Two weeks ago, Derek Jeter and the new Marlins regime began the rebuilding process by trading second baseman Dee Gordon, the final four years of his five year, $50,000,000 contract and international bonus pool cash to the Mariners for three minor leaguers.
Before we look at the pieces coming back to the Marlins, I’d like to pay tribute to one of the most exciting and likable players to ever pull on a Marlins’ jersey. A maximum effort player in every at bat and every inning, Dee leaves the Marlins as the franchise’s second best for-average hitter (.309), its fifth best triples hitter (23), its fourth best stolen base man (148) and eighth best defensive WAR player (2.7). He was also center stage for one of the Marlins’ most magical, storybook moments. On September 26, 2016, the game after Jose Fernandez‘s untimely passing, the left-handed hitting Gordon, wearing Jose’s helmet, stepped into the box right-handed and took the first pitch of the game as tribute to his friend. On the next pitch, this happened.
It is a moment that will live on forever, not only in Marlins lore but in the spirit of baseball, teammateship and the bonds of botherhood it brings forever. For that memory and the many others he brought the Fish, Dee Gordon will forever be enshrined in the minds of Marlins fans everywhere. And we are all grateful to him for that.
Now on to the return, three young men who hope to one day make their own legacy in a Marlins’ uniform.
RHP Nick Neidert
2017 (A+-AA) – 127.2 IP, 3.45 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 122/22 K/BB
The centerpiece of the return, the Mariners’ 2015 second rounder spent most of 2017 in A+ where he racked up 10 wins via a 2.76 ERA and 22.1 K/BB%, all tops in the California League amongst pitchers who tossed at least 100 innings. At the end of the year, he got his feet wet in AA which is where he should begin his Marlins career. Despite limited 6’1″, 200 size, Neidert creates advantageous deception by hiding the ball behind his plant leg and following through to the plate lightning quick. The delivery is extremely fluid, smooth and repeatable which should allow Neidert to continue to work deep into starts.
The 21-year-old has four usable pitches, all of which are either already Major League quality or show similar potential. His heat sits around 90-93 but he can ramp it up to 95 at will. Formerly a straight and narrow offering, Neidert is beginning to plane the pitch, giving it better movement and creating a fifth pitch sink piece, a great commodity for the 3/4 release point control artist he looks to be blossoming into. This past season, improved arm speed allowed Neidert’s 84-87 MPH changeup to move past his 72-76 mph curve as his best offspeed pitch but both offerings have plus-plus potential and give him a nice 20+ mph velo mix. While the 9.4 K/9% Neidert posted in A+ last year should temper a bit when he gets to the upper minors and beyond, his deep arsenal, high arm slot, and pinpoint control give him a great chance to develop into a ceiling 2-3 rotational starter by as early as 2019. Neidert should easily be ranked among the Marlins’ top 10 prospects this coming season.
RHP Robert Dugger
2017 (A-A+) – 117.2 IP, 2.75 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 116/32 K/BB
Dugger is a 22-year-old righty who began his pro career at Cisco Junior College where he was teammates for the first time with Marlins’ draftee James Nelson. He spent two years at Cisco, throwing 133.1 IP and producing a 4.86 ERA. While those numbers don’t fly off the page, he did hold down good control numbers, posting an overall 2.32 K/BB, including a 3.06 marker in his sophomore season. Those figures punched Dugger’s ticket to Texas Tech for 2016. There, against much stronger Big 12 competition, Dugger pitched in relief but also pitched much truer to his potential, holding down a 2.67 ERA over 60.2 innings. The good control persisted as he posted a 54/23 K/BB.
Upon being drafted by the Mariners in the 18th round, Dugger bounced around from rookie ball to A ball to AAA to end his year but most of his time was spent with the Everett AquaSox. There, he made six starts and threw 26.1 IP to the tune of a 5.47 ERA as he clearly went through a stark adjustment process, going from throwing 70 JuCo innings a year previous to throwing the last 38 out of a total of 99 innings against professional hitters who were on average nearly two years his elder. This past season, the Mariners returned Dugger to single A and transitioned him to the bullpen in order to reduce strain on his arm and allow him to work on pitching around the plate rather than living over it. His arsenal features a low-90’s fastball, a high-80’s changeup and a mid-70’s curve. He has a good feel for all three pitches and controls them well, though the release point on the curve is a bit inconsistent at the moment but again, he needs to develop better command if he is to make it as a starter. His biggest hinderance lies in his tendency to fall off to his glove side on the follow-through of his windup delivery. Dugger is much more effective out of the stretch where after a high leg kick, he is extremely quick to the plate. While there is still time for the bespectacled 22-year-old to work on becoming a corner painting Rembrant-style to-contact back end starter, the more likely scenario is that he is converted to a full-time reliever.
SS Christopher Torres
2017 (ROK-A) – .238/.329/.446, 69/28 K/BB, 22 XBH, 14 SB
Torres is a 19-year-old infielder out of the Dominican that had quite the interesting start to his professional career stateside. Then 16, Torres came to America with a deal in place from the New York Yankees for seven figures. However, due to severe weight gain, New York apparently backed out of the deal. The Yankees deny they ever had a deal in place with Torres. Whatever the case, Torres eventually agreed to a deal with the Mariners worth much less, $375K. Since then, Torres spent two seasons in rookie ball posting a .253/.374/.358 (with most of his success coming in the Dominican Summer League back home) before playing in short season A last year where he slashed .238/.326/.435 and placed second in the Northwest League in triples (6) and seventh in runs (44). He was also 13/16 in stolen base attempts. Clearly, Torres’ most advanced skill is his raw speed and good instincts on the bases but he will need to work at making better decisions with the bat (64/25 K/BB last year) if he is to make it as the tablesetter he projects to be. Despite weighing in at just 5’11”, 170, the switch-hitting Torres will show surprising pop when he does barrell up.
Torres earned high praise for his defensive abilities headed into the international draft. He did suffer an arm injury in his rookie season in the DSL, a contributing factor to his 34 errors in his last 88 games. Still, there is believed to be plenty of room for growth.
Combine Torres’ quick feet with a good first step towards the ball off the bat in the field, his line drive contact capabilities and the ability to turn anything that drops into extra bases, and — though it will take some time — there is five-tool potential here. Torres should slot in somewhere in the Marlins’ top 15 prospects this season.
From the outset, it looks like just another salary dump for the Marlins who rid themselves of 2015’s NL batting title winner, a perennial 50+ stolen base guy and a lockdown fielder up the middle. And while that clearly was Jeter’s goal, Miami did get back three quality pieces, one of which is a 3-5 slot starter that is but a year — if that — away from his MLB debut and one of which could develop into a cornerstone shortstop. Throw in Dugger who’s future is unknown at this point but will, barring injury, undoubtedly include MLB service time and this is an equitable return.