Christian Yelich got exactly what he wanted: out. At the end of the offseason, Yelich became the last victim (or, if you ask Christian himself, benefactor) of the Marlins’ latest firesale, getting shipped off to Milwaukee for a package of prospects.
Yelich’s relationship with his new bosses started off rocky and quickly deteriorated. After the Giancarlo Stanton trade, Yelich publicly stated that the relationship between he and the team was “irrevocably damaged“. He even threatened to miss a fan-friendly event to which he was contractually obligated. The lay of the land being what it was, there was a very good possibility the Marlins — even though they controlled Yelich until 2023 — were going to be forced to settle for improper value, especially after Yelich, who was expected to compete for last season’s batting title, had a bit of an off year, slashing .282/.369/.439 and posting a 3.9 WAR, down from 5.3 in 2016. Not only did that not happen but Yelich fetched the Marlins a better haul than each of Stanton, Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna.
Lewis Brinson – OF
2017: AAA – .331/.400/.562, 13 HR, 39 XBH, 62/32 K/BB, 11 SB
The centerpiece of the return is former Brewers’ top prospect, 2017’s #13 overall prospect and undoubtedly new Marlins’ number one prospect, Lewis Brinson. In being traded to the Fish, Brinson returns to his childhood home where he will play for the team he grew up watching. When he wasn’t at Sun Life Stadium, Brinson spent his days at Coral Springs High School where he quickly made his name well known, hitting .473/.623/.872 in his junior year, numbers which earned him district Player Of The Year honors in 2011. At the time, head coach Frank Bumbales saw in his center fielder what has since become evident to the entire baseball world.
“He leads by example,” Bumbales said. “He gives 100%. He’s a really special kid.”
Brinson continued to lead by example in his senior year, hitting .394/.516/.732 in 91 plate appearances, once again leading the Colts to their third straight district title. He graduated with four school records which still stand today: career runs (92), career RBI (95), doubles in a season (13) and RBI in a game (8).
Talking with Brinson’s former teammates, they echo their coach’s sentiments, saying their center fielder was a leader both on and off the field.
“Even though I only played with him for one year, I can honestly say he was one of the best players I’ve ever played with because he knew how to hit homers but he also knew how to find gaps and get around the bases,” Joseph DeMicco said. “But as good as a hitter that he was, he was even better on defense. With he speed, he could get to anything, no matter where it was hit. Anything. And his arm was explosive. Definitely a five tool type guy. I really think Marlins fans are going to like him.”
Dylan Ebel who has known Brinson since middle school praises him for his positive attitude and what he is capable of bringing to a team’s intangibles.
“I first played with him in 8th grade so to see how far he progressed has really been spectacular,” Ebel said. “He always kept his head down and put the work in to get better each and every day. That type of grind and work ethic rubbed off on others on the team, made people just want to be better, play harder and always doing it with a smile.”
Upon graduating as the 16th best overall player and sixth best center field draft prospect nationally as well as the fifth best overall and third best positionally statewide and garnering first team All-American and All-Region honors in 2012, Brinson forwent a four-year commitment to the University Of Florida when he was selected 29th overall by the Texas Rangers.
“I’ve been a Marlins fan growing up, and I still am, but I’m a bigger Texas Rangers fan now,” Brinson said at the time.
Now, Brinson and his fandom are coming home, just in time for his first full Major League season.
Brinson comes to the Marlins after hitting .287/.354/.502 over 2,134 minor league ABs, including .331/.401/.562 in 300 AAA chances last year before making his Major League debut. Once described by scouts as projectible but very raw, Brinson jumped at least one level in each of his minor league seasons and enters spring training as MLB’s 27th best prospect and as a shoe-in candidate to start for the Marlins in center field.
Standing 6’3″, 170, the Tamarac native used to swing from a straight front leg upright stance which caused him to fall off to his left side, limited his plate coverage and made him succeptible to pitches on the outer half. After a 96/33 K/BB season in 2014, Brinson made the adjustment to his current stance, a much more closed approach in which he stays much farther back in the box, his back foot nearly touching the back of it. Since the adjustment, Brinson’s K rate has fallen from 25% to 18% last year. His swing will still get a bit long on quality pitches on a low and outer black but his new stance has improved his plate vision and extension.
What Brinson is yet to acquire in body mass he makes up for with his superior bat speed which allows him to generate easy power. He will occasionally find the fences but will more frequently hit the gaps and from there, let his speed — grade 60 on the 20-80 scale and alotting him a 4.25 second-to-home-to-first time — go to work for him. Brinson still has some work to do, especially in the swing-and-miss department, in order to realize his full potential but recent production has alotted him to surpass boom-or-bust status and enter elite prospect maturation. Place Brinson’s ceiling at Andrew McCutchen-lite and his floor somewhere around Shane Victorino. This year’s PECOTA rankings favor the latter that assessment. Where McCutchen was a 2.5 WAR player last year (and a career 2.5 WAR player), they predict Brinson to hold a 2.8 WAR this season, highest among rookie outfielders. Needless to say, this hometown hero should be a fun player to watch and should be leaned on heavily by the franchise.
Monte Harrison – OF
2017 (A-A+) – .272/.350/.481, 21 HR, 51 XBH, 139/43 K/BB, 27 SB
The main accompanyment to Brinson is Monte Harrison. While being two levels lower than Brinson, a fellow outfielder, Harrison proved last year that he is also a potential fellow 20-20 threat and quite possibly is a threat for even more power. Playing between A and A+, Harrison slashed .272/.350/.481 with 21 long balls and 51 total XBHs. He also tore it up on the basepaths to the tune of 27 swiped bags. Much more the physical specimen than Brinson, Harrison stands 6’3″, 220. Still, with a career 87-15 SB/CS (85%), 27 of which came this past year, Harrison manages to be quite nimble on his feet. As phsyically imposing yet still athletic as he is, with a career 28.55 K% and 3.08 K/BB, there’s a lot of work to be done in the upper levels of the minors here. With an inconsistent timing trigger, poor pitch recognition and equally poor plate discipline, he needs to improve top down in his approach. While it’s conceded that he will never be a for-average hitter, Harrison has plenty of projectible talent in his raw power and superb bat speed. If he can learn the zone, improve his vision and gain the ability to hit to his opposite side more often, negating the shift and improving plate coverage, there’s realistic potential for Harrison to become a member of the 30/30 club someday.
Harrison translates his power profile at the plate into a power arm in the outfield. He runs good routes via good reads and a good first step to the ball off the bat and he has more than enough speed to cover any outfield position, disallowing bloop hits and holding virtually anything hit in front of him to a single base. While he’s been a center fielder most frequently in his MiLB career, Harrison projects best as a future every day right fielder. For a ceiling comparison, look somwhere between Yasiel Puig and Justin Upton. Needless to say, Monte Harrison will be the man to watch in Jacksonville this season.
Isan Diaz – SS/2B
2017 (A+) – .222/.234/.376, 13 HR, 33 XBH, 121/62 K/BB, 54 RBI
Diaz is a 2017 second round prep draft pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Springfield, Massachusetts. Diaz moved to the Division I high school to garner more draft attention in his junior season. In his senior year, he did that and more. After a .492/.625/.898 campgaign, he was named Western Massachusetts’ baseball Player of the Year for 2017. Infinitely humble, Diaz gives credence to those closest to him for allowing him to burst onto the national scene that year and take a huge step closer to making his childhood imagery come to life.
“I have to give credit to my supporting cast: my family, my teachers and everyone who helped me. Without them, I wouldn’t have continued to strive to get too where I wanted to get to,” Diaz said. “The constant reminder of making my dream come true and what was in front of me helped a ton.”
After breaking into pro ball as a 17-year-old, Diaz had similar immediate success, charging out of the gate his first three seasons, hitting a combined .291/.377/.515 between the Arizona Fall League and Pioneer League. He then parlayed that into a .264/.359/.469 first full pro season with the Wisconson Timber Rattlers, Milwaukee’s low A affiliate in 2016, his first with the Brewers’ organizaion after he was involved in a trade. These accollades, combined with a total 36 homers and 129 RBI allotted Diaz to climb up to the fifth ranked prospect in the Brewers’ deep system entering 2017, just his age 21 season. That was when Diaz, for the first time in his baseball career, failed to exceed expectations, hitting just .222/.334/.376 with a career hih 26.48 K rate. However, Diaz doesn’t look on last season with feelings of failure. Rather, he chalks it up to a positive part of the maturation process.
“I honestly believe last year was a great learning experience for me, knowing how it feels to have success and how it feels to fail. It’s always fun to succeed but when you fail that’s when you have too still be the same player and still be a great teammate as you were when you were having success,” Diaz said. “I believe I’ll be ready for this season and whatever comes to the table, trying to help the team and be the best teammate I can be both on and off the field.”
You wouldn’t guess it by looking at his 5’10”, 185 pound frame but one of Diaz’s best tools is his power capacity. By getting his entire body involved in his swing, showing good repetition in balancing his load and getting his barrel extended, Diaz has a career 3.12 home run percentage and a career 43.02 XBH percentage. According to Diaz, extra bases aren’t at the forefront of his mind when he’s in the box; it’s just something that occurs on its own.
“I believe that the power is something that comes out naturally,” Diaz said. “I don’t ever try to hit home runs; my main focus is always to reach base and hit the ball hard wherever it’s pitched.”
Unfortunately for Diaz, the good power numbers have come at the cost of a lot of K’s. In each of his last two seasons, he’s racked up over 100 strikeouts. This issue stems from a hole in his approach common to hitters like Diaz who thrive when they can get their arms fully extended and struggle when they get jammed and their eyes are taken away: the inability to cover the up-and-in pitch. Though he concedes strikeouts are something he needs to work on, Diaz still plans on being himself at the plate and keeping his game simple.
“I know it’s something I have to try my best bring down, but I’ve learned that by thinking about strikeouts and trying to not strikeout that’s when you strike out more,” Diaz said. “So my approach stays the same, the only difference now is knowing with two strikes I’m still trying to driving the ball.”
Even though he does have some work to do in the K department, the high numbers in that category shouldn’t be indicative of his plate vision. Instead, refer to Diaz’s nearly equally high walk totals and career walk rate of 12.3%. A good pitch identifier with equally good vision and timing, if Diaz can get his K total in check and continue to improve against lefties (he hit .255 and OPSed .734 against same-side pitching last year despite hitting it at just a .245 BA, .696 OPS in 2016, figures which were aided by a .386 BABIP), there will be nothing working against him reaching his 20/20 type ceiling.
Just four years into his professional baseball career, this is the second time Diaz has been involved in a trade and had his offseason interrupted in order to relocate. However, this time, it’s a small price to pay in exchange for him being much, much closer to his east-coast based support system.
“I’m very excited to be a Marlin and I can’t wait to see this team in a few years to come,” Diaz said. “Playing on the same coast is great you know closer to home, closer to family and just excited to be here and excited for all those who came over in trades as well.”
Overall, Diaz is a very sought after commodity — a power first middle infielder who has above average speed and plays at least average defense. While there is some question as to how Diaz is going to perform after suffering a hamate bone fracture that ended his season last year prematurely and while he will have to repeat single A advanced in Jupiter this season, if he comes back 100%, his swing is unaltered and he learns to cover the upper inside half of the plate a bit better or at least lay off of it and continue to improve against same-side pitching, Diaz could reach his ceiling of Dan Uggla — a player of extremes in the K/BB department but also in the power categories and cornerstone starting second baseman (and fellow jersey number 6) — by 2021, his age 23 season. He will be an interesting prospect to follow.
Jordan Yamamoto – RHP
2017 (A+) – 111 IP, 9-4, 2.51 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 113/30 K/BB, 3.77 K/BB, .280 BABIP
The final return piece in the Yelich trade is righty Jordan Yammamoto, a Hawaiian native, the second in Marlins history after Charlie Hough. He was also the second Hawaiian selected by the Brewers in the 2014 MLB Draft. In the first round that year, Milwaukee selected Yamamoto’s island mate and highly touted lefty Kodi Mederios who at the time of his selection, was already drawing comparisons to Madison Bumgarner. However, when the two met in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I baseball tournament, it was the northerner and Honolulu native Yamamoto who shined brighter.
“It was a high-tension game because Kodi is a great pitcher and I was up for the challenge,” says Yamamoto who threw a two-hit complete game shutout. “It was a game that I think I will hold against him as a friendly joke.”
Through the pair’s first three years in professional ball, despite being drafted eleven rounds later than Mederios, the story has been the same: it’s been Yammamoto who has grown up quicker. Where Mederios has mustered a 5.19 ERA, a 1.51 WHIP and a in 324.1 IP, Yamamoto has held down a 4.19 ERA, a 1.33 WHIP and a 3.60 K/BB in his first 329 IP. However, for Yamamoto, his career hasn’t been trying to outdo anybody. Rather, it has been about learning from his squadmates, letting them learn off of him and most importantly, beinh himself.
“When [Mederios and I] got drafted, it became a helping situation and all we did was push each other to be better. We were roommates for many years and we would try to help each other through it all.” Yamamoto said. “It’s all about staying within myself and not overdoing anything. Be the same pitcher. As in the last years and letting my defense back me up because I believe in my teammates that they will have my back through thick and thin.”
After cutting his teeth in rookie ball in 2015, Yammamoto entered his first full pro season with the low A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in 2016. After coming out of the pen in six of his first nine appearances, Yammamoto transitioned to the rotation full time in mid June. Rather than being snakebitten (pun intended) by the increased workload and amount of innings, a common downfall for many young players in their first full season, Yammamoto didn’t seem to be bothered by either factor. In fact, some of his best work was done in his final four starts of the season, three of which were quality starts and amounted to a total of 23 IP, a 0.78 ERA and a 0.57 WHIP. Collectively that year, Yammamoto held opponents to a minuscule .223 BA and .661 OPS by way of the second most Ks in the Midwest League (152) and its best K/BB% (21.8). His ERA wound up at 3.82, 12th best in his league and his WHIP at 1.20, 7th best. All of this occurred while he was working against the league’s second highest BABIP, a very tough-luck .342.
This past year, Yamamoto jumped up to A+. As his BABIP normalized down to .286, his ERA not only shrunk down to what it should have been last year — proven by his 2.53 FIP in 2016 –, he was even slightly better in disallowing runs, as it came to rest at 2.51, lowest in the Carolina League by more than half a point. Once again, Yamamoto relied heavily on the strikeout, fanning 111 (or 25.2% of his opponents) and his excellent control and command as he gave up walks to just 30 (or 6.7% of his hitters). As much as the strikeout has been a key to his success so far, Yamamoto says he doesn’t go into at-bats looking for a strikeout but rather to induce weak contact. However, if he works himself into a favorable count, Yamamoto says it’s strikeout or bust because as has been the theme throughout his pro career this far, he wants to take the chance he’s obtained through hard work and run with it.
“I do not look for strikeouts; I look for contact because my mentality is that hitters will get themselves out 7/10 times. I do not have overpowering stuff so I just pitch to contact and let my defense back me up because they got my back,” Yamamoto said. “But when I get hitter 0-2/1-2 I tell myself that the hitters can’t get a hit because I worked for this count and I will have to make the most of this opportunity.”
Last year, Yamamoto proved that he can successfully limit contact and damage, his a-priori when a hitter steps into the box. Along with a WHIP that stood at 1.09, third lowest in his league, he stranded 79% of the runners he allowed to reach base, another top mark amongst Carolina League hurlers.
Yamamoto’s arsenal consists of a 92-94 MPH fastball that he can ramp up a bit higher when necessary. It is by far the crux of his arsenal and his most frequently used pitch. It shows good run to both sides of the plate, especially to Yamamoto’s glove side where he flashes his best command. Despite limited size, Yamamoto planes dthe pitch well and can get some sink on it. His first breaker is a 85-88 mph power slider which has good late movement and gives hitters fits when he’s spotting it on the outside corner and. He piggybacks it off his fastball well and will throw both pitches in any count, keeping the opposition guessing. His distant third pitch is an 84-86 MPH changeup. The pitch flashes plus at times with late fade low in the zone. However, Yamamoto will need to develop a better feel and his command over the pitch as he gets ready to enter the upper minors.
Even though it seems Yamamoto was thriving in the Milwaukee system, he finds himself as the receiver of a change of scenery, relocating to South Florida, about as far away as he could possibly be from his home in northern Hawaii. Though he admits that some things will be different now, Yamamoto expresses good understanding for the industrial side of the game and that he can only control what he can control. Despite the relocation, Yamamoto says his effort and drive to improve will be the same in a Marlins’ uniform as it was in both his high school and Brewers uniforms.
“Nothing will be easy from here on out but I will do my best to make the most of the opportunity that has been presented to me,” Yamamoto said. “It is a great place for me. It is a business and like any other jobs, the boss will do what he/she thinks is best for the company. And if they have the belief in me that I can help this organization, then I will do everything in my power to help this organization.”
Look for Yamamoto to begin 2018 in A+ with the Jupiter Hammerheads and possibly be a quick promotee to AA Jacksonville.
Despite the situation with Yelich going bad to worse to getting to the point where they were insufferable from Yelich’s perspective, a fact which he wasn’t afraid to point out to the media, Mike Hill, Derek Jeter and the Marlins surface from the debacle not only getting all they could out of Yelich (especially after a down year statistically), they got an even better return out of him than they got out of the Stanton and Ozuna trades. For coming away with a surefire fan-favorite MLB ready five tool center fielder, a not-too-distant-future 30/30 professional threat, a powerful middle infielder and a ceiling 3-5 starter, this trade passes the grade with flying colors.
Two weeks ago, Derek Jeter and the new Marlins regime began the rebuilding process by trading second baseman Dee Gordon, the final four years of his five year, $50,000,000 contract and international bonus pool cash to the Mariners for three minor leaguers.
Before we look at the pieces coming back to the Marlins, I’d like to pay tribute to one of the most exciting and likable players to ever pull on a Marlins’ jersey. A maximum effort player in every at bat and every inning, Dee leaves the Marlins as the franchise’s second best for-average hitter (.309), its fifth best triples hitter (23), its fourth best stolen base man (148) and eighth best defensive WAR player (2.7). He was also center stage for one of the Marlins’ most magical, storybook moments. On September 26, 2016, the game after Jose Fernandez‘s untimely passing, the left-handed hitting Gordon, wearing Jose’s helmet, stepped into the box right-handed and took the first pitch of the game as tribute to his friend. On the next pitch, this happened.
It is a moment that will live on forever, not only in Marlins lore but in the spirit of baseball, teammateship and the bonds of botherhood it brings forever. For that memory and the many others he brought the Fish, Dee Gordon will forever be enshrined in the minds of Marlins fans everywhere. And we are all grateful to him for that.
Now on to the return, three young men who hope to one day make their own legacy in a Marlins’ uniform.
RHP Nick Neidert
2017 (A+-AA) – 127.2 IP, 3.45 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 122/22 K/BB
The centerpiece of the return, the Mariners’ 2015 second rounder spent most of 2017 in A+ where he racked up 10 wins via a 2.76 ERA and 22.1 K/BB%, all tops in the California League amongst pitchers who tossed at least 100 innings. At the end of the year, he got his feet wet in AA which is where he should begin his Marlins career. Despite limited 6’1″, 200 size, Neidert creates advantageous deception by hiding the ball behind his plant leg and following through to the plate lightning quick. The delivery is extremely fluid, smooth and repeatable which should allow Neidert to continue to work deep into starts.
The 21-year-old has four usable pitches, all of which are either already Major League quality or show similar potential. His heat sits around 90-93 but he can ramp it up to 95 at will. Formerly a straight and narrow offering, Neidert is beginning to plane the pitch, giving it better movement and creating a fifth pitch sink piece, a great commodity for the 3/4 release point control artist he looks to be blossoming into. This past season, improved arm speed allowed Neidert’s 84-87 MPH changeup to move past his 72-76 mph curve as his best offspeed pitch but both offerings have plus-plus potential and give him a nice 20+ mph velo mix. While the 9.4 K/9% Neidert posted in A+ last year should temper a bit when he gets to the upper minors and beyond, his deep arsenal, high arm slot, and pinpoint control give him a great chance to develop into a ceiling 2-3 rotational starter by as early as 2019. Neidert should easily be ranked among the Marlins’ top 10 prospects this coming season.
RHP Robert Dugger
2017 (A-A+) – 117.2 IP, 2.75 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 116/32 K/BB
Dugger is a 22-year-old righty who began his pro career at Cisco Junior College where he was teammates for the first time with Marlins’ draftee James Nelson. He spent two years at Cisco, throwing 133.1 IP and producing a 4.86 ERA. While those numbers don’t fly off the page, he did hold down good control numbers, posting an overall 2.32 K/BB, including a 3.06 marker in his sophomore season. Those figures punched Dugger’s ticket to Texas Tech for 2016. There, against much stronger Big 12 competition, Dugger pitched in relief but also pitched much truer to his potential, holding down a 2.67 ERA over 60.2 innings. The good control persisted as he posted a 54/23 K/BB.
Upon being drafted by the Mariners in the 18th round, Dugger bounced around from rookie ball to A ball to AAA to end his year but most of his time was spent with the Everett AquaSox. There, he made six starts and threw 26.1 IP to the tune of a 5.47 ERA as he clearly went through a stark adjustment process, going from throwing 70 JuCo innings a year previous to throwing the last 38 out of a total of 99 innings against professional hitters who were on average nearly two years his elder. This past season, the Mariners returned Dugger to single A and transitioned him to the bullpen in order to reduce strain on his arm and allow him to work on pitching around the plate rather than living over it. His arsenal features a low-90’s fastball, a high-80’s changeup and a mid-70’s curve. He has a good feel for all three pitches and controls them well, though the release point on the curve is a bit inconsistent at the moment but again, he needs to develop better command if he is to make it as a starter. His biggest hinderance lies in his tendency to fall off to his glove side on the follow-through of his windup delivery. Dugger is much more effective out of the stretch where after a high leg kick, he is extremely quick to the plate. While there is still time for the bespectacled 22-year-old to work on becoming a corner painting Rembrant-style to-contact back end starter, the more likely scenario is that he is converted to a full-time reliever.
SS Christopher Torres
2017 (ROK-A) – .238/.329/.446, 69/28 K/BB, 22 XBH, 14 SB
Torres is a 19-year-old infielder out of the Dominican that had quite the interesting start to his professional career stateside. Then 16, Torres came to America with a deal in place from the New York Yankees for seven figures. However, due to severe weight gain, New York apparently backed out of the deal. The Yankees deny they ever had a deal in place with Torres. Whatever the case, Torres eventually agreed to a deal with the Mariners worth much less, $375K. Since then, Torres spent two seasons in rookie ball posting a .253/.374/.358 (with most of his success coming in the Dominican Summer League back home) before playing in short season A last year where he slashed .238/.326/.435 and placed second in the Northwest League in triples (6) and seventh in runs (44). He was also 13/16 in stolen base attempts. Clearly, Torres’ most advanced skill is his raw speed and good instincts on the bases but he will need to work at making better decisions with the bat (64/25 K/BB last year) if he is to make it as the tablesetter he projects to be. Despite weighing in at just 5’11”, 170, the switch-hitting Torres will show surprising pop when he does barrell up.
Torres earned high praise for his defensive abilities headed into the international draft. He did suffer an arm injury in his rookie season in the DSL, a contributing factor to his 34 errors in his last 88 games. Still, there is believed to be plenty of room for growth.
Combine Torres’ quick feet with a good first step towards the ball off the bat in the field, his line drive contact capabilities and the ability to turn anything that drops into extra bases, and — though it will take some time — there is five-tool potential here. Torres should slot in somewhere in the Marlins’ top 15 prospects this season.
From the outset, it looks like just another salary dump for the Marlins who rid themselves of 2015’s NL batting title winner, a perennial 50+ stolen base guy and a lockdown fielder up the middle. And while that clearly was Jeter’s goal, Miami did get back three quality pieces, one of which is a 3-5 slot starter that is but a year — if that — away from his MLB debut and one of which could develop into a cornerstone shortstop. Throw in Dugger who’s future is unknown at this point but will, barring injury, undoubtedly include MLB service time and this is an equitable return.
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.