This past month, the Marlins gave troubled starter Tom Koehler (1-5, 55.2 IP, 7.92 ERA, 1.72 WHIP) a change of scenery by trading him north of the border to the Blue Jays for a virtual unknown, Osman Gutierrez. I teamed up with Matt Weber and Tom Dakers of Bluebird Banter to scout and place a potential value on this 22-year-old righty.
Gutierrez, a native of the Dominican Republic, was part of the same international draft as part of the same international draft that brought the likes of Yu Darvish, Yoenis Cespedes, Rougned Odor and Roberto Osuna to Major League Baseball. He was signed by the Jays at a time where their GM Alex Anthoupolous had money burning a hole in his pocket.
“From when Anthopoulos was hired in late-2009 until the hard restrictions on amateur spending with the 2011 CBA came into force in 2012, the Blue Jays were really aggressive in the spending in the draft (heavily skewed to high school pitchers) and internationally.” Matt told me.
Matt’s claim is backed up by the fact that Toronto, in the international draft alone, spent upwards of $20,000,000 in that three year span. Gutierrez himself, a late round pick, cost Toronto upwards of $200,000. In the coming years, while his fellow international selection names like Osuna and Hechavarria and his minor league teammate stateside draft names such as Syndergaard, DeSclafani and Nicolino quickly established themselves as legitimate prospects and began a quick journey through the minors, Gutierrez, due to both his still teenage years and the pure rawness of his talent, remained in rookie ball in the Dominican for three years and rarely saw the mound in the first two. However, after holding down an impressive 1.91 ERA in 47 innings and 10 starts in 2014, he was able to make it to North American ball by his age 20 season, quite average for a player of his B type caliber and quite advantageous considering the amount of high priced talent the Jays were currently circulating. Clearly, the organization saw something in this kid.
Gutierrez came to the US in 2015. It was then during his tenure in the GCL that his reinvention began and coaches got to work on teaching him how to pitch strategically rather than allowing him to continue leaning on simply blowing his stuff past the opposition, a transformation many amateur picks undergo in order to make it as a professional. For the very immature Gutierrez, it is a process that has been lengthy and one that is still going on today. In 2015 and 2016, Gutierrez responded fairly well to his coaches and to the changes. Despite his ERA being victimized by a heightened .330 BABIP, he held holding down good combined control numbers including a 2.91 BB/9 and an 8.67 K/9 and a solid FIP that came in under the 3.70 mark as he began to establish a good breaking ball, piggybacking his fiery heat.
“In his July 23rd start, he touched 96 a couple times on the stadium gun, with a mid-80s breaking ball. So there’s some quality stuff to go along with the good stat line,” Matt wrote on Bluebird Banter back in 2016. “[He’s] done everything you want to see: missed bats and worked ahead of batters, and been able to finish them off while still being quite efficient.”
This season, the 22-year-old made the jump to full season ball. In his first 13 starts with the Lansing Lugnuts Gutierrez — there’s no getting around it — struggled mightily. On July 21, after a particularly dreadful 3 inning, 6 run, 4 walk, 2 K start, his ERA sat at a hideous 10.13 via an equally dreadful 2.08 WHIP and .295 BAA. Matt chalks the ugly start to his career in full season ball up to an inability to work ahead and a failure to place his pitches, issues that, if not for a serious lack of depth among the Lansing staff, would have landed him either in the pen or back in rookie ball.
“The struggles until recently were very simple: lack of control and command. He often struggled mightily to throw strikes, got himself behind in counts and into lots of jams, and then got hit hard when he came in the zone,” Matt said. “That he kept a spot in the rotation at all with mostly due to injuries to other players meaning Lansing had little other choice.”
All of that out of the way, there’s something to be said for how Gutierrez has performed recently. Since the aforementioned disaster outing on July 21, the Nicaragua native bounced back by allowing just 14 runs over his next 30 innings pitched (4.20 ERA) which spanned five starts, including a career outing on August 2 in which he went 7 innings, allowing just four hits, one walk and striking out 10 Bowling Green Hot Rods. In his second start with the Marlins’ organization, Gutierrez came within one K of matching that total. Both of his first two Muckdogs starts were of the quality variety, lasting six innings each and consisting of four hits and one earned run. Our colleague at Bluebird Banter says that Gutierrez’s recent success has been due to his slider taking another step forward and turning into a plus-plus offering and the fact that overall, he is throwing with a lot more confidence.
“He’s been vastly improved the last last couple months, including a couple of really dominating outings. One of he keys has been that his slider’s been a lot better, giving him an out pitch. One of the Lansing broadcasters was talking recently about how the coaches wanted him trust his stuff more, not try to be so fine. And against low-A hitters, his stuff should be plenty.”
If given time to develop his changeup that is distinctly a mix in offering at the time being, Gutierrez, still 22, could make it as a starter. However, given the fact that the fastball/slider combo thrower dumbs down his velo to the low 90’s range in order to make it deeper in starts and the fact that he is a minor league free agent after next season, Matt and I both agree that he profiles best as a late inning reliever.
“There will be some impetus to move him along,” Matt said of Gutierrez’s situation. “He should start next year in high-A regardless but if moved to relief, he could get to AA.”
In a straight up trade for a troubled starter who barely touched B-type status as a prospect looking at finishing out his career as a swing man, the Marlins could have done a lot worse than a ceiling 4-5 starter, floor late relief/closing option. I give Michael Hill a passing grade on this trade, one of few he’s turned in in his tenure as President of Baseball Ops. Look for Gutierrez to participate in the offseason winter leagues overseas before starting 2018 in Jupiter.
A few months back at the winter meetings, the Marlins passed on a multitude of offers they had on the table offering proven MLB pitching help for their top pitching prospect above A, Luis Castillo. They passed on all of them. This week, the Marlins dealt Castillo along with swing man Austin Brice and raw but talented outfielder Isaiah White, three of their top 16 prospects, for first-year Reds’ starter last year, Dan Straily whom they claimed off of waivers last April.
Straily is a 24th round draft pick by the Oakland Athletics from 2008. He had an average to mediocre start to his minor league career, posting a 4.09 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP before breaking out in AA and AAA in 2012. In 152 IP that year, he had a 3.02 ERA and an even 1.000 WHIP before getting his first major league cup of coffee in August. In two combined short stints with the A’s that equaled 39 IP at the end of that season, he held down an ERA just shy of 4 (3.89) and a 1.322 WHIP. Despite the fairly solid year, Straily was left off the A’s 2013 Opening Day roster and began a second year in AAA. But after holding down a 1.14 ERA in his first five starts, he was called up to begin his first full year in the majors. Pitching in 27 starts and 152.1 IP, the 24-year-old rookie was moderately impressive. He negated a pretty high walk rate of 3.4 by allowing just 132 hits, spelling out a 1.241 WHIP and a 3.96 ERA Five years younger than the average major leaguer, it looked as though Straily, with a solid enough for a back-end starter rookie year in his pocket even though he had a very limited arsenal of just two plus WAR pitches, good heat and a nasty slider and was very susceptible to the homer (2.5 HR/9), had plenty of room to grow.
However, in 2014, Straily faded back into mediocrity. He made his first Opening Day roster and despite one start in which he allowed six runs, was his usual self, posting a 3.5 walk rate and a 2.1 HR/9 but again negated them by allowing a total of 33 hits, leading him to another solid WHIP of 1.252. On the forefront his 4.93 ERA beginning to his second MLB season was hideous but erase the aforementioned one bad start and his ERA was 3.54 with four quality starts. However, the A’s apparently couldn’t look past that one unfortunate outing. They sent Straily back to AAA on May 8th. For the next two seasons, Straily would remain mired in the minor league systems of three different organizations, unable to return to the form he flashed in 2013 and 2014. From a 4.71 ERA, 1.270 WHIP first half of 2014 with the Sacramento Bees of Oakland’s system to a 4.09, 1.436 second half with the Iowa Cubs whom he joined as part of the Addison Russell/Jeff Samardzija trade to a 4.77, 1.402 full season with the Fresno Grizzlies, Houston’s AAA affiliate whom he joined after the trade that sent Dexter Fowler to the Cubs in 2015 with a few equally unimpressive MLB spot starts sprinkled in, Straily was in serious danger of putting a label on himself that no baseball player wants: AAAA player.
This past year, the Reds gave Straily perhaps his final chance to prove he can make it in the majors. After joining the Padres in a minor trade only to be DFA’d by them before ever appearing in a game for their organization, the Reds, Straily’s fifth club in four seasons, claimed him off waivers. In a do-or-die year in reference to his career in Major League Baseball, it would appear on the forefront that Straily was able to return to to form. In the most hitter friendly park in the league, he posted a 3.76 ERA by way of a 1.19 WHIP. However, if we delve deeper into Straily’s stats, it is revealed that he seems to have been a very fortunate beneficiary of circumstance.
First, let’s take a look at Straily’s BABIP. Where the major league average is .298 and Straily’s career MLB average is .255, he put up a .239. Unsustainable. Also unsustainable is Straily’s LOB%. Where that MLB average was 72.9% and Straily’s career average is 74.3%, he stranded runners at a ridiculous 81.2% rate. Unless you believe Straily has suddenly become comparable to guys like Jon Lester, Ian Kennedy, Max Scherzer and Kyle Hendricks (all of whom had higher BABIPs than Straily), he will not be capable of posting metrics like that again. The numbers from Straily’s good full season with the Astros are astronomically different. That year, his BABIP was a much more realistic .266 and his LOB% a much more regulated 70.3%. So again, Straily didn’t return to that form last year; he was just lucky. What aided him in his good fortune was a good Reds’ defense. Even though it committed the seventh most errors in baseball, the Cincinnati D only lost a total of 6.5 runs to them. In nearly every other one of their advanced fielding metrics including their 17.1 range runs above average which ranked ninth in baseball, their 6.0 ultimate zone rating which ranked 13th, their 10 runs above average good fielding plays which ranked third and their overall 11.0 Def rating, the Reds’ defense was one of the better manned fields in the league.
The luck Straily had and the aid he got from his defense is further proven by the 5.02 xFIP, the rate at which Straily could’ve been expected to give up runs independent of fielders. It was the highest xFIP among NL starters. Straily’s good fortune is also proven by the rate at which he gave up hard contact, 32.2%, 11th highest among NL starters. Straily induced ground balls at the absolute lowest rate in the NL among starters, 32% which is fine for a pure fly ball pitcher. But he also allowed the most homers in baseball, 31, by way of the 15th highest HR/FB ratio among NL starters. Great American Ballpark which had the fourth highest park factor in baseball is to blame, right? Well, no. In almost the exact same amount of innings on the road (92) versus at home (99), Straily gave up 18 homers. His total surrendered at Great American was 13. Looking at those same home/road splits a bit further will just baffle you even more and points to just how much of a ridiculous anomaly Straily’s 2016 campaign was. He was overall better — a lot better — at the his hitters’ haven band box of a home park as opposed on the road. Again, in nearly the same amount of innings at home versus on the road, he held hitters to a .193 BA and posted a 2.90 ERA. On the road? .242 BAA and a 4.70 ERA. His home and road BABIPs? A virtually unheard of (especially considering where he was pitching and a mark which very well may be the lowest ever posted at that park) .213 versus a much more regulated .266 on the road.
So here we have in Straily, a guy which had one decent full season in the majors before spending most of the rest of his career in the minors, a guy the Reds threw a bone by giving him quite possibly his final chance to succeed in the majors, and a guy who did so by having one of the luckiest seasons imaginable. It is only fair to mention that Straily’s 2016 season shouldn’t be completely written off as nothing but good fortune. He appeared to make some adjustments for the second half which brought an 8.3 K/BB% all the way up to 11.2% and he had one of the best sliders in baseball, value wise at 13.9 wins above replacement. It is on those hopes and the move to pitcher friendly NL East that the Fish are basing their hopes on Straily continuing to “rediscover” himself. If he can’t, at least he won’t be costing Miami much money. He is under club control until 2020.
While that all would be well and good to confide a couple B-C type prospects in, the Marlins parted with Luis Castillo (for the second time in a year, no less which raises questions about what the Marlins thought of his ability despite great on-field performance) their best minor league pitching prospect above single A, a guy who has the ability hit triple digits with his great sinking fastball and who has a fantastic changeup as well as great control over both of them and who is very close to making a major league debut, especially if he can continue to improve his command. They also lost a very solid hurler in Austin Brice, a guy who can pitch either from the back of the rotation or out of the bullpen thanks to a free and easy repeatable delivery despite his large size. Pitching in a swing man role this past year, he appeared to iron out the rest of his control issues on his way to a 2.74 ERA via a 1.098 WHIP between AA and AAA on his way to making his MLB debut. Brice has a debilitating curveball and, getting his 6’4″ 235 pound frame behind his pitches, a fastball that consistently sits mid 90s and has the ability to go even higher. He shortens the distance to the plate by throwing from a full circle arm angle in which he hides the ball well. Whether it be as a back end starter or a reliever, he definitely has a future in the majors that, like Castillo, isn’t far away.
The Marlins could have simply given their final rotation spot to Jeff Locke, a guy who has struggled last year but, with his return to the tutelage of the famous “pitcher whisperer”, Jim Benedict, the guy who made him an All-Star in 2013 and a 3.69 ERA, 1.365 WHIP, 4.02 xFIP contributor from 2013-15 in Pittsburgh, had as good a chance if not a better one as Straily did to return to his former “glory”. If Locke didn’t, Castillo, with continued success in AA/AAA, would be waiting in the wings to join the rotation and/or Brice, who already made his MLB debut last year, would be waiting to join either the rotation or the bullpen in long relief, allowing the Marlins to move David Phelps back to the rotation. Instead, the Fish lose both of those young prospects for a 27-year-old former journeyman with very little self-made major league success in his pocket.
All things considered, what can we expect from Straily? If he does manage to win the final rotation spot out of spring training, something the Marlins have yet to commit to him in favor of saying they will still run an open competition, home league aside, there is no way he will post another BABIP as low as he did in 2016. That said, even though the Marlins have a better defense than the Reds did last year, his ERA, unless he’s on the same level a two-time lottery winner, should be closer to his xFIP. With Straily turning 28, making an educated guess, I would credit him with no better than a 4.50 ERA via a 1.3 WHIP and 20+ homers allowed. That is what not one, not two but three of our top 16 prospects will have cost us.
Bravo, Mr. Hill. Bravo.
Just before the trade deadline, the Marlins went all in on their wild card hopes by making a trade which mortgaged two big pieces of their distant future and one piece of their present in an attempt to sure up their rotation as they look toward October.
Their trade partner was down-and-out San Diego who received former Marlins first round draft pick Josh Naylor and arguably the best arm in Miami’s minor league system, Luis Castillo, making an already thin organization very much thinner. In addition to giving up two of their best young commodities, Miami also parted with their best reliever at the MLB level from last year, Carter Capps who underwent Tommy John before the season began. Jarred Cosart, whom the Marlins previously traded another of their top prospects for in Colin Moran, also goes back to San Diego.
The return? Two starting pitchers who, combined, contributed dismal numbers this year as members of the Padres’ rotation, including a 4.89 ERA and a 2.31 WHIP. Those hurlers are 26-year-old Colin Rea who hasn’t been effective at any point in his career above AA (4.88 ERA over 27.2 AAA IP, 4.69 ERA over 134.1 MLB IP) and 29-year-old Andrew Cashner who was last effective as starter in 2014 and who has already been to the DL twice this season. A C-type prospect at best in Tayron Guerrero, a 25-year-old reliever who has a 5.30 ERA between AA and AAA this year comes back as a throw in. In other words, the Marlins picked from the bottom of the barrel while giving up the some of the best of their future talent. In even more words, they got fleeced by the Padres.
Josh Naylor came to the Marlins system in 2015 as their first round draft pick. Upon being selected and signing out of his Southern California high school, he was invited to take batting practice at Marlins Park (the version that still hadn’t brought the walls in to where they are currently). He accepted the invitation and responded to it by hitting baseballs nearly out of the stadium.
After that, Naylor took his talents to the Gulf Coast league where he spent the rest of 2015 racking up the third most RBIs and fifth most total bases on his team despite only appearing in 25 games. He placed second on the team (amongst those with at least 20 games played) with a .418 slugging percentage and second on the team in batting average at .327. This year, in his first year of full season ball, including a .326/.348/.442 July, Naylor has kept himself busy by punishing Sally League pitching to the tune of a .269/.317/.430 line and leading the team in homers (9), RBI (54) and doubles (24), totals which also rank ninth, tenth and and sixth in the league. His .430 SLG also leads all Grasshoppers players with over 40 games played. To this point in his career, he has been more of a doubles threat than a home run threat but at just 19, there is plenty of room for Naylor to grow physically into his frame. Strength and conditioning will be key for Naylor on his way up through the minors. If he can succeed in that area, there should be no reason why Naylor can’t turn in to a more fit and offensively affective Prince Fielder. Technically, Naylor is pretty sound with just a few hitches in his swing. He adjusts to pitch speed well and has the ability to attack pitches on both sides of the palte, though he favors the pull variety of hitting. He maintains looseness in his hands very well until he commits to a swing which he times with a small front foot trigger. He steps into the ball advantageously. His swing has been described as a thing of violent beauty. I am of the opinion that the swing is a bit too aggressive as he tends to fly open a bit on it and at times lose his balance. He also frequently releases the bat before his swing is through, often leading to weaker contact. However, all of those small hitches are things that should work themselves out with age and experience. When it comes to speed, there isnt much to speak of but he sure can jog the bases beautifully and, should his power potential play out, that’s all he will need to do. Defensively, Naylor leaves a bit to be desired at first base, having committed 11 errors this season and only holding a 9.37 range factor. But, after spending a lot of his high school career DHing, that is to be expected. Again, as is the case with his plate approach, with more experience and innings at the corner infield spot, Naylor, forever the athletic athlete, should improve. Should he age successfully before reaching the majors in what most forsee to be 2019, Naylor could wind up being a more athletic and possibly more powerful version of Price Fielder.
In addition to his strong on-field product, Naylor, still just 19, is already bringing an always positive vibe to the clubhouse, which is making his team rally around him, something that will be missed in the Grasshoppers’ clubhouse for the rest of this year and another aspect of Naylor’s game that the Marlins won’t be reaping the benefits of.
“He’s usually one that likes to have fun in the clubhouse especially with (Anfernee) Seymour and myself so it was a little more quiet today,” Grasshoppers’ infielder Giovanny Alfonzo said the day after the trade. “It’s a little weird not having him around.”
If you frequent this blog and my Twitter, you know how high I have been on Hammerheads’ starter Luis Castillo. And if you have had the pleasure of watching him pitch, you know why. Luis Miguel Castillo, a native of Bani, Dominican Republic, came to American pro ball in 2012 as an international signee by the Giants. Following two seasons in the Domincan summer league, including a spectacular 2013 campaign in which he held down a 0.64 ERA in 28 IP, converted 20/22 save ops which lead the league, and struck out 34 while walking just three as the DSL Giants’ closer, Castillo joined full season ball in 2014 for the Augusta Greenjackets. Out of their pen, he managed a 3.07 ERA in 52 IP. Again, the K/BB was fantastic as he K’d 66 to just 25 walks. His six holds tied him for his team’s lead and his 10 saves in 12 chances ranked second. Castillo came to the Marlins following that season as the lesser-known prospect in the trade that sent Casey McGehee to San Francisco for himself and center piece Kendry Flores. As things are turning out, Castillo looks to be the more valuable long-term piece. In addition to Flores who has already spent time in the majors, it is safe to say the Marlins absolutely fleeced the Giants in that trade only to get fleeced themselves in this one.
Following a disappointing initial start to his Marlins career which saw him clinging to a 4.40 ERA in his first 30.2 IP, the Marlins took Castillo out of the pen and made him a starter even though he had only tossed four complete innings once in his career and that being back in his first season in the DSL. He responded by going 4 innings in back to back starts allowing one total ER before going at least 5 in his next five starts in which he held opposing offenses to less than 1.99 runs per game. The Marlins knew then they had something special in Castillo and they rewarded him with a promotion to high A. He finished last year by tossing to the tune of a 3.50 ERA in 43.2 IP and nine starts for the Hammerheads that season. This year, back with the Sharks, all Castillo has managed to do is become quite possibly the best pitcher in the Florida State League, ranking amongst it’s leaders in every major stat category. His 0.97 WHIP ranks second, his 2.23 ERA ranks fourth, his 86 strikeouts rank 10th, and his 16 walks are tied for third least (amongst those with at least 80 IP).
You wouldn;t know it to look at the wiry 6’2″ 170 pounder but Castillo has the ability to reach triple digits with his heat which he has improved from last year to this. The formerly flat offering has shown some added downward plane movement. He also isn’t afraid to throw it to both sides of the black, making it both a great first pitch or piggyback pitch to the change. That offering, which he holds with a splitfinger grip, is Castillo’s best pitch. Sitting around 87-89, the late drop on this pitch is reminiscent of a roller coaster and is absolutely filthy. The pitch flashes fastball for 50 feet then drops off the table within the last ten, leaving hitters dumbfounded. He has great feel for the pitch and can run it both inside and outside with good fade. His third pitch slider is of the slurvy variety and usually hangs around the 82-84 MPH range though he has such control of his arm speed to drop it down even lower than that. The pitch tilts hard and has good late bite. He uses it as a change of pace pitch, sometimes mixing it in in between the fastball/changeup combo but usually uses it ahead in the count. He could use to develop a fourth pitch but with great control of all three of his present pitches, all of which flash plus and a head for when to throw them, he doesn’t really need to in order to succeed. Castillo could and probably should be pitching in AA right now and, if he continues to show what he has this year in the upper levels of the minors, could contribute to a big league club as earlhy as next season as a 3-5 starter with potential to become even more. For a Marlins club that has very few in house pitching options like him in the minors and which has struggled keeping the back end of their rotation from being a revolving door this year, this is a huge loss.
UPDATE: After Colin Rea left his first start with the Marlins after 4 IP with shoulder discomfort and went on the DL the next day, the Padres agreed to send Castillo back to the Marlins in a very rare trade back. Although he passed his physical, one has to question whether the Padres knew of Rea possibly having health issues before the trade and the trade back was simply to save face with the league if they were investigated which very well could happen. In any regard, it’s great to have Castillo back.
Although it is disheartening to me to lose both Naylor and Castillo, quite possibly the most maddening aspect of this trade is the inclusion of Carter Capps for nothing more than a fistful of dollars. Capps, the Marlins’ best reliever from last year, underwent Tommy John in the offseason and is out for the season. Even though that procedure now carries an 80% success rate, the Marlins, who again have struggled mightily in middle and late relief for years, thought parting with Capps, who has one of the most hard to hit deliveries, a back leg foot drag which shortens the distance to the plate by 10 feet, along with high 90s velo, as nothing more than an inclusion to a trade in order to bring some sort of semblence of cash back in order to pay the rest of Cashner’s $7.15 million salary was a good idea. As of right now, instead of setting up with the 26-year-old Capps next year and quite possibly for the long term, that job will fall to a 39-year-old Fernando Rodney, making the Marlins’ pen even more of a revolving door.
In short, with the return being very little of an upgrade over in house options such as Phelps and Urena, this trade screams that the Marlins made it just to make a move. It also came at the price of two pieces that could be mainstays on their roster within the next two years and in return get a near 30-year-old rental starter (he’s a free agent next year) who has been average at best. I disliked when the Marlins traded Moran to the Astros for Cosart; I dislike this move even more.