It’s that wonderful time of year again where the weather is getting warmer and spring training baseball is inching closer to returning to Roger Dean Stadium. With it this year, the return of players to the field and fans to the bleachers will also bring an auspicious group of talented young men vying to either either make it back to the majors or to make their first MLB squad in 2017. Here is a look at some of the Marlins’ talent hoping to impress this spring training.
1 – Drew Steckenrider, RHP
Steckenrider owns a feel good story, one of determination and perserverence that makes him an extremely easy guy to root for. After a mediocre start to his career in which he threw primarily as a starter to the tune of a 4.01 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP between short season and low A, the Marlins’ eighth round pick in the 2012 Draft went down with an injury to his throwing elbow and missed the bulk of the 2013 season and all of the 2014 season. After Tommy John surgery and 18 months on the shelf, Steckenrider returned in 2015. That year, between Greensboro and Jupiter, he traded off throwing both in starts and in relief. In 58.1 IP as a starter, he had a 3.56 ERA by way of a 1.48 WHIP. Looks good on the forefront but most of that success came with the Grasshoppers and competition much younger than the then 24-year-old. As a member of the Hammerheads, even though he was throwing in one of the biggest pitchers’ parks in the minors, Steckenrider got touched up for a 4.41 ERA by way of a nasty 1.71 WHIP and .284 BAA. As a Hammerheads’ reliever throwing in nearly the same amount of innings that he threw as a starter (24 in relief vs 32.2 in the rotation), Steckenrider stifled the most mature competition he’s ever faced, holding down a 1.50 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP and a .239 BAA while striking out 14 and walking seven.
Based off those numbers and the fact that he was just a season removed from a potentially career ending injury, the Marlins provided Steckenrider with some stability, putting him the in the much less physically strenuous bullpen full-time in order to safeguard and prolong the life of his potentially very live arm. With his mind at ease regarding just what exactly his role on the team was, Steckenrider shined in throwing exclusively out of the pen in 2016. Following a near perfect ten inning start in Jupiter in which he didn’t allow a run and posted a 17/2 K/BB while allowing just two hits, Steckenrider was called up to AA. He spent most of the season there, tossing 30.1 innings and holding hitters to a .120 BA, a mark which led the Southern League (among pitchers with at least 30 IP) and a 0.73 WHIP which was second in the Southern League. He also successfully converted all six of his save opportunities.
After facing the prospect of figuring out life after baseball two seasons previous, Steckenrider ended 2016 pitching at the highest level of Minor League Baseball. For the AAA Zephyrs, he converted seven more saves in seven chances, running his season total to 14 in 15 chances.
Following the season in which he was named an organizational All-Star, Steckenrider took his talents to the Arizona Fall League where he continued to impress. In 10 games and 13 IP, Steckenrider posted a 15/4 K/BB and a 1.23 WHIP and collected three more saves while pitching against some of baseball’s top prospects. He was also one of three pitchers to contribute to the Mesa Solar Sox’s combined no hitter on November 1, just the third no-no in the 25-year history of the AFL.
As Steckenrider confided to Today’s Knuckleball, the sense of stability the Marlins gave him in 2015 when they moved him from the dreaded swing man role to a full-time relief role has made all the difference.
“I would start, and then I’d do my arm care stuff, but then I’d be out in the bullpen a few days later, which, I would never get the recovery, and I never got the rhythm and the bounce-back time,” Steckenrider admitted about his difficult role in 2015. “It was really hard to have success. But this year, I finally got into that consistent role in the back end of the bullpen, and I earned my spot back there early. It was nice because I stayed there all year, but I also got into a good routine with the trainers and strength coaches, and that kept me healthy and on the field.”
The lanky 6’5″, 215 Steckenrider shortens his distance to the plate with an overwhelming smooth delivery especially for a guy with limbs as long as his and heat as fiery. He maintains his looseness well through his quick stretch delivery right up until the point where his arm starts going forward from his full arm circle windup. All the way through his delivery, he remains straight up and down and manages not to fall off to either side of the plate. In short, although simple, it is a mechanically fantastic delivery for a guy his build. Steckenrider’s go-to pitch is a fastball that usually ranges from 95-98 but can touch triple digits and has great late run to the corners. Since becoming a full-time late inning reliever, he has simplified his approach and doesn’t feature his breaking stuff a lot in favor of attacking with the heat but he will attempt to get guys to chase and offset the fastball in equal or positive counts with an 82-83 MPH 10-6 slider. With good feel for the pitch, the late breaker is is a great compliment to his heat and generates an equal rate of swings and misses. Steckenrider can also throw a 83-86 MPH changeup but with little fade and an inconsistent arm slot release, it’s the least developed of his pitches.
Sticking to his bread and butter, the heater and slide piece combo, Steckenrider has revitalized a career that once was on life support. He heads into spring training this year with a shot at making the Marlins’ bullpen. While he will have to do battle with the likes of more proven talent such as Brian Ellington, Hunter Cervenka and Jake Esch, don’t count Steckenrider out for a spot on the Opening Day roster this season.
Anderson, a Marlins’ 2014 fourth round draft pick, heads into 2017 as Miami’s top positional prospect. He earns that title after a .265/.348/.389 2016 campaign. After getting off to a .302/.377/.440 start with the Hammerheads, Anderson made the difficult jump to AA. In 86 games, he slammed eight homers, bettered only by two other Jacksonville Suns. He also appeared, as evidenced by collective 1.67 K/BB (including a 59/36 K/BB with the Suns) to temper the strikeout woes that hampered him in 2015 when he K’d 109 times to just 40 walks (2.275 K/BB). Improved plate vision and patience allowed the power hitter to get under and square up the ball much more often as shown by a 0.76 GB/FB rate as opposed to the 1.03 mark he posted in ’15 and the fact that he collected 128 hits, most in the organization. At the end of the year, he was named the Marlins’ Minor League Player of the Year. Despite all of these positives and accolades all of which he showed while making the hardest jump there is to make in the minors, Anderson was critical of his .243/.330/.359 tenure with the Suns, equating it to nerves and the stress he put on himself to succeed right away and with that initial high-tension situation out of the way, promised bigger things in 2017.
“Any time you jump a level you want to instantly have an impact,” said Anderson. “That’s kind of what happened with me. I went up there and put a lot of pressure on myself to perform really well. You just have to take a step back and realize that it’s baseball, it’s a game, you’ve been playing it your whole life.”
Anderson gave a sneak-peak and what those bigger things will be in the Arizona Fall League. In 22 games and 77 ABs, Anderson lit the AFL ablaze by hitting a league-most five homers with a .273/.360/506 slash line numbers which ranked right up on the offensive leader boards with some of baseball’s top prospects such as the Indians’ Bradley Zimmer, BaseballAmerica’s #31, the Yankees’ Gleyber Torres, #41, the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger, #54. His .866 OPS was fifth in the AFL and his .234 ISO ranked third. Anderson ended his 2016 tenure with the Solar Sox by going 2-4 and smacking his sixth homer of the campaign to help Mesa to the league championship crown.
Anderson is a third baseman by trade and is extremely athletic making him good for the occasional spectacular play. However, his 6’3″, 185 pound frame along with his inaccurate throwing arm that was the primary culprit in him racking up 27 total errors last year and 18 in 2015 make him a much better fit at the other corner.
While Anderson will need to continue his positive development in the upper minors to start 2017, his successful 2016 campaign along with his showing in the AFL definitely has him in very good standing with the organization. With a good showing in spring training and continued success with the Shrimp, Anderson could put himself in the running for an MLB debut this year, especially if the Marlins follow through with not signing a lefty hitting platoon partner for Justin Bour in favor of carrying an extra reliever. Last year, Anderson hit lefties at a .303/.370/.500 clip.
Riddle, the Marlins’ 13th rounder from 2013 comes into 2017 as the club’s ninth best prospect. He earns that title after a .276/.326/.366 campaign in 389 ABs with the Suns followed by a .268/.281/.357 15 game tenure in AAA to end the year. The 25-year-old has had success in every level he has played at. His .274/.318/.369 career bat has helped negate the fact that he entered the majors as a 22-year-old following a three-year college career at the University of Kentucky in which he slashed .283/.358/.384. He has extremely quick bat speed within his snappy line drive approach, which allows him to limit Ks as he fights off tough pitches (he boasts a an above average 14% K rate for his career) but he does need to improve his patience and career walk rate of just 6% in order to become every day starting material.
What puts Riddle in the conversation to be an every day contributor to an MLB lineup someday soon despite owning a slightly above average career MiLB .274 BA and .687 OPS at age 25 is the fact that he is a wizard defensively. In regards to middle infield prospects, Riddle is perhaps one of the best in baseball. In 2020.1 MiLB innings at shortstop, Riddle has made just 34 errors and posted a 4.17 career range factor. He is equally as good at second base, the position he played most in college and in which he has been at fault for just one single error in 262.2 career minor league innings. Riddle boasts equally as impressive range at second via a 4.13 range factor. His arm which has been clocked as high as 93 MPH as well as his ability to make fantastic reads off the bat also give him eligibility at third base and all three outfield positions. Should Riddle improve his plate vision and learn to work counts a bit better, he lines up as an elite defender with average offensive skills and speed, exemplary of a bottom of the order catalyst advantageous to turning the lineup back over. At the very least, his glove already makes him a more than solid defensive replacement. Thanks to his flexibility and prowess at a range of defensive positions, with a good showing this spring and continued improvement in New Orleans, Riddle could make his major league debut later this year.
4 – Tayron Guerrero, RHP
Guerrero, the organization’s 26th best prospect, came to the Marlins as a secondary piece in the Andrew Cashner trade but may prove to be the only valuable piece the Marlins get out of it. That is if Guerrero can iron out one big issue: body control. Once a tall lanky arms and legs guy, Guerrero bulked up, going from 170 pounds to 210 pounds in a single offseason. While the extra poundage and muscle turned his once mediocre 86 MPH fastball ranking 45-50 on the 30-80 scale into a sizzling 95 MPH offering with the ability to reach triple digits, giving it a 65-70 rating, the same problems he’s had since the beginning of his career in keeping his long extremities under his control have persisted. This stems from a herky-jerky delivery that holds little to no fluidity and fluctuating unstable release points. Guerrero has showed flashes of a successful late inning reliever at times offsetting his straight and narrow fastball with a good late sweeping out pitch slider but his inability to stay consistent is what has kept him out of MLB bullpens and instead mired in the minors.
Albeit in a tiny sample of 14 IP, Guerrero has had a good start to his Marlins’ organizational career, tossing to the tune of a 1.93 ERA by way of a 1.00 WHIP and .212 BAA but aside from the fact that it was at the AA level, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Guerrero’s career has been a roller coaster that has seen him go from showing the make up of a good closer only to regress back to him barely being worthy of a spot in AAA. That trend reared its ugly head again this past year. After the aforementioned solid start with the Suns, he went to the Dominican Winter League and allowed eight runs in 3.2 IP.
The reason why Guerrero makes this list despite his struggles is that when he has been on, he has resembled Carter Capps, whom, along with slugger Josh Naylor, the Marlins gave up in the trade that brought Guerrero and Cashner to Miami. With a short distance to go to the plate, a downhill delivery, some of the hottest heat in the league and a great slider that he tilts and commands well to the corners when he’s going good, if Guerrero finds his consistency, he could become a mainstay at the back of the bullpen and could at least partially Band-Aid another woeful Marlins trade that saw one of their bullpen anchors as well as a budding young power hitter go away in favor of 11 rental starts worth of a 5.98 ERA, provided by Cashner before he himself left town for Texas this offseason.
Even if Guerrero has a lights out spring, he likely won’t make the club out of camp, but by making a positive impact and getting off to a steady start in AAA, Guerrero could be a candidate to join what is shaping up to be an eight man Marlins bullpen later this year. At 25, it is pretty much make it or break it time for Guerrero. Despite not being able to find his groove on the mound on a regular basis, Guerrero has always been a fierce competitor. So, struggles aside, I wouldn’t count him out to finally put it all together and break through this season.
5 – Jarlin Garcia, LHP
Garcia is a 24-year-old 6’3″, 215 pound lefty in his seventh year in the Marlins’ organization. He came to the Fish as an international signee out of the Dominican in 2011 and impressed early in his pro career, tossing 52.0 3.29 ERA innings in his native country then coming to the US and adjusting to stateside ball very quickly and easily, tossing a very similar 40.0 innings worth of 3.60 ERA ball. He continued to fly through the minors in 2013, posting a 3.10 ERA in 69.2 innings with Batavia, by way of a 1.09 WHIP. His 74 strikeouts that year were fifth most in the New York Penn League and his K/BB% of 19.7% was second best. Garcia took a step back in adjusting to full season ball but was still a fairly decent 4.38 ERA in by far the most extensive season of his baseball career and more than double the innings he pitched the year previous. However, by being the best control pitcher in the Sally proven by the fact that he struck out the league’s tenth most batters, 111, and walked its fewest hitters, 21 thereby posting its best overall K/BB of 5.29%, Garcia was able to erase a high .280 BAA by posting a 1.29 WHIP, 12th lowest in the Sally. Because of the amazing authority he had over his arsenal, Garcia’s heightened .332 BABIP and even more decent than his ERA, 3.77 FIP as well as being honored with a Futures’ Game selection that season tells us he once again pitching like a top prospect worthy of a call to the next level. Garcia got that call at the beginning of the year in 2015 and got off to a 3.06, 1.227 WHIP, 3.00 K/BB% start in 97 innings with the Hammerheads before receving yet another callup to AA. Making the tough jump and pitching against competition an average of three years older than him, Garcia struggled in seven Suns’ starts. However, stats aside, backed by the fact that the Marlins added him to the 40-man at the time of his Jacksonville call-up, Garcia had successfully put himself on the radar to make his MLB debut sometime in the very near future, perhaps as early as 2016.
However, that season, Garcia’s progression would take a very unfortunate step back. After getting a peak in spirng training and after 35.2 innings of 4.04 ERA ball with 25/9 K/BB, the Marlins called Garcia, a starter, up to the bigs in order for him to apparently help an injury-riddled bullpen only to leave him sitting on the bench for the next eight days. Upon his return to the minors, Garcia’s first start lasted two innings. The control-first pitcher only threw 29 of his 45 pitches for strikes. In his second start, he was removed in the third inning after allowing four runs. Five days later, it was revealed that Garcia had a triceps injury and he was placed on the DL retroactive to his first outing back with the Suns.
After missing nearly three full months, Garcia returned to the mound on a rehab stint in the Gulf Coast League preceding him ending his season with the Hammerheads. In those 10 innings against talent below his level, he allowed just one run and held down an 11/1 K/BB. Following the MiLB season’s end, Garcia continued his rehab first in the Arizona Fall League then in the Dominican League where he posted a combined 3.56 ERA in 20.2 IP with a 14/5 K/BB and a 1.18 WHIP. He enters spring training this season as a guy who is still on the Marlins’ radar by way of him being their number three prospect and one of the best control arms in the entire organization but at 24 on his way back from a serious arm injury, he may be destined for the bullpen which is a bit depressing considering Garcia’s ceiling when he came into the professional ranks.
Still, even if Garcia doesn’t start, he can provide great value to a bullpen by way of his four quality above-average pitches and the control he has over all of them. Throwing from a delivery incredibly smooth from a guy of his 6’3″, 215 pound build. Where he deceives hitters best is on his follow-through which he explodes into after the aforementioned slow methodical windup which itself comes after a slow methodical look-in to his catcher and pace of play as he owns the mound and gets inside the mind of his opposition. His snappy follow-through and size allow him to generate easy low-mid 90s velo which at times can go higher. Garcia’s best breaking pitch is his changeup which is shows a good velo drop off of at least 10 MPH from his heat. Usually sitting in the 80-82 MPH range and shows good fade and depth. Garcia’s third pitch curve is a more average pitch which he struggles with the release point of because of his aforementioned ramped up follow-through but which he has shown the ability to throw with good downward bite. The fourth pitch slider is Garcia’s least developed pitch. He doesn’t have a great feel for it but he does run it well away from hitters at times giving it good mix-in value.
While Garcia’s future as a rotation piece is in doubt due the fact that he needs to develop a lot more command in a short period of time, he is still a guy that, based on his control alone, could provide solid innings eating relief help out of the bullpen. It’s doubtful he makes the squad in any capacity out of camp, but he is a guy to watch this spring and in the minors thereafter as he tries to get back on track after being bitten by the injury bug last year. A fierce competitor as shown by the fact that he played as much as he could at two different levels basically all offseason long trying to put the missed time behind him, I wouldn’t put it past Garcia to return with a fire lit under him this year.
Marlins baseball may be over for the next five months on the east coast of the United States, but out west in Arizona, it rages on. Here is a look at what has occurred in the Arizona Fall League so far.
Brain Anderson has built on his productive third season as a pro which saw him make the most difficult jump in the minors from A+ to AA and in which he posted an overall .265/.348/.389 line with 11 homers and a 97/58 K/BB and earning 2016 organizational MiLB Player of the Year honors by getting off to a .367/.426/.592 start with the Mesa Solar Sox. With a 1.018 OPS that ranks is tops on his team among full time starters and also ranks fourth among qualifiers in the entire AFL and riding a 13-32 streak, Anderson earned an invitation to play in this week’s Arizona Fall League All-Star game as an AFL Rising Star among the likes of Yankees phenom Gleyber Torres and Baseball America’s #25 overall prospect, the Blue Jays’ Anthony Alford. As evidenced by the fact that 28% of his hits went for extra bases this past MiLB season which included 8 homers as a Jacksonville Sun, third most on that squad in 86 games despite being a fresh call up from Jupiter (and despite a rough initial learning curve to life in the upper minors as he hit just .165 over his first week in black and gold) and the fact that he already has two long balls in 11 games and 36 ABs this fall, Anderson is learning to harness some truly special power. As he is also proving in his second stint in the AFL so far, Anderson is getting his free swing a bit more under control. Working counts and gaining a better knowledge of the strike zone has evidently become a focal point for Anderson. With a huge 2.09 K/BB on his career in full season ball so far, Anderson has actually walked more than he has struck out as a Solar Sox, a notion that once seemed improbable, no matter how small the sample size, for the pure power swinger. Committing to swings less often has been the focus of Anderson’s coaches since 2015 when he struck out 109 times as a Hammerhead.
The work of his coaches paid dividends this past season. Again, even though he made the hardest jump there is to make in the minors, he posted his best full season K/BB total (1.68). This included a 1.63 mark at the highest level he’s ever played at. The 6’3″, 185 and growing 23-year-old is an athletic sight to behold at the plate. His swing is of the uppercut variety and his strength allows him to shorten up well on balls inside. With the K rate in check, I foresee more doubles than homers but if Anderson can continue to make good choices at the plate and maintain the softness in his hands through an opposing pitcher’s delivery and up until a viable point of commission of a swing, he could turn in to a 20+ long ball threat.
Anderson has been put through the ringer defensively as well in an attempt to get him to be more consistent with his throws. He has good instincts and vision of balls off the bat and makes all the plays necessary at the hot corner. He has the arm strength necessary to play third but the arm accuracy isn’t quite there. In 2016 full season ball, he made a career high 27 errors, most coming as a result of a throw. He’s performed pretty well in the AFL so far and has been taking on extra drills and conditioning in order to succeed at third. But, even though he likely holds more value as a third baseman, as he grows into his body, I foresee him becoming a more realistic option at first base where he has begun seeing time this fall as a Solar Sox.
Joining Anderson on the 2016 East Rising Stars Team is Jarlin Garcia. After a solid 97 innings in Jupiter (18 starts, 3.06 ERA, 1.23 WHIP), Garcia, a lefty and a Miami international signee in 2010, made it to Jacksonville to end that season. He returned to Jacksonville to start 2016 but after just 39.2 IP in 9 starts, Garcia hit the DL with a triceps injury in his throwing arm. After missing two full months, he returned to the mound on August 8th initially in the GCL and then back in Jupiter to end the season. In those eight outings, he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen. With the injury, which came after the posting very sub-par 330 IP, 4.09 ERA, 1.26 WHIP career stat line as a starter in leagues that weren’t the extremely pitcher friendly Florida State League including a 76.1 IP, 4.73 ERA, 1.367 WHIP start to his career in the upper minors, it’s looking like the pen is where Garcia belongs. That assertion is backed up by the 3.12 ERA, 6/2 K/BB and .975 WHIP Garcia has posted in 8.2 innings for Mesa this fall. A somewhat lanky 6’3″, 215, Garcia starts off with a slow slide step delivery to the third base side before performing a high leg kick and dropping the his arm to a complete 6:00 position, hiding the ball completely behind his back leg, ala Carter Capps. He completes a near full arm circle as he strides home. Up until this point, his delivery is mechanically sound and hard for hitters to solve but as he releases from his high 3/4 arm slot and pushes off from his plant leg, Garcia’s mechanics take a dive. His delivery loses its fluidity as he snaps through to the plate violently. The smooth liquid motion he has up until that point gives way to a jerky follow through which sometimes results in him falling off the rubber to the third base side. It isn’t much of a problem for him in the beginning of his outings but as his pitch count rises he tries to compensate for the max effort release by overthrowing. This results in him missing his catcher’s glove and overall bad command. Despite still being able to hit the zone, he catches too much of it and hitters take advantage. Thus oppositions start waiting him out, forcing him to throw as many pitches as possible in his first two innings of work then teeing off on him in the third.
Unless he reinvents his delivery, the lefty who turns 24 this year isn’t rotation material. For at least 25 pitches though Garcia has a late breaking 12-6 power curve which has seen ups and downs but is currently a plus pitch. He piggybacks that with an even better and more consistent changeup which he spins and fades nicely. His heater sits in the low to mid 90s with a max velo of 95 and an average of 92. Should he make the full transition to the pen, Garcia could contribute to the Marlins as early as 2017.
Somewhat shockingly not joining Anderson and Garcia on the Rising Stars team is the third of eight Miami participants in the AFL this season, speedster Yefri Perez. After stealing 197 bags in 249 attempts including a record 71 for the Hammerheads in 2015 and another 39 for the Suns in 84 games in 2016, Perez received his first call to the majors as a pair of very apt legs off the bench for the Fish this September. He served in that capacity almost exclusively (he got just 3 ABs in 12 games appeared in) for the on-the-brink Marlins and stole his first four MLB bases. The 5’11, 170 25-year-old has zero power to speak of but if speed equated to homers, he would be a 50+ home run threat. Thus, all Perez needs to do to succeed in any league is get on base. And to do that, all he needs to do is put the ball in play and make an infielder make a somewhat difficult play. Watching Perez in Jupiter in 2015, I even saw him reach base on routine ground balls. That’s the level this guy is at when it comes to his running game. He is by far the fastest guy the Marlins’ organization has ever seen, faster than Luis Castillo, faster than Juan Pierre and a perennial 50 stolen base threat. But only if he can avoid the strikeout. That has been what has held Perez back until this season and has been the focal point of his coaching staffs. Before this season began, he boasted 255 career Ks (including 95 as a Hammerhead in ’15) to just 139 walks or a 1.83 K/BB. Discounting his 28/30 K/BB season in the Dominican in 2009 or the only time he walked more than he K’d in his career, his K/BB figure rises to 2.08. However, the work that has been done with him both in Jacksonville this past season where he walked a career high 39 times to 66 Ks and in the AFL this winter where he is hitting .340/.417/.377 with a BA and OBP that rank fourth in the league just below Anderson and a very respectable 11/7 K/BB as well as seven steals which unsurprisingly ranks second in the league through is first 13 games seems to be paying dividends. Perez’s knowledge of the strike zone has more than doubled since that ugly season K-wise in Jupiter. Although all he knows he has to do is get the bat on the ball to most likely reach base, he’s not going nearly as far out of his way to do so and it seems that he has learned that taking four balls will allow him to reach indefinitely.
With an approach that continues to mature and the willingness and desire to continue to learn as well as already providing some exciting moments in a Miami uniform Perez has shown the organization that he wants to make a big splash in the coming year. With the ability to play all three outfield spots as well as three infield positions (though his speed is most advantageously used in center field), Perez should almost definitely be part of the Marlins in 2017. With the work he did in AA and the work he is currently doing in the Arizona Fall League though Perez could be destined for more. With the potential trade of Adeiny Hechavarria incoming as well as the almost guaranteed trading of Marcell Ozuna, with a good spring campaign, Perez could find himself in the conversation for a starting job. At the very least, he will serve as a switch hitting bat off the bench who will steal bases virtually at will.
As Today’s Knuckleball laid out earlier this week, baseball hasn’t been kind to Drew Steckenrider for most of his career. After a dim start to it as a starter from 2012-2014 which included Tommy John and saw him spending almost two years recovering, it was looking like Steckehnrider would need to pursue a different way to spend his working days. Then this year happened. With a firmly reconstructed throwing elbow and upon finally making a full-time transition to the a late inning relief role, Steckenrider found his inner peace. As a result, opposing batters have found their hell. In 52 frames mostly in AA Jacksonville but also in AAA New Orleans and a few in A+ Jupiter, Steckenrider held down a 2.08 ERA with a ridiculous 71-19 K/BB and a lowly 0.85 WHIP. He converted 14 of 15 save opportunities and held batters to just a .141 BA. So far in the Arizona Fall League, it’s been more of the same for the Marlins’ eighth rounder out of Tennessee. In seven games and nine IP, Steckenrider has yet to allow a run and has walked just one while striking out 11. He’s converted both of his saves successfully, including the latest on November 1st which came as he closed out a combined no hitter. Tall and athletic at 6’5″ 215, Steckenrider is a sight to stare down as an opposing hitter. He backs up that menacing appearance with equally menacing stuff. His running fastball holds good plus velo, sitting in the 96-98 MPH neighborhood and is backed up with filthy slider that runs and dives away from hitters. See the devastation of the pitch starting at the :30 second mark of the above video as he strikes out a pair of Yankees, prospect Miguel Andujar by running it inside and hitting the glove perfectly, buckling his hitter’s knees and then at 1:14 as he gets former MLBer Greg Bird with it by running it outside and generating an off-balance swing. The 84-85 MPH offering is Steckenrider’s best pitch and he will use it at both ends of an AB. Steckenrider’s third pitch is a 75 MPH curve that he likes to bury low in the zone or even in the dirt. Again, the pitch owns late break and generates tons of swings and misses. With great arm speed and command over the slow pitch, it is a fantastic mix in and piggyback to the slider. See it in action again in the Bird AB as he gets a lefty who once hit .871 in the majors to look bad fishing out of the zone on it for a second strike before the aforementioned set-down with the change. With three complete pitches all of which flash plus and a free and easy repeatable windup and delivery, Steckenrider has a fantastic future as a late inning set up man or closer, a future which shouldn’t be too far away for a Marlins team which has some filling out to do in their bullpen after the release of Fernando Rodney, the possible release of Mike Dunn who becomes a free agent this year, and a possible trade of AJ Ramos who holds great value. After a bit of soul searching and a lot of bumps in the road along the way to get where he is today, Steckenrider is a feel-good story and a very easy guy to root for. With a good spring training, the Marlins, who have stayed committed to him throughout, would love nothing more than to give him his major league debut next season.
With a career .244/.330/.321 slash line over 1975 MiLB ABs, Austin Nola has exhibited pretty limited offensive capabilities. However, what the 26-year-old 6th round pick from 2012 has exhibited is a fantastic throwing arm and versatility in the infield playing five different positions. This fall, the Marlins are adding another position to that resume: catcher. Where at one time the 6’0″, 195 pounder would be far too undersized for the backstop position, the evolution of baseball including the rulebook has made it a reality. For a guy with average to just above average at best offense at the upper levels of the minors, this could be the best thing to happen to Nola and should he succeed, his ticket to the majors. So far, it’s been a mostly behind-the-scenes project for Nola as he has played just one full contest at the position and seen just a few more innings as a replacement in actual game action. Judging by that one full game though, it’s going to take some time for Nola to get the feel for the position. The game he called was an 8-3 loss in which his only potential base stealer was successful and in which he contributed a catcher’s interference error and allowed a passed ball. The silver lining for Nola this fall in limited action (six games) has been the fact that he has gone 6-16 with 2 RBI and four walks and has yet to strike out. While it is a small sample size, the posting of a .375 BA and .938 OPS has to feel good for a guy who has never OPSed above .700. Playing mostly against younger competition though, this likely isn’t a corner-turning moment for Nola’s offensive game. He did show a bit more power this past full minor league season in New Orleans, hitting six homers and did post a career high BA. But those figures equated to just six long balls and a .261 average.
Nola will probably be in spring training with the Fish and his verastility gives him a good shot to either be with the club on Opening Day and if not, definitely later in the year as a defensive replacement but, unless his offense takes another significant and sustained jump or the catching experiment works out (which the Fish may not be willing to wait on), that will likely be his ceiling.