Category: Spring Training

Spring Training Power Rankings Part II

With the second round of cuts made, spring training battles for an Opening Day roster spot are coming down to the wire. Here’s a look at who is primed to start the year in the minors and who is beginning to house hunt in the Miami area.

* Stats in this post reflect those preceding play on 3/23.

One major development that occurred this past week involved starting third baseman Martin Prado. Playing in his fifth game for his home country Venezuela (and hitting .368/.429/.526 while doing so), Prado pulled up lame while running into second base. He was removed from the game and has since been sent back home to Miami to undergo further testing on a gimpy hamstring. The inittal from Don Mattingly who didn’t sound too optimistic when breaking the news is that Prado would undergo an MRI Saturday. Prado’s Marlins’ teammates, trying to voice words of encouragement to an evidently disappointed Captain, didn’t sound too cheerful either. The MRI results were revealed Monday. They show that Prado has a grade 1 strain of his right hammy. He will definitely be out for Opening Day and could be out for an extended period of time. According to Mattingly, there is no timetable for Prado’s return. It leaves the Marlins with a hole at third base and a roster spot a lot more wide open than before. So how do the Fish fill those voids?

Fourth Bench Spot

Miguel Rojas Got off to a .385/.357/.846 start before suffering an injury of his own when he was hit in the face by a throw to second base. However, the injury proved to be minor. After passing all necessary tests including concussion protocol, Rojas came back no worse for the wear. Now hitting .444/.448/.704 this spring. If Prado is out for an extended period of time, the Marlins will likely platoon Rojas with Derek Dietrich at third base. Though the lefty (and more powerful) Dietrich will get the bulk of the starts at third most days, Rojas will start against lefties and will see an uptick in starts on starters’ days off at second base, shortstop and left field. He could also factor into the equation at first against lefties. If the injury to Prado is lengthy, Rojas’ versatility should spell at least a busy first half for the super utility and is the precursor for a very active season for the 28-year-old. Rojas got into 123 games last year for the Marlins but mostly as a defensive replacement, getting just 194 ABs. Seeing a different pitcher for the first time in 92 of his 194 ABs rather than getting the opportunity to see his opponent’s stuff and time them, Rojas posted a meager .247/.288/.325 with a lowly 5.2 BB%. Although infrequently, when the late inning replacement has seen a pitcher for a second, third and fourth time in his career, he has had success. In those 154 ABs, Rojas has hit .266/.342/.338. So getting in games earlier and staying in games later should work wonders for his slash line.

 

Matt Juengel Has the most experience in the upper minors out of all other candidates and is still hitting this spring, currently slashing .321/.424/.393 in 28 ABs. Strikeouts have always been the main concern for Juengel and continued to be last season in AAA when he K’d at a career high 17.6% rate. However, he helped offset that a bit by walking at a 7.4% rate, the best he’s done since 2013 in low A. With the Zephyrs last year, by way of a neutral .300 BABIP, he posted a .263/.325/.431 slash line, very respectable, servicable and translatable numbers for a MLB bench bat. Even though he is as much a likely candidate to be sent down once Prado is back as he is the favorite to earn the last bench spot out of camp, If Juengel, who plays both left and first in addition to a passable third, can continue to work deeper counts as he did last year and be coached to refrain from pulling off on his swings, the rest of his mechanics, all of which are at least average and include plus power that alotted him 12 homers last year and 17 in AA in 2015, he could eventually become a mainstay on the Marlins’ bench.

UPDATE: A day after this writing, Juengel was cut from spring training and optioned back to AAA. My only guess for his early dismissal is because the Marlins are worried about his career high 17.6% K rate from last season but that’s extremely nitpicky considering Juengel also walked at a 7.5% rate, had a .168 ISO, had a career high .431 SLG and was having a fantastic spring. Perhaps the Marlins just don’t like Juengel’s game. Whatever the reason, he will be a Baby Cake to start 2017.

 

Tyler Moore A Brandon, Mississippi native, he’s shown a country strong power bat this spring, slashing .282/.333/.692 with a team leading five homers. However, it has come at the expense of 12 Ks in 39 ABs. As has been the case with Moore in his MiLB career, a tenure which borders on journeyman status and one in which he has an extremely elevated 23% K rate, this is a major area of concern for him. At age 30 with his stone cast and coming off a year in which he played just 29 games before being cut by the Braves, there’s plenty of doubt as to if Moore can keep this type of hitting up, even in an off-the-bench capacity. He also only has defensive eligibility at first and left field. With one of Dietrich or Rojas being used as a starter every day, the Marlins will probably look to someone a bit easier to get into games for the final bench spot, especially in such a close competition offensively. All of that said though, Moore has definitely turned some heads this year and could get a shot to return to some sort of the form he showed as a 23 and 24-year-old when he hit 31 homers in back-to-back seasons in A+ and AA back in 2010 and 2011. For the short term though, look for Moore to start the year in AAA.

UPDATE: With Juengel being cut, Moore becomes the favorite to make the Opening Day roster. However, he will probably be on a short leesh. Once his bat goes cold which it is almost sure to do, he will probably be sent down.

 

Matt den Dekker Shook off a 1-14 slump by going 6 for his last 15 with a two homer game, getting his spring RBI total up to a team leading 12. The way he’s gone from hot to cold at the drop of a hat twice this spring has been the way of things for den Dekker for most of his pro career, most of which he has spent in the minors where he has piled up a .272/.339/.440 slash line over seven seasons. He’s spent portions of four seasons in the majors, coming almost exclusively off the bench and posting a .236/.318/.359 line. den Dekker’s extremely streaky offensive game, his multitude of strikeouts (combined 23% K rate between MiLB and MLB) and the way he can make solid contact when he does barrel up remind me a lot of a Cody Ross light type player. Defensively, den Dekker is pretty gifted and is the area of his game that makes him an above average bench player and late inning replacement. With eligibility at all three outfield spots and time spent at all of them, he has posted a +10 DRS in 786.2 MLB innings. He makes his best reads and covers ground best in right field where he has a +4 DRS and a 3.1 UZR. A poppy doubles first bat and more than solid glove and arm, the Marlins could do much worse than den Dekker in a fourth/fifth outfielder capacity. He will continue to battle Tyler Moore for the final roster spot in the last two weeks of spring training. If he can’t catch Moore offensively, he will begin the year in AAA but will probably see at least some time with the Fish this year, marking off his third of five NL East uniforms worn.

 

Brian Anderson Continues to dazzle this spring, hitting .368/.415/.658 giving him the second best OPS on the team this spring (among those with at least 30 ABs), reaching base in 11 of his 18 appearances and playing solid third base defense. Although fans are clamoring for Anderson to make the team and start at third over a Rojas/Dietrich platoon, the Marlins will do the prudent thing with their best positional prospect. Anderson, who has never played in AAA and has only played 86 games above A ball, will be sent to New Orleans to begin the season. However, if the approach he started to flash last year with the Suns when he vastly improved his contact rates and plate presence shrinking his season K rate from 20.6% in 2015 to 17.1% and improving his walk rate from 7.5% to 10.4% as well as the type of contact he exhibited against some of baseball’s best prospects in the Arizona Fall League this past autumn where he hit .302/.377/.440 for the AFL Championship winning Solar Sox, it will be very hard to hold this kid down for long. With Prado blocking him at third base and his infield arm still quite inaccurate for this level of development (one of his only downfalls to his defensive game which holds great instincts, including precise reads off the bat and a fantastic first step to the ball and a flashy glove), Anderson’s future could be at first base. At 6’3″, 185, he certainly has the build for the position and plays it with the same great range to his right as he does to his left when he’s at third. Wherever he winds up, Anderson’s plus power hitting game by use of a sweet quick stroke, plus bat speed and strong hands is coming to fruition at a very advantageous time. Even though he will start the year in AA, with similar play as he has shown this spring against some of baseball’s best, it shouldn’t take him very long to make his MLB debut. Look for the lefty masher to get his call as early as June in a possible first base platoon with Justin Bour. If the Marlins stay committed to the JB/J.T. Realmuto experiment at first, in the very least, play some sort of role for the Fish by season’s end.

 

Moises Sierra A free agent signee in 2015 after he was released by the Royals with whom he spent just a single season, Sierra has absolutely killed the ball in Jacksonville last year, slashing .336/.414/.519. Despite missing a total of nearly two months with two different injuries, Sierra still slugged nine homers, second on the team and 16 doubles, third most. Playing well above the AA level of competition, he walked nearly just as much as he K’d (44/41 K/BB). His hot bat has continued to show itself this spring as he is hitting .417/.462/.583. That BA and OBP lead the Fish among players with at least 30 AB. A 6’1″ 185 pound righty who favors his pull side but can go to all fields with a beautifully violent jump-out-of-his-shoes type of swing that is balanced by solid mechanics including a stationary head and good step into the ball from a split stance and an accurate front foot timing trigger. On the rare occasion Sierra doesn’t get extra bases out of the box, he is a threat to turn his singles and walks into scoring chances due to plus speed. In his MiLB career, Sierra has stolen 81 bases in 132 chances (61%).

The 28-year-old rounds out his game in the field by exhibiting a downright ridiuclous throwing arm that has allotted him 90 outfield assists, nearly all coming from right field. Sierra’s offensive success both with the bat and with his legs as well as his prowess with the glove and arm translated to the majors extremely well in 2014. As a member of the White Sox bench, Sierra showcased his potential by hitting .276/.311/.417 with three homers, eight doubles and 28 RBI. He also contributed four outfield assists. Because of his injury hampered 2016 season, Sierra will likely begin the year in AAA where he will attempt to keep his strikeout totals in check, a tough task for him so far in his career at the highest level of the minors (22% K rate over four seasons) and in his his short time in the majors (26% K rate in 180 games). However, if he can do so, he will own a pretty complete all-around skill set. Even though the 6’1″, 220 pound specimen is 28, he still has plenty of potential to succeed as a major leaguer. Upon the need for another outfielder and with the aforementioned improvements to his patience, look for Sierra to get that shot with the Marlins shortly.

 

Cuts: Yefri Perez, J.T. Riddle, Austin Nola

Fifth Starter

Dan Straily Being called by his former Reds teammate Ramon Cabrera, he had a solid outing a few days ago, tossing five innings of 3-hit, one run ball and striking out six with 32 of his 33 pitches going for strikes. Despite his overall dim spring campaign, none of his competition is outplaying Straily. So unless the Marlins move David Phelps out of the bullpen, it’s time to peruse the probability of him taking this roster spot. In the aforementioned start against Detroit, Cabrera inside-outed Straily’s locations perfectly and worked off his changeup despite solely relying on first pitch fastballs, allowing him to induce weak contact all day against a powerful lineup. Again, Straily’s command wasn’t perfect but he and Cabrera were able to out-think hitters and stay effective. While there is no room for a third catcher on the roster much less one who plays every fifth day thus no room for Cabrera to be Straily’s personal catcher, the Marlins would be wise to have A.J. Ellis, who has a lot more experience calling soft-tossing finesse guys, start whenever Straily takes the hill, at least early in the season. Against righties, this would come at the expense of losing J.T. Realmuto’s bat in the lineup but considering how Straily has looked throwing to Realmuto this spring, it seems like a necessary evil until he and J.T. get more familiar with each other.

 

Justin Nicolino Also coming off of a solid four inning start in which he gave up just one earned run on two hits and a walk, Nicolino seems to be regaining the feel and command over his stuff. In his last two outings, he’s gone a combined seven frames giving up just the one previously mentioned run on the one walk and five hits. Thirty of his last 35 pitches have gone for strikes. Despite coming into the spring as the overall darkhorse to win this roster spot especially after a remedial 2016 season which he spent going back and forth between AAA and the Marlins with command issues, he is showing the most confidence in his stuff and is probably Straily’s best and only competition. Consistency has been a huge problem for Nicolino in his career thus far so it wouldn’t be surprising if he went back to not getting the most out of his stuff as we saw last year. However, since my last power rankings, he has been advantageously utilizing his tall frame and gone back to throwing downhill and keeping the ball where he has to keep it, low in the zone and on both sides of the black. The known soft tosser has even shown an uptick in velocity, getting his heat up to as high as 93. It may only be a few spring training starts but at the present moment, Nicolino is performing the best he ever has against major league hitters. While it may not be enough to warrant him a spot in the rotation out of camp, should that continue through the end of his spring campaign, he will at least begin the year in the bullpen and, if Straily struggles, he will be the first in line to take the final rotation spot.

 

 

Jose Urena Coming off a 4 IP, 3 H, 4 BB, 4 K effort, his longest and best of four so far this spring. Throughout his career, Urena has had trouble stringing outs together and getting settled in to his starts. That has been the theme for him again this spring and in this game (although it was decent and he limited damage). He allowed a baserunner in each of his four innings and worked into a lot of deep counts. While Urena may still have a slight chance to start as a last resort or on a team with horrendous starting pitching depth (like your 2017 Miami Marlins), his control issues and tendency to overthrow paint him as a future mop-up and middle reliever. As of this moment, Urena is most likely a candidate to start the year back in AAA but could be up sometime this year in that capacity.

Cuts: Jarlin Garcia, Dillon Peters

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2017 Spring Training Power Rankings

We are eight games in to the 27 game spring training ledger and Opening Day roster battles are in full swing. Here is a look at who’s hot and who’s not in Marlins camp among those vying to have their name announced and line up along Marlins’ Park’s baselines on April 11.

Fourth Bench Spot

Miguel Rojas Hitting .375/.353/.813 in first eight games, 16 AB and has most recent MLB experience. Also has the most positional flexibility with eligibility at first, second, third, shortstop and left field. He suffered an injury this week when a throw to second from Tomas Telis took a bad hop off wet ground and hit him in the face. He underwent concussion tests as well as other examinations. Everything came back negative. He is the odds-on favorite to win the final bench job, as long as his bat stays hot.

 

Matt Juengel The Marlins’ 24th round draft pick from 2012. After a .284/.304/.378 21 game start to the year in AA, he spent most of last season hitting .263/.325/.431 with 11 homers. His combined 132 game, .266/.322/.423 campaign was his best since his days in low A. Quite possibly the most disciplined hitter of anyone in the running for this final bench spot, he has a career 1.99 K/BB. This spring, he is off to a .313/.421/.375 start with a 3/3 K/BB and has reached in six of his 10 appearances. Primarily a rangey 3B with a decent arm but has eligibility at 1B in LF. Also has experience in CF and RF. The most positionally flexible of all candidates after Rojas, if Juengel keeps showing off his all fields plus power bat, he’ll be the next guy in line should anything go awry with the Opening Day roster.

 

Brian Anderson The Marlins’ best positional prospect is not-so-arguably enjoying the best spring of all Marlins’ NRIs. Hitting .421/.421/.789 with four doubles and a homer in his first 19 ABs, he’s reached base safely in eight of 11 games. Has also flashed great range at third especially for a 6’3″, 185 pounder due to good reads off the bat and a quick first step to the ball. Throwing arm is strong but still inaccurate as it has been throughout most of his minor league career including last season when he committed 27 errors. Also has eligibility at second base but power and size project best as future 1B.

Despite great showing this spring, he’s still only played 85 games above A ball so making the Opening Day roster is probably out of the question. However, if Anderson continues to hit in the upper minors and if the Marlins’ experiment platooning J.T. Realmuto with Justin Bour at first and sacrificing offense behind the plate by forcing A.J. Ellis into more starts doesn’t work out, Anderson, who has absolutely crushed lefties in his career in the minors (360+/.430+/.520+ including .303/.370/.500 last year) should be next in line after Rojas and Moore to platoon at 1B. Therefore, don’t be surprised if you see the 23-year-old at Marlins Park sooner rather than later.

 

Tyler Moore Signed by Miami after electing free agency from the Braves where he most recently had an injury hampered .229/.276/.375 campaign between AAA and rehabilitation rookie ball which came after he missed nearly all of 2015 due to a left ankle sprain, a fully healthy Moore has made a name for himself in a Marlins’ uniform on the early spring. Hit home runs in each of his first two spring training appearances and went on to reach base in four of his last seven appearances. Hitting .333/.368/.833 overall. Going off recent history, he is a health risk and has minimal positional flexibility, limited to 1B and LF. However, he’s a .290+ BA, .350+ OBP, .560+ SLG minor league bat against lefties who could serve as a platoon partner at 1B and/or heavy late game bat at some point this season.

 

Matt den Dekker Fifth round signee by the Mets out of the University of Florida and the SEC in 2010. Once a highly regarded prospect but suffered the fate of a quadruple A player, hitting .272/.339/.440 in his MiLB career but just .236/.318/.359 in his 154 game Major League career thus far. Released by the Nationals after being DFA’d and outrighted last year; signed with the Marlins as a free agent. With a career .988 fielding percentage and a 2.27 range factor on top of 29 assists, den Dekker is a more than solid defensive center fielder who also has eligibility at the corner outfield spots. Has sub-par career numbers anywhere above the AA level. Performed decently early in spring, reaching base in five of his first 11 appearances but starting games for Christian Yelich who is playing in the WBC, has since gone ice cold, going 0 for his last 8. Will need to pick it up a bit with the bat but his defensive prowess makes him a candidate to crack the Opening Day roster as a late game replacement and lefty bat off the bench.

 

Yefri Perez The fastest man the Marlins have ever seen as he proved last year when he made his MLB debut, nearly exclusively as a pinch runner, getting just two turns to bat in 12 game appearances. Next to Rojas, he has the most positional availability out of anyone going out for this roster spot, eligible at second, short, left and center. However, he’s just 2-17 this spring. He should be included in the next round of cuts. That being said, Yefri vastly improved his patience at the plate last year in AA, improving his walk rate to 10.3%, nearly double the 5.5% mark he posted in A+ in 2015. Preceeding that, he also had a great showing in the Arizona Fall League, slashing .270/.349/.297 with a 10.8% walk rate and of course, in true Yefri fashion, seven steals in 18 games. Despite getting just the two ABs, it would appear as though being in a MLB clubhouse worked wonders for the speedster who will return to AA this year. Should he continue to find his way on base as a Jumbo Shrimp, the 26-year-old could be back with the Marlins sometime this year, this time in a much more complete bench player capacity.

 

Brandon Barnes Minor league free agent signee who has had a respectable power producing .260/.320/.437, 99 homer minor league career but translated it to just a .242/.289/.356 major league career in which he has posted a putrid 5.6 K/BB% over 1,153 ABs. 2-19 with eight Ks so far in spring training. Limited to the outfield. He along with his many tattoos will be sent to AAA shortly.

 

Fifth Starter

Dan Straily The return piece in the Marlins’ late offseason trade that was very fortunate to have the season he had last year in Cincinatti. His luck was first proven by his ability to somehow hold down a 2.90 ERA by way of a .197 BAA and a .212 BABIP at one of the most hitter friendly parks in the league (versus a much more Dan Straily like and much more realistic 4.70 ERA via a .242 BAA and .269 BABIP on the road). This spring, his luck last year is being proven by his early allowance of four runs off two homers in just 2.2 IP. Since he came at the expense of the Marlins’ second best pitching prospect Luis Castillo, he will probably be given a long leash and stick around until the very end of spring training, but with a straight fastball that barely touches 90 and breaking pitches which he can’t command low in the zone, Straily will either start the season in AAA or be sent there not long after the season starts, the product of another doozy by Michael Hill.

 

Jarlin Garcia The Marlins’ third best pitching prospect entering 2017, he missed time with an injury in 2016 when the Marlins called him up to the majors following a 4.04 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, .239 BAA start just to keep him on the bench for nine days. Upon his return to AA, the Suns tried to ease him back into action but his second time back out, he went down with an injury that would cost him two months. He spent the rest of the season in the GCL and in Jupiter getting back in to shape. He arrived at spring training this year back at 100% and has had a good start (albeit in very limited action), not allowing a run over his first three appearances, all which lasted a single inning. He’s fun to watch on the mound, winding up slowly before exploding through his delivery which generates mid-upper 90s heat. He shows a good velo range, dropping his piggybacking changeup and best breaking pitch down about 10 miles an hour and mixes in a power curve which he needs to develop a better feel for and throw it from more consistent release points. The Marlins are probably going to take it easy with Garcia who has thrown in just 16 games above A ball. However, while it is possible that Garcia’s long term future is in the bullpen, the Marlins, with very little MLB ready rotational depth to speak of, could give Garcia a shot at the back end if he gets back on track in the upper minors to start the year and as soon as the Dan Straily experiment fails.

 

Justin Nicolino 6’3″ 200 pound lefty who was once a promising prospect, appearing inside the Marlins’ top 10 prospects every year from 2013-2015. Made his MLB debut in the last of those seasons, tossing to the tune of a decent 4.01 ERA and 1.24 in 12 starts. Started 2016 in AAA where he was very good. Despite a somewhat embellished 4.13 ERA, he held down a 1.18 WHIP and a 49/13 K/BB, warranting another call to the majors. However, upon his second arrival in as many years in Miami, that’s when Nicolino took a turn for the worst. In 18 games (13 starts) and 79.1 IP with the Marlins, he was lit up to the tune of a 4.99 ERA by way of a .307 BAA and 1.46 WHIP. He walked 20 while striking out just 37. His woes have continued this early spring as he’s allowed six runs on nine hits in 4.1 innings. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why things have gone so far downhill for Nicolino. His reputation for having impeccable control has followed him to the majors where he limited walks to 2.4 per nine innings in 2015 and improved that metric slightly to 2.4 in 2016.


One explanation for his struggles though may lie in his command. Not being a guy who is going to blow any of his pitches which barely reach 90 past anyone, Nicolino has to be a guy who keeps the ball low in order to generate weak contact. Most of the way through the minors and in his first 12 MLB appearances, the 6’3″ hurler, throwing from a downward plane, did that advantageously. However, according to his heat maps, this past year, he threw from a much more vertical stature and hit the middle and upper half of the zone much more frequently, leading his 22.7% soft contact rate to drop to 15.4%, his medium contact rate to rise from 47.1% to 51.7% and his hard contact rate to jump from 30.2% to 32.9%. He’s still just 25 so his stone isn’t cast and there’s still time for him to go to the minors and rectify his delivery problems. However, the ceiling he once had as a top end starter is probably out of reach. At this point, he’s more of a 4-5 starter or even more realistically, a long relief bullpen option.

 

Jeff Locke Acquired in the offseason as a free agent from the Pirates. A 3.63 ERA, 1.271 WHIP, 3.22 career minor leaguer, had a solid first full season in the majors in 2013, posting a 10-7 record in 30 starts with a 3.52 ERA via a 4.03 FIP and making the All-Star Game. However, that’s also when his control problems began. Having never posted a walk rate above 3% in his career, that metric ballooned to nearly 5%. In 2014, Locke was in the strike zone much more often but judging by his walk rate shrinking down to 2.74% but judging by his allowance of more than a homer per nine innings and on 13% of his fly balls, he was getting way too much of the zone. You wouldn’t know it if you judged him by his 4.49 ERA but going on his peripherals, 2015 was Locke’s best season. That year, his walk rate normalized back to 3.21 but his K rate improved to 6.9%, a MLB career high, his HR/9 shrunk back down to 0.8. Despite a heightened .312 BABIP, he held down a 3.95 FIP and was a 1.6 WAR pitcher. Locke’s slow but steady improvement in getting his walks in check while also improving his command to become the guy he was two years ago can be attributed to then Pirates’ special assistant to the GM and renowned “pitcher whisperer”, Jim Benedict. It is that version of Locke the Marlins hope can be brought back by Benedict who was hired away from the Pirates by Miami last year. What the Marlins don’t to see is the Locke that struggled mightily without Benedict last season, the Locke that only struck out 5% of his hitters while walking 3.3% of them, allowed hard contact at a career high 30% rate while inducing weak contact outs at a career low 16% rate, and had a 5.44 ERA (seventh highest in baseball) by way of a 4.84 FIP and 1.53 WHIP (10th highest in MLB).

It was the Marlins’ hope when signing Locke that being reunited with Benedict would bring Locke circa 2015 back but this spring, it hasn’t happened. A lot of the reason for that is because Locke suffered a throwing shoulder injury early in spring training workouts that required an MRI and revealed tendinitis. However, since starting to throw again last week, Locke has apparently not shown much, causing Don Mattingly to label him as “a guy we just don’t think is ready“. Even though he just arrived in Miami and hasn’t thrown much since doing so, there’s still doubt surrounding the possibility of even Benedict fixing the 29-year-old for a second time, at least in getting him back into rotational capacity.

While he may never get back into a MLB rotation, Locke isn’t a complete lost cause. Despite his overall horrible 2016, he finished the year in the bullpen where he held down respectable numbers, including a 3.38 ERA and a 3.0 K/BB. Though he will probably start the year in New Orleans due to all of the missed time with injury this spring, he adds another lefty arm to the Marlins’ great relief depth. After getting back in shape in AAA and hopefully making a smooth transition to a full-time pen role, a process that will undoubtedly be aided by Benedict, Locke should make his Marlins’ debut out of the pen this season with the possiblity of seeing some spot starts. As for an Opening Day job though, he’s completely out of the running.

Five Prospects To Watch In Marlins’ Camp

Drew Steckenrider

It’s that wonderful time of year again where the weather is getting warmer and spring training baseball is inching closer to returning to Roger Dean Stadium. With it this year, the return of players to the field and fans to the bleachers will also bring an auspicious group of talented young men vying to either either make it back to the majors or to make their first MLB squad in 2017. Here is a look at some of the Marlins’ talent hoping to impress this spring training.

1 – Drew Steckenrider, RHP

Steckenrider owns a feel good story, one of determination and perserverence that makes him an extremely easy guy to root for. After a mediocre start to his career in which he threw primarily as a starter to the tune of a 4.01 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP between short season and low A, the Marlins’ eighth round pick in the 2012 Draft went down with an injury to his throwing elbow and missed the bulk of the 2013 season and all of the 2014 season. After Tommy John surgery and 18 months on the shelf, Steckenrider returned in 2015. That year, between Greensboro and Jupiter, he traded off throwing both in starts and in relief. In 58.1 IP as a starter, he had a 3.56 ERA by way of a 1.48 WHIP. Looks good on the forefront but most of that success came with the Grasshoppers and competition much younger than the then 24-year-old. As a member of the Hammerheads, even though he was throwing in one of the biggest pitchers’ parks in the minors, Steckenrider got touched up for a 4.41 ERA by way of a nasty 1.71 WHIP and .284 BAA. As a Hammerheads’ reliever throwing in nearly the same amount of innings that he threw as a starter (24 in relief vs 32.2 in the rotation), Steckenrider stifled the most mature competition he’s ever faced, holding down a 1.50 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP and a .239 BAA while striking out 14 and walking seven.

Based off those numbers and the fact that he was just a season removed from a potentially career ending injury, the Marlins provided Steckenrider with some stability, putting him the in the much less physically strenuous bullpen full-time in order to safeguard and prolong the life of his potentially very live arm. With his mind at ease regarding just what exactly his role on the team was, Steckenrider shined in throwing exclusively out of the pen in 2016. Following a near perfect ten inning start in Jupiter in which he didn’t allow a run and posted a 17/2 K/BB while allowing just two hits, Steckenrider was called up to AA. He spent most of the season there, tossing 30.1 innings and holding hitters to a .120 BA, a mark which led the Southern League (among pitchers with at least 30 IP) and a 0.73 WHIP which was second in the Southern League. He also successfully converted all six of his save opportunities.

After facing the prospect of figuring out life after baseball two seasons previous, Steckenrider ended 2016 pitching at the highest level of Minor League Baseball. For the AAA Zephyrs, he converted seven more saves in seven chances, running his season total to 14 in 15 chances.

Following the season in which he was named an organizational All-Star, Steckenrider took his talents to the Arizona Fall League where he continued to impress. In 10 games and 13 IP, Steckenrider posted a 15/4 K/BB and a 1.23 WHIP and collected three more saves while pitching against some of baseball’s top prospects. He was also one of three pitchers to contribute to the Mesa Solar Sox’s combined no hitter on November 1, just the third no-no in the 25-year history of the AFL.

As Steckenrider confided to Today’s Knuckleball, the sense of stability the Marlins gave him in 2015 when they moved him from the dreaded swing man role to a full-time relief role has made all the difference.

“I would start, and then I’d do my arm care stuff, but then I’d be out in the bullpen a few days later, which, I would never get the recovery, and I never got the rhythm and the bounce-back time,” Steckenrider admitted about his difficult role in 2015. “It was really hard to have success. But this year, I finally got into that consistent role in the back end of the bullpen, and I earned my spot back there early. It was nice because I stayed there all year, but I also got into a good routine with the trainers and strength coaches, and that kept me healthy and on the field.”

The lanky 6’5″, 215 Steckenrider shortens his distance to the plate with an overwhelming smooth delivery especially for a guy with limbs as long as his and heat as fiery. He maintains his looseness well through his quick stretch delivery right up until the point where his arm starts going forward from his full arm circle windup. All the way through his delivery, he remains straight up and down and manages not to fall off to either side of the plate. In short, although simple, it is a mechanically fantastic delivery for a guy his build. Steckenrider’s go-to pitch is a fastball that usually ranges from 95-98 but can touch triple digits and has great late run to the corners. Since becoming a full-time late inning reliever, he has simplified his approach and doesn’t feature his breaking stuff a lot in favor of attacking with the heat but he will attempt to get guys to chase and offset the fastball in equal or positive counts with an 82-83 MPH 10-6 slider. With good feel for the pitch, the late breaker is is a great compliment to his heat and generates an equal rate of swings and misses. Steckenrider can also throw a 83-86 MPH changeup but with little fade and an inconsistent arm slot release, it’s the least developed of his pitches.

Sticking to his bread and butter, the heater and slide piece combo, Steckenrider has revitalized a career that once was on life support. He heads into spring training this year with a shot at making the Marlins’ bullpen. While he will have to do battle with the likes of more proven talent such as Brian Ellington, Hunter Cervenka and Jake Esch, don’t count Steckenrider out for a spot on the Opening Day roster this season.


22 – Brian Anderson, 3B/1B

Anderson, a Marlins’ 2014 fourth round draft pick, heads into 2017 as Miami’s top positional prospect. He earns that title after a .265/.348/.389 2016 campaign. After getting off to a .302/.377/.440 start with the Hammerheads, Anderson made the difficult jump to AA. In 86 games, he slammed eight homers, bettered only by two other Jacksonville Suns. He also appeared, as evidenced by collective 1.67 K/BB (including a 59/36 K/BB with the Suns) to temper the strikeout woes that hampered him in 2015 when he K’d 109 times to just 40 walks (2.275 K/BB). Improved plate vision and patience allowed the power hitter to get under and square up the ball much more often as shown by a 0.76 GB/FB rate as opposed to the 1.03 mark he posted in ’15 and the fact that he collected 128 hits, most in the organization. At the end of the year, he was named the Marlins’ Minor League Player of the Year. Despite all of these positives and accolades all of which he showed while making the hardest jump there is to make in the minors, Anderson was critical of his .243/.330/.359 tenure with the Suns, equating it to nerves and the stress he put on himself to succeed right away and with that initial high-tension situation out of the way, promised bigger things in 2017.

“Any time you jump a level you want to instantly have an impact,” said Anderson. “That’s kind of what happened with me. I went up there and put a lot of pressure on myself to perform really well. You just have to take a step back and realize that it’s baseball, it’s a game, you’ve been playing it your whole life.”

Anderson gave a sneak-peak and what those bigger things will be in the Arizona Fall League. In 22 games and 77 ABs, Anderson lit the AFL ablaze by hitting a league-most five homers with a .273/.360/506 slash line numbers which ranked right up on the offensive leader boards with some of baseball’s top prospects such as the Indians’ Bradley Zimmer, BaseballAmerica’s #31, the Yankees’ Gleyber Torres, #41, the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger, #54. His .866 OPS was fifth in the AFL and his .234 ISO ranked third. Anderson ended his 2016 tenure with the Solar Sox by going 2-4 and smacking his sixth homer of the campaign to help Mesa to the league championship crown.

Anderson is a third baseman by trade and is extremely athletic making him good for the occasional spectacular play. However, his 6’3″, 185 pound frame along with his inaccurate throwing arm that was the primary culprit in him racking up 27 total errors last year and 18 in 2015 make him a much better fit at the other corner.

While Anderson will need to continue his positive development in the upper minors to start 2017, his successful 2016 campaign along with his showing in the AFL definitely has him in very good standing with the organization. With a good showing in spring training and continued success with the Shrimp, Anderson could put himself in the running for an MLB debut this year, especially if the Marlins follow through with not signing a lefty hitting platoon partner for Justin Bour in favor of carrying an extra reliever. Last year, Anderson hit lefties at a .303/.370/.500 clip.

JT Riddle3 – J.T. Riddle, SS

Riddle, the Marlins’ 13th rounder from 2013 comes into 2017 as the club’s ninth best prospect. He earns that title after a .276/.326/.366 campaign in 389 ABs with the Suns followed by a .268/.281/.357 15 game tenure in AAA to end the year. The 25-year-old has had success in every level he has played at. His .274/.318/.369 career bat has helped negate the fact that he entered the majors as a 22-year-old following a three-year college career at the University of Kentucky in which he slashed .283/.358/.384. He has extremely quick bat speed within his snappy line drive approach, which allows him to limit Ks as he fights off tough pitches (he boasts a an above average 14% K rate for his career) but he does need to improve his patience and career walk rate of just 6% in order to become every day starting material.

What puts Riddle in the conversation to be an every day contributor to an MLB lineup someday soon despite owning a slightly above average career MiLB .274 BA and .687 OPS at age 25 is the fact that he is a wizard defensively. In regards to middle infield prospects, Riddle is perhaps one of the best in baseball. In 2020.1 MiLB innings at shortstop, Riddle has made just 34 errors and posted a 4.17 career range factor. He is equally as good at second base, the position he played most in college and in which he has been at fault for just one single error in 262.2 career minor league innings. Riddle boasts equally as impressive range at second via a 4.13 range factor. His arm which has been clocked as high as 93 MPH as well as his ability to make fantastic reads off the bat also give him eligibility at third base and all three outfield positions. Should Riddle improve his plate vision and learn to work counts a bit better, he lines up as an elite defender with average offensive skills and speed, exemplary of a bottom of the order catalyst advantageous to turning the lineup back over. At the very least, his glove already makes him a more than solid defensive replacement. Thanks to his flexibility and prowess at a range of defensive positions, with a good showing this spring and continued improvement in New Orleans, Riddle could make his major league debut later this year.

4 – Tayron Guerrero, RHP

Guerrero, the organization’s 26th best prospect, came to the Marlins as a secondary piece in the Andrew Cashner trade but may prove to be the only valuable piece the Marlins get out of it. That is if Guerrero can iron out one big issue: body control. Once a tall lanky arms and legs guy, Guerrero bulked up, going from 170 pounds to 210 pounds in a single offseason. While the extra poundage and muscle turned his once mediocre 86 MPH fastball ranking 45-50 on the 30-80 scale into a sizzling 95 MPH offering with the ability to reach triple digits, giving it a 65-70 rating, the same problems he’s had since the beginning of his career in keeping his long extremities under his control have persisted. This stems from a herky-jerky delivery that holds little to no fluidity and fluctuating unstable release points. Guerrero has showed flashes of a successful late inning reliever at times offsetting his straight and narrow fastball with a good late sweeping out pitch slider but his inability to stay consistent is what has kept him out of MLB bullpens and instead mired in the minors.

Albeit in a tiny sample of 14 IP, Guerrero has had a good start to his Marlins’ organizational career, tossing to the tune of a 1.93 ERA by way of a 1.00 WHIP and .212 BAA but aside from the fact that it was at the AA level, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Guerrero’s career has been a roller coaster that has seen him go from showing the make up of a good closer only to regress back to him barely being worthy of a spot in AAA. That trend reared its ugly head again this past year. After the aforementioned solid start with the Suns, he went to the Dominican Winter League and allowed eight runs in 3.2 IP.

The reason why Guerrero makes this list despite his struggles is that when he has been on, he has resembled Carter Capps, whom, along with slugger Josh Naylor, the Marlins gave up in the trade that brought Guerrero and Cashner to Miami. With a short distance to go to the plate, a downhill delivery, some of the hottest heat in the league and a great slider that he tilts and commands well to the corners when he’s going good, if Guerrero finds his consistency, he could become a mainstay at the back of the bullpen and could at least partially Band-Aid another woeful Marlins trade that saw one of their bullpen anchors as well as a budding young power hitter go away in favor of 11 rental starts worth of a 5.98 ERA, provided by Cashner before he himself left town for Texas this offseason.

Even if Guerrero has a lights out spring, he likely won’t make the club out of camp, but by making a positive impact and getting off to a steady start in AAA, Guerrero could be a candidate to join what is shaping up to be an eight man Marlins bullpen later this year. At 25, it is pretty much make it or break it time for Guerrero. Despite not being able to find his groove on the mound on a regular basis, Guerrero has always been a fierce competitor. So, struggles aside, I wouldn’t count him out to finally put it all together and break through this season.


5 – Jarlin Garcia, LHP

Garcia is a 24-year-old 6’3″, 215 pound lefty in his seventh year in the Marlins’ organization. He came to the Fish as an international signee out of the Dominican in 2011 and impressed early in his pro career, tossing 52.0 3.29 ERA innings in his native country then coming to the US and adjusting to stateside ball very quickly and easily, tossing a very similar 40.0 innings worth of 3.60 ERA ball. He continued to fly through the minors in 2013, posting a 3.10 ERA in 69.2 innings with Batavia, by way of a 1.09 WHIP. His 74 strikeouts that year were fifth most in the New York Penn League and his K/BB% of 19.7% was second best. Garcia took a step back in adjusting to full season ball but was still a fairly decent 4.38 ERA in by far the most extensive season of his baseball career and more than double the innings he pitched the year previous. However, by being the best control pitcher in the Sally proven by the fact that he struck out the league’s tenth most batters, 111, and walked its fewest hitters, 21 thereby posting its best overall K/BB of 5.29%, Garcia was able to erase a high .280 BAA by posting a 1.29 WHIP, 12th lowest in the Sally. Because of the amazing authority he had over his arsenal, Garcia’s heightened .332 BABIP and even more decent than his ERA, 3.77 FIP as well as being honored with a Futures’ Game selection that season tells us he once again pitching like a top prospect worthy of a call to the next level. Garcia got that call at the beginning of the year in 2015 and got off to a 3.06, 1.227 WHIP, 3.00 K/BB% start in 97 innings with the Hammerheads before receving yet another callup to AA. Making the tough jump and pitching against competition an average of three years older than him, Garcia struggled in seven Suns’ starts. However, stats aside, backed by the fact that the Marlins added him to the 40-man at the time of his Jacksonville call-up, Garcia had successfully put himself on the radar to make his MLB debut sometime in the very near future, perhaps as early as 2016.

However, that season, Garcia’s progression would take a very unfortunate step back. After getting a peak in spirng training and after 35.2 innings of 4.04 ERA ball with 25/9 K/BB, the Marlins called Garcia, a starter, up to the bigs in order for him to apparently help an injury-riddled bullpen only to leave him sitting on the bench for the next eight days. Upon his return to the minors, Garcia’s first start lasted two innings. The control-first pitcher only threw 29 of his 45 pitches for strikes. In his second start, he was removed in the third inning after allowing four runs. Five days later, it was revealed that Garcia had a triceps injury and he was placed on the DL retroactive to his first outing back with the Suns.

After missing nearly three full months, Garcia returned to the mound on a rehab stint in the Gulf Coast League preceding him ending his season with the Hammerheads. In those 10 innings against talent below his level, he allowed just one run and held down an 11/1 K/BB. Following the MiLB season’s end, Garcia continued his rehab first in the Arizona Fall League then in the Dominican League where he posted a combined 3.56 ERA in 20.2 IP with a 14/5 K/BB and a 1.18 WHIP. He enters spring training this season as a guy who is still on the Marlins’ radar by way of him being their number three prospect and one of the best control arms in the entire organization but at 24 on his way back from a serious arm injury, he may be destined for the bullpen which is a bit depressing considering Garcia’s ceiling when he came into the professional ranks.

Still, even if Garcia doesn’t start, he can provide great value to a bullpen by way of his four quality above-average pitches and the control he has over all of them. Throwing from a delivery incredibly smooth from a guy of his 6’3″, 215 pound build. Where he deceives hitters best is on his follow-through which he explodes into after the aforementioned slow methodical windup which itself comes after a slow methodical look-in to his catcher and pace of play as he owns the mound and gets inside the mind of his opposition. His snappy follow-through and size allow him to generate easy low-mid 90s velo which at times can go higher. Garcia’s best breaking pitch is his changeup which is shows a good velo drop off of at least 10 MPH from his heat. Usually sitting in the 80-82 MPH range and shows good fade and depth. Garcia’s third pitch curve is a more average pitch which he struggles with the release point of because of his aforementioned ramped up follow-through but which he has shown the ability to throw with good downward bite. The fourth pitch slider is Garcia’s least developed pitch. He doesn’t have a great feel for it but he does run it well away from hitters at times giving it good mix-in value.

While Garcia’s future as a rotation piece is in doubt due the fact that he needs to develop a lot more command in a short period of time, he is still a guy that, based on his control alone, could provide solid innings eating relief help out of the bullpen. It’s doubtful he makes the squad in any capacity out of camp, but he is a guy to watch this spring and in the minors thereafter as he tries to get back on track after being bitten by the injury bug last year. A fierce competitor as shown by the fact that he played as much as he could at two different levels basically all offseason long trying to put the missed time behind him, I wouldn’t put it past Garcia to return with a fire lit under him this year.

2016 Spring Training Power Rankings: 3/14/16

2016 Spring Training Power Rankings

Introducing my yearly spring training power rankings where I will update positional and pitching battles happening in Jupiter. Rankings are based both off of stats and off of eyewitness accounts and reports, will be updated weekly throughout the remainder of camp. Stats for this update are current as of 3/14/16.

5th Outfielder

   

Cole Gillespie


Gillespie ended the 2015 regular season with the Marlins hitting .290. He is off to a 7-14, 2/1 BB/K, RBI, SB start this spring. In the field, Gillespie didn’t commit an error in 15 games last year and is eligible at all three outfield spots. After a journeyman type AAAA career, he’s found some projectable pop, slugging .360 in AAA before slugging .428 with Marlins. It’s make it or break it time for this 31-year-old and he appears to be aware.

 

 Brady Shoemaker  

Brady Shoemaker


Here we have a guy that likely had the most personally frustrating 2015 campaign of anyone in the organization. Through the first month and a half of the season, all Shoemaker managed to do was become the Zephyrs’ best hitter by way of a .308/.390/.504 line. However, despite injuries to Christian Yelich and lackluster play by in-house options Ichiro and Michael Morse, the left-handed hitting power bat was ignored. To make matters worse, a month before Giancarlo Stanton hit the disabled list with a broken bone in his hand, Shoemaker had taken a trip to the DL himself with a similar injury, forcing the Marlins to look past him in calling up a replacement. Adding insult to injury (literally), even after he came back and picked up right where he left off hitting .279 and OBPing .346 with 11 XBHs, Shoemaker didn’t even make September callups over the likes of Jordanny Valdespin, Tom Tellis and Reid Brignac. Still, Shoemaker, being the pro he is, finished the year strong ending up with a .284/.359/.417 slash line consisting of 24 XBHs and 50 RBIs as well as a 36/49 BB/K. Although it should have come already, Shoemaker’s major league debut isn’t far away. And when it comes, it will be one that will turn heads.

 

   

Justin Maxwell


Maxwell came to the Marlins this offseason amid the speculation that the team was looking to replace Marcell Ozuna. With tensions between the team and Ozuna’s agent, Scott Boras seeming to have quited down, the 32-year-old is now in the mix for the fifth OF job. He has served in a similar capacity for much of his major league career, which spans seven seasons and 441 games over which he has hit .220/.303/.399. Most recently, he hit .209/.275/.341 in 100 games with the Giants last year. Like Gillespie, Maxwell’s career has screamed AAAA player thus far (he was a fourth round draft pick and has mashed the ball in the minors, proven by a .260/.352/.450 career MiLB line), but watching him in camp thus far, it’s been hard to tell. After showing up to camp in what looks to be great shape, Maxwell, who’s huge 6’5″ 225 pound frame screams and personifies baseball player, has already homered twice including a walk off, doubled, and knocked in four runs. While, like any power hitter, Maxwell is susceptible to the K, everything his bat touches is of the cover-tearing-off variety. His brand of pop off the bench as a late inning replacement and pinch hitter is something the Marlins missed dearly last season. As a team, they only hit .179/.258/.238 in PH situations. Add to the fact that Maxwell will be being coached by the all-time leader in pinch hits, Lenny Harris and you have a prime situation for him filling this role. Defensively, Maxwell has been equally impressive this year, twice robbing hits and once venturing in to the deepest corner of Roger Dean Stadium to rob a home run with a leap at the wall. He gets around the outfield with ease. In 79 games last year, he contributed three outfield assists and was a +5 in the DRS category. Although he has only managed to hover just above replacement level in his career thus far, Maxwell looks to have come to Marlins camp rejuvenated and driven, perhaps a sign that he knows he isn’t getting any younger. Should his early success continue, he will likely find himself pulling on a Marlins uniform on Opening Day.

 

   

Kenny Wilson

 

Having never hit more than .239 above AA, Wilson came in to camp as a bit of a longshot to do more than just gain experience with the major league squad. But after the year he had last season with the Suns and the start he has gotten off to in camp, the 26-year-old has begun to turn some heads. Following a .270/.348/.394 hitting line complimented by 37 steals (3.7 SB% above average) as well as 9 assists and a 2.45 range factor in the field, the 26-year-old has gotten off to a 3-7 start this spring, albeit in limited action. He has also shown an outfield arm well becoming of the position he is trying for by contributing 2 outfield assists and covering more than all the ground necessary to make it as a late inning replacement. If he can learn to temper his strikeout rate, Wilson, even at 26, is a guy who can still contribute very positively at the major league level.

 

   

Isaac Galloway

 

After managing to hit just .249/.278/.358 last year with the Zephyrs, Galloway is another guy who came in to camp as a bit of a longshot to win the job. Though he remains that right now, his start has been impressive. He’s gone 6 for his first 16 with two doubles and played defense becoming of the 2.84 range factor he displayed last year, covering good ground and taking good routes. With eligibility at every OF position and above average speed, this 26-year-old is very becoming of the role he is trying to fill, a late inning pinch runner and defensive replacement. However, on an even much higher scale than Wilson, Galloway could use to put his strikeout total very much in check. Last year with New Orleans, he struck out 108 times to just 18 walks. Considering he has already struck out 5 times to 0 walks this year in camp, he still remains a longshot for this or any MLB job.

 

   

Xavier Scruggs


Scruggs came to the Marlins in the offseason via a minor league contract. A right handed power bat, Scruggs has never had a problem reaching the fences and beyond, homering 20+ times in five times in his six minor league seasons above low A. However, that has also come at the price of well over 100+ Ks in each of them. In 2013 and 2014, his .376 and .370 OBPs could be attributed to BABIPs of .335 and .336. That figure dropped substantially last season to .285 and for the first time in his minor league career, his ISO did not top .200. With only 14 long balls to his name, another career low, and after a second medicore cup of coffee, the Cardinals cut him. He comes to the Marlins as a low risk, high reward signee. At 28 with just a handful of major league appearances to his credit, it’s unlikely Scruggs is going to reach the potential he once appeared to be capable of and his spring performance this far shows it. In eight games and 17 ABs, Scruggs has just two hits (one being a homer) and a 3-1 K/BB.

 

5th Starter

   

Adam Conley


Conley was one of the guys whom the Marlins were forced to turn to due to injuries in 2015. After spending just four seasons above low A in the minors, including a spectacular 19 starts with the Zephyrs in 2015 which equated to a 2.52 ERA, an 81/40 (9.4%) K/BB, a 1.17 WHIP and a 77.2 LOB%, numbers which made him the ace of New Orleans’ staff and one of the Pacific Coast League’s top hurlers, the 25-year-old lefty joined the Marlins on June 10th. Conley responded well to his first taste of MLB action, holding his ERA under 4 with a 59/21 (13.5%) K/BB over 14 games, 11 starts, and 67 IP. He was susceptible to giving up the long ball as a Marlin, allowing seven over that same span, something which the newly moved in fences at Marlins Park will definitely not help but which the improvements he’s shown this spring definitely will. After his fastball touched an average of just 91 MPH in 2015 during his time with the Fish, Conley has come in to camp flashing a heater reaching as high as 96. The pitch also has improved sinking action and allows him to get ahead far more often than not. The Conley changeup has also made some jumps by the looks of it this spring, with tighter spin and a better release point. Those pitches set up his low-70s slider which he has the ability to bury. Keeping hitters completely off-balance with his newly improved velo and the fact that he is and has historically performed better against righties, this southpaw continues to surprise and impress. Early in camp, he looks like the contender to beat.

 

   

Justin Nicolino

 

Nicolino came in to 2015 as the Marlins’ second best pitching prospect and unlike top prospect Tyler Kolek, he hasn’t disappointed so far on his minor league career but he isn’t quite there yet. Following a 14-4, 2.85, 1.07 WHIP season in AA in 2014, Nicolino made his third jump in level in as many years, reaching AAA at the age of 22. There, the pitch-to-contact finesse thrower hit a bit of a bump in the road. In 115 innings with the Zephyrs in 2015, he posted a 7-7 record, had a .294 BAA, a WHIP over 1.4, and an FIP over 4.6. Injuries to the starting rotation forced a premature MLB debut for Nicolino. In 12 starts with the Marlins, he was able to hold down a 4.01 ERA by way of a very low .259 BABIP. That said, he also gave up eight homers in 74 IP, his FIP was a heightened 4.85 and his xFIP was above 5. While Nicolino isn’t far away from being a MLB ready 3-5 starter, he lacks any sort of quality out pitch offering. Without one, his sub-90 MPH fastball, still developing changeup (although it flashes plus), and 75 MPH curve that doesn’t quite have enough downward velocity to induce swings and misses aren’t going to cut it at the major league level. That said, Nicolino is better against righties than lefties and still has plenty of time to fill out as a starter. His progression during the 2016 season with the Zephyrs will be monitored closely.

 

   

Jose Urena


Like Conley, Urena is another guy the injury-plagued Marlins were forced to turn to in 2015. Unlike Conley though, he didn’t respond well. Coming to the Fish after just 11 games and 67.2 IP above AA, Urena was tagged for a 5.25 ERA (4.64 FIP), and a 1.1% K/BB in 20 games including nine starts. While Urena has the stuff to succeed as proven by the fact that he went from rookie ball to AAA in less than five years, he’s still very green. He has both a two-seamer and a four-seamer to his credit, both sitting in the 93 MPH range. The two-seamer lacks sink and is more of a fourth pitch in the works right now. His slurvy curve is even more so of a pitch in the works. Sitting in the 80 MPH range, it doesn’t have the bite Urena would advantageously like to place on the corners and quite often floats back over the heart of the plate. The rest of his breaking arsenal consists of a slider which has made strides over the last two years and his best pitch, a mid-80’s changeup. With more experience at the AAA level, Urena has the stuff to become a worthy back of the rotation arm or late reliever but with still some potential to live up to as well as some hitches in his mechanics to iron out when it comes to his arm angle and release points, he will need at least another half to full season in the minors.

 

   

Edwin Jackson


After inexplicably waiting to sign or do much of anything until well near the end of winter, the Marlins scraped the bottom of the free agent pitchers market barrel by inking Edwin Jackson to the minimum MLB contract. Jackson comes to the Marlins following three straight dismal seasons with the Cubs, totaling 16-32 record, a 4.4 ERA, and a 1.52 WHIP over 82 games, after which he was DFA’d. At the end of last year, he joined the rebuilding Braves and tossed 24.1 relief innings. Although it’s a small sample size, those innings and the 31 relief innings he threw with the Cubs last year have been the best product Jackson has turned in in years. In those 55.2 frames, he held down a 3.07 ERA and a 1.168 WHIP. Coming down the stretch of a long 15 year career, Jackson no longer has much value outside of that capacity. That said, his stuff retained the best velo it’s had since 2012 last year. Though he is not what he once was by any stretch of the imagination whatsoever and has less of an outside chance of making the rotation especially after giving up five runs in his first two spring innings, the veteran is a class act, a good clubhouse guy and can still contribute positively in a 2-3 inning role out of the pen.