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.
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.
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
65 HR/264 XBH
1,185 IP, 3.86 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
2015 Team Stats
41 HR/222 XBH
1228.1 IP, 3.08 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
CF Yefri Perez
2B/DH Avery Romero
1B K.J. Woods
C Arturo Rodriguez
3B Brian Anderson
RF Dexter Kjerstad
DH/2B James Roberts
SS Justin Bohn
LF Cameron Flynn
Three varieties of tacos, three varieties of nachos, empanadas, Corona — judging by the fare being offered up at Roger Dean Stadium this spring, the Hammerheads are excitedly awaiting the arrival of Arturo Rodriguez. Either that or its just an amazing coincidence. In any event, the Mexican export will come to Jupiter this summer.
Somewhat suprisingly thanks to the price tags the Mexican League places on their players, Rodriguez came to the American majors after a .313/.366/.493 career south of the border. Even more surprising was the fact that he was signed by the usually thrifty Marlins. He rewarded that surely hefty, although still not (and probably never will be) certain cost by having a fantastic first half of the season with the Grasshoppers. Over his first 63 games and 237 ABs in the US minors, Rodriguez slashed a team leading .300/.350 /.422 with 6 HR, 32 RBI, and a 28/19 K/BB. In the second half, although the power numbers persisted and he hit 13 HR over Greensboro’s last 62 games, the rest of his stats would suggest that the quicker pace of play and level of competition (the Mexican league is officially classified as AAA but is more like single A and strongly favors offense) as well as the amount of technology and information available to American teams hurt A-Rod a bit as, after the break, his BA fell 50 points to .250 and his K/BB% went from 1.47 to 2.64. Rodriguez by trade is a dead pull hitter, something opposing pitchers started taking advantage of in the second half with catchers most often setting up on the outer half inducing plenty of swings and misses from Rodriguez who doesn’t advantageously step into contact on balls away resulting in either whiffs or weak contact, making him an easy matchup for righties who get ahead early in the count. It is a primary reason he only slashed .246/.304/.375 last year. This area of Rodriguez’s game will be in even more prominent need of improvement as he makes the jump to not only a higher level of opposing talent but also a gargantuan pitcher friendly ballpark this year. If Hammerheads hitting coach Frank Moore can work successfully with A-Rod on slightly tweaking his approach as well as recognizing pitches on the outer half and getting ahead in the count, something he only did at almost exactly a 50% rate last year, Rodriguez at 24, has the rest of the tools necessary to fly through the American minors and still make an impact as a starter at the major league level.
On defense, Rodriguez used a canon-like arm to throw out 40% of his runners in 2014. That figure took a wicked dive upon his transition to the majors. However, the fact that Rodriguez only committed three errors in 385 innings as the Hoppers backstop suggests the lower CS% shouldn’t be a discredit to him but more of a credit to opposing runners getting good jumps on Hoppers’ pitching. Furthermore, it should be noted that, save Tyler Kolek, the 2015 Greensboro rotation was made up Michael Mader, Jorgan Cavanerio, and Ben Holmes all of whom are to contact pitchers who rarely top 90 on the radar gun. That being said, as Rodriguez climbs the minor league ladder, his CS% should normalize. After all, at 6’0″, 235, he has the perfect athletic catchers’ build which he used to hold his passed ball total to a minuscule two last year and, in nearly 100 less innings than he played behind the plate in 2014, contributed three more assists. With good reflexes, a quick pop time and quick hands, Rodriguez, although he has also enjoyed some success at first (just three errors, a 9.27 range factor and 39 assists last year), he projects best as a catcher.
Speaking of first base, the Hammerheads will also welcome a huge power threat at that position who also played for last year’s Hoppers. 20-year-old KJ Woods is a 6’3″ 230 pound corner man who is currently on the fast track to the majors, having made a jump in level in each of his first three minor league seasons. In his first full professional season last year, Woods dazzled by way of a .277/.364/.496 slash line. His OBP ranked 15th in the Sally League and his SLG and OPS (.861) were second only to Shane Hoelscher, four years his senior. Not only does Woods’ build personify first baseman, his prodigal power which he is still just beginning to live up to and which Baseball America scouts once ranked at a 70, does as well. Even more advantageous for Woods is the fact that he is a lefty. Standing tall in the box with only a slight bend in the knees, Woods pivots beautifully into a prototypical uppercut power swing. His lower half mechanics are a thing of beauty, even at such a young age of development. He uses a slight front foot trigger and an even more pronounced front foot pivot which he uses to point towards the ball which he picks up very quickly out of the pitcher’s hand before using active hips and a back foot finish, giving his mechanics near-perfect balance. As you may have guessed, Woods heavily favors pull hitting and fouls tons of pitches off trying to inside-out them in ABs often ending in strikeouts which heavily lent themselves to his 30.3 K% last season. That said, looking at his hit charts, he has also flashed a premature ability to step into pitches go opposite field. If that ability can be further nurtured, Woods, who is still very young, has the potential to become a complete power hitter. Even if he doesn’t fully learn the art of oppo, the average cycle of maturation suggests a hitter like Woods will develop a better ability to not attempt to do too much and instead wait out opposing pitchers or induce a mistake. Having already great mechanics and being a great raw athlete, Woods is a lefty power hitter worth getting excited about as he fills out.
In 2016, the Hammerheads will likely welcome back the fastest man the Marlins’ organization has ever seen: Yefri Perez. The Dominican export is set to begin his second full season with the Hammerheads. Last season, he set a Hammerheads’ franchise record by swiping 71 bases. It was the highest total the FSL has seen since 2007. Delving a bit further into his stats, Perez stole a base 45% of the time he reached base. While that fact looks pleasantly impressive on the surface and remains so even as you look at the rest of his season, the smile drifts away from your face when you look at his slash line and realize he was only on base 169 times in 563 PAs (.286 OBP). However, when you think of what Perez could potentially accomplish if his ability to reach base should improve, overwhelming pleasant and frightening thoughts prevail, you beam a Mr. Burns-esque grin and rub your palms together in the same devilish manner. In simpler terms, if Perez was the base thief he was in 2015 with such a minimal slash line, it is insanely congenial to think about the prospect of what he could do should he make improvements to his offensive game at the plate. Perez has never been and never will be a power threat or even much of an off the bat XBH threat but thanks to his jets, he doesn’t have to be. What he does have to do is reduce his strikeout total from last year (95) which ranked as 18th most in the FSL. This can be done by way of both shortening his swing and not committing to pull the trigger on it nearly as often as he did last season. At 5’11”, pitchers who got ahead early and changed Perez’s eye level by climbing the ladder on him and who took the bunt out of order which is where Yefri found over half of his success when it came to hits, found him to be easy pickings by way of getting him to fish for pitches out of the zone. So many Ks was a bit of a new experience for Yefri who has always been a bit of a free swinger but never to this extent. Hopefully it is just a bump in the road for him but at 25 and still just at single A advanced, he can’t have too many more of these if he hopes to make an impact at the major league level. Perez seems to be aware of this fact as he spent his entire offseason playing in full speed games. He played in the Dominican Winter League before spending most of spring camp with the Marlins, getting in some valuable elbow rubs and tutelage from the likes of Barry Bonds, Don Mattingly and the big league roster. Hope is that Perez can put those experiences to good use and further his game. His prowess for speed aside, Perez is likely never going to be major league starting material at any position (he can play virtually anywhere) but if he hasn’t peaked as a sub-AA player, can make some improvements to his offensive game, cut down on strikeouts, and get his OBP back around average parameters, he can still make an impact as a late inning replacement. Watch Perez closely this season as, at his age, his future may very well depend on it.
As for the DH spot, I pencil in James Roberts, playing in his first full season in the Marlins’ organization and who’s recent past is a bit of an anomaly. Roberts is a 24-year-old 2013 Indians draftee out of USC where he had a .295/.373/.364 career which included a .320/.379/.429 junior year and earned him the right to skip straight to A+. In his first full professional season in Carolina, Roberts played in a team high 117 games and recorded a team high 407 ABs, holding down a respectable .268 BA and .339 OBP with a 75/34 K/BB. Upon the 2014 Mudcats’ move to Lynchburg, Roberts’ 2015 got off to a pretty rocky start. In his first 43 games, he hit just .228/.259/.302 spurring his release from the Indians’ organization. The Marlins signed Roberts on July 10th just after the All-Star break and after 2 games in the Gulf Coast League, sent him to Jupiter. In almost as many games as he played for the Hillcats and the Indians, Roberts was one of the Marlins’ and Hammerheads’ best second half minor league players at the plate, all while hitting in an extreme pitchers park as opposed to a much more neutral environment in which he struggled with Lynchburg. In his 35 games and 108 ABs with the Hammerheads, Roberts slashed .324/.368/.435. Looking at the rest of his pro career thus far, Roberts has been the same extreme on-again-off-again type offensive player and, at 24, the Indians evidently weren’t willing to wait for consistency. While it remains to be seen whether Roberts can be more than just a slighty-over-mendoza-line type weapon over the course of a full season, he earns top marks on the 40-80 scale when it comes to making contact thanks to a very mechanically sound short swing based off a great approach. Initially standing from a split stance in the box, Roberts transitions to a straight stance as he watches the pitcher’s motion and he adjusts to location well. Although he favors the pull variety of hitting and has a tendency to try to inside-out pitches, he has shown the ability to go with pitches and appears to have a great working knowledge of situationalism. Though he is a bit old to begin a second season at this level, it cannot be ignored that he barely spent any time at all at any other professional level after coming out of college and that, once reports got out on him in Carolina and followed him to Lynchburg (.283/.372/.319 in the first half of 2014 compared to .255/.308/.319 in the second half) are a very probable explanation for his struggles. Roberts is a smart hitter with a knack to find gaps and, if his start with the Hammerheads is any indication, is out to prove something after his release from the Indians organization. Roberts’ focus this year should be on better plate vision and less pressing when behind in the count, a better approach versus lefties whom he historically tries to do too much against, and keeping the fine pace he historically starts out with over the course of a full season. If he plans to make any impact at all in the National League, Roberts needs to make vast improvements to his defensive game. He has played most of his games at 3B but with 21 errors there over the course of 77 games thanks to an inaccurate throwing arm, his future is probably at 2B. He will likely get starts there versus righties this year, with Avery Romero starting in the field against lefties.
As for Romero himself, he also begins a second season with Jupiter. He joins Perez as the second of seven Hammerheads All-Stars from last season to at least begin a second season with the team. Romero is a third round draft pick from 2012 who, thanks to years of .276/.341/.391 in 2013 and .320/.367/.423 each of which has been rewarded with a jump in minor league level. In ’13, Romero ended the year in Greensboro after beginning it in Batavia and in 2014, he ended the season in Jupiter after becoming one of the Grasshoppers’ best hitters. That didn’t happen for Romero this year. The reason? A .259/.315/.314 slash line, his worst yet as a pro. After hitting a combined 295/358/400 to begin his career and jump at least one level with each passing season, the horseshoe was thrown in Romero’s wheels this season. While some of the reason for the decline can be blamed on the huge dimensions of Roger Dean Stadium, Romero also struck out a career high 71 times, part of a 1.87 K/BB% year. Romero’s crux seems to be in his timing. Last year, he was often out in front of the first half and behind the second half of the fastball/changeup combo and found himself behind in the count early in his ABs and often allowing pitchers to have a much easier time with him. The battler he is, Romero was still able to tough out 38 walks to keep his K/BB% under 2 but if he is going to succeed as the type of bat that he is, decent power but not enough to rely on it solely as a pure XBH threat, Romero needs to improve his plate vision. This is further proven by the fact that for his career, he owns just a .257 BA and a 13.7 K% against top 20 prospects. When Romero’s swing is on time, it’s a thing of beauty. He maintains softness in his hands well and strides through the plate with a solidly-built active lower half and a quick short stroke. If his aggressiveness can be turned down a notch (but not too much), Romero will be a bat worthy of top-100 prospect recognition in the coming years. Defensively, Romero came up as a middle infielder. However, in high school, he his best position was behind the plate, as proven by the sub-2 second pop and strong accurate on line arm he showed during multiple showcases. At 5’11”, 200 pounds with the aforementioned thick lower half, Romero has the perfect build for a modern era catcher and most scouts had him lined up to be transitioned to that spot as most recently as last year. But the Marlins don’t appear to be going that route with Romero. Since beginning his minor league career, he has played 279 games at 2B, 26 at third and zero at catcher. While some may consider that to be a waste of some great raw tools, Romero still plays a solid infield. At second, he goes gap to gap very well and reads balls off the bat like a pro. Like his antics at the plate, he could use to be a little bit less anxious when transferring from glove to hand but that should come with age and good coaching. Romero’s strong lower half allows him to maintain his stance well and stand up to some pretty tough slides on double play turns as we saw him turn some doozies last year. Long story short on this 22-year-old, is, while he is going to begin a repeat season at any level for the first time in his pro career and while he does require some tempering when it comes to his competitive attitude and make-up which often tempts him in to making bad decisions, he has arguably the most all-around skill of anyone in the system and still has a very good chance of making an impact with the Marlins by 2020, if not earlier. With a good start at Jupiter this year, Romero could and should find himself in a Suns uniform by the time the year is through.
The number nine spot on the field will belong to one of the funnest names to say that the Marlins have ever possessed: Dexter X Kjerstad. Kjerstad is a 6’1″ 210 2010 draftee out of high school who instead elected to attend college. Kjerstad was a spectacular NCAA power bat, boasting a .374/.426/.621 slash line. He hit a homer once every twenty ABs while also managing to rarely ever strike out. 1.07 K/BB. Kjerstad also flashed plus speed in his undergraduate days, going 20/27 in stolen base attempts and scoring 90 runs. His .388/.431/.608 season in 2013 made him the Rajin Cajuns’ best hitter and lead them to a Super Regionals berth. Following that season, Kjerstad was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Royals. As a 22-year-old in single A in his first year in pro ball, Kjerstad had quite the respectable season slashing .275/.336/.428 with 25 XBH including 6 HR and 33 RBI. Like any pure power threat, Kjerstad also K’d 59 times to just 18 walks but the good far outweighed the bad. By season’s end it would seem that he had placed himself on the fast track to the majors. That was backed up by the fact that during the offseason, he was promoted to A+. However, in Wilmington in 2015, Kjerstad was clearly overmatched. In 51 games and 158 ABs, he slashed just .247/.288/.316 with 6 XBH. While he struck out at a rate of 30%, he walked just seven times. Though his season wasn’t going great or even good, the Royals made quite the knee-jerk decision after Kjerstad got just 158 ABs above the single A level: rather than sending him back down, they released the 23-year-old. But Kjerstad wasn’t going to let the dream die there. He returned home to Texas and went back to the drawing board, working on perfecting his craft in a semi-pro league in his hometown of Amarillo. In 45 games with the American Association’s Amarillo Thunderbolts, Kjerstad was a man possessed. He slashed a ridiculous .300/.338/.584 with 11 HR (one in every 17 ABs), 26 XBH and 31 RBI in just 190 ABs. Again, the K/BB% was gargantuan but very easy to look past. Kjerstad was probably surprised when his phone rang at the end of that season and a major league club was on the other end but he shouldn’t have been surprised at which club it was — the Marlins — who have historically dug up some diamonds in the rough in similar situations as he found himself in. With the Hammerheads, Kjerstad will get a chance to start back over from where he left off after his solid 2014 season and make his tough 2015 seem like a bad dream. It will be an uphill battle for Kjerstad who goes from an independent league to playing in one of the most pitcher friendly associated leagues in the minors but it would seem as though he has got a lot to prove. As described, he is a pure power threat who favors pull but has the ability to go to all fields. After breaking into the pros, scouts rated Kjerstad’s speed, power, XBH-ability and durability all at or around 70 on the 30-80 scale. However, they also ranked his contact at a minuscule 38. And they were exactly right. Even though his accomplishments in 2014 shouldn’t be discounted, it cannot be ignored that his best and only good season as a pro came at the expense of a .332 BABIP. In fact, each season he has played whether it be collegiate or pro, save one, that metric has not been anywhere close to neutral, not even during his sub-mendoza line 2015 half season at this same level. It isn’t in doubt that there is plenty of strength, athleticism and talent packed in to Kjerstad’s 6’1″ 210 pound frame but if he is to fully realize it, he will need to time his swings a lot better. He tries to swing for the fences entirely too often and though he can spray it to all fields, he is an extreme straight line hitter who has trouble finding the gaps. Though he possesses good lower half mechanics, he tends to fly open on his swings causing it to get a bit long. All of those factors will need to be addressed. It will undoubtedly be a challenge for Kjerstad to re-tool himself as much as he needs to but he is without question thankful for the chance to play at this level again. Should he be willing to learn and perfect his craft, he has the ability to become quite the dangerous bat off the bench. A very low risk, high reward find by the Marlins, these are the kind of signings that can potentially make scout’s careers.
1. Jorgan Cavanerio
2. Jeff Brigham
3. Chris Sadberry
4. Jose Adames
5. Sean Townsley
My projected ace for the Hammerheads this year is sixth year pro, Jorgan Cavanerio. Since beginning his career at 16 years old and spending a few seasons in the Dominican and Gulf Coast Leagues, Jorgan has grown into an under-the-radar prospect who translates well as a 3-5 big league starter. At 6’1″, 155, he isn’t much of a physical specimen. As for his mechanics, again, they don’t appear to be anything to write home about. He throws straight ahead, not downhill and from a common 3/4 arm slot and doesn’t have a ton of power behind any of his offerings, topping out at right around 90 MPH. However, when Cavanerio releases the ball, you understand why he is an up and coming product worthy of top 20 organizational recognition. Cavanerio possesses four pitches all of which move and all of which he has either great or good and developing control over, allowing him to keep them low in the zone, making him a viable candidate to grow into a soft tossing finesse ground ball pitcher. His four seamer tops out at 92 but usually sits in the 90 MPH range. He has a good handle on it and rarely puts it out over the heart of the plate. He uses it to set up his best pitch, an 84 mile an hour changeup that has made leaps and bounds over the course of the last two seasons. Once a less-than-average pitch, it is now a pitch he can throw in any count with consistent control. When he spots it on the outside black after it starts out well out of the zone and stays there until the hitter starts to look it into the catcher’s glove, the pitch is nearly untouchable. The rest of Cavanerio’s arsenal consists of a sinking two-seamer and a slow arcing curve with rainbow-like 12-6 action. Both pitches are still works in progress but both have flashed plus movement. The curve bottoms out at 74, giving him a mix of speeds interval of 18 MPH. On the downside, Cavanerio does have a tendency to lose consistency on his release point from inning to inning which has led him to some pretty ugly lines but that is nothing that cannot be worked out with more innings and higher level coaching. Right now, Cavanerio reminds me a lot of a younger underdeveloped version of Adam Conley who just won the fifth starter spot on this year’s MLB team. Still just 20, Cavanerio still undoubtedly has the ability to bulk up and gain a few more miles per hour worth of velo. If he does that and his release becomes more constant and if he can learn to toss from more of a downward plane, there’s nothing against Cavanerio one day becoming a big league rotation fixture. He will be worth keeping an eye on as he progresses through the minors.
Jeff Brigham is a fourth round 2014 Dodgers draftee who came over to the Marlins in the Mat Latos/Michael Morse trade last season. Ranked the Dodgers 17th best organizational prospect headed into last year, Brigham skipped low A, going straight from rookie ball to single A advanced. Hope was that at 23, Brigham could prove he could handle a starter’s load of innings in high A quickly, placing him on track to perhaps break the big league club by 2017. A wrench was thrown in that plan however, as Brigham struggled mightily in 2015, compiling a 1.68 WHIP and a 5.96 ERA over 14 starts and 68 IP. Then in late July, Brigham’s change of scenery came when he swapped coasts going from Rancho Cucamonga to Jupiter. Brigham fared much better in the friendlier Florida State League and, although he gave up hits at a similar .276 clip over his last six games of the season (that figure was .286 out west), his walk rate fell considerably and he limited damage much more consistently, stranding an 77% of his runners as opposed to 63% earlier in the year. Throwing from a low 3/4 arm slot, Brigham works quickly and has an easy fluid repeatable delivery. Stuff wise, he is a three pitch pitcher but everything else he throws revolves around his fastball, the pitch that makes Brigham the prospect he is and his meal ticket to the majors. The Brigham heater is a two-headed monster in the way that he has the ability to make it explode out of his hand with 97 MPH velo and blow it by hitters or he can take something off of it and let the pitches’ fabulous running movement be the catalyst. Though he can throw the pitch virtually anywhere and generate swings and misses, he favors jamming hitters in on the hands and getting them to saw the pitch off. Brigham’s favorited placement on his slider balances the heater out nicely. Sitting at a slurvy 75 with late 11-5 break, it’s a pitch he can either throw to set up the fastball or toss at the end of an AB to get a hitter out in front. On common occasion when the pitch has been under his control, he has made many a righty hitter look silly going fishing out of the zone. When it comes to areas of improvement, because of the amount of movement each of his pitches owns, Brigham needs to get a more consistent handle on his tipping points and placing pitches more consistently at their targets. Should that happen, Brigham, with a nearly fully developed arsenal of pitches that all flash plus, should have no problem continuing on the fast track by making it to AA by the middle of the year.
Projected 2016 Team Stats
60 HR/325 XBH
1160 IP, 4.51 ERA, 1.42 WHIP