included a fantastic .354/.394/443 senior season. His BA that year ranked seventh in the SEC ahead of competition such as Dansby Swanson and just behind Red Sox top prospect and () overall prospect according to Baseball America, Andrew Benintendi. His average was made possible by his 46 hits, a total which ranked third in the conference, one shy of Benintendi. Barrett’s OBP ranked 17th in the SEC, just .23 points off of Swanson’s .417 mark. Barrett showed off his prowess on the bases as well scoring 29 runs and recording three triples, both of which were good for fourth most in SEC play and collected its 13th most total bases, 62. He accomplished all of this in the conference’s ninth most ABs, 124. Upon being drafted by the Marlins, Barrett headed to short season Batavia but just four games into his pro career, he broke his right hand and missed the rest of the campaign.

Despite the injury, Barrett joined the Greensboro Grasshoppers in 2016. Despite getting off to a slow 12-72 7/16 K/BB start due to the fact that he was still not pain free in his injured hand, Barrett, ever the grinder and with a staunch refusal to quit, turned it on in late May and wound up reaching base in 55 his final 79 games. Despite the slow start, Barrett hit .282/.333/.345. Among players who appeared in over 60 games, his BA and OBP were both team highs. He also stole 17 bags in 22 attempts.

The biggest hole in Barrett’s game headed into his sophomore season was his inability to read and time professional quality pitches as well as having a tendency to get a bit over-aggressive. This was proven by his heightened 17.05 K rate and 2.68 K/BB in Greensboro.

However, the Marlins didn’t let that small hitch hold Barrett back and gave him the promotion to A+. That year, Barrett, back at 100% to start the season, rewarded the Marlins’ confidence in his projection by slashing .297/.355/.342 over his first 66 games with the Hammerheads. His BA, made largely possible by a 12 game hit streak in which he went 19-49 in late May and early June, led the team and ranked 18th in the Florida State League. He reached base via a hit in 57 of his 66 appearances. All the while, Barrett’s walk rate rose to 7.77%, his K rate fell to 14.53% and his K/BB rested at 1.87. Originally snubbed from the FSL’s All-Star Game, he rightfully made it as an injury replacement. For the second half, Barrett received the promotion to AA Jacksonville. In his first 126 ABs as a Shrimp, he hit .230/.285/.286.

“I’m a firm believer that you can’t have success until you have failed. Failure is a teaching point,” Kyle says.

Barrett has had a few of those educational experiences so far in his pro career including being bitten by the sophomore slump in college (.253/.354/.312) and the aforementioned injury stricken 2016 season in Greensboro. However, each time, Barrett, by way of putting in all the necessary work and then some, has been able to adjust and come back the next season a much better player. Following a subpar audition in AA last season, Barrett faces a similar test in 2018 but if his track record is any indication, he will use stored knowledge, his fantastic work ethic and his ability to acclimate accordingly no matter the situation or level of competition to rise to the occasion.

According to Kyle, in addition to the bump in competition level, the biggest rectification for him to make mentally during his transition from A to AA last year was being prepared to hear his number called upon at any time in any situation on any given day and not losing his preparedness just because he didn’t see his name on the lineup card.

“The transition from high A to AA is definitely an adjustment,” Barrett said. “I learned that the days I’m not starting doesn’t mean I won’t play, there’s always a pinch hit or a double switch.“

5’11”, 185, Barrett packs a ton of talent into his stout but athletic frame. Formerly a high strikeout guy, Barrett has found a nice balance between aggression and patience. He’s also improved the lateral level of his swing, allowing him to get at least some part of the bat on pitches he engages on, prolonging his ABs and forcing his opposition to beat him with a quality pitch. That said, Barrett will also often attack early in the count if he sees a juicy morsel he likes. Simply put, he’s a very tough and pesky out to get and a guy who can give opposing teams fits. Barrett owns an extremely quick snap swing made possible by even quicker hands. Approaching from the back of the box, his speedy upper half and stationary head expand his field of vision and allow him to read pitches nearly all the way to the front black of the plate. While he probably won’t put many out of the park or even over outfielders’ heads, he has a great knack for finding holes and gaps. With plus speed, the ability to read the ball off the bat and good base running instincts, he turns singles into extra bases with relative ease. He holds plus speed and makes equally good reads off the bat and flashes a strong arm in the field. He can cover all three outfield spots but he projects best as a future center fielder.

Though the Marlins’ organization suddenly finds itself with a ton of young outfield depth especially after the acquisitions of Magnerius Sierra, Braxton Lee and Monte Harrison, with success at the AA level this year, Barrett is a rounding out a unique catalytic skillset. With success via another positive adjustment this season, he could receive a look in the bigs in September and he would definitely be a candidate to make his first 40-man roster next season. As good as his long range vision is on the field though, Barrett isn’t looking that far into the future. For now, he is putting all of his focus on what is directly in front of him and nothing more.

“I can’t think about it or stress about it. All I can do is control the controllable and play my game,” Barrett said. “If I stay within myself, be confident and have fun, everything else will fall into place.”

An extremely easy guy to get into games whether it be at the top of the lineup as a fire starter, at the bottom of it as a restarter or as a lefty bat off the bench as a rally starter, the 25-year-old’s modest ceiling should be placed somewhere around Roger Cedeno, a career .273/.340/.371 hitter and 77% successful steals threat.

Austin Dean
2017 – .291/.328/.446, 25 XBH, 3.43 K/BB

A fourth round pick out of high school from the year 2012, Dean is a name that has been around the Marlins organization for a while. Entering his sixth year as a pro, Dean’s career so far has been a proverbial roller coaster ride full of ups and downs.

Dean hails from Klein Collins High School in his hometown of Spring, Texas. Coming into the draft, Dean was heralded for his great raw power via a solid 6’1”, 185 pound build, a great ability to get extended and a quick stroke with loft. Paired with good speed (clocked at a 6.74 first to home) and a good baseball IQ as well as classroom aptitude, Dean had a verbal commitment to Texas before he chose to sign with the Marlins after being selected in the 4th round of the Draft by the Marlins, a slot which garnered him a $379,000 signing bonus.

After starting out in the Gulf Coast League post draft where he posted a .223/.337/.338 line in his first 47 pro games, Dean joined short season Batavia in 2013. There in 56 games, Dean hit a respectable .268/.325/418. His slugging percentage that came via 21 XBHs ranked 15th in the New York Penn League. At the end of the season, Dean received a cup of coffee in Greensboro where he hit .200/.346/.400 over 20 ABs.

Regarding what life was like for him as a kid who suddenly saw an after school activity engulf his entire life and asked how he was able to maintain focus under those circumstances, Dean responds that it was a stark maturation process making his way as a teenager in professional baseball but with the help of a great supportive cast of teammates and coaches, he was able to keep his focus and nurture his skillset advantageously.

“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. You learn how to take care of yourself and be an adult while you’re 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 six years, and I think that’s help me as a baseball player.”

In 2014, Dean appeared on the Marlins’ top 20 prospect list slotting in at #15. At the beginning of the year, stared down the first full professional season of his career in Greensboro. Thanks to three separate injuries, a left hand injury he suffered during a slide, a nasal fracture that occurred while he has rehabbing and a right groin strain that occurred while running, Dean’s season would wind up being limited to 99 games. However, the missed time and gaps between in game action did not appear to affect Dean at all. When he was on the field, he was consistently effective. After beginning the year by hitting .288/.343/.403, accolades which earned him an All-Star selection, Dean missed 22 games and the All-Star Game. Undeterred, Dean returned in early July hitting .377/.459/.500 before hitting the shelf again in early August. He returned again on August 15 and closed out a fantastic .308/.371/.444, 33 XBH, 72/38 K/BB, 128 wrC+ breakout campaign, incredible numbers especially considering his youth (1.2 years younger than the league average player) and his health woes.

In 2015, Dean received a promotion for a fourth straight season, joining A+ Jupiter. While the power hitter’s overall .268/.318/.366 slash line didn’t pop off the page, the underlying reason for it was due to his being stymied by the extremely pitcher friendly confines of Roger Dean Stadium. While he only hit .244/.298/.317 in 195 ABs at home, Dean was a .289/.337/.410 hitter in 208 ABs throughout the rest of the Florida State League. All five of his homers came on the road. Dean also successfully tempered his K rate down to 13.1%, a career low, proving he was at par in terms of making contact with A+ competition.

That offseason, Dean took part in the Arizona Fall League. In 16 games and 62 ABs against some of the top young talent in professional ball, the 20-year-old turned in a .323/.364/.452 performance, marks which ranked 12th, 24th and 27th. His .815 OPS ranked 26th. 18 of the 25 players who ranked ahead of Dean on that list are current major leaguers such as Lewis Brinson, Gary Sanchez, Aledmys Diaz and Wilson Contreras.

By leaving that impression coupled with his solid situational year in Jupiter, Dean was given yet another promotion this time to AA Jacksonville, just a step away from realizing his dream. Just seven games into his AA career, Dean suffered a demoralizing injury on a collision with a fellow outfielder. The ailment would cost Dean nearly three full months. After suffering the injury on April 12, Dean did not return to the field until June 28. Following a four game rehab stint in the GCL, he finally returned to Jacksonville on July 3.

“When I got hurt last year, it was very unfortunate but you know injury’s happen; it’s a part of the game. While I was rehabbing in Jupiter it was very slow process, and it was hard not being up in Jax and playing and being around my teammates,” Dean said. “But I worked my butt off while I was down there, I was still able to lift weights, to a certain extent. I kept my body in shape so I would be ready for when I got back. It was very tough not playing baseball for long. But it’s one of things you have to deal with sometimes and I felt like I handled everything pretty well last year.”

The ever-so modest Dean handled his situation a lot better than “well”. Upon his return, he enjoyed a .205/.347/.311 month of July. He hit in 39 of his final 55 game and reached reached base safely in 13 straight from July 28 to August 18. Overall, he was a .282/.323/.427, 4 HR, 22 XBH performer as he once again proved to hold an incredible ability to overcome adversity.

Asked how he was able to rise to the occasion of meeting and exceeding expectations in the upper minors despite missing nearly the entire first half, Dean responded this way:

“My parents last year, was you know a big help. We’d talk every day or try too, and obviously this was something new to me not being able to play. They kept me motivated, and they were very supportive as well, and I probably couldn’t have done it with out them.

Despite having far from a sunshine and butterflies Sunday drive through the minor leagues, Dean has met every challenge he’s faced and conquered it all while keeping his development proceeding in the right direction. In 540 career games, Dean has been able to close some holes in his swing that were present when he got drafted, simplify his mechanics, improve his contact rates and learn how to take what he’s given, leading to good averages and a solid doubles-first power threat. While the Marlins would like to see more over-the-fence power from Dean, there’s still plenty of time for the 24-year-old to find that as he fills out the rest of the way.

One area of concern for Dean lies in his limited ability to get extended. A naturally pull-happy hitter, Dean could use to garner a better knack to cover the outside of the plate via more advantageous barrel extension, leading to the ability to go to his opposite field. It’s one of the few things holding Dean back but it could be a major catalyst for his success as a major leaguer as pro pitchers and coaches could negate his strengths by way of quality stuff on the outer half and possibly an infield overshift.

Should Dean, who has come out victorious in every battle he’s faced so far on his way up, be able to fill that small hole in his game, he’s a quality corner outfielder with a ceiling around our old buddy Jeff Conine a career .285/.347/.443 bat. With further success in AA this year, he’s a candidate to receive his MLB debut sometime in 2018. At the very least, he is a shoe in for a 40-man roster spot next year and a favorite for at least a bench spot in 2019.

Monte Harrison
2017 (A-A+) – .272/.350/.481, 21 HR, 51 XBH, 139/43 K/BB, 27 SB

The main accompanying piece in the Christian Yelich trade with the Brewers, Harrison is a power hitting threat who is a bit immature in his approach but who holds extreme upside. Between A and A+ last year, Harrison hit .272/.350/.481 and topped he 20 homer mark for the first time in his career. As impressive as his .209 ISO and 133 wRC+ were, those figures came at the expense of a 143/39 K/BB. His 27% K rate last season equaled his 27% career K rate. That said, if Harrison, still 22, can find more discipline, there isn’t much more he needs to do to be both a top prospect and major league ready.

With elite bat speed by way of flashy wrists and a line drive swing which, coupled together, create plus launch angle and plus plus exit velocities, the 6’3”, 220 pounder is also a ridiculous 4.12 runner first to home, quite surprising for a guy his size and a testament to his athleticism. He rounds out his skillset with a throwing arm that receives an 80 grade on the 20-80 scale.

Undoubtedly, there’s massive upside here and after the acquisition of Brinson turns the Yelich return from good to gold. If Harrison is going to realize his full potential, there’s still work to be done both mentally and mechanically but considering he was able to turn in a great 2017 regular season followed by a .283/.333/.604, five homer performance in the Arizona Fall League after he missed much of 2016 due to injury, there’s reason to be very excited about his future. With no pressure on him whatsoever, I wouldn’t expect any sort of Major League action before next season at least as Harrison works on his few hitches. However, a complete Monte Harrison will be well worth the wait and a franchise cornerstone type piece. Pay close attention here. There’s special five tool type talent being kindled.

Colby Lusignan
2017 – A-A+ – .259/.326/.429, 15 HR, 49 XBH, 3.83 K/BB

A 28th round pick from 2016 after a .328/.425/.528 collegiate career between community college in Gainesville, FL and Division 2 Lander University in South Carolina, Lusignan is a piece who has come almost literally out of nowhere and proven to be quite the power hitting commodity.

After a .325/.429/.591 singular season at Lander with an OBP that ranked 10th in the conference and with its seventh best SLG and ninth best OPS (1.020), Lusignan hit .319/.422/.469 in the Gulf Coast League and got a look at short season Batavia to finish his 2016 season. The next year, Lusignan began the year in Greensboro. After hitting nine homers but slashing just .243/.315/.414 with a 34.72 K rate, the 23-year-old was nevertheless fast tracked to A+ Jupiter.

Just 113 ABs into his pro career and sporting a .251 BA and 33% K rate, the challenge seemed a bit over Lusignan’s head. However, the 6’4”, 230 pounder was somehow able to respond to the task by completely tearing the pitcher friendly Florida State League apart. In 46 games and 201 PAs, he hit .285/.348/.453 with six homers, 18 XBH, a .168 ISO and a 134 wRC+. He also showed improved patience as his K rate even fell more than 10 points to 23.9 and his walk rate rose to 8.5.

This season, just two years removed from playing ball at a Division 2 school, Lusignan faces his next challenge: playing against competition just shy of the major league level.

A lefty hitter, Lusignan has successfully gained a better knowledge for the zone as he’s flown through the Marlins’ minor league system. Looking at spray charts, Lusignan has mastered the art of opposite field hitting, relying on his ability to get extended and making the most out of his lefty’s advantage. He’s also always shown a good knack for going straight up the middle. Recently, Lusignan is also using his strength advantageously to go pull side on pitches on the inner half, showing a good ability to stay inside the ball, cutting down on his swing and miss totals. When he times pitches right, gets his feet down and barrels up on his classic uppercut swing, the ball flies.

If Lusignan can continue to show that kind of aptitude and bat control, he will close his only plate coverage gap, become a complete power first threat vs righties and make a huge improvement vs fellow lefties who love to take his eyes and arms away by jamming him inside. Though the K will probably always be part of the power hitter’s game, Lusignan has improved so much is such a short amount of time. One of if not the biggest rags to riches story in the entire organization, Lusignan, who saw time with the big league club in spring training, is a one more good showing in the upper levels away from a Major League call.

While that’s easier said than done and while he probably isn’t going to push Justin Bour for playing time anytime soon if ever, for a guy who has responded well to every challenge put to him, making it to the upper minors in just two short seasons, an unprecedented feat, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility for this offensive minded 25-year-old first baseman who has improved his balance and timing with each jump he’s made to acquire a roster spot and be used as a lefty power threat off the bench. Lusignan who came from modest beginnings in a small town in central Florida and never played above D2 before being drafted, deserves a hat tip for what he’s been able to accomplish so far and considering his level of focus and drive to succeed, likely isn’t done yet. Remember the name. You’ll could be seeing it in a Marlins lineup soon.

Projected Rotation

Nick Neidert
Jeff Brigham
Cody Poteet
Max Duval
Pablo Lopez

Jeff Brigham
2017 – A+ – 59 IP, 2.90 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 53/20 K/BB

Brigham is a 6’, 200 pound righty out of the University Of Wisconsin. In a three year career there, he posted a collective 3.71 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP and 1.65 K/BB over 174.2 IP. His standout season occurred in his junior year when he went 7-4 with a 2.90 ERA, 11th best in the PAC12 via a 1.13 WHIP and 1.96 K/BB. That year pushed Brigham up into the top five rounds on draft boards. Ultimately the Dodgers selected him in round 4. He signed for $396K.

After finishing out his draft year season cutting his teeth in pro ball with the short A Ogden Raptors (32.2 IP, 3.58 ERA, 1.47 WHIP), Brigham skipped single A and joined the A+ Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. After 17 games and 69 innings, the assignment proved to be too difficult for the 23-year-old’s developing to-contact arsenal and he was demoted to single A Great Lakes. He appeared in just two games there, tossing seven innings before the Marlins came calling at that year’s trade deadline.

On July 30, 2015, Brigham along with Victor Araujo and Kevin Guzman were traded to the Marlins for Mat Latos and Michael Morse. Upon his change of scenery, the Marlins gave Brigham a shot at redemption at the A+ level assigning him to the Jupiter Hammerheads. Brigham responded well, tossing 33.2 innings for Jupiter and recording three straight quality outings from August 16-28, a string of outings where he allowed just one total earned run.

In 2016, Brigham once again began the season in A+. After just two starts though, he landed on the DL with a back strain. Though he was able to return a week later, Brigham wasn’t back to pitching pain free until mid June. This fact shown true in his numbers: from April 22 through May 31, Brigham went 32.1 IP with a 6.73 ERA and 1.56 WHIP.

Though he was able to avoid making another trip to the DL, Brigham didn’t make another start until June 12. Over that two week span, he appeared in just one game throwing a single inning out of the bullpen. The time off was exactly the medicine Brigham needed. Over his last 15 appearances of the season, Brigham threw 82.2 innings and held down a 2.41 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. This included a fantastic month of July in which Brigham managed a 0.33 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in five outings and 27.2 IP as well as a 3.13 ERA and 1.09 WHIP string of starts from August 13-29.

Last season, Brigham began a third season with the Hammerheads. He was performing masterfully, tossing to the tune of a 2.68 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in his first 10 starts, six of which were quality starts and all of which lasted at least five innings and contained four earned runs or less. During a 5 IP, 6 H, 1 ER outing on June 30, Brigham struck out a career high nine. Rolling along and undoubtedly making sure to keep his phone charged and close, Brogham was derailed on July 25 when during a start, he suffered an oblique strain in his throwing arm. The injury would cost him the rest of the season. These unfortunately weren’t untested waters for Brigham. In 2012, he missed nearly his entire freshman year of college after undergoing Tommy John.

After resuming throwing mid-offseason, despite another injury to an already surgically repaired arm, Brigham showed up at camp this season and was a mirror image of the pitcher he was eight months ago, maintaining his 94-96 mph velo and his outpitch slider while continuing to rebuild his changeup. Despite the missed time, coaches saw enough to start Brigham off in AA this season.

From his rocker step delivery and high 3/4 slot, Brigham has consistently flashed a good moving two-seamer with good sinking life down in the zone and an even better hard and snappy 86-88 mph slider with lateral run to his glove side that can get downright nasty when he’s ahead in the count and hitting his release point. Alternatively, the immaturity of Brigham’s changeup is what has held him back as a prospect. Last season though, the pitch looked to take a huge leap forward as he gained a better feel for the grip and gained the ability to let the pitch float off the tips of his fingers, adding spin and depth. Mixing it in much more rather than just using it as a waste pitch, it complimented his inside-out fastball/slider combo perfectly. While he still doesn’t have the consistency to pitch off the changeup, he’s using it with much more confidence and shows the ability to hit spots all around the plate. If he shows more dependable control of the change this season and manages to stay healthy, the 26-year-old Brigham could become a Major League ready starter, something I commonly found within the Marlins very young organization this season.

Max Duval
2017 – A – 38.2 IP, 2.09 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 7.60 K/BB

Duval is a massively built righty that had quite the whirlwind start to his baseball career, playing all over the country and making the shift from an offensive first to defensive first player. After attending community college in San Luis Obispo, California, Duval played Division 1 ball at the University Of Hawaii. In 2012, the infielder hit .186/.255/.271. For Duval, the subpar season was disheartening considering how much work he would put in and how much of an infatuation he had with swinging the bat.

“I loved hitting. And when I say “loved”, I mean that in college, there was nobody that would spend more time in the batting cage than me,” Duval said. “It was therapeutic for me. But no matter how hard I worked, I struggled in games.”

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2018 Greensboro Grasshoppers Season Preview

Due to both offseason trades and the many promotions from last year’s great 75-61 Grasshoppers team, many Marlins draftees from the last two years look to make their presence felt in their first full season of pro ball this year. It’s a young squad and in most aspects a pretty raw one but with talent such as Jose Devers, J.C. Millan, Brayan Hernandez, Remey Reed and Brady Puckett on board, there’s plenty to be excited about this year in Greensboro.

2017 Stats

75-61
.246/.321/.356, 70 HR, 414 XBH, 2.81 K/BB, 135 SB
1184.2 IP, 3.67 ERA, 1.205 WHIP, 3.34 K/BB

At all levels of the minors and especially in the lower levels, the focus is not on winning but rather justifiably on development. However, at any level of sport, in regards to a player’s intangibles such as his/her psyche and drive to succeed, there are few things more valuable than being on the victorious side of games. In his first year at the helm in Greensboro, Todd Pratt proved that, partnering wins with positive growth in perfect harmony. While compiling a 75-61 record, second best in the South Atlantic League and bringing the Hoppers to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, Pratt saw upwards of 10 players graduate to the next level. According to third baseman James Nelson who was a Sally League All-Star and MVP candidate and second place finisher for the batting title via a .309/.354/.456 slash line as well as a very likely promotee this season, Pratt was able to do so by managing a carefree, loose clubhouse and by so doing, successfully shielding his club from any brand of unwarranted pressure.

“Pratt is one of the coolest coaches I’ve had the pleasure to play for. He keeps the game fun but it gets serious if things aren’t how they are suppose to be,” Nelson said. “The clubhouse has a lot of laid back vibes. Baseball is already hard and he doesn’t want to make it harder by stressing out after losses.”

J.C. Millan echoes his teammates sentiments.

“Pratt is awesome overall. On the field and of the field, he lets us go out and play and have fun. He’s always going to be in a great mood no matter what and that always motivates us to always enjoy the game just like he enjoys his job as a manager,” Millan said. “He likes to do everything the right way and he is always encouraging us to play hard no matter what the circumstances are.”

Rounding out Pratt’s staff will be hitting coach Frank Moore who oversaw the Sally’s best team walk rate of 10% and a .246/.321/.356 slash line last year. Returning pitching coach Mark DiFelice managed the Grasshoppers staff to a 3.66 ERA by way of a 1.20 WHIP, third best in the Sally League. Their 3.35 K/BB also ranked third.

Projected Lineup

SS Jose Devers
LF Michael Donadio
RF Isael Soto
DH/1B Lazaro Alonso
CF Brayan Hernandez
1B/DH Eric Gutierrez
2B J.C. Millan
3B Micah Brown
C Jared Barnes

SS Jose Devers
2017 – A- – .245/.346/.332, 13 XBH, 16 RBI, 16 SB, 37/18 K/BB

Devers is a 2017 Yankee’s draftee who came to the Marlins in the trade for Giancarlo Stanton. He was acquired as a distant second piece compared to his former teammate, fireballing hurler Jorge Guzman. However, judging by what he showed both last season and this year in camp, there may be more ceiling value than currently meets the eye.

Despite averaging just .246 last year, Devers at just 17 years old last year, OBP’d .359. He did so by exhibiting the brand of strike zone knowledge of a Major League ready leadoff hitter, a tool many pros find too difficult to come by. What’s more is he was able to accomplish this against pitchers who were on average, nearly four years his elder. Devers coupled his selective offensive approach with even more impressive work in the field where he shows good range to both sides, amazing athleticism and a strong and accurate throwing arm. He has the ability to dazzle with the glove and make “how did he do that?” type plays regularly, going completely across his body with jump throws and showing lightning quick transfer tools after flashing just as fast a reaction time and first step to the ball off the bat. Devers rounds out his game with absolutely blazing speed on the bass paths that allowed him 15 steals last year at a positively alarming 85% success rate.

A tall and lanky 6’0” 155, Devers in both stature and skill set bears a striking resemblance to Elvis Andrus who hit a similar .265/.324/.362 in his age 17 season in A ball and who is a +9.9 career dWAR player. Devers, who will turn 18 in December, has a bit of work to do in the areas of bat speed and overall physical approach in terms of weight transfer and balance but that should come as his body fills out. Watching him play and go 100% every time he’s on the field, it’s easy to see why he was a favorite of former Yankees farm director turned Marlins farm director Gary Denbo and a target of his this offseason. Expect Devers to get a long and healthy amount of attention by the organization going forward starting this season in Greensboro.

LF Michael Donadio
2017 – A- – 31 G, .278/.407/.392, 8 XBH, 13 RBI, 23/16 K/BB

Donadio is a 2017 Marlins draft pick who had a beastly collegiate career at St. John’s. As a member of the Red Storm, Donadio hit .323/.433/.463 over a four year career including a .374/.473/.547 senior season. He was the first player in St. John’s history to earn first team All-Conference honors in each of his four seasons. Looking at his collegiate stats, there isn’t much to dislike. The only thing that may have turned him off to scouts is his lack of power (28.8 career XBH%) and his pretty pedestrian .252/.344/.313 showing against top talent in the Cape Cod League in 2015.

For whatever reason, the Marlins stole Donadio in round 30 of the 2017 Draft. From there, he finished out his season with the GCL Marlins. The change in competition level didn’t phase Donadio one bit. In his first 97 pro ABs, he hit .278/.407/.392. His OBP ranked second on the team and tied him for 17th best in the league. Donadio parlayed that performance into a great showing this spring against older talent.

Standing 6’, 195, Donadio is an athletic specimen who gets low in his left handed stance, keeps his head down and views pitches all the way to the glove. He reads pitchers well, gets in their heads and anticipates the break on pitches advantageously, fights off tough pitches and rarely lets a mistake go to waste. There’s some uppercut action to his swing which allows him to go to all fields with line drives. His favorite area to attack is straight up the middle of the box. While the extremely quick reflexes and strike zone management are extremely encouraging, Donadio is currently all arms and very little legs. Getting his lower half involved in his swing a bit more could give his game another aspect: the ability to reach fences. He’s probably never going to be a guy who hits 20+ homers but with some slight mechanical alterations, he could be a 20+ doubles threat with a great eye, making him an atypical table setter for the middle of the lineup.

In the field, Donadio flashes a good arm and good range to either side. He projects best as a top-of-the-order left fielder with room to grow into more. With projection, I like Donadio as a diamond-in-the-rough type draft selection and a candidate to skip Batavia and start with the Hoppers this season. If he’s not in North Carolina on Opening Day, he will definitely be there at some point this year.

RF Isael Soto
2017 – DNP (injury)

Soto is a Marlins’ 2013 international signee out of the Dominican looking to reestablish his prospect status after missing all of 2017 with a broken foot. It was the second time he’s missed significant time. In 2015, he missed almost the entire season with a torn meniscus. Once as high as the Marlins’ #8 prospect, his future is in some serious doubt due to his inability to stay healthy.

At the plate, Soto makes up for fairly limited size (6’0”, 190) by showing awesome bat speed and a short barrel path to the ball, giving him plus plus power upside. However, he’s far too aggressive early in at bats and his approach carries tons of swing and miss potential with it as proven by his 115/43 K/BB in 2016. His plate vision and over-commitment to swings need to make some huge leaps if he is to reach his ceiling as a potential frequent fence finding threat with a plus defensive arm in right field. However, with all the time he’s missed, that ceiling is starting to slip away. Entering his age 22 season still in low A, he’s starting to enter make it or break it territory.

1B/DH Lazaro Alonso
2017 – A- – .255/.366/.348, 15 XBH, 30 RBI, 56/37 K/BB

Lazaro Alonso is an interesting backstory. Once regarded as the eighth best prospect in Cuba by way of a great breakout .299/.436/.494 showing in the island’s national series and a .395/.495/.535 campaign in 2016 season in its 23-and-under league, Alonso joined the Marlins in the 2016 International Draft, the same draft that held picks such as Yoan Moncada and Yasiel Puig. While he is very much their inferior in terms of service time and MLB readiness, Alonso had a great showing in Batavia last year as he adjusted to stateside ball by hitting .255/.366/.348 with a 56/37 K/BB.

As you may guess by looking at Alonso who stands 6’3”, 230, he owns ridiculous raw power. However, the word raw should be emphasized here. As decent as he was in his introduction to pro ball, he has tons of work to do mechanically. His biggest issue is an off-balanced load spurred by a faulty power transfer stance in which he bends his back leg in and his front leg out. It looks as uncomfortable physically as it projects statistically at the upper levels. While he can rope pitches on the inner half, he gets handcuffed on pitches on the outer half and gets caught reaching, often falling off to the plate side, leading to weak contact outs. If he can be coached to close his stance, cover the plate more advantageously and go to his opposite field, he has the swing selectiveness, batter’s eye and muscle to be at least a 20/20 threat while also posting a good OBP. A heady hitter who lets his natural tools work for him and doesn’t try to overpursue, I like Alonso as a very under-the-radar candidate to come out of virtually nowhere and make a name for himself.

CF Brayan Hernandez
2017 – A-/AAA – .263/.309/.406, 14 XBH, 42/10 K/BB

Hernandez, the main return piece in the David Phelps trade with the Mariners hails from Venezuela. A .252/.306/.408 hitter in 28 games with the Everett AquaSox, he finished his season out with the Muckdogs hitting a very similar .271/.302/.407 in 15 games. Though he is scouted as a potential five tool threat, Hernandez has a way to go if he hopes to reach that ceiling both in physical and mental growth. Just a 6’2”, 175 pound 20-year-old, hope is that Hernandez is simply a late bloomer both physically as well as mechanically and mentally. Playing in the Mariners organization probably hasn’t helped the right fielder who has a career 5.7 walk rate and 21.1 K rate. Seattle hasn’t graduated a top-tier outfield talent since it assisted with Adam Jones prior to his trade to the Orioles in 2008.

Two things will be needed if Hernandez is going to reach his ceiling as a complete talent: a rigorous new training regiment centered around adding muscle and a supreme focus on improving his recognition of breaking pitches. He also has a bad habit of trying to do too much on pitches on the outer half, trying to pull them instead of going with them.

In the field and on the bases, there is little to dislike about Hernandez’s games. He has plus speed with good instincts and the ability to cover all necessary ground at all three spots. He projects best as a center fielder but given the current scope of the Marlins minor league system, he will probably start seeing more time in right field. Entering his age 21 season, Hernandez still has time to reach his Odubel Herrera-esque ceiling but if that is to become a reality, he will need to start making progressive advancements towards it this year.

2B J.C. Millan
2017 – A – .243/.277/.348, 12 XBH, 42/7 K/BB

Millan, a Cuba native, spent his high school and collegiate years locally in South Florida. After attending high school at Brito Academy, he was a standout in a single season at Broward College where he hit .324/.407/.443 where his batting average, OBP and .850 OPS all ranked top five in his conference. He also swiped 18 bags, second in the conference. Prior to the 2016 MLB Draft, the Marlins signed Millan as a free agent. After breaking in in the GCL that year, Millan began to show positive adjustments to the wood bat professional ranks last year when he hit .273/.304/.402 in 44 games in Batavia and earned himself a cup of coffee with the Grasshoppers at the end of the season. But as excited as he was to enjoy the success he did, Millan knows it was the beginning of a lengthy ride and that there’s still tons of work to be done, starting immediately.

“2017 was a good start for me but that’s already in the past,” Millan said. “This year is a fresh start. I’m excited to get back on the field and get rolling.”

Millan participated in camp this year on the main backfields and against the highest competition on low A-high A camp days, sometimes against competition as high as A+ and, by my estimation, looked great. He collected a few hits and made all the plays necessary of him in the field. Millan credits his readiness for his first full pro season to the cup of coffee he got in Greensboro at the end of last year, even though initially, it was a bit of a sharp learning curve, adjusting to both his competition and surroundings.

“Greensboro was great for me even though it didn’t come out how I wanted.” Millan said. “The speed of the game took over me the first week I went up. It was first time I got to play at such a nice stadium. But those were all learning experiences that I had to go through and I will be prepared for the upcoming season.”

Regarding how he is feeling heading into by far the most extensive season of his baseball career, Millan believes he is well prepared and is focused well focused on keeping his body at 100% capacity. With a lot of familiar faces around from his time in Batavia last year, he also believes there will be great camaraderie from the get go.

“I’m excited for this full season. I got a little taste of how it was going to be and it’s going to be a fun ride with all the guys I’ve played with,” Millan said. “It’s just a matter of staying healthy all year and going out everyday to give it your best.”

Millan is a 6’0”, 185 pound athletic specimen who swings from a preloaded split stance that stretches nearly the entire frame of the batters box. With slight bend in his back leg and a short stride to the ball, he generates good line drive contact from the barrel. He’s aggressive in the fact that he likes to crowd the inner half and shows good ability to get extended to pitches on the outer half. He could use to find more strength in his hands to fight off pitches high and in but his hands are still quick enough to get around on them. During his time in Greensboro last year, as he stated, was getting accustomed to the quicker pace of play, the speed of the field and the much higher level of competition. However, all of those are things that will and have already started to come with more innings and more at bats.

Heading into this season, I really like Millan to surprise a lot of people as a catalytic type singles threat with good foundational patience and mechanics and good footwork and range to either side in the field, and plus plus speed on the base paths. A potential ceiling leadoff threat and 20+ base stealer while hitting for a plus average, he’s a great story out of Cuba, reminiscent of Jose Fernandez with similar compete level who shouldn’t be slept on.

Projected Rotation

SP Tyler Kolek
SP Remey Reed
SP Tyler Braley
SP Brady Puckett
SP Brandon Miller
CL Colton Hock

Tyler Kolek
2017 – A- (rehab) – 3.2 IP, 29.45 ERA, 4.91 WHIP, 0.07 K/BB

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it is. After missing all of 2016 and nearly all of 2017 with Tommy John, Kolek will make his return to the Grasshoppers this season. A prized first round draft pick, second overall by the Marlins in 2014 after he wowed scouts by hitting as high as 103 mph as a high schooler, Kolek’s career so far has been an unbridled disaster that has cost the Marlins $6,000,000 in signing money.

After signing in 2014, the first two years of Kolek’s career were underwhelming at best. He showed similar plus velocity on his heat that he was valued for pre-draft (though he rarely hit triple digits and was definitely overthrowing when he did) but the pitch was dead straight. Each of Kolek’s secondary offerings were very immature to the level they were barely existent. He showed the beginnings of a 86-88 mph changeup and a similar velo slider but the release points are very inconsistent and he looks very uncomfortable throwing each of them. Another mechanical issue for Kolek was repeatability stemming from very little action in his lower half. Instead, Kolek appeared to be all arm, failing to push off the rubber and failing to throw downhill which is definitely what led to his arm being blown out.

Now 21 and returning from major injury, Kolek, who enjoyed very little pro success, will need to completely rebrand both his arsenal and tools if he hopes to succeed as a big leaguer. Can he do it? The answer is time will tell. What is undoubtedly evident is that Kolek has the compete level and drive to do so. However, it takes a special individual to become a different player at this point in his career. While such a high draft pick will be given every chance to do so, I suspect Kolek’s big league future lies in the bullpen.

Remey Reed
2017 – A- – 50.2 IP, 4.44 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 2.76 K/BB

A Marlins’ 6th rounder in 2016, Reed held down a 2.66 ERA in 122 innings at Division I Oklahoma State mostly out of the bullpen, Reed saw extensive time as a starter with Batavia last year, proving the Marlins are tabbing him as a future rotational candidate. Reed performed fairly well in this interview of sorts, especially considering they came in his first season as a professional. In his eleven starts, he held down a 4.15 ERA with a 42/12 K/BB over 43.1 IP. The highlight was a 6 inning 2 hit shutout in his second-to-last outing of the year against Mahoning Valley in which 47 of his 77 pitches went for strikes.

Reed is a massive 6’5” 230 which would make him the fourth tallest pitcher to ever throw in a Marlins uniform behind only John Rauch, Chris Volstad, Andrew Miller and Josh Johnson. The biggest knock on Reed’s game so far in his career is that he hasn’t been able to use his great size to his advantage. Rather than using his long limbs to generate plus velo, he is a slow and deliberate worker with an arsenal that matches. Rarely touching 90, he releases late from a high over the top slot without much deception in his delivery. He commands his fastball well and it has a flash of late life to it but each of his secondaries, an 83-86 mph changeup, an 86-88 mph slider and a slow 71-74 12-6 curve are very unpolished. He has the profile to pitch deep in games and be an effective low-effort innings eating starter but he will need to develop a better feel for his offspeed stuff. If he can modify his mechanics to include better lower body involvement, his ceiling could be that of a 2-3 starter. Right now though, with a lot of arms ahead of him in a similar time frame, he projects best as a reliever.

Brady Puckett
2017 – A- – 49 IP, 2.92 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 35/9 K/BB

Puckett is another huge specimen — 6’8, 220 — which would make him the second tallest hurler in Marlins history

Here, there’s a ton of plus projection. Though the Lipscomb University alum is another guy that won’t wow with velo, Puckett, 22, already owns a plus-plus secondary offerings on top of a good lively arm side running heater. He gets his size involved in his delivery well, leaning slightly to his arm side, creating a downward plane and throwing from a high 3/4 slot, making him incredibly difficult to pick up. Everything is commanded well on the lower half creating advantageous weak contact, and plenty of late swings, setting up the out pitch slider which has the capacity to be downright unfair when he’s painting the corners with it. From his high release point, the pitch planes down and sweeps to the corner with extremely late life. It’s a plus-plus pitch at this point and by far his best offering. Regarding the pitch, Puckett says he can throw it multiple ways. Depending on how good it is daily, he is able to hit both his arm side and inside opposite corners, giving it more of a cut fastball profile.

“I like to call it a cutter but some days it moves more like a slider,” Puckett said. “I’m pretty confident in it. I like to throw it to both left handed and right handed hitters.”

He also owns a solid 85 mph changeup that shows good depth and the beginnings of a slow curveball that shows flashes but at this point is just a mix-in.

A master at inside-outing hitters and working the entire zone when he is on, Puckett projects very well as a back end starter. He could use to improve a bit in terms of location consistency. Puckett says that trouble arises when he lets pressure get to him, leading to a tendency to overthrow. But he has a plan to remedy that issue.

“Whenever I try to throw the ball real hard is when I get myself into trouble,” Puckett said. “I just need to stay within myself and think miss smaller, not throw harder.”

Though he is headed into his first full professional season, Puckett says his past two years of work have made he and his body well equipped for the rigors of a large amount of work.

“The past 2 years I have thrown around 150 innings each year so I’m hoping that will help my body be prepared for a full season,” Puckett said.

Even though can be quite hittable when he doesn’t have his best stuff and is catching too much plate, he shows the ability to adjust and still does enough to limit damage. A guy who already has good command of two plus pitches, is developing two more, uses size by creating downward action and deception and has improving command, Puckett profiles as a good mix of a strikeout guy and limited contact guy. A hurler who can get outs multiple ways, I like Puckett to reach a ceiling somewhere comparable to Brandon McCarthy, a career 3.97 FIP, 2.97 K/BB starter.

Projected Stats

60-76
.226/.307/.342, 56 HR, 375 XBH, 152 SB, 2.9 K/BB
1191 IP, 3.86 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 3.10 K/BB

2017 Batavia Muckdogs Season Preview

2016 Team Stats

.218/.298/.294
20 HR/133 XBH
651 IP, 5.00 ERA, 1.53 WHIP

At the midway point of the season and with All-Star Games are happening all over affiliated baseball, the start of a brand new season is upon us. The short-season single A campgain kicks off this week, including in the New York Penn League and for your Batavia Muckdogs. There, manager Mike Jacobs, a former Marlins’ favorite, leads the likes of Thomas Jones, JC Millan, Shane Sawczak and the rest of a young spirited bunch hoping to become that and more.At the midway point of the season and with All-Star Games are happening all over affiliated baseball, the start of a brand new season is upon us. The short-season single A campgain kicks off this week, including in the New York Penn League and for your Batavia Muckdogs. There, manager Mike Jacobs, a former Marlins’ favorite, leads the likes of Thomas Jones, JC Millan, Shane Sawczak and the rest of a young spirited bunch hoping to become that and more.

After a seven year playing career, Mike Jacobs begins his first season behind the bench at the helm of this year’s Batavia squad. Jacobs was known best for his power hitting game proven by his .253/.313/.473 career slash line and 100 career homers, most of which came in his tenure as a Fish. His career year came in 2008 when he slugged .514, 15th in the NL, slammed 32 homers, 14th in the NL and drove in 93 runs, 20th in the NL all while playing in a pitcher-friendly home park, Pro Player Stadium. The Dawgs are already reaping the benefits of Jake’s power hitting background. Where last year’s squad scored 47 runs via 18  XBH in the entire month of June, this year’s squad has already scored 44 runs via 13 XBH in their first five games. Jacobs’ staff is rounded out by assistant coach and former Muckdogs’ OF TJ Gamba, hitting coach Rigobertio Silviero who enters his ninth season as a Marlins’ affiliated coach and pitching coach Jason Erickson, another former NYPL player (for State College as part of the Pirates’ orgainzation) and third-year pitching skipper.

Lineup

2B Jhonny Santos
CF Thomas Jones
1B Lazaro Alonso
RF Zachary Daly
DH Terry Bennett
3B JC Millan
LF Mathew Brooks
C David Gauntt
SS Marco Rivera

Center fielder Thomas Jones is the Marlins’ third round draft pick out of Laurens High School in South Carolina. He enters 2017 as the club’s sixth ranked overall prospect and third ranked positional prospect. A football standout in high school who earned some of the nation’s best overall rankings as a safety and had multiple offers on the table from some of the nation’s top football programs including Duke, Wake Forest, North Carolina and South Carolina, Jones forwent that career to play baseball in Miami. According to Jones, he used football to improve his athleticism and get his name into the first round of multiple sports’ drafts, but it was always baseball he saw himself making his career in.

“The decision was easy. I always wanted to play baseball,” Jones said of his decision to sign witht the Marlins. “I did well in football which gave me a lot of exposure. Playing football helped me to be quick on my feet. Playing free safety in football and center field in baseball have similar characteristics.”

The characteristics Jones speaks of include blazing speed that allotted him a 4.31 40-yard dash time as well as 16 stolen bases in 17 attempts his senior year and the overall ability to cover both center field gaps advantageously, fantastic hands that allowed him to easily create turnovers as well as maintain superior bat speed and an extremely athletic frame that let him outmuscle opposing wide receivers, bench 260 pounds and squat 500, and which has scouts projecting him to become a 20+ homer threat as he fills out and matures.

Of course, Jones has some things to iron out in order to reach that offensive potential. He needs to add some fluidity and repeatability to his timing and mechanics which currently look slightly stiff at times. He also needs to add some loft to his straight-through swing in order to make the most of his power potential. Jones does well at getting his lower half involved in his approach but he will need to perfect his footwork which currently sees him almost hopping into swings before his back foot pivot, leading to him frequently falling out of the box on his follow-through. While he needs some seasoning, the few hitches in his offensive game are quite understandable for a two-sport athlete and should all work themselves out as he commits all of his time to baseball. Though he admits filling in the holes in his game has been and will continue to be a trial, Jones is trusting the course of action and putting in all the necessary effort to succeed.

“All my time is focused on baseball now,” Jones said. “I’m training to become consistent with all my tools. It’s a process but I continue to grind it out.”

With plus present speed and power and average defensive skills, all of which stand to improve, Jones has a five-tool make-up which makes it easy to see why he comes into this season as the Marlins’ second best positional prospect. However, the intuitive Jones who owned a 3.66 GPA in high school and shows maturity well beyond his years isn’t worried about rankings and he isn’t going to let anything deter his focus from his modus operandi.

“I always keep a positive mind, no matter what,” Jones said. “This game is already hard itself. So I don’t even think about the outside talk and I just play the game.”

Yasiel Puig: $42 million, Yoan Moncada: $31 million, Luis Robert: $25 million. You probably remember reading about these massive international deals being reached which instantly turned poverty-stricken Cuban kids and families into multi-millionaires, all for their services on the baseball field. One you probably didn’t read about was Lazaro Alonso, a 20-year-old native of Pinar Del Rio who signed with the Marlins for $100,000. Although he didn’t receive the fanfare nor the payday his countrymen received upon arriving in America, Alonso hopes, that through hard work, both the money and the adulation will one day come.

“I was just a boy in Cuba, with no history,” Alonso told El Nuevo Herald. “I have only just started in everything. My life is a book to be written. I hope to make noise soon.”

Alonso will attempt to get the band tuned up this short season with Batavia. Regarded as Cuba’s eighth best prospect last season after he hit .299/.436/.494 as a rookie during Serie Nacionale’s 2014-15 season and .395/.495/.535, the second best hitter in Cuba’s 23-and-under summer league last year, Alonso is a massive physical specimen, standing 6’3″, weighing 230. Accordingly, his best tool is his incredible raw power which scouts contend could someday produce 25+ home runs if in the lineup every day.

Alonso’s best secondary tool is plus- pitch recognition ability that allotted him more walks than strikeouts in his rookie season. The disciplined plate approach allows Alonso to see a lot of pitches and force oppositions into making mistakes, a trait rarely found in power-first hitters. If Alonso is to fully reap the benefits of his prodigious power and his solid plate presence though, he is going to need to vastly improve the mechanics behind his swing. With his back leg bent and front leg straight, he strides from a very off-balanced load and fails to get his hands and arms linear to the ball. His inability to get ahead of pitches leads to very subpar timing and a very long swing. Alonso also fails to cover the plate, struggling against pitches on the outer half, particularly against lefties, a downfall that doesn’t bode well for his future against pitchers at the next level who can go corner to corner. Top to bottom, Alonso’s mechanics need a near complete overhaul. He’s also currently quite limited position ally due to  below average athleticism and speed.

Needless to say, Alonso definitely has some work ahead of him, making him one of the rawest prospects in the organization. However, he has already taken a positive first step in realizing his true potential by formulating the understanding that he has a long road ahead of him, accepting it and having the will to learn and grow.

“My swing is not perfect, my mechanics in the box must improve a lot,” Alonso said. “But I trust that I have the strength to improve.”

Terry Bennett is a Marlins’ 12th round draft pick from 2015 out of Atlantic Coast High School in Jacksonvlle. Before signing with the Fish, the exponentially athletic Bennett accepted an offer to continue playing both football and baseball at FIU. However, when Miami came calling, Bennett didn’t think twice.

“Baseball has always been my first love & being drafted was always dream for me growing up,” Bennett said. “After my senior season of football, I knew that I was done playing. My love for doing it everyday wasn’t there.”

After spending the last two seasons getting acclimated to playing baseball full time in the GCL, the Marlins believe Bennett is ready to make the jump to single A. A .340 senior year hitter in high school and Atlantic Coast’s first ever baseball draftee, the 6’0″ 205 Bennett, who was also a stout yet sneaky quick running back in the football world, owns a good combination of power and speed. When it has come to focusing solely on baseball, Bennett says he has made the acclimation quite naturally, not forgetting or completely abandoning his roots but also not being accustomed to change.

“The transition has been really good. I love baseball so know matter if I’m going good or bad I still want to come out everyday and try to get better,” Bennett said. “Football gave me that tough edge so that always comes in handy because baseball can break you down if you aren’t tough enough. I’ve gotten tremendously better from being in high school to now. I also have a lot of room for improvements but the coaches work us hard and know their stuff.”

The lefty hitter favors the pull variety of hitting but has also shown the ability to go to all fields. Mechanically, everything looks pretty good here. Bennett stands from a straight away stance, triggers with a front foot heel turn and steps into the ball. He keeps his back knee and shoulder linear and his head stationary before he engages a quick lofty swing.

The only knock here is that Bennett doesn’t load up much on his back foot and instead relies almost completely on his arms at the expense of his looseness and some of his power potential. Also, his back elbow doesn’t move far from his body which negates even more of his strength and leads to trouble barreling up. However, these are common mechanical flaws for undergraduate hitters, especially those who play more than one sport. If Bennett can get his lower half more involved in his swing and learn to reach back more on his swing while his body matures and his knowledge of the strike zone improves, he could become a solid middle of the order doubles-first threat with the ability to reach fences at any part of the park.

Though his throwing arm has some growing to do, Bennett’s aforementioned furious athleticism and good jets give him eligibility at all three outfield spots. He’s spent most of his time in center field which is likely where he will line up most of the time for the Dawgs this year. Like Alonso, Bennett is another guy who has a lot of growing to do but at just 19 and at the expense of just a 12th round pick, he will not be pressured at all. At this point, he’s viewed as a long-term project but his able-bodiedness, energetic attitude and sponge-like brain could allow him to make leaps instead of steps.

J.C. Millan’s backstory is one which will resonate with many in the Miami community and hit close to home for any Marlins fan who became familiar and got to know the late Jose Fernandez. Millan was born on January 18, 1996 in Havana, Cuba. A middle child in a family of limited means and the son to a father who he rarely saw due to him chasing his own baseball dreams, life wasn’t easy for Millan growing up.

“Living in Cuba wasn’t easy for us. My parents had to work really hard to always find a way for me and my sisters to always have food on the table, especially my mom since my dad was most of the time.”

During his teenage years, J.C.’s parents came upon the opportunity to relocate some of the family to the United States. Some of the family, but not all. Still, Millan’s mother jumped at the opportunity and although life in America wasn’t much easier at first, J.C. eventually found comfort.

“We had the opportunity to come to the US and my parents never hesitated because they wanted the best life for us and for me and my sister to one day succeed,” Millan said. “At first it was hard for us to adjust to the system here, especially me going to a new school, speaking no English and sitting in classes when I didn’t understand a word the teachers would say. But as the years passed by, we settled in.”

Much like Jose Fernandez and his family were faced with and made the difficult decision to leave Jose’s grandmother and his entire extended family behind in hostile Cuba in order to better their own lives, J.C. and the Millans parted from one of J.C.’s two sisters and her child, J.C.’s nephew, when they made their trek to Florida, a process and experience which has admittedly taken its toll on him.

“It’s pretty hard to take sometimes, leaving mostly your entire family behind and not being able to see them every day and instead maybe once every couple years,” Millan said. “I would love for them to be here but I don’t know if that will ever happen.”

Before each game, after he takes the field, Millan has made it a ritual to spirtually show gratitude what he has been given these past few years. Then, he audibly recites the same phrase for both his parents who allotted him the opportunity to take that field and for those whom he was made to leave behind back home.

“Every game I get on one knee in any position I play and give my thanks to the man above,” Millan said. “Then I verbally say, “This game is for my family.””

When told the story of how the organization made it possible for Jose’s grandmother to flee Cuba and join him in the United States to share in the realization of his dream, Millan, although still a bit skeptical given the still arduous political relations between Cuba and America, is a bit more hopeful of one day playing on an MLB diamond in front of his entire family, including his sister and nephew who, for the time being, remain in Havana.

“I feel like it’s impossible for my other sister and nephew to be here right now,” Millan said. “But it would mean everything in the world for them to be here with us, and I wouldn’t know how to thank them for that.”

Millan, a 6’0″ 185 pounder attended Brito Academy in Miami before spending a season at Broward College where he hit .324/.407/.443/.850, placing fifth in BA, third in OBP, fourth in SLG and third in OPS. His 18 steals ranked second in his conference and his .846 BB/K by way of a 26/22 K/BB also ranked third. From there, he took his talents to the GCL. There, as he got his first taste of big league ball, his stats weren’t nearly as glorified but as long as he was learning, Millan wasn’t concerned with them. He enters this year in Batavia with the same mindset: control what he can control and not get too far ahead of himself.

“I learned a lot at Broward as far as always being prepared before at bats and always have a plan when i go to the plate,” Millan said. “GCL wasn’t the year I wanted to have numbers wise but I’m not worried much about how my numbers were as long as I felt I was competing every single at bat and not getting overmatched. I have the same mindset coming into this year with the Muckdogs: compete every at bat, be on time and get a good pitch to hit. That’s all I can control. From there on, the ball will take care of itself.”

From a wide split stance that stretches to both ends of the box, Millan bends his plant leg and straightens his front leg as he leans over the strike zone, leading to a preloaded approach. He forgoes a timing trigger by being able to determine location and exhibit patience well beyond his years. The swing itself generates plenty of contact via the use of his quick hands but the timing needs to improve, specifically on breaking pitches where it can get a bit long.

On the basepaths, Millan has the speed and ability to wreak havoc. A long striding runner who gets good jumps, what he lacks in power he makes up for by turning any on-base chance into extra bases with his legs. That same speed serves Millan well in the field where he can play a pluthera of positions. He has eligibility at all three outfield spots, second base and third base and he will play all of them and then some in the same night, as long as it keeps him on the field.

“I feel comfortable at all three outifled spots but I feel like I have worked really hard in the infield to be where I am,” Millan said. “I can play second and third with no pressure but I’ll play any position that keeps me on the lineup every night, even if I have to pitch an inning or catch a whole game. Whatever it takes to be on the lineup, I’ll do it.”

Thankfully for Millan, his skill set as a singles-first bat with good speed and good range to both sides of the field projects him best as a top of the order second baseman. After a challenging start to life which born in him the need to grow up and mature fast, things are finally beginning to go Millan’s way. With success in Batavia, he should get the chance to finish out the year in Greensboro and get a look at the full-season level. As long as Millan’s road has been to this point, he still has a long way to go in perfecting his game and reaching the upper minors but a few years to him probably sounds like a few minutes. The right mindset and will to succeed should carry him a long way to pulling on a Marlins jersey sometime in the 2019-2020 range.

Pitching Rotation

1. Sam Perez
2. Edward Cabrera
3. Alejandro Cabrera
4. Alberto Guerrero

Sam Perez is a Marlins’ fifth round pick from last year out of Missouri State University. Exclusively a reliever over his four year collegiate career with the Bears, Perez tossed to a 3.31 ERA and 1.15 WHIP via fantastic control numbers including a 9.33 K% and a minuscule 2.75 BB%. But the Marlins saw something more in Perez than a late inning reliever. Last year in Batavia, they eased him into starting as he got the ball to begin a game in eight of his 16 appearances. Usually a long, strenous and difficult process and frequently a failed experiment, Perez, despite having to modify his game quite extensively, got through the transitional process to the rotation quite smoothly, holding down a 3.72 ERA by way of a 1.38 ERA.

“The adjustment to the rotation wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be but it was somewhat stressful at first mainly due to the mindset,” Perez said. “Out of the bullpen, you would get a signal to start throwing and you would try to get hot as fast as possible. In your head it’s, “okay, who’s up to bat, who’s on deck, go, go, go, get hot.” Being in the rotation you have so much time you have to make sure to pace yourself in the pregame warmup.”

Another big change for Perez as part of the rotation has been pitch selection. A zone pounding interchangeable fastball/slider thrower with a very infrequently used changeup out of the pen, he has had to develop the changeup to the point where he can throw it with just as much confidence as the slider and more frequently than it. In order to keep stress down but also keep his velocity consistent, he’s also had to learn how to set hitters up with the fastball rather than just coming right after them. Despite being a lot to tackle, it seems Perez has his recipe for success forumulated.

“As a starter I am throwing more fastballs instead of high stress pitches. The goal for most starters is usually to get as many outs as possible with your fastball and use your offspeed pitches when necessary,” Perez said. “But I would say that fastball and changeup usage go hand in hand with trying to go deeper in games. My velocity hasn’t suffered in order to go deeper in games. My pitch selection is what should allow that. Throwing a pitch with full conviction is a must for all pitchers, starters included, therefore my velocity has remained the same. The ability to be an efficient pitcher is what should help me go deeper in games.”

It’s a testament to Perez’s work ethic the strides he’s been able to make with his changeup which less than a season ago was nothing more than a mix-in waste pitch. Since, it has become arguably as good as his bender, and, at 82, a perfect companion to his mid-90s heat. Thrown with the same arm speed as his slider, he effectively keeps hitters guessing, no matter how many times through the order he goes. Perez attributes his success as a starter and ability to get deeper into games to that pitch.

“The changeup is a must for any starting pitcher. This is a big change from the bullpen because you attack hitters with your best stuff as soon as you’re in the game. As a bullpen pitcher you’re lucky if you go through a lineup once. That’s why my changeup wasn’t used as often as my slider: I wasn’t having to think of how to approach hitters more than once. The only times I threw changeups out of the bullpen was in a hitter’s count and they were expecting a fastball over the plate,” Perez said. “I feel as though my changeup has good movement and enough speed differential to help my fastball play even better. I have great confidence in my changeup and that allows me to throw it in any count to any batter, right or left. In order to become the most successful starting pitcher I can be, my changeup will be thrown more often in order to make the fastball more effective. For me as a starter I use the changeup to help set up the fastball and induce ground balls.”

With an obvious great understanding of how to effectively eat innings despite coming up as a reliever and his ability to make great strides with his changuep, Perez has successfully molded himself into a future 4-5 starter and the ace of this year’s Muckdogs staff. With a good 95-82 velo mix, a tricky slide step to short arm right handed delivery, and the aforementioned similar arm speed on all three of his pitches, Perez can still live all around the zone without getting hit too hard. He will need to improve his command and ability to get his stuff to the corners and not catch as much of the plate as he matures to the upper minors but that should all come as he logs more innings. At 22, Perez should be among those called up to Greensboro at short season’s end. With continued success there, he could be pushed rather aggressively to A+ and beyond, making him a candidate to contribute to the pitcher-needy Marlins in some capacity by 2019.

Shane Sawczak, a local kid out of Lake Worth and former student at Palm Beach State, was selected by the Marlins in the 19th round of last year’s draft. As Sawczak puts it, he was thrilled just to be drafted but to be drafted by his hometown team which has allowed his family to continue to share in his dream on a regular basis, turned the moment from great to amazing.

“Being drafted in general was a dream come true, but being drafted to the Marlins was an incredible feeling,” Sawczak says. “I would like to thank the organization for giving me the opportunity to pitch for them. I just got lucky I’m from south Florida. I grew up watching and attending the Marlins games with my family. It gives me better opportunities to see my family still and get to train and prepare myself for the upcoming season.”

After the draft, an energetic and pumped up Sawczak spent 2016 stifiling hitters to the tune of a 1.93 ERA via a 1.13 WHIP and 26/13 K/BB in 17 appearances for the Muckdogs. After getting a look with the Grasshoppers to end 2016, he is back with Batavia to begin this season as the anchor out of the bullpen. He is one of quite a few returnees that make up the core of this year’s Muckdogs squad, a core which Sawczak describes as kindred, making showing up to work every day comfortable and fun.

“This year, the Muckdogs have a special bond,” Sawczak said. “We all have spent a year together and are having fun playing together on the same diamond. We all have each others’ backs and we pick each other up.”

Sawczak relies on mid-90s moving heat, an 84-86 mph changuep and an upper 70s breaking ball. He pounds the zone with the fasbtall which he has found success with at the lower levels but he will need to learn to place the breaking stuff to succeed in the upper minors. If he can, Sawczak lines up as a quality late reliver based on a lively fastball with projectable secondaries. Keep him on the radar as a future closer.

Projected 2017 Team Stats

39-41
.245/.322/.336
38 HR/157 XBH
647 IP, 4.26 ERA, 1.42 WHIP

Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp 2017 Season Preview

The Fish get fishier in 2017 as the Jumbo Shrimp and Crustacean Nation are born in Jacksonville. There, Brian Anderson, Austin Dean, Dillon Peters and Jarlin Garcia will make up a young colony of shellfish hoping to become sailfish in the near future.

Leading the Shrimp into their inaugural campaign will be Randy Ready who gets the promotion from A+ Jupiter where last season he led the Hammerheads to a 68-69 record. After a very decent .259/.359/.387, 10.9 WAR 13-year playing career, Ready began his managing career as skip of the short season Oneonta Tigers where he led a 47-27 division title team and thus immediately became one of MiLB’s best managers. After earning the New York Penn League’s title of Manager of the Year, Ready began his full season ball managerial career, coaching the Padres’ single A affilliate the Fort Wayne Wizards for two seasons before making his AA debut in 2007. That season, for the inaugural year San Antonio Missions, Ready coached the likes of Chase Headley, Will Venable, Nick Hundley and Wade LeBlanc to a Texas League championship. Ready then briefly managed in AAA, coached hitting in the majors, got in the conversation for a MLB head coaching job and returned to AAA first as a hitting instructor then again as a manager before spending fourt years out of baseball. Last January, he was hired by the Marlins.

Ready’s resume speaks for itself: 34 years total experience in the game, persoanl knowledge playing at five different defensive positions, knowledge to hit as high as .309/.423/.520, two titles as manager, experience managing at each level of the minors and coaching in the majors and an overall fantastic positive attitude. With Randy at the helm, it’s safe to say the Shrimp will be Ready for success each time they take the field this season.

Lineup

Yefri Perez, CF
Austin Dean, LF
Brian Anderson, RF
David Vidal, 2B
Taylor Ard, 1B
John Norwood, RF
Austin Nola, C
Alex Yarbrough, SS

Following a 2016 campaign which saw him hitting .265/.348/.389 between A+ and AA, a season which allotted him the title Marlins’ Minor League Player of the Year, Brian Anderson opened some eyes. This offseason and spring training, he has made those eyes pop. First, Anderson took his talents to the Arizona Fall League where, against some of baseball’s best young talent, he was the runner up for the offseason league’s MVP award by hitting .273/.360/.506 and pacing it with six homers for the league champion Mesa Solar Sox. From there, upon a spring training invite, he joined the Marlins in Jupiter and proceeded to post a .349/.391/.605 slash line with six doubles, a homer, seven RBI and a hit in 12 of 23 games.

Because the Marlins want to take it easy with their best positional prospect who has only played 86 games above A ball, he will return to AA to start 2017 but should his offseason success that translated to spring training success follow him to Jacksonville, he should be a fast mover to New Orleans. As for his future as a big leaguer, he has great instincts and range at third base but his throwing arm is very inaccurate. Compounded by the fact that he is blocked there by Martin Prado for the next three years, he is a great candidate to begin his big league career on the right side of the infield. He has experience there in his minors career and shows the same great reads off the bat and footwork to his left as he does to his right. Should Justin Bour continue to struggle vs lefties, Anderson, who hit .350/.444/.517 against southpaws as a Sun last year, could get his major league debut serving in that capacity.

With a balanced overall offensive game and the knowledge to not do too much at the plate, smarts which he acquired this past season when he turned a 0.37 BB/K from 2015 into a 0.60 BB/K and gap to gap power from fantastic mechanics including the ability to stay back and transfer power vertically through his 6’3″ 185 pound frame most advantageously, Anderson has the potential to become an all-around three-five spot hitter. That potential on top of his above average glove work and lateral movement on defense make him not-so-arguably the most intriguing positional player in the Marlins’ system. After his recent accomplishments, Anderson has to know he has a ton of eyes on him, not just within this organization but around baseball and even on a national stage (LINK). Staying within himself and not buckling under that pressure will be his biggest challenge this year. Should Anderson just continue to be himself and favorable circumstances prevail, he will pull on a Marlins’ jersey this season.

Austin Dean is the Marlins’ fourth round pick from 2012, pulled straight from his high school in central Texas. Dean’s life in the professional ranks to this point an understandably rocky adjustment process and learning experience, one which wasn’t helped along at all by a 2014 season which saw him missing considerable time with three different injuries.

Following that disappointing season though, Dean stayed hard at work, putting in the necessary man hours in the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost time. He impressed while doing so, hitting .323/.364/.452 in 16 games, allowing him to crack high A to begin the 2015 regular season. For the 2015 Hammerheads, Dean slashed .268/.318/.366 with 52 RBI, second on the team and five homers, third on the team. The most impressive part of Dean’s game that year was how much he improved his plate discipline and cut down on strikeouts in the extremely pitcher friendly Florida State League. His 13.1 K% that year was a career best and a marked improvement over his 16% rate from 2014 and 20% rate from 2013. Hitting at or around the top of the order most of the season, Dean’s plus speed was put on full display as he stole 18 bags. However, he was also caught ten times proving his jumps and reads need a bit of work.

Dean’s solid comeback year allowed him to make the jump to AA last year. There, he hit mostly at the bottom part of the lineup. Though the tough jump and level and demotion in the order resulted in a more free swinging version of Dean proven by his career high 20.5% K rate, he was also able to do enough to at least foul pitches off and work deep counts, as proven by his 77% contact rate. Thus high high K% was evened out by a 9.0% walk rate, his best since his days in rookie ball. Dean also added some loft to his swing and managed to slug out a career high 11 homers, tops on the 2016 Suns and inside the top 15 in the Southern League. He did have a mediocre .238 BA but that can be blamed in part on a lowly .283 BABIP and he did only steal one bag but that is a product of him being sent only three times. All things considered, Dean had a solid building block type first season in AA ball.

This year, Dean returns to the AA ranks as many B and C type prospects do but he does so with the knowledge to hit anywhere in the lineup and with a good balance between patience, swinging to get on and swinging for the fences. This plus the familiarity he gained when it comes to hitting in the upper minors last year makes him a prime candidate to have a breakout 2017 campaign and show the world exactly what scouts see in him and what led them to rank as one of the organization’s top 15 prospects for three years running. An already 30-40 power bat with potential for more production in that department as he fully matures into what scouts see as a possible 15-20 homer threat, Dean also possesses above average speed and the ability to turn base hits into an XBHs as well as the potential for a ceiling of 15 steals yearly. On top of that, despite being pretty positionally limited, his outfield arm ranks as high as 50 on the 20/80 scale.

If Dean can bring his K rate back down to his career norms (around 13%) and maintain the ability to walk that he had last season as well as continue to grow into his fantastic raw power and get more chances to show what he can do on the bases by hitting higher in the lineup, Dean is a guy who could have a huge 2017 and find his way into a Marlins uniform as part of September call ups and into spring training to start 2018. At an intriguing point in his career, we will keep a close eye on the 23-year-old this season.

Pitching Rotation

1. Dillon Peters
2. Matt Tomshaw
3. Omar Bencomo
4. Mike Kickham

Still building on a 17-7 2.26 ERA, 2.43 K/BB, 1.14 WHIP three year college career in Division I baseball at Texas, Dillon Peters was setting himself up to have his name called early in the 2014 Draft. However, in May of that season Peters suffered an elbow injury, which caused him to miss the Longhorns’ regional and College World Series run. Ultimately, Peters underwent Tommy John surgery, which resulted in his draft stock to plundering. The Marlins drafted Peters, who still hadn’t resumed any sort of baseball activities, with their 10th round pick. Slated to make at least $504,000 just via his slot recommendation and not including a signing bonus a few months prior, Miami signed him for $141,800 plus a $175,000 signing bonus. Then, it appeared they were taking a big swing at a 21-year-old who just tore a ligament in his throwing elbow. Today, Peters is the fifth best prospect in their organization and they look like geniuses.

After spending the 2015 season rebuilding his arm strength, Peters earned that reputation last season tossing to the tune of a 2.46 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in his first 106 innings with the Hammerheads, totals which ranked fifth eighth in the Florida State League. Those numbers came by way of a minuscule walk total of 16 and 89 Ks, spelling out a 5.56 K/BB, best in the FSL. Before being rewarded with organizational All-Star honors as well as postseason All-Star accolades, Peters was rewarded with the call up to AA to end the year. Making the difficult jump in level, he didn’t appear to lose a step, holding down a 1.99 ERA by way of a 0.93 WHIP and 16/4 K/BB in his first four Jacksonville starts.

Even though he shed some poundage from his draft year, the still stout 5’9″, 195 Peters doesn’t do much pre-pitch to deceive hitters, throwing from a fairly basic and routine slidestep windup and 3/4 delivery. Alternatively, Peters’ success stems from his innate ability to pinpoint his locations with some of if not the best present command and control within the organization. He sets batters up with his 92-94 MPH fastball that shows good downward tilt, throws off their timing with a deceptive changeup which he throws from the same arm angle as the heat and which shows good late life down in the zone and punches them out with his best pitch curveball, a pitch that can get downright nasty bending in under 80 MPH, a 14-15 MPH drop off from his fastball, on either side of the black. For most of his career, Peters has been a to-contact lefty that has relied on groundball outs but with a slight uptick in velo in recent years and the invention of adding a cutter to his arsenal, a pitch that he gets in under the hands of opposing hitters inducing either whiffs or weak emergency hack foul balls by guys who can’t shorten up in time, the Ks have started to materialize. His ability to pound the zone and hit the catcher’s glove wherever it is set up keep his ABs and innings short, allowing him to work deep into games. In 2016, he worked into at least the 5th inning in all but three of his starts and got through five full in all but six of his 25 outings.

With the makeup of a Justin Nicolino type only with more velo, better mound presence and more confidence in all four of his pitches, Peters is the closest thing the Marlins have to a rotational ready prospect. That said, with similar continued success in AA this year and continued good health and after impressing Don Matitngly and the front office in spring training, he could get a shot later this year.

Jarlin Garcia, the Marlins’ fourth ranked prospect headed into 2017, will spend his season trying to make up for lost time last season. After posting an ERA under 3, a WHIP under 1.3 and a K/9 of at least 7 in his four of his first five seasons in the organization, Garcia began his first full year in AA, the level which he got a taste of to end the previous season and with more success there, looked primed to possibly make his Major League debut late that season. That possibility looked like it was going to become a reality when after a 3.82 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, .236 BAA start to his year in Jacksonville, Garcia got the call to aid the injury-hampered Marlins bullpen after Miami had been forced to move members of their pen such as David Phelps and Jose Urena into the rotation. However, despite the excitement of getting his first MLB call up and the prospect of taking his first MLB mound, Garcia never appeared in a game. Instead, he sat in the bullpen, on the bench. For eight days. During that time, he missed a scheduled throw day, taking no part in any official baseball activities.

On May 28, Garcia was returned to Jacksonville where management tried to ease him slowly back into action, limiting his first start back to just two innings. But the scrupulousness of David Berg and company proved to no avail. In his second start back with the Suns, Garcia left the game in the second inning. He would not return to the mound for nearly three months, the victim (with emphasis on the word victim) of left triceps tendinitis. He was able to return at the very end of the the year and participate in the Arizona Fall League, beginning the comeback process, one which he will continue this year and one that is sure to be gradual as the Marlins ease one of their best prospective arms back into form. Rather than putting 50-80 pitch strain on his arm once every four-five days, he will likely serve as one of the Shrimp’s primary relief options this season.

While there is still time for Garcia, who is still just 25, to make it back to the rotation, pitching out of the pen is probably a more realistic glimpse at his future as a big leaguer. Garcia has the ability to throw four pitches, a fastball, changeup, slider and curveball. The fastball is of the 92-95 MPH variety and he pumps it in with easy velo, from a downwhill plane stemming from his 6’3″ stature. It also flashes good late life and is easily Garcia’s best pitch. The heat sets up two quality offspeed pitches, a changeup and a slider. Garcia’s delivery which features a slow and deliberate windup only to see him power through his releae allows him to mask the arm speed on both pitches, the change dropping off nearly 10 MPH from the fastball and the slider usually sitting in the 80-82 MPH range with good sweeping action. He controls both pitches well, keeping them down in the zone from the same aforementioned downhill stride. However, the same downhill power delivery has led to his feel for and arm speed on the curveball being very inconsistent. He showed improvement by not overthrowing the pitch in 2015 only to struggle with it again before his injury last year. Though both his slider and changeup are quality major league ready pitches, the slider has been the offering that has generated more whiffs and is beginning to emerge as the best he has to offer to compliment his heat. Additionally, even though he threw in just 39.2 innings last year, his K rate hit a career low 6.13. With all of that, the questionability and uncertainty surrounding his health and his need to develop more command of the strike zone, Garcia’s future as a starter is very much in doubt. However, he could still make a very good career as a change-of-pace lefty who is affective against both sides out of the pen and spot starter.

Projected Stats

75-66
.262/.328/.370
82 HR/375 XBH
1,210 IP, 3.72 ERA, 1.30 WHIP

2017 Jupiter Hammerheads Season Preview

It is only a short 105 minute trek from Jupiter to Miami. However, in figurative terms of making it from the friendly confines of Abacoa and a Hammerheads’ cap and jersey to the shadow of the Miami skyline and the bright lights of Marlins Park and an orange and black lid and garb, the road is much, much longer. Nobody knows that better than the bulk of this year’s Hammerheads’ Opening Day roster, a squad nearly completely full of young men repeating a second full season in A+ ball. But the simple fact that this group will spend at least the start of another season in Jupiter should not lead one to draw any negative conclusions. There is talent on this club in the likes of Taylor Ard, Dexter Kjerstad, John Norwood, Avery Romero and Jeff Brigham — talent that they and the Marlins hope will allow them to take the next step sometime this year.

One of few new call ups to the Opening Day Hammerheads will be at the managerial position as Kevin Randel gets the promotion following following two seasons with the Grasshoppers. Randel, a 13th round pick by the Marlins in the 2002 MLB Draft, played for seven seasons, exclusively in the Marlins’ organization. A super utility type guy that could play basically anywhere, Randel boasted a .267/.374/.439 slash line but only played seven games above the AA level and never cracked the majors. Two years after his retirement from playing, Randel re-joined the Grasshoppers, one of his former teams, as hitting coach where he served for two seasons before serving in the same capacity for the Jacksonville Suns. He returned to the Grasshoppers in Greensboro, North Carolina which is a stone’s throw away from his home in Fuquay-Varina to make his managerial debut in 2015. Over the past two years, Randel has recorded a 114-165 record as head coach. A solid lower minors hitter in his time with a wealth of positional knowledge, Randel is well-rounded managerial material.

Projected Lineup

CF Jeremias Pineda
2B Brian Schales
RF John Norwood
LF Dexter Kjerstad
1B Taylor Ard
3B Avery Romero
DH Brad Haynal
C Rodrigo Vigil
SS Rehiner Cordova

Taylor Ard is a 2012 Seattle Mariners’ seventh round pick out of Washington State whom he joined after two seasons at Mt. Hood Community College. As a freshman at Mt. Hood in 2009, Ard earned his league’s triple crown hitting .490 with 12 HR and 49 RBI, an accomplishment that, despite playing just three games before red shirting in 2010, allowed him to join the Division I ranks. In 2011 as a red shirt sophomore, Ard thanked Washington State for their confidence in him to succeed even after missing a full season by hitting .337/.408/.577, a BA that ranked 8th and a SLG that ranked third and .985 OPS that ranked fourth. The power figures came by way of Ard’s 10 homers, most in the Pac 10, and 17 doubles, third most. In his junior year, Ard had another similar fantastic year, hitting .332/.412/.577. Again, he appeared on nearly every power hitting leaderboard including SLG, OPS (.989, 6th) and homers (12, 3rd) and total bases (127, 7th). As a whole, Ard’s three year (plus three games) college career consisted of a .372/.455/.637 slash line with a 1.092 OPS, 34 homers, 46 doubles and a .240 ISO.

Ard joined the Mariners’ organization following the end of the Pac 12 season in 2012 and kept the good times rolling. In his first season as a pro with the short season Everett Aquasox, Ard hit .284/.356/.497. Among qualified Northwest Leaguers, Ard’s BA ranked 10th, his SLG ranked second and his OPS ranked fourth. His twelve homers again put him atop his league’s leaderboard as did his 21 doubles.

However, all of Ard’s success didn’t stop the Mariners from inexplicably releasing Ard just before the 2014 season. It also didn’t stop Ard from playing good baseball and it didn’t take him long to resurface in the pro ranks. Upon his release, Ard took his talents to the independent leagues where he hit .338/.404/.544 with nine homers, 15 doubles and 33 RBI in 50 games, earning All-Star selection honors and catching the attention of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He joined the D-Backs as a member of the rookie ball Misoula Osprey followed by the Hillsboro Hops and finally ended his busy travel season in low A South Bend. In 34 total afilliated ball games, he hit .309/.425/.509 with four homers, eight doubles and 17 RBI. At season’s end, after giving him just 110 ABs and 34 above the rookie ball level, Arizona had apparently seen enough. On October 22, 2014, he was released from the afilliated ball ranks for the second time in two seasons.

But Ard’s tenacity once again paid off. He turned what had to seem like a bad bit of deja vu into a positive learning experience by having an even better 2014 season with the River City Rascals than he had with them a year previous despite playing in nearly twice as many games. In 96 contests, he hit .313/.385/.646. Along with that SLG, his 30 homers, 29 doubles and 83 RBI were all league best totals. At season’s end, after he was named the Frontier League MVP, Ard got a call from a familiar phone number: it was the Marlins, the first club to ever draft him in the 35th round of the 2010 Draft. At that time, Ard, who was 20, passed up Miami’s offer in favor of finishing his college career at Washington State. Seven years later, Ard accepted the Marlins’ offer and headed to Jupiter.

In his first season in the Miami organization at the highest level of competition he’s ever played at and in an extremely power subduing ballpark and league, Ard was able to slug .373, among the top 30 in the FSL. His 14 homers and 73 RBI, on top of both being Hammerheads’ team high totals, were the eighth and fourth best totals in the FSL and his 21 doubles were tied for 20th most.

Ard is a pure power hitting first baseman standing at a robust 6’2″, 230. He stays back on the ball well and transfers his weight very well with an active midsection and legs allowing him to go with pitches on either side of the plate and hit to all fields. But as good as his lower half is, his upper half is equally at a disadvantage. Ard’s trouble with getting his arms extended on swings leads to below average bat speed and although his patience and vision isn’t as bad as his 111/41 K/BB from last year would indicate, leads to a lot of swings and misses. At 27 and still in high A, there is a fair amount of doubt as to his future and in making it to the show but with similar power production to start 2017, he should be a fast mover to AA. What he does in making that difficult jump to the upper minors will go a long way in telling the tale of how far his career can go. If Ard can shorten up his swings and improve his bat speed, he draws comparison to a Mike Sweeney type fourth outfielder.

Dexter Kjerstad forwent being drafted out of high school by the Reds in the 50th round of the 2010 Draft in favor of enjoying a very successful two year (plus five games) collegiate career, albeit at three different universities in the hopes of improving that draft stock and his reputation as a prospect. However, despite posting a .374/.426/.621 slash line which included an All-Conference junior season at Louisiana Lafayette in which he led the Sun Belt Conference in BA (.388), hits (99), and total bases (155), ranked fourth in homers (12) and came in fifth in SLG (.608) and OPS (1.039), Kjerstad somehow fell off draft boards altogether.

Prior to the 2014 Draft, Kjerstad was signed by the Kansas City Royals. In 80 games that year for the low A Lexington Legends, the 22-year-old had a respectable season (especially for a guy in his first season in affiliated ball), hitting .275/.336/.428 with six homers, 25 XBH and 33 RBI. A year later though, another wave of somewhat unexpected and potentially mysterious bad fortune hit Kjerstad when after 51 games of .247/.288/.316 ball in high A, the Royals pulled the plug and released him. However, no stranger to a setback, Kjerstad once again took it in stride and headed to the independent leagues where he quickly became one of the American Association’s very best players.

After living out the rest of 2015 hitting .300/.338/.584 with 11 homers and six triples, totals which ranked third and second on his hometown Amarillo Thunderbirds despite him playing in just 45 of their 100 games, Kjerstad was noticed by and signed by the Marlins. Last season, his first full year in A+, consisted of a .227/.291/.383 slash line with 15 homers, a team high and fifth most in the Florida State League, 55 RBI, 14th most in the FSL and 177 total bases, 12th most on the circuit. While the Ks kept coming for the free swinging power hitter, the rate at which he K’d as well as walked slightly improved from his previous days at the same level. In 170 plate appearances in 2015, Kjerstad walked in just 4% of his trips and struck out in 27.6% of them. Last year, in 462 PAs, he walked 29 times or 5.6% of the time and K’d 132 times or 25.8% of the time. While the improvement wasn’t drastic and while it is unrealistic to expect a hitter like Kjerstad to ever become a walks machine who limits strikeouts, the slight improvement proves his knowledge of the strike zone is maturing.

Along with continuing to improve his plate discipline, the other area of Kjerstad’s offensive game that needs to improve is his becoming a more complete zone hitter. Kjerstad’s hit charts pave him as a pure pull hitter and when you watch his mechanics, you know why. While he transfers his power vertically through his body from bottom to top just fine, his troubles begin when he tries to engage his swing. Far too often does he commit the cardinal sin of pulling his head off the ball in favor of looking skyward towards left field, leading to a reduction in contact. The 6’1″ 210 pounder who owns just average bat speed also finds it difficult getting his arms extended on his swing, disallowing him from barrelling up as often as he would like, making him a prime candidate to get jammed and sawed off and, most of all, leaving the outer half of the plate unprotected. These two factors along with the fact that he doesn’t step into pitches tailing away have made him easy pickings for opposing pitchers who hit their spots on the outer black where Kjerstad either makes forced contact or no contact at all. As Kjerstad proved this fall in the Arizona Fall League where he K’d 20 times in 15 games, those problems will only compound against better competition. These issues are to blame for Kjerstad staying in A+ for a third year and they will need to be ironed out as he inches closer to a AA call-up.

While he faces the pretty tough task of redefining his approach and mechanics at the age of 25, if anyone can do it, it’s the extremely motivated Kjerstad who has never backed down from adversity or challenge. A very athletic outfielder who can play either corner spot with good speed and a slightly above average arm that produces throws that carry, if Kjerstad can add fluidity and extension to his swing and improve his plate coverage, his power potential could carry him to a big league bench sometime within the next three years.
John Norwood is another physical specimen who forwent being signed out of high school in favor of college and then was signed by the Marlins as a minor league free agent. Since joining Miami following a .284/.358/.391 three year career from 2012-2014 at Vanderbilt, Norwood has become one of the most impressive power producers in Miami’s organization. After finishing off his junior collegiate year in 2014 by hitting .256/.284/.295 for the Muckdogs, Norwood made the transition to full season affiliated ball by hitting .233/.304/.392 for the single A Grasshoppers. That year, his 16 homers tied him for sixth most in the South Atlantic League. When Norwood would reach without extra bases that season, he frequently turned it into extra bases by way of the steal as his plus plus speed allowed him to swipe 34 bags, seventh most in the Sally. Last year as he moved to pitcher friendly Jupiter, Norwood improved his walk rate from 8% to 9% and lowered his K rate from 23% to 22%. The power still persisted though as he had 24 doubles, tied for ninth most in the Florida State League and collected nine homers and 50 RBI each of which placed 23rd in the FSL. Usually hitting in a prime RBI slot between 3-5 in the lineup and against the highest level of competition he’s ever played at, Norwood’s stolen base total took a bit of a hit but he was still able to swipe 14 bags, good for second on the Hammerheads and 22nd in the league. Whether it be by way of the hit or by way of his improved walk rate, he got on base at a .347 clip, which led Jupiter and ranked 16th in the FSL.

Norwood’s hitting style and swing favor pull but approaching with a balanced load allows him to reach all fields. The work Norwood continues to do in the gym from his senior year collegiate days when he weighed in at 210 to last year when he dropped 20 pounds to come in a 190 has continued to pay dividends for Norwood. Due to his physical regiment, Norwood is getting around on his swings much better and covering the plate much more advantageously. All of this has spelled out a much more complete offensive game for Norwood who has gone from being an all-or-nothing pure power threat to becoming more of an on-base threat, proven by last year’s 60 point uptick in OBP to .347 from the .284 marker he posted in his first 20 pro games in 2014. What’s even better is the drop in weight hasn’t resulted in a power struggle for Norwood whatsoever. Although much leaner, he still collected 37 XBHs in one of the most pitcher friendly leagues in Minor League Baseball last season. While he will still struggle with breaking pitches on the outer half, Norwood’s ability to adjust his game around his body and become a much more all-around offensive weapon is very encouraging for his future.

Despite OPSing .744 last year, Norwood enters 2017 as a somewhat puzzling repeater of a level of the minors for the first time. However, if his play persists including his power production, improved knowledge of the zone, above average speed and abilities to cover all the ground necessary in right field (1.94 range factor last season), run good routes and make strong accurate throws (seven assists in 2016), it will not take him long to make the jump to AA. Still just 24, Norwood, already a College World Series hero, sets up as one of the more intriguing under-the-radar high ceiling prospects in the organization.

Avery Romero was selected and signed by the Marlins out of high school in the third round of the 2012 Draft. Entering his fifth year in the organization, it’s been an up and down career so far for the now 23-year-old. Romero broke out in 2013 with a .297/.357/.411 campaign for the Muckdogs, averages which ranked 7th, 20th and 22nd in the NYPL, along with 18 doubles which was tied for third and 30 RBI which tied him for 20th despite playing in just 56 of the league’s 74 games. From there, he moved to the Grasshoppers where he had an even more impressive season, hitting .320/.366/.429. He was once again near the top of his league in BA (5th), improved to 14th in OBP, and ranked inside the top 25 in slugging. His surprising power, especially for a guy of his 5’11”, 195 stature, persisted as he collected 23 doubles and slammed five homers. These exports earned Romero his call to A+ to end the 2014 season where he finished off his already strong season even stronger, hitting .320/.366/.429 in his first 100 ABs and allowed him to enter the next season as the Marlins’ fifth best prospect.

However, that 2015 season which Romero spent entirely in A+ was a lot less kind. That season met Romero with a stunt in his growth as he managed to slash just .259/.315/.314, his K rate rose from 11% to 14%. After hitting 32 total doubles in 2014, he managed just 14. Even though all of this came by way of an almost exactly neutral .297 BABIP, none of it stopped the Marlins from rushing Romero to AA to begin last season. After a dismal .190/.299/.290 initial 36 games with the Suns, the Marlins sent Romero back to the Hammerheads. There, an even further sub-par season greeted him as he hit just .253/.314/.335 in 75 games. The one silver lining from 2015, his improved walk rate of 7.5%, shrunk back to 6.8%. However, the strikeouts persisted as he K’d at a 13.2% rate.

While it was probably a mistake for the Marlins to rush Romero to AA last year after such a dismally average 2015 in which he sat right around the mendoza line and while it probably did more harm than good for his growth, Romero is still just 23 and still honing a unique skill set. When batting, Romero crowds the zone and attacks it from a low athletic stance which allows the 5’11” infielder to cut down even more on an already small strike zone. His swing which he times from a front foot trigger and steps to the ball nicely from, holds good bat speed giving him the ability to wait out breaking pitches of any kind. As mentioned, Romero does hold above average power especially for a guy his size but he is more a gap to gap doubles threat than a home run threat. Realizing that has been and will continue to be Romero’s biggest challenge as his biggest weakness is trying to do too much with his swings at the expense of his balance. Realizing the limits of your offensive game is a big step for any prospect to make and it will be even harder for Romero who is feeling the pressure of falling out of the organization’s top 30 prospect rankings this season for the first time in his career. Playing at third base, a very high power expectant position, full time as he did last season will only work further against the gifted infielder’s psyche so the Marlins would be wise to move him back to his more natural position and a spot where his gap hitting game will be more valuable, second base. In 2,531.2 career innings there before his spending more games at third for the first time in his career last year, Romero has posted a ridiculous 4.46 range factor and has only committed 49 errors in 1,365 chances (.964 fielding percentage).

Completing Romero’s game and getting his production back on track after his sophomore slump 2015 and his ill-advised promotion to AA for a third of his season and an equally disadvantageous move to third base full-time in 2016 will be a dual effort between him and the team. But should Romero improve his discipline in terms of not trying to swing out of his shoes so often and instead maintain the softness in his hands and stop falling off to his pull side, his K rates which soared last year should lower and his walk rate should improve. Management can make this a much easier process for Romero if they move him back back to second base where he has much more experience and plays his best defense. There, he won’t feel the pressure of being relied upon to produce bigger power numbers and thus be allowed to comfortably be himself. Should that two-way street run smoothly and should Romero grow into even more strength on top of his already plus power game as his 23-year-old body completes its development, Romero could become a very valuable, very rare breed: a complete hitting bat with the ability to both get on base and drive runs in on top a wizard-like glove and pair of feet in the middle of the field. With a ceiling I equate to Josh Harrison only with better patience and a better K/BB, Romero may be out of sight within the Marlins’ top 30 prospects (according to MLB.com), but he should definitely not be out of mind.

Projected Rotation

1. Jeff Brigham
2. Jorgan Cavanerio
3. Chris Sadberry
4. Felipe Gonzalez

Jeff Brigham is a Dodgers’ fourth round draft pick out of the University of Washington in 2014. After sub-par years in 2012 and 2013, he earned his draft stock that year by having a 90 IP, 2.90 ERA, 1.13 WHIP junior season. He finished off the 2014 calendar year by getting his feet wet in affiliated ball, tossing to the tune of a 3.58 ERA, a 1.47 WHIP and a .268 BAA in 33.2 innings for the Ogden Raptors.

Enter 2015. This is where the mismanagement of Brigham by the Dodgers began and his career with them started to end. Just seven innings into his full season ball career, LA, possibly feeling the pressure of Brigham’s high age of 23 for such a low level of competition, thought it wise to allow Brigham to just about completely skip low A and promote him straight to single A advanced Rancho Cucamonga. That season, Brigham struggled mightily. In 17 games and 68 innings, his ERA reached an ugly 5.96, third worst in the California League, by way of a 1.68 WHIP, fourth worst and a .286 BAA. However, all of these struggles would prove to be a blessing in disguise for both Brigham and the Marlins.

On July 30, 2016, Brigham was thought by the Dodgers to be nothing more than a throw in chip in the trade that brought them Mat Latos and Michael Morse at the expense of Victor Araujo and Kevin Guzman. By joining Miami, Brigham also joined the pitchers’ haven Florida State League allowing him to get his career back on track. There, in the last two years, Brigham has become quite possibly the most valuable peice on either side of that trade.

Upon joining Jupiter, Brigham finished out his 2015 campaign with 33.2 innings worth of 1.87 ERA, 1.28 WHIP ball, a small sample but nonetheless a feel-good ending to an otherwise depressing season. In 2016, after he struggled through an injury, a trip to the DL and an overall slow 5.73 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, .269 BAA first half, Brigham became one of the most reliable and effective starting pitchers in the organization in the second half. From June 25 through September 3, Brigham started 13 games, averaging over five innings and an even three runs per as well as an overall 1.17 WHIP. Brigham, who got stronger and stronger, healthier and healthier the later the season got, struck out 21% of his opponents in those 13 starts and one relief appearance and walked just 7%.

From Tommy John in 2012 that caused him to miss an entire season of play, to his struggles in 2015 that caused him to be pawned off by the Dodgers to undergoing a second surgery and making another lengthy to the DL last year, Brigham has already been through the ringer in his baseball career and has been forced to grow up quickly as a pro. It speaks volumes to his tenacity and grit that he is where he is today, heading into 2017 arguably the healthiest he has ever been after his most successful season at the highest level he’s ever played at. Throwing downhill from a rocker step wind up and full arm circle release, Brigham steps into his pitches with tons of power and generates great downhill velocity. His heat which shows good arm side run can get as high as 97 but, considering his past health problems and the fear of flare ups, will usually be harnessed in the 92-94 MPH range. Brigham’s second pitch is a slider which sits in the mid 80s and offsets his fastball positively. A lot of reason for his success in the second half of 2016 was due to his gaining more control of the pitch and being able to spot it on the low inner half against righties. Combined with the drop in velo from his heat which runs outside against same side hitters, it became more of a perfect complimentary offering and he gained the ability to pitch off of it. Brigham also made strides with his changeup in the second half last year, flashing added depth and good command although it can be a bit inconsistent. Despite the encouraging uptick in Ks in the second half last year, Brigham has a more vast history of being a to-contact guy and that reputation should follow him into the upper minors. If he hopes to stick as a rotation starter, he will need to further develop his changeup into a more reliable plus pitch. It has shown flashes but it is not there yet. That along with staying healthy will be the primary areas of focus for Brigham. If he comes back throwing the same way he did to end 2016, the Marlins’ 17th rated prospect is a prime candidate to get the promotion to AA with the floor of a multiple inning reliever and the ceiling of a back end starter.

Projected Team Stats

72-68
.242/.329/.315
65 HR/264 XBH
1,185 IP, 3.86 ERA, 1.30 WHIP

2016 Batavia Muckdogs Season Preview

Batavia Muckdogs 2016 Season Preview


2015 Team Stats

31-44
.252/.320/.347
25 HR/176 XBH
649.2 IP, 4.00 ERA, 1.459 WHIP

With the arrival of summer come the arrival of the dog days of the year. Not just in regards to the hottest outside temperatures of the year but also in relation to the beginning of the New York Penn League short season and with it the start of the next Batavia Muckdogs’ short season campaign. This year’s Muckdogs will welcome back some familiar names from the organization from the past year such as Isaiah White, Samuel Castro and Ryan McKay while also housing draftees participating in their first pro season such as Reilly Hovis, Corey Bird, J.J. Gould and Aaron Knapp to make up a Dogs’ team chock full of young talented men waiting to prove themselves worthy of the title prospect.

Angel EspadaLeading this next crop of potential Marlins in to battle will be manager Angel Espada who returns for his fifth straight year as a Marlins’ short season coach and fourth straight season as the Muckdogs’ skipper. Espada is a former player who was drafted in 1994 by the Atlanta Braves. He was a blip on the radar on a couple of occasions including during a .301/.368/.345 campaign as a 19-year-old in the Appalachian League in which he ranked as the league’s 20th best hitter but overall was just a .277/.328/.317 career hitter in five minor league seasons, all below high A before he confined himself to the independent leagues in 1998. He enjoyed a great career as an unaffiliated player, slashing .311/.356/.375 over nine seasons, most of which came as a member of the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League including a career best .356/.405/.440 campaign in 1999 which made him the league’s batting champion. He also stole 40 bases, second most in the league. Espada repeated as batting champ in 2000, slashing .337/388/.403, barely beating out the next closest competition by less than a single hit. After two subpar years in 2001 and 2002, a 27-year-old Espada was his league’s tenth best for average hitter in 2003 by way of a .323/.370/.393 line. He appeared on the Atlantic League leader board for the last time in 2005 with a 17th best .309/.345/.386 effort before retiring in 2007. Known as a patient top of the order hitter with plus speed and a snappy bat as well as solid defensive skills which attributed to a 4.65 career range factor with eligibility at shortstop, second base and all three outfield spots, Espada was a tactically sound player whose wealth of knowledge has benefited Marlins minor leaguers since 2009. He comes in to 2016 with a career 139-162 managerial record. Filling out Espada’s staff will be his former teammate in the independent leagues in the late 90s following a .263/.326/.408 minor league career and an eight year major league career Luis Quinones (hitting coach), former Muckdog turned bench coach Thomas “T.J.” Gamba, and former Red Sox pitching prospect beginning his second year coaching hurlers and first at the affiliated level, Chad Rhoades. Last season he coached the independent Florence Freedom to a 3.69 ERA, third best in the Frontier League.

Lineup

OF Corey Bird
SS Samuel Castro
OF Jhonny Santos
2B J.J. Gould
OF Isaiah White
DH Aaron Knapp
C Pablo Garcia
2B Rony Cabrera
1B Joseph Chavez

Corey Bird is a 20-year-old 6’0″ 180 pound outfielder out of Marshall University and the Marlins’ seventh round draft pick from the draft earlier this month. A two sport athlete in high school where he hit a ridiculous .457 over a four year campaign was selected to two All-Tournament teams, was his county’s Player of the Year once and West Virginia’s representative as Gatorade’s Player of the Year once, Bird began his college career with the Thundering Herd in 2014. Despite missing seven games at the beginning of the year due to a toe injury that season, Bird came back to lead his team in BA (.292), hits, walks and steals (which he was second in his entire conference in) and place second in OBP (.370) and SLG (.321). At one point that year, he had a 16 game on base streak. These exports garnered him Conference USA All-Freshman honors and second team honors on the All C-USA squad. Bird showed off his stamina in his final two college seasons, starting in 107 of 110 of the Herd’s contests. After again leading the team in multiple categories in 2015 including BA (.307), runs (34), and total bases (77) as well as stealing 10 more bags and placing second on the team in OBP (.377), Bird ended his college career this year by appearing in all 55 of Marshall’s games hitting an even .300 and, by way of a career best 26/24 BB/K, a .375 OBP. In the stolen base category, Bird made good on his surname, flying around the bases and totaling 34 steals, most in Conference USA. His 44 runs scored were 10th most in C-USA. He was once again named to the C-USA All Tournament team and earned All-Conference USA second team honors. He comes to the pros and to the Marlins as a career .301/.374/.342 hitter with a 58/15 SB/CS or a 79% success rate swiping bags. He also boasts a more than respectable 68/76 BB/K. As his playing time in college indicates, Bird is an extremely athletic young man, so much so he earned best athlete amongst all C-USA players this season from Baseball America. At the plate, his stance matches that reputation as he cuts down on the strike zone by standing from a straight away but very low stance. He waits out pitchers well, often committing to pitches late but his slappy bat and speed allow him to get away with having very little power to speak of. In Bird, the Marlins knew they weren’t getting a guy who is going to slug much of anything but rather a guy who is going to play the catalyst and get on base and in to scoring position ahead of their heavier bats. In addition to his athleticism, Bird boasts plus defense at all three outfield spots, making him very easy to get in to lineups and in to games as a sub. His current makeup has him fitting that of a prototypical fourth outfielder and defensive replacement, but with work, he has plenty of potential to become an every day starter.

Infielder Samuel Castro came to the Marlins organization in 2014 as an international signing out of the Dominican. He enters his first pro season at the ripe age of 18. At just 5’10”, 160, Castro has a very immature body but he has great instincts at on the infield where he is a natural shortstop but with good reads off the bat and a plus arm, can slot in at any position numbers 3 to 5. As you may have guessed he has very little to no power but, from both sides of the plate, he already has a good feel for the strikezone, good bat control and speed, a solid natural approach and all the willingness in the world to learn. He will be a fun prospect to watch grow.

J.J. GouldJ.J. Gould was the Marlins’ 24th rounder in this year’s draft. Originally a Florida State Seminole, Gould appeared in just 15 games in Tallahassee before making the move to the much lesser known Eastern Florida State College in Cocoa, Florida before ending his three year collegiate career at Jacksonville University. Between Eastern Florida State and Jacksonville though, Gould flashed the assets that made him attractive to the Seminoles out of high school, a skill-set that would have seen him taken much earlier in the draft had he stuck there. In 2014 as an Eastern Florida Titan, Gould, facing the sixth most plate appearances in his league, placed on league leader boards in OBP (.445) and OPS (.951). His 84 total bases ranked 10th in the league and his six triples placed him in a second place tie. He also flashed a great situational approach with the third most sacrifice hits and fifth most sacrifice flies. Overall, he slashed .325/.445/.506 with a more than respectable 33/46 BB/K. To round out his game, all Gould accomplished was becoming his conference’s defensive player of the year. Last year, Gould returned to Div. I ball and appeared in 55 of 56 Jacksonville University games. While his total numbers looked much different than those during his days at the lesser levels in Div. II, Gould still placed sixth on his team in OBP (.362) and his glove stayed gold as he continued to show terrific range and contributed to 13 double plays. He was also somewhat of a road warrior for the Jacksonville U Dolphins as he hit .296 away from their home field. He comes to the professional ranks as a career .294/.401/.431 bat. Leaning over the plate from a low athletic stance, Gould uses a light front foot timing trigger, active hips and a turned in back knee to get around on a lofty line drive swing. He possesses great bat speed and soft hands, making him both an on-base and power threat, a rarity found at second base. Gould is still a bit raw when it comes to knowledge of the strike zone, something he will look to improve on in his early days in the minors. If his coaches are able to get him to cut down on K totals, Gould could become a Chase Utley-esque threat with the defense to match.

Isaiah White is a speedy outfielder who spent his first pro season in the Gulf Coast League after being drafted out of high school in the third round of last year’s draft. Despite being described as extremely raw upon being drafted, White flirted with a .300 BA, ending the season at .294. He flashed his speed by stealing 13 bags which tied him for a team high and placed him and teammate Garvis Lara in a tie for ninth most in their league. Much like his new teammate, Bird, White’s best assets are his jets and his glove. He goes gap to gap with ease in center field, reads pitchers well and gets good jumps upon committing to a stolen base opportunity. The difference between Bird and White, although you wouldn’t know it by looking at his 6’0″ 170 pound frame, is that White has some hidden power. With a swing that has some slight uppercut loft, White gets his weight moving backward well and points his front foot timing trigger towards the ball. His extremely quick swing and ability to maintain looseness set him apart from most guys his size in that he can put quite the charge into the ball when he squares up. Although he isn’t currently nor will probably ever be a guy who hits a ton of balls over the fence, he flashes the potential to reach outfield gaps. Should his hits reach the wall, his speed will turn them in to easy doubles if not more. Coming from a tiny K-12 North Carolina school which had never produced major league talent before his draft year, White will definitely need some nurturing but after his success with the GCL Marlins, things are definitely looking in favor of White who just turned 19 in January. We will be following this project closely.

Aaron Knapp is the Marlins’ eighth round pick from this year’s draft out of the University of California. After enjoying a decorated high school career in the Southern California area which included a .434/.536/.645 junior campaign in which he was selected to multiple honors including All-State, All Section, All City and All League as well as Rawlings All-American and Perfect Game USA honorable mentions, Knapp became the third member of his family after his brother Andrew who is currently pitching in the Phillies organization and his father Mike to attend the University of California. On top of owning an epic mustache during his days as a Golden Bear, he possessed a .272/.333/.347 career line over three seasons. After a .235/.302/.304 inaugural campaign as a freshman, Knapp made great strides in his sophomore year appearing in all 57 of Cal’s games and becoming a .310/.376/.375 hitter. He placed second on his team in BA, third on the squad in walks (25), and second in triples (4). The speedster who also was a standout as a football safety in high school stole a team-high 12 bases and scored a team-high 45 runs, marks that placed 11th and 9th in the entire Pac 12. Knapp’s four triples placed 7th in his league and his 232 ABs placed 7th. With reports out on him this year as he appeared in 53 of the Bears’ games this season, Knapp fell back to earth a bit overall, hitting .251/.302/.340 but still managed to add to already fantastic clutch stats including a 30-91 mark with runners in scoring position by driving home a career high 26 runs. He again lead his squad with 10 steals, which ranked 10th in the league and triples (7) which ranked 2nd in the league. The blazing speed he showed during his entire amateur career led scouts to ranking at a 60 out of 80 skill and it is what he should continue to base his approach off of. More loft to his swing last year is what led to his sub-par numbers slash line wise. In his first year as a pro, Knapp should return to his roots as a slap and slash bat whose good first step out of the box and steamy jets force infielders to make mistakes and lead to high OBP numbers, prototypical of a leadoff hitter. A split stance hitter whose front hip points towards first base, he does need to work on staying true through the ball rather than trying to run before he finds the barrel as he was doing very well last year. Knapp hurt himself and his draft stock trying to become something he isn’t ever going to be; a fly ball power threat. He undoubtedly realizes that and will attempt to turn back time as a Muckdog. Should he do so, thanks again to his speed, his fantastic range and playmaking ability as a center fielder despite average arm skills make him close to an all-around athlete and a future staple at the top of any lineup.

Pitching Rotation

1. Reilly Hovis
2. Ryan McKay
3. Jose Diaz
4. Travis Neubeck
5. Jordan Holloway

Reilly Hovis is the Marlins’ 9th round pick from last season out of powerhouse North Carolina. He pitched primarily out of the pen in his freshman year holding down a 2.36 ERA and a .164 BAA in 34.1 IP. Despite the success, Hovis returned to the pen in 2014. That season, Hovis was one of the ACC’s very best, ranking fourth in the league with a ridiculous 11.39 K/9. Despite pitching almost exclusively as a reliever (1 start), Hovis had a team high 9 wins. He was again next to impossible to hit, holding down a .194 BAA, allowing just 8 XBHs including 2 HR. Despite pitching in at least 20 less innings than three of his teammates, Hovis bordered on totalling a team high in Ks (81 where the team high was 83). His ERA of 2.25 bested the rest of the Heels’ rotation by at least .4 and was second best on the entire team. The only one of his teammates to best him pitched in nearly half as many innings. At that point, Hovis was slated to go no later than round three in the upcoming MLB Draft. However, before season’s end, he underwent Tommy John surgery for a right forearm strain which caused many teams to look past him. The Marlins believe they got a steal by drafting him 266th overall — and so do I. With a high leg kick and a snap through quick delivery after dropping his arm down below his knee, the hard to pick up and quick to the plate delivery is finished off by spectacular stuff. Usually starting hitters off with a heater that sits in the 93-95 MPH range from a downward plane, his best secondary offering is a slider that has 10-4 movement and sits in the 84 MPH slot. He can throw the slide piece to both sides of the plate and paint both sides of the black, inside outing hitters with ease, making it very much a plus out pitch. Hovis also has a split changeup that rests at the 86 MPH slot. It is the least developed of the pitches in his arsenal but because of his technically sound repeatable approach from his athletic build and rarely wavering arm speed, it is still an above average offering, flashing good run from the inside out and late fade. Rounding out his repertoire, Hovis also holds a cut fastball that was a go-to pitch for him in college. It sits around the 89 MPH range and has drop-off-the-table type movement thanks to minimal backspin. The pitch made plenty an ACC hitter look foolish during Hovis’ days in Tarheel blue as he got them to commit to swinging at what they thought was a straight fastball before the ball wound up 15 inches lower in the back of the catcher’s glove. Should he show no ill affects from his surgery which was reported to be an undaunted success, Hovis, with great control and fantastic command and confidence on the mound along with good feel for all of his pitches and the ability to throw all of them in any count which leads to a well rounded deceptive arsenal especially for a heady kid who reasons and manages his outings as well as he throws them, has the ability to become a back-end rotation starter. At the very least, he is a future forefront of the bullpen. Don’t be surprised if you see this guy’s name surfacing in the majors within the next three years.

Ryan McKayRyan McKay is the Marlins’ 11th round pick from last season out of Satellite High School in Satellite Beach, Florida. After striking out 93 and holding down a 0.63 ERA as a senior, he spent his first pro season in the Gulf Coast league, where he posted a record of 1-3 in 10 games, seven starts and 34.2 IP. His control was worrisome as a first year pro as he walked 21, struck out 17, let up hits at a .300 clip and experienced both a heightened WHIP (1.82) and ERA (4.15). McKay has the stuff to succeed including a fastball which has grown in velo from 86 MPH in his junior year to where it currently sits at 94 with the probability to tick up even more as he grows. His best secondary offering, his curveball falls in at 74 MPH, giving him an impressive 20 MPH velo differential. The curve has been flashing plus since scouts started noticing him in his junior season. With tight spin and late bite, McKay has the ability to paint corners with the pitch, usually throwing it to the outer half utilizing it’s late movement to back door his opponents. His mix in pitch is an 82 MPH changeup. He has made strides with the pitch in a short amount of time since first developing it in his sophomore season. Although he still needs to work on getting his arm angle consistent and doesn’t have much command over the pitch, it flashes good downward run. McKay also owns a slider but he rarely goes to it. Right now, it’s nothing more than very much an experiment. While his other three pitches, namely the heat and curve, show plenty of promise, the challenge for McKay has been and will be growing in to his big 6’4″, 195 pound frame. He is slow and methodical to the plate and throws from a high 3/4 delivery on a downward plane after a full arm circle, there are times when McKay can look dominant, there were more frequent times during his first pro year where he looked very uncomfortable on the mound, unable to get his long limbs under control, struggling with his release point and his balance on his follow through. If McKay is going to succeed over the long term as a starter, he needs to make some mechanical adjustments to iron out these flaws. If he is able to do so, he has the stuff to succeed as a back of the rotation arm or long reliever.

Projected Team Stats

27-48
.256/.317/.334
21 HR/144 XBH
652 IP, 4.31 ERA, 1.462 WHIP