Tagged: Dalton Wheat

2017 Greensboro Grasshoppers Season Preview

 

2017 Greensboro Grasshoppers Season Preview

2015 Team Stats

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

Projected Lineup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Projected Rotation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Projected Team Stats

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

Marlins May Have Struck Gold In Dalton Wheat

Dalton Wheat
Making it to the Major Leagues from the ranks of the independent leagues is a tough road to hoe. From 2013 through last offseason, just 208 total players, 120 pitchers and 88 position players, were selected by major league clubs. Making it out of an indy league uniform and into a Marlins’ affiliated uniform is an even rarer feat. Just three of those 208 had their contracts purchased by the Fish. So when the Marlins do invite an indy league player to the majors, as they did with Dalton Wheat in October, they obviously see something special.

Wheat, a native of Augusta, Kansas, got his collegiate baseball career started at a small area community college. Over the course of two seasons as a Butler Grizzly, Wheat hit .341/.421/.497 with 71 RBI and 74 steals before moving on to the state university level. The jump in level didn’t phase Wheat at all. Over the next two years in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association with the Emporia State University Hornets, he hit .367/.452/.578 with 78 RBI and 32 steals. However, despite a .353/.435/.531, 149 RBI, 105 SB collegiate career, Wheat went undrafted in the 2015 MLB Draft. For many players his age, going undrafted after four years of college is usually a kiss of death for promising baseball careers. Wheat’s career itself nearly fell victim to it as well as he was admittedly disappointed and in the beginning stages of pondering life after baseball. Then one day his phone rang.

“It wasn’t the easiest pill to swallow,” Wheat divulged. “I thought I was going to have to find a job and finish up school. But after I got a call from the T-Bones, I was just grateful for another opportunity to play. That’s all I wanted was a way to get my foot in the door so I can continue playing baseball.”

In a single season for the Kansas City T-Bones, Wheat did more than get his foot in the door; he kicked it down. It took Wheat just 67 games to become unaffiliated baseball’s top prospect by way of a .335/.414/.403 slash line. Finally, after a long road and some adversity which he handled like a pro, this coming season, Wheat will be a major leaguer. When asked what he will do in order to succeed in affiliated ball, Wheat points towards doing the same thing as he always has and what allowed him to enjoy a fantastic college career and a coming out season in the indy leagues.

“I was very excited when I got the news that I was able to move to the next level,” Wheat said. “I’m not really sure what to expect, but I’m going to treat the game like I’ve always treated it. I’m going to work hard play as hard as I can so the transition should be smooth if I just worry about controlling what I can control.”

Sticking to what has served him well holds a lot of weight with Wheat. It is for that same reason that he has continued a tradition that he began in his years in community college and a tradition that has since become his own personal trademark, even at this young stage of his baseball career. When hitting, Wheat doesn’t wear Nike, UnderArmour or adidas on his hands. Instead, he literally wears the American outdoors as he sports the same gloves that he uses when he goes hunting in his leisure time away from baseball. According to Wheat, it is something that he began doing in a time of need and something that hasn’t failed him since so he never stopped and doesn’t plan on doing so in the majors.

“I started wearing them my freshman year at Butler because I let my buddy borrow my actual batting gloves at the time and we ended up being in different hitting groups the next day,” Wheat said. “I had a big blister on my hand, so I didn’t want to make it a lot worse by hitting without gloves, so I just grabbed a pair of work gloves I had in my truck to hit with and I liked the way they made me feel like I didn’t have to over grip the bat so I’ve been using them ever since. I plan on continuing to wear them unless I’m told otherwise. They have worked well for me this far, so why try to fix something that ain’t broke?”

Having spent most of his life in the small town midwest, in coming to south Florida or New Orleans, Wheat will be in for a new experience and challenge in adjusting to big city life and in travelling the minor league and potentially major league circuits, life on the road as a big leaguer. It will also mean it is the furthest away from his family he has ever been. It will be a new and untraveled road for him but if anyone is up to the task, Dalton is. And though they will be further away, his family, as they always have been, will be in his corner.

“They are really supportive and really excited,” Wheat said of his loved ones’ response to the news that he will be taking his baseball career east. “They are a little sad that I’ll be going away. But they are mainly happy for me that I got this opportunity.”

Wheat himself is undoubtedly a bit sad to be waving goodbye to his home for an extended period for the first time in his life but, looking for the positive in the situation as he always has, he also sees it as an advantage in the way that he will be able to focus completely on baseball without being as connected to his life at home.

“I think it actually might help me stay focused because I wouldn’t have the normal distractions I would at home,” Wheat said of his relocation. “I think I am going to be pretty busy with ball so I don’t think I’ll have much time to think of anything else.”

In Wheat, the Marlins get a guy that remained a complete hitter all through college, through the let down of going unrecognized in the draft, and, after nearly setting up a life away from baseball, a full season in the independent leagues that saw him becoming its most prized asset. He comes to the Marlins with whom he will be able to devote more of his attention to with very few hitches in his overall game. With a great attitude and work ethic, Wheat, still just 22, should begin his big league career in high A Jupiter but could and likely will fly through the lower minors. Scouts place his ceiling at fourth outfielder status but should he build a bit of outfield arm strength and maintain the same great plate vision and solid straight-through stride and swing at the plate and plus speed on the bases while he adjusts to a new level of opposing pitching and defense, he could become starting outfielder material. While Wheat’s signing by the Marlins who always try to get creative with their offseason moves, wasn’t covered much aside from a few short paragraphs around the internet, in a few year’s time, it could prove to be one of their best under the radar offseason moves in recent memory.

Considering he has fantastic ability and an attitude to match, keep the name Dalton Wheat at the back of your mind and don’t be surprised if it rises to the forefront of the Marlins’ top prospect list very quickly.