2017 Jupiter Hammerheads Season Preview

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

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

Projected Lineup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Projected Rotation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Projected Team Stats

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

2017 Greensboro Grasshoppers Season Preview

 

2017 Greensboro Grasshoppers Season Preview

2015 Team Stats

65-75
.236/.299/.340
69 HR/302 XBH
1203 IP, 3.40 ERA, 1.23 WHIP

Projected Lineup

LF Kyle Barrett
RF Dalton Wheat
CF Stone Garrett
DH Isael Soto
2B Justin Twine
C Korey Dunbar
3B J.J. Gould
SS Giovanny Alfonzo

The 2016 regular season wasn’t exactly a great time for Stone Garrett. On top of hitting just .213/.265/.371 on the field, the first baseman got into a bit of a pickle off the field when he had his finger cut nearly off by former teammate, Josh Naylor during the enactment of a practical joke. But Garrett refused to end his 2016 calendar year in baseball like that. At the end of the MiLB season, he accepted an invitation to join the Sydney Bluesox of the Australian Baseball League. There, he has produced numbers much more becoming of an organizational top five prospect, hitting .258/.302/.430. It is that brand of baseball Garrett will hope to continue playing and build upon when he comes back to America. There, in upstate North Carolina, he will join fellow returnees from 2016 such as Kyle Barrett, Isael Soto, Cody Poteet, Tyler Kolek and Justin Jacome as well as newcomers to full season affiliated ball Dalton Wheat, J.J. Gould and Brett Lilek in making up new head coach Todd Pratt’s 2017 Opening Day lineup for the Greensboro Grasshoppers.

Coming off a .297/.352/.581 season in Batavia, a year which saw him become the all-around best bat in the New York Penn League by way of a .933 OPS, the Marlins had very high hopes for Garrett in his first year in full season ball in 2015. Despite suffering an injury right at the end of the 2015 short season that caused him to cease baseball activities for that entire offseason and caused him to miss the first 16 games of 2016, Garrett was still able to come back and hit .244/.303/.450 in his first 35 games with the Hoppers. Then, following Greensboro’s June 1 game in Lexington, Garrett was injured in a freak accident by his then teammate, roommate and fellow top 10 organizational prospect Josh Naylor during a prank that according to Marlins’ president of baseball operations, Mike Hill, “went a little too far.” The injury was a near severing of the thumb on Garrett’s dominant right hand that required corrective surgery. He would miss a full month’s worth of action.

Garrett was well enough to return Greensboro on August 16 after a very short three game stint in the Gulf Coast League, but with the strength still very gradually returning to both of his injured hands, especially his more recently gimpy dominant right hand, Garrett was pretty much on an extended rehab assignment and it showed. Over the final 17 games of the Grasshoppers’ season, Garrett hit just .152/.188/.212 with a 24/3 K/BB.

As skimpy as those numbers look, Garrett did show some light at the end of the long tunnel he has traveled down with the injury bug attached to him at the end of the MiLB season, going 7 for 31 in his final nine games including his only homer his second half and first in over a month on August 30. In his tenure with the Sydney Bluesox in Australia this year, that light has gotten much brighter and it would appear as though Garrett is finally back near 100% headed into 2017. This is evidenced by a .258/.301/.445 slash line along with seven homers, most in the ABL, the fact that he at one point had 13 game hit streak and the fact that he has hit in 31 of his 39 games played. The strikeouts have continued to pile up for Garrett as he owns a 44/7 K/BB in Australia and while he is a power hitting free swinger, this is the area of his game he will need to temper if he hopes to succeed in the upper minors. Garrett can do this by improving his plate vision including doing a better job picking up pitches out of the opposition’s hand and not committing too early to a swing. Garrett has good mechanics which he worked on diligently as he came into the pros but right now, he is still all hands and arms. He stays back on the ball wall as he stands near the very back of the box, advantageous for a fly ball hitter, but he needs to work on getting his lower half more involved in his follow through and acquire the ability to transfer his weight from his back leg as he strides through the ball via active hips. If he does so and does not need to rely so much on his upper half, his true power potential which is still being realized by way of Garrett still growing into his already a 6’2″ 195 pound frame at age 21 will come to fruition much sooner. Should that occur, Garrett could turn into one of the better extra base hitting prospects in the league.

If Garrett comes back to the minors at the level he is playing the Australia, he likely won’t be with Greensboro long. It is what he does after that that will be telling of his level of maturation and status as a prospect. While this is far from a make it or break it season for the 21-year-old Garrett, it is a barometer for how far he could potentially go as a prospect. Should Garrett clean up his patience and get his legs more involved in his power hitting approach, Garrett, who can play all three outfield positions but projects best as a speedy corner guy due to an average arm, should get a look in the upper minors as a 22-year-old next season.

4Kyle Barrett is a 23-year-old Marlins’ 15th round pick from 2015 out of the University of Kentucky where he enjoyed a .324/.386/.391 collegiate career and wound up 22nd on UK’s all time hits list with 174. He began his career in short season Batavia upon being drafted in June but just four games into his pro career, he was placed on the 60 day DL with an injury. Despite missing an entire season, he re-started in full season ball last year with the Hoppers last season. Due to lingering effects from the injury, Barrett got off to a slow start in 2016, hitting just .167/.225/.181 in his first 22 games, but as he got healthier, he began to show his true potential. From May 29 to June 19, Barrett hit safely in 16 of 22 games and went from the aforementioned .167/.225/.181 slash line to a .277/.311/.297 line. Going straight from playing in 50 games a year to playing in 101, Barrett ended the season with an impressive .282, second on the team with a respectable .333 OBP and .345 SLG. He also added 17 steals, another second-best total among Hoppers. The plus speed outfielder also had a very good year defensively, recording outs in 161 of 165 total chances by way of a 1.78 range factor. He committed just three errors while seeing time at all three outfield positions.

Barrett attributes his success last season to staying calm in the face of frustration, not trying to do too much too fast and letting the game come to him.

“I didn’t have the success I wanted the whole season due to the injury,” Barrett said. “It took me some time to get my timing, but I just trusted in the process and balls started finding holes.”

Barrett, who reached base safely in 81% of his games in college and followed it up by reaching in 70% of his games in his first full season in pro ball, is a speedy kid with a quickly developing top of the order catalyst type skill set and even a bit of hidden power underneath his small 5’1″”, 185 pound frame. Where he succeeds at getting on base more often than not is with his extremely quick bat speed and ability to shorten up and fight off tough pitches from his simple straight through line drive approach. What he needs to improve in order to put himself on pace to become a complete lead off or two hole bat is the rate at which he walks. (8.1% in college and just 6.4% last year). Heading into 2017, Barrett says he is making this a priority.

“I intend to get my walks up by having deeper at bats and having a more select zone and approach at the plate,” Barrett said.

Like every ballplayer, Barrett hopes his success last year in the face of adversity will allow him to crack some national top prospect lists, but if he doesn’t, he is completely fine with flying under the radar.

“The new list comes out pretty soon so I hope I am on it. If not, nothing changes,” Barrett said. “I’ll stick to my approach and do my best to prove people wrong.”

Like Garrett, Barrett should be another guy who is a fast graduate to Jupiter within the first half of the season. It is there, playing at a level whose average player is his exact age, that the 23-year-old will prove exactly where he is as a prospect. If he is indeed left off of nationally recognized lists this year, don’t be surprised if you see his name surface next season when he enters the upper minors in Jacksonville.

Isael SotoIsael Soto is a Marlins’ 2014 international signee out of the Dominican Republic. He broke into the league in his signing year by flashing prodigious power, dropping a .426 SLG on the Gulf Coast League as an 18-year-old before breaking into stateside ball in 2015. However, after just 17 games, he became yet another guy who is setting up to be a 2017 Grasshopper and the third of three players covered so far that fell victim to a lengthy injury. On May 3, the Hoppers placed Soto on the DL with a meniscus injury in his left knee that would cost him almost four months. What is worse for the power hitting lefty is that it was the knee of his front foot his plant leg. He spent the rest of that season on a rehab assignment in the GCL and in single A short season Batavia.

Soto returned to the Hoppers in 2016 after an offseason worth of conditioning and was able to post a .247/.320/.399 line with nine homers, tied for most in Greensboro while avoiding serious injury, but he still couldn’t avoid the injury bug altogether. An injury to a troubled achilles tendon first cost him nine days in April then another seven in June. This time, the injury was in his back right plant leg. While the numbers Soto posted were decent enough for a 19-year-old, few of them were becoming of a top six organizational top prospect which he entered that season as, especially not his 115/43 K/BB, even for a pure power free swinger. While some of that can be blamed on the time he missed, it is more so a product of his mechanics. From a straight up and down stance in the box, Soto uses a slight front foot timing trigger — and that’s where the inclusion of his lower half in his swing ends. He has a solid uppercut power swing which he can shorten up on and which he pulls the trigger on with extremely quick bat speed. However, keeping his hips and waste stationary and not exploding through his swing at all but rather relying completely on his arms, he wastes the most powerful part of his 6’0″, 180 pound (and still growing) frame. Soto has the ability to completely clobber straight stuff but not stepping into the ball leads to him struggling mightily against anything that bends or curves, especially towards the outer half of the zone where he is a prime victim to get caught reaching across his body. Soto especially struggles against same side pitchers. This past year, he only hit lefties at a .209/.278/.313 with a 44/11 K/BB.

That’s the bad news. The good news for Soto is that he is still just 20 years old with just 192 games under his belt, games in which, though mixed with some struggles and proof that he needs to rectify his mechanics, he has shown flashes of becoming a 25-30 home run threat, especially against righties (.262/.336/.434, 7 HR, 71/32 K/BB in 2016). Similar to his offense, Soto is still very raw in the field as well. However, he has also shown the ability to hold down right field with good speed and a solid accurate arm that produces throws that carry very well. Like his antics at the plate, he has offset it by making some pretty bad errors but again, the talent it there; it just needs to be perfected.

In what was his first season in pro ball after he missed essentially a full season (minus 29 games), Soto put the building blocks in place for a breakout year in 2017. Though he fell out of the organization’s top prospect rankings, if Soto, who’s die is not cast and can still be groomed, can manage to stay healthy, get his big lower half more involved in his swing by driving off his foot through the ball with active hips into his already solid power swing, improve his plate vision especially against lefties and continue to make strides toward playing consistent defense, he could wind up in Jupiter to end the year and break back into the Marlins’ top 30 next season. Right now, I put a healthy Soto’s ceiling at a platooning righty mashing corner outfielder with an average glove and a plus arm.

Dalton WheatAs I wrote a few months ago when the Marlins signed him out of the unaffiliated independent ball ranks, Dalton Wheat comes to the Fish as one of the organization’s most intriguing prospects in more ways than one. The 23-year-old out of Wichita, Kansas comes to affiliated ball after a roller coaster two year process which saw him go from the high of finishing off a .353/.435/.531, 149 RBI, 105 SB collegiate career to the low of somehow not being selected in that year’s MLB Draft which led him to contemplate his possible life after baseball only to return to the peak of becoming the best player in all of the indy leagues. After posting a .335/.414/.403 slash line in 67 games with the Kansas City T-Bones, Wheat finally comes to the professional ranks as a Marlin.

It is safe to say that things just keep getting brighter for Wheat after he endured quite the storm that nearly forced him out of baseball altogether just a year previous, making him the embodiment of the agage, “the dawn is darkest just before the dawn”. Through everything that has happened off the field though, one thing has remained constant: Wheat’s more than solid play on the field. Despite the aforementioned setbacks, Wheat continued to show up to the park with the same positive attitude and the same great work ethic. These are just a few of the things Wheat has stuck to that made him a standout collegiate player and a spectacular semi-pro and that he hopes make him an effective pro.

Among other things that Wheat has stuck to with his “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset are the “batting” gloves he dons at the plate. An avid outdoorsman in the offseason, Wheat has had a pair of old work gloves somewhere in his truck for as long as he can remember. One day before one of his practices at Butler College, the school he broke into collegiate baseball with, a teammate came to Wheat in need of a pair of batting gloves. Wheat obliged and hit bare-handed that day only to develop a blister on one of his hands. In order to protect it from getting worse, Wheat grabbed a pair of gloves fit more for a lumberjack than a baseball player and threw them on. He’s been wearing them at the plate ever since and will continue the tradition as a Grasshopper.

“I liked the way they made me feel like I didn’t have to over grip the bat so I’ve been using them ever since,” Wheat told me two months ago. “I plan on continuing to wear them unless I’m told otherwise.”

Moving to more traditional matters, we look at Wheat’s approach and skillset. A complete hitter all throughout college and the independent leagues, he boasts a lot of above average assets but his best tools are his plate discipline that allowed him to post a .414 OBP as a T-Bone preceded by a combined .435 OBP in college and his speed which has allotted him a combined 114 steals in 135 total chances (84%). There is very little wrong with Wheat’s mechanics and approach. The 6’2″ Wheat protects a big strike zone by exhibiting great vision and patience and strong hands needed to fight off pitches inside where opposing righties traditionally like to try to jam lefties. Despite his size, Wheat yields a power swing in favor of a straight through line drive hack with snappy bat speed. From there, he lets his legs and plus plus speed do the rest in turning would-be singles into extra base hits. An aggressive baserunner with great instincts, Wheat, though he was limited to just 12 attempts last season with the T-Bones, is a 30+ stolen base threat. All of this spells out a more than solid top of the order OBP machine with fantastic run creating prowess.

Wheat’s speed continues to serve him in the field where, paired with his good arm strength, he has the ability to play all three outfield positions. He makes good reads off the bat and makes accurate throws more often than not. Wheat has played right field most regularly and due to the fact that his throws from the corner are more frequently on line and show better carry than his throws from center, that is probably where his future will be.

Scouts are placing Wheat’s professional ceiling at a fourth outfielder but should he learn how to drop down bunts for hits and develop a bit more power which are the only two things pretty much non-existent from his game right now, the 23-year-old Wheat, who is still growing into a already large athletic frame, could become a complete lefty hitting top of the order threat. For those reasons, Wheat, whose signing was barely covered this offseason and who will probably be another quick graduate to A+ which is where I and others had him starting his pro career, is one of my top organizational picks to burst onto the scene with a great season (as long as he successfully adjust to a new level of competition, which he had no problem doing going from college to the independent circuit) and force the baseball world to notice his arrival. At this time next season, I foresee there will be a lot more written about Wheat than just a few blurbs in the deep dark corners of the baseball affiliated internet.

J.J. GouldJ.J. Gould is a Marlins’ 24th round draft pick from last season out of Jacksonville University whom he joined after spending his freshman year at Florida State. As a Jacksonville Dolphin, Gould enjoyed a .303/.403/.473, 12 HR, 62 RBI, 108/55 K/BB two year career before turning pro in 2016. Between 53 games with the Muckdogs and a short 11 game stint with the Grasshoppers at the end of the year, Gould’s pro career got of to a great start in the power department. After posting team high totals in slugging, .407, homers, 6, and doubles, 15, Gould wrapped his year up by smacking three more homers in 39 ABs with Greensboro. Still growing into a 6’0″ 195 pound frame, Gould, who just recently began to tap into his power potential when he went from three homers and 12 XBH in his junior year to nine homers and 28 XBH in his senior year two seasons ago before translating that success to the pros this year, definitely has room to grow into even more plus power ability.

Gould shows fantastic potential for a fit and muscley doubles first power threat but he is plate prescence is still very raw. Often a strikeout victim even in college, his patience and vision need to be groomed at least to the point that he isn’t striking out three more times than he walks if he plans to succeed as an every day bat. If Gould can improve that area of his game, his good mechanics which include him striding through his lofty swing fluidly and transferring his weight from back to front very well from a low stance and an even 6’0″ frame which diminishes his strike zone, he will become a solid middle of the order hitter with the abiliy to extend innings and help turn lineups over.

Defensively, Gould can play short, second and third. He shows good reflexes and a good first step toward the ball off the bat which allowed him to post a 2.47 range factor last year. A part time pitcher in high school, Gould’s arm was clocked as high as 82 MPH from the mound. With maturation into his body, that velo has grown to right around the 87 MPH mark. After spending his 2015 collegiate season at shortstop where he contriubted 128 assists and was involved in 32 of the Dolphins’ 50 double plays, Gould spent most of his 2016 season at the hot corner where he contributed 61 assists in 94 total chances and a solid 2.47 range factor. Considering that in half as many games at short he contributed more errors last year (8 Es at SS vs 5 at 3B), it would appear as though Gould is more comfortable making throws directly across the diamond. That and his power potential make him a better fit at third and that is where he will probably live out his future.

Projected Rotation

1. Cody Poteet
2. Tyler Kolek
3. Brett Lilek
4. Justin Jacome

Cody Poteet is a Marlins’ fourth rounder from 2015 out of UCLA where he enjoyed a 3.91 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 2.25 K/BB three year career, including a 2.45 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 2.27 K/BB junior year which earned him his draft stock in the first five rounds and the 190th best prospect in the 2015 draft, according to BaseballAmerica. Upon his arrival in the pros, Poteet would unfortunately become another 2016 Hoppers’ returnee that would fall victim to a serious injury. At the ripe age of 20 just 12.2 innings into his Marlins’ career, Poteet was placed on the 60 day DL thereby ending his season. It was thought at the time that, like most other players who suffer such an injury at such an early stage of their career, that Poteet’s development would be seriously hampered.

However, last year in his first year in full season ball and in the first action he’d seen in nearly a full calendar year against the best competition he’s ever faced, Poteet was not only able to prove those beliefs invalid, he was able to place himself among the Marlins’ top 13 organizational prospects by having a standout season. Throwing exclusively as a starter, Poteet posted a 2.91 ERA, fifth best in the South Atlantic League among qualifiers. This came by way of a .240 BAA, 11th best in the Sally and an 8.13 K/9, good enough for 15th best among the 34 qualfying starters.

The area that Poteet struggled in and which led to him posting the Sally’s 14th highest 1.30 WHIP was limiting walks. His 2.41 K/BB ranked 22nd among the same 34 qualifiers and his 3.38 BB/9 were 13th highest. Poteet has great command of his solid four pitch arsenal when he is going well but he needs to develop more control over it as he moves through the minors to complete his game. This is the biggest of few areas of concern for the 22-year-old.

Poteet’s repertoir consists of low-mid 90s heat that possesses good late run to the corners and good bite when low in the zone, where it usually lives but can get him in trouble when he misses up or out over the plate. Poteet’s best pitch is a power slider that sits in the 83-85 MPH range and which shows great late bend away from hitters. If he hits the right arm slot, the pitch has the ability to make the opposition look silly fishing out of the zone. Poteet keeps hitters guessing by throwing in a low 80s curve which he has the ability to spin in well with hard bite and not much arc, making the slightly above average pitch a good compliment to the slider which he keeps on the outer half. Again though, when the release point is off, it can cost him. If Poteet hopes to stick as a starter, his changeup, currently a work in progress and a mid 80s offering, will need to improve in order to become a piggybacking pitch to the fastball. He began to throw the pitch much more frequently last year since developing it late in his college career. At times, it showed flashes of the capibility to become a plus offering with good deep fade. If Poteet can develop the consistent arm speed and gain more of a feel for it as he moves up in the minor league ranks, it will be a perfect early and equal count partner pitch for his faster heat and slower curve and slider.

Poteet’s delivery mechanics before release are pleasure to watch. Slow and methodical through most of his rocker step wind-up, he explodes through his downhill release with great snappy force, making him extremely difficult for hitters to time. On the downside, the powerful release is where his control problems stem from due to his tendency to overhrow, leading to the aformentioned issues with his release points and arm speed. It is getting this in check and keeping it in check as he grows into his body and possibly more velo that will be the trick for the 22-year-old. If he can, his ceiling is pretty high: 3-5 starter. If not, his floor is still that of a solid back end reliever. Due to his success last year, Poteet is another guy who should be on the move quickly if he plays the same game to begin 2016.

Tyler KolekTyler Kolek is the Marlins’ top overall prospect from last year who slips to number two this year after the drafting of Braxton Garrett and a lot of struggles in 2015 before missing the entire 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery. A high schooler in 2014, Kolek surged up draft boards by throwing consistently over 100 MPH, making him one of the best velo guys in MLB Draft history, according to MLB.com. After a short stint in the GCL, Kolek joined the Hoppers in 2015 to a lot of buzz but delivered very little desired results. His velo dropped from the triple digits he showed before being drafted down to the mid 90s making his fastball which can flash good downward action but is usually straight as an arrow much more hittable. Compounding the situation was the fact that neither of Kolek’s breaking pitches, his slider or his change, showed much in the way of being any more than mediocre with control of his entire arsenal absolutely putrid. This led to an ugly 81/61 K/BB or a 4.0% K/BB%, fourth worst in the Sally and a tenth highest 4.56 ERA by way of a fourth highest 4.87 FIP.

In 2015, Kolek dropped his velo from his 100+ in his pre-draft days where he threw 100+ to 94 MPH. This probably came at the request of his pro coaches who likely suggested he was too max effort all the time. That same reason compounded by an apparently irresponsible high school coach who didn’t instruct him otherwise is likely what led to discomfort and ineffectiveness in 2015 and what led to him undergoing TJ at the young age of 20. A quote from Dr. James Andrews, the world renowned quintessential expert of Tommy John, points out the carelessness of coaches at the entry levels in a quote to DriveLine Baseball by saying the following:

“It used to be that we didn’t see these injuries until they got into high-level professional baseball. But now, the majority of the injuries are either freshmen in college, or even some young kid in ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th grade in high school. These young kids are developing their bodies so quickly, and their ligament … isn’t strong enough to keep up with their body, and they’re tearing it.”

Dan Jennings, who was the Marlins’ GM when Kolek was drafted and likely one of the big reasons for Kolek being instructed not to go 100% all the time, was quoted in the same article as saying:

“You get these specialized regimens where you build large muscle groups, but not the small muscles around the rotator and UCL. The large muscles get developed so large that when you try to decelerate, you can get badly hurt.”

During the 2015 Grasshoppers’ season, Marlins’ scouting director Marc DelPiano made a comment that would seem to confirm the ideology of Kolek was going max effort at all times during his high school days, which led to the injury.

“I think all of it’s been just energy-related, so he’s kind of modified his energy. He’s not as high-effort, he’s more effortless in how he approaches things with his delivery and his release.”

So, now that we know where the injruy came from, can Kolek, who suffered the injury in the most crucuial stage of his body growth, can the ligament make a comeback and allow Kolek to live out his true potential as a prospect? Recent findings and the miracle of modern medicine suggests that he can. Where Tommy John used to be thought to be a kiss of death for pitchers, it currently holds an MLB success rate of 78% according to the Hardball Times. This means that near 80% of those who underwent the surgery were able to come back to pitch in at least one major league game. That survey was done in 2015 and the number was steadily rising. In Kolek’s case, even though a return to the mound will be very exciting and he will want to do everything he can to make up for lost time, he needs to keep things in perspective. Still just 21, there is plenty of time for him to succeed in this league and that is the wisdom that needs to be imparted on him by his coaches. It will be a new way of life for a pitcher that went full bore for four full years in high school but it is an attitude which he needs to grow accustomed to if he wants to succeed in this league. During that time, Kolek needs to develop secondary stuff to compliment his 70/80 fastball. If he can do so, he has a potential ceiling of a future ace. At the very least, a healthy Kolek has the floor of a very effective fiery closer. As a second overall draft pick, the Marlins are going to take it easy with Kolek and give him every chance to succeed. For this reason, I expect Kolek to spend most of 2017 repeating low A where he will try to complete his arsenal before a potential call to Jupiter to end the year.

Brett Lilek is the Marlins’ second round draft choice from 2015 out of the Arizona State University. There, Lilek enjoyed a fantastic collegiate career, tossing to the tune of a 3.05 ERA via a 1.22 WHIP. Lilek struggled slightly with control in his college career, leading to a 4.33 BB/9 including a 4.69 mark in his draft year which is likely what kept the standout lefty from being selected even sooner than 50th overall. However, Lilek was able to iron out those issues in his pro debut season in Batavia, posting a 43/7 K/BB and a 3.34 ERA in his first 11 games and 35 IP. On June 24, 2015, Lilek was one of three pitchers to contribute to a Muckdogs’ combined perfect game, the first in the club’s storied 76 year history. Lilek credits his success in Batavia in perfecting his logistics and thereby nailing down his control and getting his walk totals in check to his pitching coach, Brendan Sagara.

“One thing I did to channel my walks was refine my mechanics and I believe working with Sags really helped me,” Lilek said. “He helped me understand the mechanics from the bottom up and make adjustments when needed.”

With a great debut season under his belt by way of both physical and mental improvement, Lilek entered 2016 as the fifth best organizational prospect according to BaseballAmerica and looked primed to place himself on the fast track to the majors. So when he came out and tossed to the tune of very uncharacteristic numbers including a 5.06 ERA and a 16/16 K/BB in his first seven games and 16 IP, it was obvious something wasn’t quite right. On June 4, it was revealed what that something was. On that date, the Grasshoppers placed Lilek on the DL with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. He would not return for the remainder of the year. The only mound Lilek saw for the rest of the year was in extended spring training in Jupiter. As dim as that may sound, Lilek praised the positive attitude of his fellow rehabbing teammates and laments it as a huge stepping stone to healing quicker.

“While in Jupiter, it really was just everyone wanting to see one another overcome their injury and have success,” Lilek said. “Every rehab person obviously doesn’t want to be there; they want to be playing the game that we all love so dearly so really taking advantage of your time there and making the most of it really helped propel myself into the offseason.”

Lilek’s return to the mound at NewBridge Bank Park and the Sally League will come this year when he returns to North Carolina for what he hopes to be his first real look in full season ball. However, he hasn’t been waiting until then to get back on the horse. Fortunately, able to avoid surgery, Lilek has stayed as active as possible putting in all the work necessary to come back stronger than ever.

“This offseason, I trained four times a week and through accordingly to the program that was provided by the Marlins,” Lilek said. “I believe following those guidelines have put me in a great place to perform during spring training to my highest potential.”

But the amount of hours and work Lilek has put in in order to ensure a healthy comeback hasn’t only been limited to following that training regiment. After getting the go-ahead to resume on-field workouts by the Marlins, Lilek promptly flew overseas to the Dominican Republic where he has been working out individually under the watchful eye of the Marlins’ staff. Lilek touts the time he has spent in the Dominican, which has been accompanied by some fantastic climate conditions that have allowed him to get the most out of each day, as a great catalyst for getting back to and even past the 100% he was at in 2015.

“I’m down in the Dominican refining my game, working one on one with the coaches and taking full advantage of the beautiful weather that I have been blessed with during my stay.” Lilek said. “I truly believe that this time down here has helped me become stronger, and more ready for the season and spring training that is ahead of me.”

Considering he was able to avoid going under the knife and since has not wasted a single hour of any day this offseason, thus putting in all the work and then some needed to get back to the mound healthier than ever, Lilek is a great candidate to take the next step this season. Before the injury, Lilek was already 6’4″, 220 with a fantastic downhill fluid, repeatable delivery from a deceptive arm angle. His arsenal included a 94-95 MPH heater, an already plus slide piece especially for his level of development which he threw with very controlled arm speed and sweeping action to the corners that got in well on the hands of righties allowing him to use it as either a setup pitch or an out pitch and a good mix-in which also flashed plus with good fade. He had great control over all three of his pitches and, with improved command, was setting up to realize his ceiling as a back end starter and realize it quickly. If Lilek can come back completely rebuilt physically and with another year of growing into his frame in the past which could spell even more power and a rise in velo, not only could he place himself back on the same track to fulfill his potential, he could raise his stock even further. Wherever Lilek’s future lies, one thing is for sure: at just 22, he has handled the harsh reality of a season ending injury in just his second year as a pro with maturity well beyond his years and gone above and beyond the call of duty in order to get back to playing the game he admires and respects. For those reasons, Lilek is an extremely easy guy to root for. This may be the start but trust me, if things play out advantageously and his health holds up, this won’t be the last time we hear the name Brett Lilek mentioned in the same sentence as great accomplishments this season.

Projected Team Stats

65-75
.254/.320/.348
75 HR/385 XBH
1,190 IP, 3.62 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

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.

Trade Analysis: Luis Castillo, Austin Brice, Isaiah White To Reds For Dan Straily

Dan Straily

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.

All-Fish Team: #7 – Ivan Rodriguez

All-Fish Team: #7 - Ivan Rodriguez

Image Map

When you’re only a member of a franchise for one full season, it’s tough to warrant being named one of it’s best players of all time. That is unless you accomplish what Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez did in 2003. That season, Pudge called some of the biggest games and made some of the team’s biggest plays, making him an integral part of the leadership that brought the Marlins back atop the mountain and gave them their second World Series title in six years and thereby making him the greatest Marlin to ever wear the number seven.

Rodriguez got his start in baseball as a child in Puerto Rico as a little league pitcher. However, he was too good at it. So good that his father received complaints from other parents in the league that his arm was scaring other children and making them not want to go to games on days they knew Rodriguez was throwing. As a means of mercy, Rodriguez’s dad moved him to catcher. Little did he know later in life his presence behind the plate would strike similar fear in potential base stealers.

At age 16, Rodriguez was noticed by scout Luis Rosa, the same scout that discovered the likes of Sandy and Roberto Alomar and Pudge’s little league rival, Juan Gonzalez. Even in his teenage years, Rosa said he saw things in Pudge he had rarely seen in many others, including his ability to captain his team both tangibly and intangibly.

“Pudge was hard-nosed, even then,” Rosa has said. “He showed leadership at 16 that I’d seen in few kids. He knew where he was going.”

After signing with the Texas Rangers in 1988, Rodriguez made his minor league debut as a 17-year-old. In two full seasons and a small part of a third in MiLB, he hit .265/.296/.370 with 125 RBI on 68 XBH. Even though the numbers were decent enough for a teenager adjusting to life in both the United States and in the professional baseball ranks, a major league call-up after just 969 ABs, only 50 of which came in the upper minors and none of which came in AAA seemed a bit premature. However, upon making his MLB debut in June of 1991 at age 19, nine and a half years younger than the average big leaguer and the second youngest player in baseball, second only to Todd Van Poppel by 12 days, Pudge debunked that belief by hitting .264/.276/.354 in his first 80 MLB games. He also threw out 36 of 70 or 49% of potential base stealers making him the best behind-the-plate gun slinger in the league. At season’s end, Rodriguez placed fourth in Rookie of the Year voting.

Pudge spent the next ten years with the Rangers placing the building blocks of a legacy that has a lot of people today calling him one of the best catchers of all time. From 1992-2002, Rodriguez slashed .307/.345/.496 with a BA and SLG that ranked second among all of baseball’s backstops. Over that same span, he gunned down 424 of 842, or an even 50% of potential base swipers which blew away the rest of the competition in baseball (among qualifiers with 1,000+ innings played). Accordingly, in that 1,391 game span, Rodriguez posted a 499.2 RAR and a 48.9 WAR, making him the 15th most valuable player in the league and the second most valuable catcher. Those marks were made possible by a 89.4 Off rating (calculated, in short, by adding park adjusted RAA with weighted stolen base and double play runs RAA and ultimate baserunning rating and determines how good a player’s all-around offensive game (as opposed to only what he does with the bat or, in other words, his weighted OBP or runs created) is compared to a replacement level player), which ranked fifth among backstops as well as a ridiculous 209.7 Def rating (or positional adjusted runs above average) a mark that was 71.5 runs better than his next closest competitor. In each of those ten seasons, Rodriguez was selected as an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner. In six of them, he won the Silver Slugger award. His best single season over the course of his first 11 seasons (and arguably the best season of his career) came in 1999. That year, Rodriguez hit .332/.356/.558 with the seventh best AL BA and its 9th best SLG. His 35 homers were the 11th most in the AL and set a new league record for long balls by a catcher, his 113 RBI ranked 14th, and his 116 runs scored ranked seventh. Never really known as much of a base stealer, Pudge somewhat surprisingly swiped 25 bags, making him the first catcher in the then 98 year history of the American League to steal at least 20 bags and hit at least 20 homers in a single season. All of this spelled out a 20.9 Off rating, 22nd in his league and second among all catchers. Behind the plate, Pudge was his usual spectacular self that year, once again leading baseball in caught stealing percentage this time with a 55% (41/75). His 28.2 Def rating not only once again led all catchers by a wide margin, he was actually the seventh best defensive player in all of baseball. Altogether, by way of a 71.4 RAR and a 6.8 WAR, Rodriguez was the eighth most valuable position player baseball and the fourth most valuable position player in the AL. In a very close race with Pedro Martinez, Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez and others, Pudge won the AL MVP Award. At just 27, with his career not even half over, Rodriguez had people, including opposing managers, calling him one of, if not the single greatest catcher of all time and advising Cooperstown to get a jump-start on the carving of his Hall Of Fame plaque.

“He might be the best catcher I’ve ever seen,” Blue Jays skipper Jim Fregosi said. “He could retire right now and go into the Hall of Fame. Johnny Bench had more power, but Bench never had this guy’s quickness.”

Even though he suffered a season ending injury on a freak play at the beginning of the second half of the 2000 season, Pudge still managed to hit .322/.357/.579 with the seventh best BA and SLG in baseball in his final three years with Texas. His 50% CS% and 37.5 Def rating over that span put him in very familiar territory as the best backstop in the AL. He went to two more All-Star games and won two more Gold Gloves. He should have won another Silver Slugger in 2002 when he was again the best offensive AL catcher but was somehow beaten out by Jorge Posada who hit .268/.370/.468 to his .314/.353/.542.

Following the 2002 season, after 11 professional seasons, Pudge waved goodbye to the Texas Rangers, leaving a legacy in his wake that will forever have him labeled one of the best players in their franchise history. In those 11 years, Pudge was a 49.2 WAR player, the seventh best all-around player in the AL and the best all-around player in Rangers history, a title that Pudge still holds today. He is also still the best defensive WAR player in Rangers history and appears on many of the franchise’s career leaderboards including BA (.304, 7th), SLG (.488, 9th), OPS (.828, 10th), runs scored (866, 4th), hits (1,747, 2nd), doubles (352, 2nd), triples (28, 5th), homers (217, 4th), RBIs (842, 4th) and runs created (900, 4th).

In 2003, Rodriguez brought that legacy to Miami. As one of the signings that got the season-long spending spree started that year and saw the Marlins’ payroll go from $40 million a year previous to $63 million (only to go back to $42 million on Opening Day 2004) the Marlins inked Pudge to a one year, $10 million deal, one of the higher single season price tags in team history, especially at the time. Rodriguez wound up being worth every penny. Along with contributing a .297 batting average, a mark which was fifth among NL catchers 16 homers (3rd among NL catchers) and 85 RBIs (2nd) to the lineup, Pudge served as the veteran anchor to a rotation with the average age of 25. He mentored and led that child-like rotation to a regular season 58% quality start percentage (94 QS in 162 games), tied for fourth best in baseball and an average game score of 53, third best in the game. Pudge himself didn’t make the All-Star Game that year (even though he was hit .300/.375/.515 to backup selection Paul Lo Duca’s .307/.374/.438) the work he did with rookie Dontrelle Willis got D-Train into an NL All-Star uniform.

In the 2003 playoffs, Rodriguez was not-so-arguably the Marlins’ best player in every round. In the division series, he slashed .353/.450/.588 and provided some of the most crucial clutch hits. In game three, Pudge staked the Fish to an early 2-0 lead with the first postseason homer of his career. Ten innings later in the bottom of the 11th, he strode to the plate with the Marlins’ win expectancy down to 27%, an out away from going down 2-1 in the five game series. With the bases loaded, Rodriguez singled down the right field line, scoring Alex Gonzalez from third and the speedy Juan Pierre from second, giving the Marlins a huge 4-3 win.


The very next game, Rodriguez would once again be involved in the game deciding play, this time on the other side of the ball. After the Marlins took a 5-1 lead early, the Giants clawed back with a four run 6th inning and going into the 9th, trailed by just two runs, 7-5. After a leadoff double, JT Snow plated the Giants’ sixth run with an RBI single. Closer Ugeth Urbina battled back to strike out Pedro Feliz and get Benito Santiago on a popout but then hit Rod Durham with a pitch putting the tying run in scoring position for Jeffrey Hammonds. On the first pitch of the at bat, Hammonds struck a slow sinking fly ball into left field that fell just in front of a hard charging Jeff Conine. At that point, as Snow neared third with third base coach Gene Glynn waving him home against the arm of a 37-year-old, it looked as though the Giants were going to return the favor that Rodriguez presented them with two nights earlier. However, somehow, Conine, who had made the full-time switch to the infield four years earlier and was playing in just his 75th game in the outfield over a 662 game span, somehow came up with a perfect one-hop throw to the outside of the baseline just outside of the right handed batter’s box to a waiting Rodriguez. Pudge adjusted slightly and and braced for a huge railroad hit by Snow that sent his catcher’s mask flying high in the air and his body flying across the plate into the grass behind the plate. The ball though stayed put snug in Rodriguez’s glove and the Marlins remained in the race for their second World Series title in six years. It is a play that has become synonymous with the Marlins’ title run that year and the play that Marlins fans automatically reminisce to when they hear the name Ivan Rodriguez.

But Pudge wasn’t done there. In the next round, the seven game NL Championship Series against the Cubs, he hit .321/.424/.607 with two homers and 10 RBI on his way to becoming the NLCS MVP. The first of Rodriguez’s homers of that series came in the third inning of game one, a three run bomb that helped erase a Cubs’ 4-0 lead that they built in the bottom of the 1st and sparked a Marlins’ 9-8 11 inning win. After hitting a second homer in game five, Rodriguez was a key contributor to the Marlins’ miraculous game seven come-from-behind win. After falling behind 5-3 in the third inning, the Fish led off the 5th inning with two walks, a flyout sandwiched in between. With one out, Rodriguez took the first Kerry Wood pitch he saw to deep left field, scoring pinch runner Brian Banks, drawing Florida to within two and moving Luis Castillo to third. Two batters later after a fourth Marlins’ run scored on a Miguel Cabrera fielder’s choice groundout and moved him to third, Pudge scored the tying run on a Derek Lee line drive single. Successfully jump-started by Rodriguez, the Marlins would go on to complete the rally by scoring three more unanswered runs and eventually winning 9-6 to move on to their second World Series in 2,190 days.

Again though, Rodriguez wasn’t done providing huge moments for the Marlins that year. In the World Series, he hit .273/.292/.364 and caught a pitching staff that held the New York Yankees, a team which scored the fourth most runs in baseball by way of its fourth most homers and third best OPS, to 3.21 runs per game. His game calling and the same leadership skills his scout, Rosa noticed in him as a teenager helped produce series MVP Josh Beckett who held down a 1.10 ERA in two starts and 16.1 IP. All in all in those playoffs, Rodriguez hit .313/.389/.522. After them, his Marlins tenure would come to an end but in just 155 games, Rodriguez accomplishments were enough to establish him as arguably the greatest Marlins catcher in franchise history. Among catchers who played at least 100 games, his .297 BA in ’03 was a Marlins’ single-season record as were his .474 slugging percentage, 36 doubles, 85 RBI and 10 stolen bases. His 16 homers are the third most ever in a single Marlins backstop’s season. Value wise, Pudge’s 4.4 WAR is another of his Marlins’ single season catcher records. It also ranks as the fourth best single campaign in franchise history among all position players.

Following his short but sweet Marlins’ career, Pudge moved on to a third city where he would for the third time, become a franchise MVP. For the 2004-2007 Detroit Tigers, he hit .298/.326/.453 with 114 doubles, 14 triples, 57 homers and 268 RBI. He was an All-Star selection in each of those years, won Gold Gloves in three, and a Silver Slugger in one. Defensively, he contributed a 41% CS% while leading the league in that stat in both 2005 and 2006, and a 49.5 Def rating, third among all of baseball’s catchers over that span. After a .295/.338/.417 start to 2008, Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees. His Detroit legacy is firmly cemented by way of a .298 BA, a .449 SLG, 62 homers, 300 RBI and 30 SB, marks that rank third, fourth, fifth, sixth and first in the 116 year history of Tigers catchers. WAR wise, Rodriguez is the fifth best catcher in Detroit franchise history, behind the likes of Freehan, Parrish and Tettleton, each of which have a Hall Of Fame case.

After moving from New York to Houston then back to Texas and finally to Washington in the twilight of his career, Pudge retired in 2011. In his 21 year career, Rodriguez hit .296/.334/.464. He owns the all-time MLB record for games played at catcher 2,427 and accordingly, ABs by a catcher at 10,270. His 572 doubles are also most all-time among backstops. With 311, his homer total ranks seventh most all-time among those to man the #2 position and his 1,332 RBI rank fifth. Pudge is the third most valuable catcher in baseball history (68.4 WAR) trailing only Johnny Bench and Gary Carter. He is one of just five players in all of baseball lore to hit at least .290 with 2,500+ hits, 550 doubles, 300 HR and 1,300 RBI. The others are some guys named Ruth, Aaron, Brett and Bonds.

With some of baseball’s best accolades at the catcher position over a storied 21 year career, Pudge could make the National Baseball Hall Of Fame on his first nomination this coming week. However, he placed himself in the Marlins’ Hall Of Fame long ago by having one of the best seasons in franchise history behind the plate. Even though his time with the Fish was short, fans remain grateful for the time they got with Pudge and what he gave them in leading the franchise to a title. It is for those reasons that Ivan Rodriguez makes the All-Fish Team as the best all-time wearer of the number seven.

Cast your votes on Twitter (@marlinsminors) and check back next week when I will reveal whom you selected as the Marlins’ greatest donner of the number eight.

Augmented Reality Umpiring: The Future Of Balls And Strikes?

Umpire of the future?
Armando Gallaraga had done it. He had made history. On June 2, 2010 with two outs in the ninth, he got Cleveland Indians infielder Jason Donald to ground out to third base thereby sealing the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history. 17,738 fans in attendance at Comerica Park saw it that way. All of the players on the field saw it that way. Both benches saw it that way. Thousands watching on television saw it that way. The broadcasters saw it that way. The ice cream vendor trying to make a last minute sale in section 302 saw it that way. However, there was one man who saw it differently: first base umpire Jim Joyce. Upon the throw hitting the back of Gallaraga’s glove and his foot hitting the first base bag seemingly a step ahead of hitter Jason Donald, Joyce, to the surprise of everyone else watching, called the runner safe. As a result, history was altered and Gallaraga and the Tigers were denied an entry in Cooperstown. This call by Joyce sent the baseball world into a frenzy. Knee-jerk reactors began calling for Joyce to be axed or forced to retire, others were calling for a formal apology (which Joyce did give), others called for baseball to award Gallaraga the perfect game regardless of the outcome. Meanwhile, the most sensible and fair minded baseball fans questioned what could be done to prevent this from happening again. Up until this point, baseball had a form of instant replay. However, under that system, only umpires could initiate a challenge of a previously made call and only another umpire could overturn it. The only type of play that could be challenged was a home run boundary call. It took MLB four more years to finally find a solution to the call that kept Gallaraga from his perfect game and oodles of other controversial calls which led to a non-transparency of umpires in both years previous and in the three seasons to come since that fateful day in Detroit but in 2014, that solution finally came. Baseball expanded instant replay, making many more calls reviewable including safe/out calls and force play calls which would have saved Gallaraga’s history. Other reviewable situations included trap plays, tags on the basepaths, ground-rule doubles, fan interference, timing plays, scorekeeping issues and virtually everything while the ball is in the field of play.

As great as instant replay has been for the integrity of the game and the putting in place of umpires as game officials rather than game deciders, another big question still stands: what about the no-hitters that are taken away by a third strike being called a ball and that batter going on to single? What about the perfect games nullified by a strike being ruled a ball and that batter going on to walk? And as importantly if not more importantly, what about the ball and strike calls that tip the scales in favor of one team or the other sometimes multiple times a game that lead to a win for one team and a loss for the other? From 2013-2016, Major League Baseball claimed its home plate umpires called balls and strikes with 97% accuracy. However, this October, Dr. Toby Moskowitz, a Yale professor with more time on his hands and more patience than a patron saint, cooked that goose. By going back and looking at the PITCHf/x results of every single pitch recorded in MLB over that three year time frame, almost a million in total, he calculated that umpires only make the correct call 88% of the time. That means plate umpires are making incorrect calls 30,000 times a year. Even more baffling, it means they are making an incorrect call once every eight pitches. Looking at pitches that were within two inches of one of the corners of the plate, the results are even more terrifying. In those situations, umps got the call wrong 31% of the time or once in every three pitches. That’s right; one in every three corner painting pitches called inaccurately. These numbers prove that the fully human home plate umpire system isn’t only ruining the integrity of baseball, it is demolishing it at an alarming rate in every game played. If baseball hopes to make its umpires and officials truly transparent, something has to be done about balls and strikes. Over the years, many things have been suggested: fully robotic umpires, fully computerized strike zones, etc. However, whether it be because of fear of backlash from the umpires’ union due to the loss of umpiring jobs, fear of imperfect technology or fear of the next SkyNet takeover in the wake of a humanless behind-the-plate umpire environment, none of those ideas have gotten that far past the drawing board.

So what is the solution to calling more accurate balls and strikes? I bring you to a few weeks back while I was out holiday shopping. While at an electronics expo last month, I may have found the answer to this seemingly age old question. I present for your consideration augmented reality balls and strikes.

The technology I propose be introduced to baseball is called augmented reality. As opposed to virtual reality which completely replaces your real world surroundings with a simulated one, augmented reality preserves your natural environment but modifies it. Since the technology was perfected and the devices burst onto the consumer scene in 2013, they have proved plenty useful in a variety of fields. Along with the obvious embrace of augmented reality by the video game industry, it has also been adopted by the tourism industry where they act as tour guides pointing out famous historical landmarks when the wearer does nothing more than look at them and suggesting places of interest based on the region the wearer is in, it has been used in the print media by magazine companies who display digital content on top of their printed work and it aids in the translation of text in a foreign language, automatically deciphering it to the wearer’s native tongue when viewed. Augmented reality technology and devices have been most widely used in the education field, making lessons much more interactive than simply reading out of a textbook or sitting through a lengthy lecture. Thanks to AR, students who use it in the classroom retain information much more advantageously and are scoring better on exams. Augmented reality has also been used in the medical education replacing textbook photos with visuals of the real thing on a real life human being, in the automotive and manufacturing education system where a lot of complex instruction is better illustrated than simply stated and in the education of architects where blueprints are laid over actual structures.

Most of these fields use either a cell phone or tablet to take advantage of AR technology. However, for our case, neither one of these devices will do the trick. So I come to my inspiration for this suggestion, a device I got to play around with and sample at a live in-store seminar, an augmented reality headset. These devices which are available through a variety of manufacturers, look a lot like the virtual reality headsets which are increasing in popularity among kids and look like the next generation of video games in that they fit over your eyes in the same goggle-like fashion but as stated, the technology is a bit different in that it doesn’t attempt to bring you to a new world but to enhance the one you’re already in. Without having to touch, press or perform any sort of third party action, the device transplants data and holographic images on top of the wearer’s field of view. It also comes complete with full head motion adaptability meaning as you turn your head, the device reacts. In this way, umpires wouldn’t have to worry about a strike zone overlay being in the way of them viewing a play in the field or a close play at the plate. The headsets, including the model I tried out, are third party friendly and thousands of apps and games already exist for them. Accordingly, MLB already owns and maintains working copies of their MLB At Bat app on different software platforms. The app already houses the Gameday feature and one of its main commodities, a PITCHf/x-based ball/strike system. My proposition is that balls and strikes be decided solely on these metrics with the umpire there only as a middle man between the undisputed truth behind the location of a pitch and reality. Since PITCHf/x cameras and WiFi are already installed in every stadium and AR headsets are WiFi compatible, making augmented reality balls and strikes an actual reality from a technological standpoint should be a pretty smooth process. In the same way that current video replay system created jobs because requires a field timing official in each park to manage inning breaks, a replay coordinator on each team to decide when to challenge a call and a group of third party replay officials to decide the calls in the event of a challenge, each park would likely need to hire someone to oversee the PITCHf/x system and a team to maintain it as well as educate umpires on how to use it. So not only would this suggestion help the game from a competition standpoint, it would aid the league economically by creating more employment opportunities.

The inescapable nature of humanity is that human beings make mistakes. For the home plate umpire who is tasked with making split second decisions about where an object travelling between 80-100 miles an hour over 400 times a night, that room for error is very wide. In the past and up until recently, those errors were understood and written off as part of the game. While they are still understandable and condoned on behalf of the umpire making them, a mortal whose occupation is not one of envy, now that something can be done to fix those mistakes and save the competition and integrity of the game, not only should it be done, it must be done. The players and coaches who give this game their lives deserve it, the fans who give it their hearts deserve it and the employees, including the umpires who are expected to fulfill a nearly inhuman standard while working under a very fine microscope thus making them the subject of tons of scrutiny deserve it.

Of course even though the technology is present, this isn’t an overnight venture. Many things would need to be done to institute it into the game. For example, the headsets would have to be fitted to sit over a home plate umpire’s mask and they would have to be outfitted to withstand the impact of a foul ball. It would also need the approval of both the players union and the umpires’ union. However, despite all of the obstacles, if baseball made this a concentrated effort, fool-proof balls and strikes called with near 100% accuracy could make their debut in baseball within the next few seasons, just in time for the commercial release of the Microsoft HoloLens, the device which is expected to dominate the AR market. Partnering with a tech giant like Microsoft has had fantastic results for the NFL who use their Microsoft Surface Pro laptop/tablet along the sidelines and could have similar inter-promotional outcomes for MLB. How amazing does “Cowboy Joe West’s Rootin’ Tootin’ Real Life Umpire Simulator: the only game that allows you to umpire along with the pros!” sound?

One of the founding principles of the office of the Commissioner of Baseball is to act within the best interest of the league and to maintain and strengthen the league’s integrity. With everything needed in order to make competition much fairer as well as the opportunity to create jobs and create a business relationship with one of the world’s biggest technological giants within grasp, Robert Manfred has an opportunity and a responsibility to do just that. It is a proverbial fastball headed straight down the heart of the plate. Manfred is staring right at it. Let’s just hope he doesn’t miss the call.

All-Fish Team: #6 – Dan Uggla

All-Fish Team: #6 - Dan Uggla

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Occurring at the very end of the baseball Winter Meetings after all the hum and haw of the convention has already come and gone, the Rule 5 draft was often overlooked as merely a going through of motions necessary to satisfy the collective bargaining agreement. For the Marlins, t team which always looked for the thrifty option in years past, this seemed like the perfect place for them to go seeking a diamond in the rough. And in 2005, they found one. In that year’s draft, they selected the man who would go on to become one of the best players in franchise history and the man who makes our All-Fish Team as the best wearer of the number six, Dan Uggla.

Before being selected in the aforementioned ’05 Rule 5 draft, Uggla was initially drafted by the Diamondbacks in 2001 out of the University of Memphis where, in that same season, his junior year, he hit a ridiculous .379/.498/.790 and put his name near the top of most Conference USA leaderboards. That season in the tenth most games played and among the eighth most at bats conference wide, Uggla was second in doubles (28), homers (18), walks (42) and batting average. He lead C-USA in OBP, slugging and OPS. Naturally, he made the All-Coference Team and barely lost Player of the Year honors to Jake Gautreau. His collegiate exports had some scouts posting his draft stock as high as the eighth round.

Uggla fell a bit further than that but was still taken at a respectable position, the 11th round, by the Arizona Diamondbacks. However, unlike his fairly easy adjustment to life at the college level, things were a bit tougher for Uggla as he attempted to acclimate to proffesional ball. In his first two years as a big leaguer, Uggla hit just .241/.318/.355 with a 137/64 K/BB all below the AA level.

Uggla’s coming of age season finally came a bit late as in 2003, as one of single A advanced’s more elderly players (23), he hit .290/.355/.504. His 23 homers were second in his league, his 100 RBIs ranked fourth, and his .859 OPS was amongst the top 20. Despite the impressive season, the D-Backs still sent Uggla back to A+ to begin 2004. Finally, after a .336/.422/.600 start there that season, Uggla cracked AA as a 24-year-old. Making the toughest jump there is to make in the minors proved to be just as hard for Uggla. He hit just .258/.301/.353 with a 55/15 K/BB in his first 83 games there and though for a moment it looked as though he could place himself back on a timely track to the majors, Uggla, now 25 headed in to his second season in AA, was again in do-or-die territory.

That was when Uggla flipped his switch. After refining his craft by putting in some hard work hours in his first appearance in the Arizona Fall League where he hit .304/.390/.598 with it’s fourth most homers (7), 14th best SLG and 18th best OPS (.988) in 29 games while battling against the likes of Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew, Uggla returned to AA, this time even more an elder of the average player in his league. He spent that season slashing .297/.378/.502 slash line, the SLG of which ranked 12th, by way of the Southern League’s third most homers (21) and fourth most doubles (33). His 87 RBI were good for second most in the league. After that season, Uggla peaked the interest of the Marlins, a team which traditionally allowed its top prospects to skip AAA and come straight to the majors. For both Uggla, whose prospect status was in its expiry year and the Fish who were in need of a second baseman after the trade of mainstay Luis Castillo, putting Uggla in teal and black looked rto be mutually advantageous. As he was not a member of the D-Backs’ 40-man roster in 2005, and therefore eligible for the virtually overlooked (until now) Rule 5 draft, that offseason, the sneaky Marlins swiped him as part of the major league portion of the draft and made that a reality.

On paper, beginning his major league career in a brand new place for the first time in his career, it would appear Uggla had some adversity to overcome. He responded to the situation by having an All-Star worthy and Rookie of the Year worthy inaugural campaign. For the 2006 Marlins, Uggla hit .282/.339/.480 with an SLG that ranked ninth among rookies by way of 27 homers, second on the rookie list only to Prince Fielder. Backed by solid defense including the seventh best UZR amongst 2Bs (5.3), the fourth best double play runs saved (1.6), and sixth best Def rating (7.6) Uggla posted a 4.2 WAR, second best among rookies and only trumped by his teammate Hanley Ramirez, the same guy (along with Ryan Zimmerman) that edged him out for the Rookie of the Year award. After nearly falling off the map just a few seasons earlier, here Uggla was in the majors going to All-Star showcases and earning six votes for best first year player. Indeed his tenacious attitude and tremendous work ethic as well as some good fortune thrown his way by a team in need were to thank. In any event, Uggla had finally come full circle. And he had the Marlins’ front office looking like geniuses. Accordingly, with just one year under his belt, he had already endeared himself to the Miami faithful as a fan favorite.

Over the course of the next four years, Uggla furthered that endearment by becoming one of the best power hitters and most valuable players in the entire franchise’s history as well as one of the best offensive second basemen in the game. From 2007-2010, Uggla hit .259/.352/.490. That slugging percentage, made possible by 127 homers, most by a 2B over that span, and 144 doubles, fourth most, ranked second among men who regularly manned the number four position. His 13.9 WAR during that four year time period made Uggla the eighth most valuable 2B in the game. In each of those four seasons, Uggla hit at least 30 homers and at least 27 doubles and drove in at least 88 runs. In what would prove to be his swan song season with the Marlins in 2010, Uggla finally beat out his arch nemesis and most frequent NL competition, Chase Utley for the Silver Slugger by way of a career best .287/.369/.508 slash line and 105 RBIs. His 33 homers that year were his most in a single season as a Marlin.

Uggla went on to hit a career high 36 homers for the Braves and make another All-Star Game in 2012 but he never again posted an OPS over .800. Thus he will best be remembered for his days in Miami where he started in obscurity and became one of baseball’s top home run threats. He appears on Marlins’ career leaderboards in many major categories including WAR (6th, 15.6), slugging percentage (7th, .488), OPS (7th, .837), games played (8th, 776), runs scored (3rd, 499), hits (8th, 771), total bases (7th, 1,427) and doubles (6th, 170). With 154 long balls, he is the second best home run hitter in franchise history. He has also accounted for the fourth most extra base hits, 336, in Marlins’ lore. His 49 doubles in 2007 stand as the second most in a regular season by a Marlin and his aforementioned 33 homers in 2010 remain tied for sixth most in a single campaign by a Fish.

Though you wouldn’t guess it if you were looking at him stride to the plate for the first time, the 5’11”, 210 pounder was a threat to go yard every time he stepped to the plate. He became that version of himself by procuring a never-say-die attitude during his late years in the minors and working for everything he would become. A very easy guy to root for and a great baseball story, Dan Uggla makes our All-Fish Team as the best wearer of the number six.

Be sure to cast your vote on Twitter and join me here in the coming week where I will reveal who you decide was the best donner of the number seven and who becomes the next memeber of the All-Fish Team!