The Fish get fishier in 2017 as the Jumbo Shrimp and Crustacean Nation are born in Jacksonville. There, Brian Anderson, Austin Dean, Dillon Peters and Jarlin Garcia will make up a young colony of shellfish hoping to become sailfish in the near future.
Leading the Shrimp into their inaugural campaign will be Randy Ready who gets the promotion from A+ Jupiter where last season he led the Hammerheads to a 68-69 record. After a very decent .259/.359/.387, 10.9 WAR 13-year playing career, Ready began his managing career as skip of the short season Oneonta Tigers where he led a 47-27 division title team and thus immediately became one of MiLB’s best managers. After earning the New York Penn League’s title of Manager of the Year, Ready began his full season ball managerial career, coaching the Padres’ single A affilliate the Fort Wayne Wizards for two seasons before making his AA debut in 2007. That season, for the inaugural year San Antonio Missions, Ready coached the likes of Chase Headley, Will Venable, Nick Hundley and Wade LeBlanc to a Texas League championship. Ready then briefly managed in AAA, coached hitting in the majors, got in the conversation for a MLB head coaching job and returned to AAA first as a hitting instructor then again as a manager before spending fourt years out of baseball. Last January, he was hired by the Marlins.
Ready’s resume speaks for itself: 34 years total experience in the game, persoanl knowledge playing at five different defensive positions, knowledge to hit as high as .309/.423/.520, two titles as manager, experience managing at each level of the minors and coaching in the majors and an overall fantastic positive attitude. With Randy at the helm, it’s safe to say the Shrimp will be Ready for success each time they take the field this season.
Yefri Perez, CF
Austin Dean, LF
Brian Anderson, RF
David Vidal, 2B
Taylor Ard, 1B
John Norwood, RF
Austin Nola, C
Alex Yarbrough, SS
Following a 2016 campaign which saw him hitting .265/.348/.389 between A+ and AA, a season which allotted him the title Marlins’ Minor League Player of the Year, Brian Anderson opened some eyes. This offseason and spring training, he has made those eyes pop. First, Anderson took his talents to the Arizona Fall League where, against some of baseball’s best young talent, he was the runner up for the offseason league’s MVP award by hitting .273/.360/.506 and pacing it with six homers for the league champion Mesa Solar Sox. From there, upon a spring training invite, he joined the Marlins in Jupiter and proceeded to post a .349/.391/.605 slash line with six doubles, a homer, seven RBI and a hit in 12 of 23 games.
Because the Marlins want to take it easy with their best positional prospect who has only played 86 games above A ball, he will return to AA to start 2017 but should his offseason success that translated to spring training success follow him to Jacksonville, he should be a fast mover to New Orleans. As for his future as a big leaguer, he has great instincts and range at third base but his throwing arm is very inaccurate. Compounded by the fact that he is blocked there by Martin Prado for the next three years, he is a great candidate to begin his big league career on the right side of the infield. He has experience there in his minors career and shows the same great reads off the bat and footwork to his left as he does to his right. Should Justin Bour continue to struggle vs lefties, Anderson, who hit .350/.444/.517 against southpaws as a Sun last year, could get his major league debut serving in that capacity.
With a balanced overall offensive game and the knowledge to not do too much at the plate, smarts which he acquired this past season when he turned a 0.37 BB/K from 2015 into a 0.60 BB/K and gap to gap power from fantastic mechanics including the ability to stay back and transfer power vertically through his 6’3″ 185 pound frame most advantageously, Anderson has the potential to become an all-around three-five spot hitter. That potential on top of his above average glove work and lateral movement on defense make him not-so-arguably the most intriguing positional player in the Marlins’ system. After his recent accomplishments, Anderson has to know he has a ton of eyes on him, not just within this organization but around baseball and even on a national stage (LINK). Staying within himself and not buckling under that pressure will be his biggest challenge this year. Should Anderson just continue to be himself and favorable circumstances prevail, he will pull on a Marlins’ jersey this season.
Austin Dean is the Marlins’ fourth round pick from 2012, pulled straight from his high school in central Texas. Dean’s life in the professional ranks to this point an understandably rocky adjustment process and learning experience, one which wasn’t helped along at all by a 2014 season which saw him missing considerable time with three different injuries.
Following that disappointing season though, Dean stayed hard at work, putting in the necessary man hours in the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost time. He impressed while doing so, hitting .323/.364/.452 in 16 games, allowing him to crack high A to begin the 2015 regular season. For the 2015 Hammerheads, Dean slashed .268/.318/.366 with 52 RBI, second on the team and five homers, third on the team. The most impressive part of Dean’s game that year was how much he improved his plate discipline and cut down on strikeouts in the extremely pitcher friendly Florida State League. His 13.1 K% that year was a career best and a marked improvement over his 16% rate from 2014 and 20% rate from 2013. Hitting at or around the top of the order most of the season, Dean’s plus speed was put on full display as he stole 18 bags. However, he was also caught ten times proving his jumps and reads need a bit of work.
Dean’s solid comeback year allowed him to make the jump to AA last year. There, he hit mostly at the bottom part of the lineup. Though the tough jump and level and demotion in the order resulted in a more free swinging version of Dean proven by his career high 20.5% K rate, he was also able to do enough to at least foul pitches off and work deep counts, as proven by his 77% contact rate. Thus high high K% was evened out by a 9.0% walk rate, his best since his days in rookie ball. Dean also added some loft to his swing and managed to slug out a career high 11 homers, tops on the 2016 Suns and inside the top 15 in the Southern League. He did have a mediocre .238 BA but that can be blamed in part on a lowly .283 BABIP and he did only steal one bag but that is a product of him being sent only three times. All things considered, Dean had a solid building block type first season in AA ball.
This year, Dean returns to the AA ranks as many B and C type prospects do but he does so with the knowledge to hit anywhere in the lineup and with a good balance between patience, swinging to get on and swinging for the fences. This plus the familiarity he gained when it comes to hitting in the upper minors last year makes him a prime candidate to have a breakout 2017 campaign and show the world exactly what scouts see in him and what led them to rank as one of the organization’s top 15 prospects for three years running. An already 30-40 power bat with potential for more production in that department as he fully matures into what scouts see as a possible 15-20 homer threat, Dean also possesses above average speed and the ability to turn base hits into an XBHs as well as the potential for a ceiling of 15 steals yearly. On top of that, despite being pretty positionally limited, his outfield arm ranks as high as 50 on the 20/80 scale.
If Dean can bring his K rate back down to his career norms (around 13%) and maintain the ability to walk that he had last season as well as continue to grow into his fantastic raw power and get more chances to show what he can do on the bases by hitting higher in the lineup, Dean is a guy who could have a huge 2017 and find his way into a Marlins uniform as part of September call ups and into spring training to start 2018. At an intriguing point in his career, we will keep a close eye on the 23-year-old this season.
1. Dillon Peters
2. Matt Tomshaw
3. Omar Bencomo
4. Mike Kickham
Still building on a 17-7 2.26 ERA, 2.43 K/BB, 1.14 WHIP three year college career in Division I baseball at Texas, Dillon Peters was setting himself up to have his name called early in the 2014 Draft. However, in May of that season Peters suffered an elbow injury, which caused him to miss the Longhorns’ regional and College World Series run. Ultimately, Peters underwent Tommy John surgery, which resulted in his draft stock to plundering. The Marlins drafted Peters, who still hadn’t resumed any sort of baseball activities, with their 10th round pick. Slated to make at least $504,000 just via his slot recommendation and not including a signing bonus a few months prior, Miami signed him for $141,800 plus a $175,000 signing bonus. Then, it appeared they were taking a big swing at a 21-year-old who just tore a ligament in his throwing elbow. Today, Peters is the fifth best prospect in their organization and they look like geniuses.
After spending the 2015 season rebuilding his arm strength, Peters earned that reputation last season tossing to the tune of a 2.46 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in his first 106 innings with the Hammerheads, totals which ranked fifth eighth in the Florida State League. Those numbers came by way of a minuscule walk total of 16 and 89 Ks, spelling out a 5.56 K/BB, best in the FSL. Before being rewarded with organizational All-Star honors as well as postseason All-Star accolades, Peters was rewarded with the call up to AA to end the year. Making the difficult jump in level, he didn’t appear to lose a step, holding down a 1.99 ERA by way of a 0.93 WHIP and 16/4 K/BB in his first four Jacksonville starts.
Even though he shed some poundage from his draft year, the still stout 5’9″, 195 Peters doesn’t do much pre-pitch to deceive hitters, throwing from a fairly basic and routine slidestep windup and 3/4 delivery. Alternatively, Peters’ success stems from his innate ability to pinpoint his locations with some of if not the best present command and control within the organization. He sets batters up with his 92-94 MPH fastball that shows good downward tilt, throws off their timing with a deceptive changeup which he throws from the same arm angle as the heat and which shows good late life down in the zone and punches them out with his best pitch curveball, a pitch that can get downright nasty bending in under 80 MPH, a 14-15 MPH drop off from his fastball, on either side of the black. For most of his career, Peters has been a to-contact lefty that has relied on groundball outs but with a slight uptick in velo in recent years and the invention of adding a cutter to his arsenal, a pitch that he gets in under the hands of opposing hitters inducing either whiffs or weak emergency hack foul balls by guys who can’t shorten up in time, the Ks have started to materialize. His ability to pound the zone and hit the catcher’s glove wherever it is set up keep his ABs and innings short, allowing him to work deep into games. In 2016, he worked into at least the 5th inning in all but three of his starts and got through five full in all but six of his 25 outings.
With the makeup of a Justin Nicolino type only with more velo, better mound presence and more confidence in all four of his pitches, Peters is the closest thing the Marlins have to a rotational ready prospect. That said, with similar continued success in AA this year and continued good health and after impressing Don Matitngly and the front office in spring training, he could get a shot later this year.
Jarlin Garcia, the Marlins’ fourth ranked prospect headed into 2017, will spend his season trying to make up for lost time last season. After posting an ERA under 3, a WHIP under 1.3 and a K/9 of at least 7 in his four of his first five seasons in the organization, Garcia began his first full year in AA, the level which he got a taste of to end the previous season and with more success there, looked primed to possibly make his Major League debut late that season. That possibility looked like it was going to become a reality when after a 3.82 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, .236 BAA start to his year in Jacksonville, Garcia got the call to aid the injury-hampered Marlins bullpen after Miami had been forced to move members of their pen such as David Phelps and Jose Urena into the rotation. However, despite the excitement of getting his first MLB call up and the prospect of taking his first MLB mound, Garcia never appeared in a game. Instead, he sat in the bullpen, on the bench. For eight days. During that time, he missed a scheduled throw day, taking no part in any official baseball activities.
On May 28, Garcia was returned to Jacksonville where management tried to ease him slowly back into action, limiting his first start back to just two innings. But the scrupulousness of David Berg and company proved to no avail. In his second start back with the Suns, Garcia left the game in the second inning. He would not return to the mound for nearly three months, the victim (with emphasis on the word victim) of left triceps tendinitis. He was able to return at the very end of the the year and participate in the Arizona Fall League, beginning the comeback process, one which he will continue this year and one that is sure to be gradual as the Marlins ease one of their best prospective arms back into form. Rather than putting 50-80 pitch strain on his arm once every four-five days, he will likely serve as one of the Shrimp’s primary relief options this season.
While there is still time for Garcia, who is still just 25, to make it back to the rotation, pitching out of the pen is probably a more realistic glimpse at his future as a big leaguer. Garcia has the ability to throw four pitches, a fastball, changeup, slider and curveball. The fastball is of the 92-95 MPH variety and he pumps it in with easy velo, from a downwhill plane stemming from his 6’3″ stature. It also flashes good late life and is easily Garcia’s best pitch. The heat sets up two quality offspeed pitches, a changeup and a slider. Garcia’s delivery which features a slow and deliberate windup only to see him power through his releae allows him to mask the arm speed on both pitches, the change dropping off nearly 10 MPH from the fastball and the slider usually sitting in the 80-82 MPH range with good sweeping action. He controls both pitches well, keeping them down in the zone from the same aforementioned downhill stride. However, the same downhill power delivery has led to his feel for and arm speed on the curveball being very inconsistent. He showed improvement by not overthrowing the pitch in 2015 only to struggle with it again before his injury last year. Though both his slider and changeup are quality major league ready pitches, the slider has been the offering that has generated more whiffs and is beginning to emerge as the best he has to offer to compliment his heat. Additionally, even though he threw in just 39.2 innings last year, his K rate hit a career low 6.13. With all of that, the questionability and uncertainty surrounding his health and his need to develop more command of the strike zone, Garcia’s future as a starter is very much in doubt. However, he could still make a very good career as a change-of-pace lefty who is affective against both sides out of the pen and spot starter.
82 HR/375 XBH
1,210 IP, 3.72 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
Up until this point, previews for teams have been my projections. With lineups released and the season a month old, this preview will be based upon factual evidence. Players I have already covered in previous previews who happened to make it to a higher level will be marked with a * and my writing on them may be a bit brief. For more info on those players, visit my previous team previews.
2015 Team Stats
71 HR/304 XBH
1204.2 IP, 4.07 ERA, 1.362 WHIP
CF Yefri Perez*
RF Jeremias Pineda
LF Austin Dean
1B Brady Shoemaker*
DH Moises Sierra
SS J.T. Riddle
3B Matt Juengel
C Francisco Arcia
2B Avery Romero*
Making it rain baseballs. Something that is frowned upon and disallowed at every bar and club in North America. That is until this year. Because that is exactly how the Jacksonville Suns will be hoping Austin Dean, Brady Shoemaker, Avery Romero and the rest of their 2016 squad will christen their brand new left field gazebo bar and will make into a tradition all season long.
No matter if you have the ridiculous raw speed needed to label you the fastest man the organization has ever seen and to steal an absurd 71 bases, most in your A+ league in over five years, if you only are able to muster a sub-300 OBP, you likely aren’t ready to crack the upper levels of the minors. Accordingly, I predicted to be the case for Yefri Perez after he slashed just .240/.286/.269 and struck out 95 times for the Hammerheads last season. Long story short on Yefri (pun intended), is that his swing was entirely too aggressive and long in 2015 and he used it far too often. With over half of his success reaching base coming off of bunts and slow-rolling grounders, Perez was far too aggressive early in the count and remained so when down two strikes, chasing pitches off the outer half and pulling the trigger on anything close. Still, stealing upwards of 70 bags and setting a franchise record despite only being on base 20% of the time in garnered Perez some worthy recognition as he was selected as an FSL All-Star and at seasons end, invited to attend Marlins’ spring training. It was evidently at the latter of those in which Perez proved he made the necessary adjustments needed to move to AA Jacksonville. Perez stuck around the big league team for nearly all of spring, reaping the benefits of his fellow players and coaches. Early on in the Suns’ season, it appears as though that experience is paying dividends for Yefri. Appearing to have put on a little bit of weight, Perez is using it to his advantage by executing a much better timed swing but not before he maintains the looseness in his hands much longer, taking away his previous tendency to commit early and get out in front. Because of this, would-be swings and misses, something Perez did far too frequently last year, are turning into at the very least foul balls, prolonging his ABs. Furthermore, he is also waiting longer to commit to bunts which is giving him an extra step towards first base upon a later infield reaction (not that he needs it) and what should equate to a higher success rate as it will allow him to square up the break of pitches more advantageously. While the sample size is indeed tiny and while Perez’s 2015 got off to a very similar start through his first week of play before he began showing his true colors, this new, improved, stronger, more patient, and more technically sound version of the 25-year-old has allowed him to show initial success at a higher level of competition that I did not think he was even remotely ready for. While it remains to be seen if Perez can keep this up over the course of a full year or even longer than a seven day span, the early product of Perez’s game with the Suns is indeed encouraging and it has all come while he has maintained his blazing speed as he as already stolen 5 bases in 5 attempts. Perez’s speed also serves him well in the field, giving him the ability to play virtually anywhere. His ability to cover all the ground needed for any position makes him playable at all three outfield spots and both middle infield spots. He makes good reads off the bat and runs good routes to the ball. On the infield, he exhibits good footwork, quick soft hands and great gap coverage. Because his outfield throwing arm is average at best (just 28 outfield assists in nearly 3,000 innings), he lines up more advantageously as a second baseman but, either way, he isn’t a hard guy to get in to games. Although he is 25 and first getting a taste of AA, if his early season plate presence and improved swing continue to show themselves, Yefri will become a fantastic spark plug bat off the bench and late inning defensive replacement. He has the makeup to be the type of utility player every team seeks.
Even on the occasion that pitchers manage to get around Perez this year, there will be little time to breathe in the way of harnessing speed as they will be forced to stare down Jeremias Pineda. Signed near the very end of the offseason, Pineda is a 25-year-old formerly of the Twins organization who spent last season playing in the Mexican leagues. Despite baseball south of the border being known as being very hitter friendly, Pineda still posted an impressive catalyst type slash line in 2015, going .285/.362/.339. It is the hope that Pineda’s success in Mexico translates back to the majors and his Marlins’ career. For that to happen, Pineda will need to improve upon a raw offensive approach, something he hasn’t been able to do in five years, which already ended his American majors career once, and despite the good numbers on the surface of his Mexican league season last year, still caused him to strike out a ridiculous 168 times to 71 walks in a league not known at all for pitching prowess. So much about Pineda reminds me of Yefri. He’s 25, he’s a switch hitter, he’s extremely fast (though not quite as fast as Perez), most of his offensive success comes from beating out infield hits and he is entirely too aggressive at the plate, especially when behind in the count. Hope is that these players, who will be hitting behind one another, can feed off each other and help each other succeed and turn them in to the extremely valuable utility players they have the capability of being. Pineda may be a step slower that Perez speed-wise but his outfield throwing arm is that step then a few more ahead of Yefri’s. For that reason, many of his starts should come in the outfield this season though, again like Perez, his versatility will allow the Suns get him into the lineup in many if not all games.
As he proved in the Arizona Fall League after a very good year considering it was in the pitcher’s haven of Jupiter last full season, the Marlins may really have something in Austin Dean. Following a .268/.318/.366 year with the Hammerheads which led his team and placed 18th in the Florida State League and earned him a FSL All Star Game invite as well as an invite to the Arizona Fall League where he hit .323/.364/.452 and made his second All-Star game of the year, Dean comes to the Suns riding high. What he has to thank for his success is a balanced approach, including the ability to wait pitches out until they are finished breaking and a short quick line drive stroke, backed by a solid lower half. His solid and still improving plate vision makes him a pesky out to get. He gets in the mind of pitchers, frustrating them by trying not to do too much with pitches out of his reach but rather just foul them off, forcing pitchers to make mistakes. Dean’s swing isn’t one that’s going to warrant him a ton of long balls but rather a prototypical short line drive stroke (as proven by a career 18.66 LD% coming into this year) that has the ability to reach all fields. As proven by a 77/148 BB/K over the course of his first two full seasons in the minors, Dean also isn’t afraid to take a walk if he doesn’t get what he likes. His patience, swing and plus speed which includes a good first step out of the box and warranted him 18 steals last year make him a fantastic future leadoff or two slot candidate. Dean will be and, by way of a .306/.416/.472 through his first 20 games in AA which includes an OBP that is currently fifth in the Southern League and a SLG and BA which rank 15th making him one of if not the best all-around bat thus far, already has been a fun project to watch fill out.
In Brady Shoemaker, we have a guy who must have done something drastic to someone within the organization to warrant the treatment he has received in his Marlins career because as of late, the organization has done everything possible to hold him back. It all started innocently enough for Shoemaker with a bout of bad luck. After being claimed off waivers by the Marlins in 2013 after he spent that entire season out of baseball, Shoemaker returned to the minors with a vengeance in 2014, hitting .274/.374/.433 in AA Jacksonville. That year, he either led or was a close second in nearly every major offensive category amongst full time Suns including HR (12), OBP (.374), OPS (.808), walks (67), BB/K (.74) and RBI (71). Amongst qualifiers who appeared in at least 100 Southern League games, Shoemaker’s .374 OBP ranked 10th and his .808 OPS ranked 12th. His accomplishments warranted him a well-deserved call-up to AAA in 2015. At the highest level he’s ever played at, a 27-year-old Shoemaker quickly became one of the Zephyrs top players. Heading into a game on May 24th, Shoemaker was hitting a robust .310/.393/.509 and looked to be the next man in line for a call-up and probably would have been when Giancarlo Stanton hit the season ending DL with a hand injury on June 27th, leaving the Marlins scrambling for outfielders. Moreoever, Shoemaker, who also plays first, would have been the best choice considering first baseman Justin Bour’s struggles against lefties beginning to come to fruition and the fact that Shoemaker’s mashing versus them which amounted to the tune of a .302/.402/.573 that year was also beginning to rear it’s beautiful head. However, May 24th is when Shoemaker’s run of rough luck began. In the Zephyrs’ game that night against El Paso, Shoemaker broke a pinkie finger, putting him on the shelf for the rest of May, the entire month of June and the beginning of July, causing him to miss his window and an opportunity to make his major league debut. Being the consummate professional that he is and being no stranger to missing time only to come back even better, Shoemaker returned on July 7th and although his second half was, quite understandably after breaking a finger in his dominant hand, wasn’t as good as his first half as he struggled to find gaps as regularly as he did before the injury, Shoemaker remained one of the Zephyrs’ key contributors. By season’s end, he was arguably their full-season MVP, ending 2015 with a .284/.359/.417 line. His .776 OPS ranked third on the team as did his .417 SLG, once again not just making him a candidate but rather the prime candidate to become Justin Bour’s platoon partner at first base in 2016 after Bour ended the year with a .221/.293/.279 against southpaws. Even after the signing of career reclamation project Chris Johnson to a major league contract, Shoemaker at the very least still seemed lined up to make the roster as the fifth outfielder, especially after he began his spring by hitting (), one of the best bats in camp. However, that didn’t stop the Marlins from inexplicably making Shoemaker part of the first round of spring cuts. He watched as Cole Gillespie earned the nod as the fifth outfielder and planned to make the trip back to New Orleans. But the hits didn’t stop coming there. At the end of spring training, Shoemaker wasn’t assigned to New Orleans. He was, once again for reasons lost on everyone who has followed his career of late, assigned all the way down to AA Jacksonville. It would seem as though frustration has understandably so finally gotten the best of the now 28-year-old who could be playing in the majors and definitely should be playing above AA as his season with the Suns has gotten off to just a .212 start. While there is no doubt that the power hitting, balanced approach hitter that Shoemaker is and as his OBP (.356) and SLG (.353) are already proving, he will (continue to) improve upon that line as the season progresses but whether he makes the majors with the Marlins or not seems to be very much up in the air. Simply put, the guy can’t catch a break and the organization doesn’t seem to be willing to help him along.
In addition to a best-selling jersey waiting to happen, the Marlins have potential five-tool talent in J.T. Riddle, who will man the infield for the Suns this year. After hitting .286/.322/.405 and receiving All-Star honors in Jupiter last year, Riddle, a 13th round draft pick, comes to the Suns as a .274/.316/.373 lifetime MiLB hitter. Swinging with a light balanced load, the 6’1″ 180 pounder is a mostly singles bat but he packs a bit of hidden power and will surprise with his ability to hit gaps. Add to the fact that he still has time to add power by way of growing physically and it’s easy to see why Riddle was named the Marlins’ top hitting prospect in 2015 and remains a top 10 organizational prospect this year. Despite owning a short stroke, Riddle is a bit too aggressive at the plate, making him susceptible to the K and the reason why he hasn’t posted an OBP over the .325 mark at any level and something the Marlins would like to see temper as he makes his way through the upper minors. Riddle made quite the impression with the Suns in the second half of 2015 when he hit .289/.323/.422 for them and has continued to set fire to Southern League pitching on fire in his first 23 games in Jacksonville this year, hitting .279/.330/.395 with 7 XBH and 18 RBI. Though he is a natural second baseman, the Marlins have been giving Riddle playing time at other infield spots in hopes that he can become a quality utility player and lefty off the bench, ala Derek Dietrich and, although his speed is average, he has the arm strength and the quickness needed to cover all the ground and do so. However, if he continues to show improved pop as he grows into his body along with the raw talent that he owns behind his approach and maintains similar success against righties and lefties, Riddle has the opportunity to turn into an every day starter. He is a piece very much worth watching as he progresses this season.
Avery Romero mans the other up-the-middle spot for the Suns this season despite an average at best year in Jupiter last year in which he hit just .259/.315/.314, all career lows for the 22-year-old. While some of that dumbing down of his slash line can be blamed on the pitcher’s paradise that is Roger Dean Stadium, especially considering he came in to 2015 having never failed to hit at least .276/.341/.391 over the course of a full season and was coming off of a .320/.367/.423 year in between Greensboro and his first 26 games as a Hammerhead, Romero did exhibit some worrisome setbacks last year, including a career worst 71/38 K/BB and a 1.29 GO/AO, his worst since his days in rookie ball. Despite exhibiting a good short line drive swing that generates a lot of contact and puts his 1/100 rating in that category at 81 and his career line drive percentage at 21%, Romero has always been more of a free swinger rather than a count worker and has been known to press when frustrated. The Marlins are hoping that immaturity is the reason for his struggles last yar and that with a change of scenery to the much more neutral Southern League as well as a year’s worth more of experience under his belt, those tensions will ease. Defensively, Romero made the switch from shortstop to second base after high school. Thanks to Romero’s athletic frame as well as his quick hands and swift footwork following him from the plate into the field, he has made the move rather well overall, attributing to a 4.49 career range factor at the number 4 position. Last year, he contributed to a career high 79 double plays. However, Romero also proved he still has some growing to do, arm accuracy and decision wise as he rushed a lot of erratic throws at 2B and also committed a career high 20 errors but that is a flaw that should work itself out with more innings and more age. Whether Romero makes his ETA next season or not will depend upon his ability to improve upon his plate presence and patience and this season is his make it or break it moment. So far in 2016, it hasn’t happened as Romero is hitting just .170/.286/.283 but there is still plenty of baseball left to play. We will be monitoring him closely throughout the course of the year.
1. Austin Brice
2. Jake Esch
3. Jarlin Garcia
4. Tim Berry
Austin Brice is a huge 6’4″ 240 pound 9th round draft pick from 2010 who is impressive at times and has made strides improving his arsenal in recent years but who just can’t seem to put it all together. The physical specimen is an intimidating force for opposing hitters to stare down on the mound and he ramps up the kind of velo to match, occasionally throwing his pitch-off primary fastball in the mid-90s but usually sitting in the 90-92 MPH range. His best secondary pitch is a slider which he just recently got a feel for in the last two seasons. Sitting in the 82-86 MPH range, Brice will throw the pitch in any count and has the ability to hit corners with it when it is on. His curve has similar velo and when he is throwing it well, has good 11-4 break with some late bite. Notice, however, that in describing all of those pitches, “when it is on” is mentioned. That is Brice’s biggest crux and the reason why he owns an unimpressive 4.26 ERA over 560 minor league innings. The trend with Brice’s game is that there is no trend at all. From start to start or even inning to inning, he can either be the hero on the goat. When he is off, like many pitchers of his size the problem lies in his ability to repeat his delivery and most importantly maintain his release point, suggesting he is likely destined for a mid-late relief role rather than a rotation job. With two plus pitches already and two more, the aforementioned curve and a mid-80s changeup and still improving, the fact that he is good at subduing power, and held righty hitters to a .171 BA last year, he could make quite the living in that role at the major league level. All of that said, Brice has begun 2016 as consistent as he ever has been, not allowing more than 3 runs in any of his first five starts with half of them being of the quality variety. He also owns a 23/6 K/BB and he is pounding the zone with 246 of his 367 pitches (72%) of his pitches going for strikes. While it may be a last gasp effort (pun intended) for the gargantuan but somewhat unathletic Brice to save his future as a rotation starter, his start is encouraging.
Jake Esch is the Marlins’ current number nine prospect and an 11th round draft pick from 2011. He stands at an athletic 6’3″, 205 and owns a four pitch arsenal consisting of a 93-96 fastball which he can spot corner to corner. He can also pitch off of the other end of his velo range, a mid 80s slider that has 10-3 movement with late bite. His ability to lead hitters off with both ends of the spectrum allows him to keep hitters off balance despite what they may see from the on-deck circle. He mixes in a still improving mid-80s change which also flashes above average and which plays off his fastball well, especially against opposing righties which he last year with the Suns held to just a .200 BAA. The Esch curveball is the least progressed of his pitches but although the spin needs to be improved, it has good 11-5 shape and can make hitters look silly when he places it correctly. After getting off to a great start in AA last year in which he held down a 3.48 ERA through 85 innings with a 68/33 K/BB, Esch received the call to AAA. However, being just 400 innings into his career as a pitcher (he came up through high school and college primarily as an infielder which allows him to field his position extremely well), he understandably proved he needs more seasoning in AA. While he is a bit old to begin a repeat season at the sub-AAA level, Esch has made great strides in a short amount of time. Should he continue to build upon a second great start that he has gotten off to in Jacksonville this year (2.93 ERA, 21/8 K/BB, 1.05 WHIP through is first 27.2 IP), he should get a better timed call to AAA and, with similar success there, could make an impact with the Marlins as early as next season.
Jarlin Garcia is a bit of an oddity in the way that he owns a 6’3″ 220 pound power pitcher’s frame but will rarely reach the mid-90s. That said, by not overthrowing and relying more on good control over all four of his pitches, Garcia has become the Marlins’ third ranked prospect. His arsenal consists of a fastball that can touch 95 on the rare occasion that he ramps it up that high but usually lives in the 90-91 MPH range. Garcia has great feel for the pitch can paint corners with it, letting it run either in or out and consistently keeping it down in the zone making it a pitch he will throw in any count. He pitches off of the heat with a changeup that he developed better feel for last year and dips down to 82 MPH. Garcia’s bulldog approach gives him the fearlessness needed to come right after hitters with the pitch and, with good late fade, generates plenty of swings and misses. The Garcia slider is of the 78-81 MPH variety and, while it is the least developed of all of his pitches, it flashes plus when Garcia is on, showing 10-4 movement and the ability to saw hitters off by putting it in on their hands due to late sweep. While Garcia can look dominant when he is throwing well, he isn’t without fault. First, mechanics-wise he doesn’t engage his huge lower half, nearly enough but rather relies more on raw arm strength on his way to the plate. The windup starts out slow with Garcia dropping his arm all the way down behind his plant leg before he comes toward the plate with a long stride, his arm trailing behind him. Even though Garcia rarely throws the ball as hard as he can, the delivery is not repeatable whatsoever if he hopes to use it 100 times per game and stay healthy. Furthermore, by releasing the ball from the point he does, Garcia doesn’t advantageously shorten the distance to the plate for a guy his size. Long story short, Garcia not only just doesn’t do nearly enough with his god-given physical characteristics to be considered much more than a 4-5 starter, concerns about him remaining healthy in his current state may regulate him to a bullpen role. Psychologically, Garcia is also a bit green as nearly every big time scout has been critical of his command, citing the fact that he tends to overthrow in high leverage situations which translated to an awful start to his AA career last season. Going in Garcia’s favor here is the fact that he is still just 23 with room to grow and not become so easily rattled. Much more concerning are the aforementioned mechanical problems. If Garcia hopes to have a future as a starter, they need to beging being ironed out now but after doing something the same way for six years, bad habits can be hard to break. Hopefully his stone isn’t already cast. We will follow him carefully this year.
Projected Team Stats
77 HR/347 XBH
1201 IP, 4.02 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
For fans, it’s the only form of professional baseball to tie them over through the grueling offseason. For players, it’s a chance for them to showcase their talents to their respective clubs and get a jump-start on the upcoming campaign. In the valley of the sun, Marlins’ outfield prospect Austin Dean shone bright, becoming one of the Arizona Fall League’s best players and earning All-Star honors for the second time in the matter of only a few months.
After leading the Hammerheads and placing 18th in the entire league in BA (.268) and placing third on his squad in slugging (.366) in his second professional full season in 2015 in the extremely pitcher friendly Florida State League, Dean took his talents to Mesa. There, in the much more neutral Arizona Fall League, the 22-year-old showed off his potential by becoming the league’s ninth-best for average hitter by way of a .323 BA. By rounding out his slash line with a .364 OBP and .452 SLG, he kept pace with the likes of Giants’ top prospect Christian Arroyo (MLB.com’s #82 prospect) and outperformed guys like Indians’ stud Clint Frazier (MLB.com’s #27 prospect) all while hitting against guys like Cardinals’ top arm Alex Reyes (MLB.com’s #13 prospect) and Brewers lefty Josh Hader, MLB’s #61 prospect who is on the verge of cracking the majors. Dean had a hit in 12 of his 16 games, including six multi-hit efforts.
One of the most impressive moments of the entire AFL season came when Dean participated in the league’s hitting challenge during the league’s opening week. In the event, a player from each organization swings for homers as well as for targets placed around the field which can earn them points. Prior to that, each player attempts four bunts trying to place the ball inside of a target on the infield. Before showing off his line drive power by hitting several balls to the wall, Dean was the only player in the competition to place a bunt inside one of the circular target areas, proving he is honing a vast variety of hitting tools. Dean made it to a tiebreaker playoff final in the competition by tying Dodgers prospect Jacob Scavuzzo.
At season’s end, Dean’s accomplishments won him an invite to the league’s All-Star game (appropriately called the Fall Stars Game). Once again, much like he did the entire AFL season, he didn’t disappoint. He provided the most exciting play of the night when he hit a ball down the line in right, perfectly placed past a diving outfielder. He then rounded the bases in a flash and scored an inside-the-park home run standing up, which provided two of the East’s three runs. And that is exactly the type of hitter Dean is: not a guy who is going to hit a lot of balls over the fence but rather a tactically sound bat with great vision who frustrates pitchers by waiting them out and forcing them to come in to the zone. He keeps his head down all the way through his swing and, as is evidenced by his hit chart from last season with the Hammerheads, hit the ball to all fields. After his prototypical line drive swing which has attributed to a career 18.66 line drive percentage, Dean has a good first step out of the box and plus speed that garnered him a 6.74 60 yard dash time coming out of high school and 18 stolen bases last season.
Asked about what he thinks of his former teammate at the plate, Tyler Bremer who spent most of last year playing with Dean, echoed these sentiments and further explained why Dean is already such a tough out to get.
“His approach is what makes him tough to pitch to,” Bremer says. “He drives the ball to right field very well but has quick enough hands to get to the inside pitch as well. He also has enough pop to really hurt if a pitcher makes a mistake. I think if he keeps making improvements to his game like he has been the past off seasons I think he has the chance to be an every day outfielder in the big leagues.”
The improvements Bremer speaks of come in part by the way in which Dean has tempered his strikeout total with each passing year. Since 2013, he has seen his K% fall from 20% to 13%. In addition to his fine plate work with the Hammerheads, Dean also navigated the cavernous outfield of Roger Dean Stadium very well, compiling a 1.82 range factor and 15 outfield assists between two positions, rounding out his game nicely.
So what does all of this mean? Of course Dean’s exports in Arizona this year, great as they were, need to be taken for what they were: a small sample size worth of two months’ ABs. However, when included in total with what Dean has been able to accomplish thus far in his young career, his winter in Mesa further highlighted his full-season accomplishments in Jupiter and undoubtedly earned him at least a very good chance at being promoted to AA Jacksonville this season, even if he begins his season with the Hammerheads. Dean is nurturing and building a skill set that is becoming of an every day starting outfielder. He has already been a fun product to watch and will continue to be this coming year.