According to crustacean experts, baby shrimp growth is dependent on sunlight. After absorbing the Jacksonville Suns last season, the newborn Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, led by Monte Harrison, Kyle Barrett, Colby Lusignan, Jeff Brigham and Max Duval are ready to make their mark on the Southern League.
.242/.321/.360, 86 HR, 313 XBH
1185.1 IP, 3.69 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 2.64 K/BB
In their second season, the Shrimp will once again be lead by manager Randy Ready. A graduate of Cal State East Bay, Ready was selected by the Brewers in the sixth round in 1980. After jumping a level with each passing year from 1980-83, Ready made his MLB debut with the Brewers 1983 and went on to slash .259/.359/.387 over an 11 year MLB career. His best season occurred in 1987 when he hit .309/.423/.520 in 124 games for the San Diego Padres. Needless to say, Ready knows what it takes to proceed up the developmental ladder and make it at the highest level as a professional. According to Kyle Barrett who began playing for Ready last season and rejoins him again this year, Ready, by way of his many years of experience and a solid all-around skillset especially in the minor league circuit, makes a well-rounded minor league skip.
“Ready is laid back and a cool dude for sure. He had a long career in the bigs and knows his stuff,” Barrett said. “He’s really helped me with the smaller portions of the game such as bunting and baserunning.”
Rejoining Ready is his pitching coach Storm Davis. A Jacksonville native, Davis was a high school draft pick in round seven by the Baltimore Orioles out of University Christian High School in 1979. After flying through the minors jumping a level with each passing season despite still being in his teenage years in three of four of those seasons (including a stop in Fort Lauderdale with the Miami Orioles), Davis, by way of a collective 3.56 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, cracked the majors as a 20-year-old in 1982. Despite being over eight years younger than the average major leaguer, Davis, who made the Orioles out of camp, stormed out of the gate (pun intended) and collected a win in his first MLB start on July 3, 1982 against the Detroit Tigers. He would go on to post an overall 3.49 ERA, 1.232 WHIP and 2.39 K/BB over 100 innings in his rookie year.
Davis spent the next 12 years in a similar capacity pitching both as a starter and out of the pen, collecting a 113-96 career record and holding down a 4.02 ERA and 3.80 WHIP by way of a 1.392 WHIP and 1.53 K/BB (including over 1,000 strikeouts) over 1780.2 IP. In 1983, his sophomore season, Davis contributed a 13-7 record via a 3.59 ERA, 1.218 WHIP and 1.95 K/BB to the World Champion Orioles. He collected a second World Series ring in 1989 when he ran up a career high 19 wins (19-7) and was huge down the stretch for the Oakland A’s. In the second half, he held down a 3.61 ERA and went 12-3 in 17 starts. This year, Davis is bringing his expertise back to a level which he went 14-10 with a 3.47 ERA and 1.83 K/BB at despite being four years the minor to the average competition. A guy who grew up extremely fast, enjoyed a fantastic minor league career and borderline Hall Of Fame +17 WAR major league career, Davis simply knows what it takes to get the job done on the hill, no matter the level.
Marcus Crescentini who joins Davis’ staff this year has already begun to see the positive impacts of Davis’ much apprised but quite relaxed tutelage.
“I’ve only been with Storm a couple of weeks but what I’ve noticed with him is that his knowledge is endless and he is very approachable,” Crescentini said. “He also treats all of his pitchers like men; he doesn’t micro manage and he let’s us be who we are.”
Completing Ready’s staff is hitting coach Kevin Witt. Another Duval county native and graduate of Bishop Kenny High which is a short three mile drive from his current place of employment at the Baseball Grounds, Witt hit .481 as a senior before he became a first round pick by the Blue Jays in 1994. His #28 overall draft slot placed him ahead of fellow draftees Troy Glaus and AJ Pierzynski and just behind Jason Varitek and Nomar Garciaparra. After hitting .252 over his first three seasons including a .271/.335/.426 in A+ in 1996, Witt rose to AA in the Southern League, the same league he now holds managerial status in. There, Witt hit .289/.349/.539, tied for the league lead in homers and made the All-Star team as a utility infielder. In 1998, Witt began his AAA career and enjoyed immediate success leading the Syracuse SkyChiefs in homers with 23 while hitting .273/.354/.481. He made his MLB debut in September that season and recorded his first major league hit. Witt had a similar season in ‘99, once again leading the SkyChiefs in homers (24) and placing second in OPS (.896) before hitting .206 and recording his first MLB homer late in the season with Toronto. Following a 26 homer season in AAA in 2000, the Blue Jays cut ties with Witt a year later.
After a short stint in the Padres, Witt joined the Tigers in 2003. After a .316/.391/.594 performance in AAA, Witt got a mid season call to the majors. In his most extended look at that level, Witt hit a very respectable .263/.301/.407 with ten homers over 27 ABs. Witt was signed by the Cardinals where he enjoyed his best season as a pro hitting .306/.353/.600 and earning him the Pacific Coast League’s MVP trophy. However, on a stacked St Louis team, he never got a chance with the big league squad.
From there, Witt attempted to prove his worth in Japan, a very brief experiment, before rounding his playing career out with the Rays. After a .291/.360/.577 and whopping 36 homer performance with the Durham Bulls, a total which stands as Durham’s franchise record and the Rays’ organizational record and which earned him the International League’s MVP award. Witt got called up to the pros late in the season where he hit .148 in his final 19 MLB games. Witt rounded out his playing career back in Japan where he hit .174 in his last 40 games.
A fantastic .274/.336/.502 269 HR career minor league hitter with a plus plus power tool, Witt was unfortunately a victim of circumstance who never got his full shot in the majors in his prime. Regardless, Witt is a guy who knows how to adjust and get the job done at the plate no matter the level. He is a welcome contributor as hitting coach at a level he once dominated.
According to Austin Dean, Witt has good individual relationships with each hitter on the squad and is attentive and accommodating to each of their needs and routines. Describing his relationship with Witt, Dean says it’s one of mutual respect built on Witt’s trust in his players’ judgment and his overseer approach that lets them be themselves that stands out most. All in all, Dean says that on top of great expertise, Witt brings great reverence and leadership to the locker room, creating a more positive environment to play in.
“Being with Witt has been great. He’s very knowledgeable about the game and obviously he’s had great success as well,” Dean said. “Him and I’s relationship is a little bit different then everyone else. From spring training, he and I talked about routines and things I like to do in the season. And for me I don’t like hitting a lot. I like to take a couple rounds of five off the machine and then I go and hit BP on the field that day, and that’s it for me. And he’s respected that. He’s never tried to get me to do more then I wanted or that I needed. There’s times where I might be on my first round on the machine and I absolutely demolish five balls in row and he tells me to get and go back in the clubhouse. It’s things like that, he’s very encouraging and he knows what he talking about with us, and he’s been helping, you know, not just me but everyone else on team.”
DH Kyle Barrett
2B Isan Diaz
LF Austin Dean
RF John Norwood
CF Monte Harrison
1B Colby Lusignan
3B Brian Schales
C Rodrigo Vigil
SS Chris Diaz
Barrett is a Marlins 15th round draft pick from 2015 out of the University Of Kentucky, a pick which has been part of a shopping spree of the UK system from 2013 to present. Over the last five years, Stan Meek, Mike Hill and the Marlins have selected Wolfpack members in four separate drafts: J.T. Riddle in 2013, Barrett in 2015, Dustin Beggs in 2016 and Riley Mahan last year. Its been a “stick with what’s working” type approach from the scouting department to continue to return to Lexington on the regular year after year to scout and eventually select and sign players. Each of the four players selected has successfully parlayed a great collegiate career into at least some sort of positive progression since they’ve begun wearing a Marlins affiliated uniform.
While Riddle hit .275/.318/.364 over a four year minor league career, while Mahan has gotten off to a .289/.333/.458 over his first 20 pro games and while Beggs has posted a 3.61 K/BB in his first three seasons, Barrett has been one of the most consistent players in the entire organization. Barrett garnered the Marlins’ attention after a .324/.386/.391 collegiate career at UK which included a fantastic .354/.394/443 senior season. His BA that year ranked seventh in the SEC ahead of competition such as Dansby Swanson and just behind Red Sox top prospect and () overall prospect according to Baseball America, Andrew Benintendi. His average was made possible by his 46 hits, a total which ranked third in the conference, one shy of Benintendi. Barrett’s OBP ranked 17th in the SEC, just .23 points off of Swanson’s .417 mark. Barrett showed off his prowess on the bases as well scoring 29 runs and recording three triples, both of which were good for fourth most in SEC play and collected its 13th most total bases, 62. He accomplished all of this in the conference’s ninth most ABs, 124. Upon being drafted by the Marlins, Barrett headed to short season Batavia but just four games into his pro career, he broke his right hand and missed the rest of the campaign.
Despite the injury, Barrett joined the Greensboro Grasshoppers in 2016. Despite getting off to a slow 12-72 7/16 K/BB start due to the fact that he was still not pain free in his injured hand, Barrett, ever the grinder and with a staunch refusal to quit, turned it on in late May and wound up reaching base in 55 his final 79 games. Despite the slow start, Barrett hit .282/.333/.345. Among players who appeared in over 60 games, his BA and OBP were both team highs. He also stole 17 bags in 22 attempts.
The biggest hole in Barrett’s game headed into his sophomore season was his inability to read and time professional quality pitches as well as having a tendency to get a bit over-aggressive. This was proven by his heightened 17.05 K rate and 2.68 K/BB in Greensboro.
However, the Marlins didn’t let that small hitch hold Barrett back and gave him the promotion to A+. That year, Barrett, back at 100% to start the season, rewarded the Marlins’ confidence in his projection by slashing .297/.355/.342 over his first 66 games with the Hammerheads. His BA, made largely possible by a 12 game hit streak in which he went 19-49 in late May and early June, led the team and ranked 18th in the Florida State League. He reached base via a hit in 57 of his 66 appearances. All the while, Barrett’s walk rate rose to 7.77%, his K rate fell to 14.53% and his K/BB rested at 1.87. Originally snubbed from the FSL’s All-Star Game, he rightfully made it as an injury replacement. For the second half, Barrett received the promotion to AA Jacksonville. In his first 126 ABs as a Shrimp, he hit .230/.285/.286.
“I’m a firm believer that you can’t have success until you have failed. Failure is a teaching point,” Kyle says.
Barrett has had a few of those educational experiences so far in his pro career including being bitten by the sophomore slump in college (.253/.354/.312) and the aforementioned injury stricken 2016 season in Greensboro. However, each time, Barrett, by way of putting in all the necessary work and then some, has been able to adjust and come back the next season a much better player. Following a subpar audition in AA last season, Barrett faces a similar test in 2018 but if his track record is any indication, he will use stored knowledge, his fantastic work ethic and his ability to acclimate accordingly no matter the situation or level of competition to rise to the occasion.
According to Kyle, in addition to the bump in competition level, the biggest rectification for him to make mentally during his transition from A to AA last year was being prepared to hear his number called upon at any time in any situation on any given day and not losing his preparedness just because he didn’t see his name on the lineup card.
“The transition from high A to AA is definitely an adjustment,” Barrett said. “I learned that the days I’m not starting doesn’t mean I won’t play, there’s always a pinch hit or a double switch.“
5’11”, 185, Barrett packs a ton of talent into his stout but athletic frame. Formerly a high strikeout guy, Barrett has found a nice balance between aggression and patience. He’s also improved the lateral level of his swing, allowing him to get at least some part of the bat on pitches he engages on, prolonging his ABs and forcing his opposition to beat him with a quality pitch. That said, Barrett will also often attack early in the count if he sees a juicy morsel he likes. Simply put, he’s a very tough and pesky out to get and a guy who can give opposing teams fits. Barrett owns an extremely quick snap swing made possible by even quicker hands. Approaching from the back of the box, his speedy upper half and stationary head expand his field of vision and allow him to read pitches nearly all the way to the front black of the plate. While he probably won’t put many out of the park or even over outfielders’ heads, he has a great knack for finding holes and gaps. With plus speed, the ability to read the ball off the bat and good base running instincts, he turns singles into extra bases with relative ease. He holds plus speed and makes equally good reads off the bat and flashes a strong arm in the field. He can cover all three outfield spots but he projects best as a future center fielder.
Though the Marlins’ organization suddenly finds itself with a ton of young outfield depth especially after the acquisitions of Magnerius Sierra, Braxton Lee and Monte Harrison, with success at the AA level this year, Barrett is a rounding out a unique catalytic skillset. With success via another positive adjustment this season, he could receive a look in the bigs in September and he would definitely be a candidate to make his first 40-man roster next season. As good as his long range vision is on the field though, Barrett isn’t looking that far into the future. For now, he is putting all of his focus on what is directly in front of him and nothing more.
“I can’t think about it or stress about it. All I can do is control the controllable and play my game,” Barrett said. “If I stay within myself, be confident and have fun, everything else will fall into place.”
An extremely easy guy to get into games whether it be at the top of the lineup as a fire starter, at the bottom of it as a restarter or as a lefty bat off the bench as a rally starter, the 25-year-old’s modest ceiling should be placed somewhere around Roger Cedeno, a career .273/.340/.371 hitter and 77% successful steals threat.
2017 – .291/.328/.446, 25 XBH, 3.43 K/BB
A fourth round pick out of high school from the year 2012, Dean is a name that has been around the Marlins organization for a while. Entering his sixth year as a pro, Dean’s career so far has been a proverbial roller coaster ride full of ups and downs.
Dean hails from Klein Collins High School in his hometown of Spring, Texas. Coming into the draft, Dean was heralded for his great raw power via a solid 6’1”, 185 pound build, a great ability to get extended and a quick stroke with loft. Paired with good speed (clocked at a 6.74 first to home) and a good baseball IQ as well as classroom aptitude, Dean had a verbal commitment to Texas before he chose to sign with the Marlins after being selected in the 4th round of the Draft by the Marlins, a slot which garnered him a $379,000 signing bonus.
After starting out in the Gulf Coast League post draft where he posted a .223/.337/.338 line in his first 47 pro games, Dean joined short season Batavia in 2013. There in 56 games, Dean hit a respectable .268/.325/418. His slugging percentage that came via 21 XBHs ranked 15th in the New York Penn League. At the end of the season, Dean received a cup of coffee in Greensboro where he hit .200/.346/.400 over 20 ABs.
Regarding what life was like for him as a kid who suddenly saw an after school activity engulf his entire life and asked how he was able to maintain focus under those circumstances, Dean responds that it was a stark maturation process making his way as a teenager in professional baseball but with the help of a great supportive cast of teammates and coaches, he was able to keep his focus and nurture his skillset advantageously.
“My first year in pro ball was definitely life changing. Being away from home, and being away from your family is tough. But ever since then it’s been a growing up thing. You learn how to take care of yourself and be an adult while you’re playing. I’ve definitely matured a lot since 2012 when I got drafted. On the baseball side, I’ve come across many of different coaches and players, and you tend to pick things as you go and learn different things from them. I’ve learned a lot of thing over the past six years, and I think that’s help me as a baseball player.”
In 2014, Dean appeared on the Marlins’ top 20 prospect list slotting in at #15. At the beginning of the year, stared down the first full professional season of his career in Greensboro. Thanks to three separate injuries, a left hand injury he suffered during a slide, a nasal fracture that occurred while he has rehabbing and a right groin strain that occurred while running, Dean’s season would wind up being limited to 99 games. However, the missed time and gaps between in game action did not appear to affect Dean at all. When he was on the field, he was consistently effective. After beginning the year by hitting .288/.343/.403, accolades which earned him an All-Star selection, Dean missed 22 games and the All-Star Game. Undeterred, Dean returned in early July hitting .377/.459/.500 before hitting the shelf again in early August. He returned again on August 15 and closed out a fantastic .308/.371/.444, 33 XBH, 72/38 K/BB, 128 wrC+ breakout campaign, incredible numbers especially considering his youth (1.2 years younger than the league average player) and his health woes.
In 2015, Dean received a promotion for a fourth straight season, joining A+ Jupiter. While the power hitter’s overall .268/.318/.366 slash line didn’t pop off the page, the underlying reason for it was due to his being stymied by the extremely pitcher friendly confines of Roger Dean Stadium. While he only hit .244/.298/.317 in 195 ABs at home, Dean was a .289/.337/.410 hitter in 208 ABs throughout the rest of the Florida State League. All five of his homers came on the road. Dean also successfully tempered his K rate down to 13.1%, a career low, proving he was at par in terms of making contact with A+ competition.
That offseason, Dean took part in the Arizona Fall League. In 16 games and 62 ABs against some of the top young talent in professional ball, the 20-year-old turned in a .323/.364/.452 performance, marks which ranked 12th, 24th and 27th. His .815 OPS ranked 26th. 18 of the 25 players who ranked ahead of Dean on that list are current major leaguers such as Lewis Brinson, Gary Sanchez, Aledmys Diaz and Wilson Contreras.
By leaving that impression coupled with his solid situational year in Jupiter, Dean was given yet another promotion this time to AA Jacksonville, just a step away from realizing his dream. Just seven games into his AA career, Dean suffered a demoralizing injury on a collision with a fellow outfielder. The ailment would cost Dean nearly three full months. After suffering the injury on April 12, Dean did not return to the field until June 28. Following a four game rehab stint in the GCL, he finally returned to Jacksonville on July 3.
“When I got hurt last year, it was very unfortunate but you know injury’s happen; it’s a part of the game. While I was rehabbing in Jupiter it was very slow process, and it was hard not being up in Jax and playing and being around my teammates,” Dean said. “But I worked my butt off while I was down there, I was still able to lift weights, to a certain extent. I kept my body in shape so I would be ready for when I got back. It was very tough not playing baseball for long. But it’s one of things you have to deal with sometimes and I felt like I handled everything pretty well last year.”
The ever-so modest Dean handled his situation a lot better than “well”. Upon his return, he enjoyed a .205/.347/.311 month of July. He hit in 39 of his final 55 game and reached reached base safely in 13 straight from July 28 to August 18. Overall, he was a .282/.323/.427, 4 HR, 22 XBH performer as he once again proved to hold an incredible ability to overcome adversity.
Asked how he was able to rise to the occasion of meeting and exceeding expectations in the upper minors despite missing nearly the entire first half, Dean responded this way:
“My parents last year, was you know a big help. We’d talk every day or try too, and obviously this was something new to me not being able to play. They kept me motivated, and they were very supportive as well, and I probably couldn’t have done it with out them.
Despite having far from a sunshine and butterflies Sunday drive through the minor leagues, Dean has met every challenge he’s faced and conquered it all while keeping his development proceeding in the right direction. In 540 career games, Dean has been able to close some holes in his swing that were present when he got drafted, simplify his mechanics, improve his contact rates and learn how to take what he’s given, leading to good averages and a solid doubles-first power threat. While the Marlins would like to see more over-the-fence power from Dean, there’s still plenty of time for the 24-year-old to find that as he fills out the rest of the way.
One area of concern for Dean lies in his limited ability to get extended. A naturally pull-happy hitter, Dean could use to garner a better knack to cover the outside of the plate via more advantageous barrel extension, leading to the ability to go to his opposite field. It’s one of the few things holding Dean back but it could be a major catalyst for his success as a major leaguer as pro pitchers and coaches could negate his strengths by way of quality stuff on the outer half and possibly an infield overshift.
Should Dean, who has come out victorious in every battle he’s faced so far on his way up, be able to fill that small hole in his game, he’s a quality corner outfielder with a ceiling around our old buddy Jeff Conine a career .285/.347/.443 bat. With further success in AA this year, he’s a candidate to receive his MLB debut sometime in 2018. At the very least, he is a shoe in for a 40-man roster spot next year and a favorite for at least a bench spot in 2019.
2017 (A-A+) – .272/.350/.481, 21 HR, 51 XBH, 139/43 K/BB, 27 SB
The main accompanying piece in the Christian Yelich trade with the Brewers, Harrison is a power hitting threat who is a bit immature in his approach but who holds extreme upside. Between A and A+ last year, Harrison hit .272/.350/.481 and topped he 20 homer mark for the first time in his career. As impressive as his .209 ISO and 133 wRC+ were, those figures came at the expense of a 143/39 K/BB. His 27% K rate last season equaled his 27% career K rate. That said, if Harrison, still 22, can find more discipline, there isn’t much more he needs to do to be both a top prospect and major league ready.
With elite bat speed by way of flashy wrists and a line drive swing which, coupled together, create plus launch angle and plus plus exit velocities, the 6’3”, 220 pounder is also a ridiculous 4.12 runner first to home, quite surprising for a guy his size and a testament to his athleticism. He rounds out his skillset with a throwing arm that receives an 80 grade on the 20-80 scale.
Undoubtedly, there’s massive upside here and after the acquisition of Brinson turns the Yelich return from good to gold. If Harrison is going to realize his full potential, there’s still work to be done both mentally and mechanically but considering he was able to turn in a great 2017 regular season followed by a .283/.333/.604, five homer performance in the Arizona Fall League after he missed much of 2016 due to injury, there’s reason to be very excited about his future. With no pressure on him whatsoever, I wouldn’t expect any sort of Major League action before next season at least as Harrison works on his few hitches. However, a complete Monte Harrison will be well worth the wait and a franchise cornerstone type piece. Pay close attention here. There’s special five tool type talent being kindled.
A 28th round pick from 2016 after a .328/.425/.528 collegiate career between community college in Gainesville, FL and Division 2 Lander University in South Carolina, Lusignan is a piece who has come almost literally out of nowhere and proven to be quite the power hitting commodity.
After a .325/.429/.591 singular season at Lander with an OBP that ranked 10th in the conference and with its seventh best SLG and ninth best OPS (1.020), Lusignan hit .319/.422/.469 in the Gulf Coast League and got a look at short season Batavia to finish his 2016 season. The next year, Lusignan began the year in Greensboro. After hitting nine homers but slashing just .243/.315/.414 with a 34.72 K rate, the 23-year-old was nevertheless fast tracked to A+ Jupiter.
Just 113 ABs into his pro career and sporting a .251 BA and 33% K rate, the challenge seemed a bit over Lusignan’s head. However, the 6’4”, 230 pounder was somehow able to respond to the task by completely tearing the pitcher friendly Florida State League apart. In 46 games and 201 PAs, he hit .285/.348/.453 with six homers, 18 XBH, a .168 ISO and a 134 wRC+. He also showed improved patience as his K rate even fell more than 10 points to 23.9 and his walk rate rose to 8.5.
This season, just two years removed from playing ball at a Division 2 school, Lusignan faces his next challenge: playing against competition just shy of the major league level.
A lefty hitter, Lusignan has successfully gained a better knowledge for the zone as he’s flown through the Marlins’ minor league system. Looking at spray charts, Lusignan has mastered the art of opposite field hitting, relying on his ability to get extended and making the most out of his lefty’s advantage. He’s also always shown a good knack for going straight up the middle. Recently, Lusignan is also using his strength advantageously to go pull side on pitches on the inner half, showing a good ability to stay inside the ball, cutting down on his swing and miss totals. When he times pitches right, gets his feet down and barrels up on his classic uppercut swing, the ball flies.
If Lusignan can continue to show that kind of aptitude and bat control, he will close his only plate coverage gap, become a complete power first threat vs righties and make a huge improvement vs fellow lefties who love to take his eyes and arms away by jamming him inside. Though the K will probably always be part of the power hitter’s game, Lusignan has improved so much is such a short amount of time. One of if not the biggest rags to riches story in the entire organization, Lusignan, who saw time with the big league club in spring training, is a one more good showing in the upper levels away from a Major League call.
While that’s easier said than done and while he probably isn’t going to push Justin Bour for playing time anytime soon if ever, for a guy who has responded well to every challenge put to him, making it to the upper minors in just two short seasons, an unprecedented feat, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility for this offensive minded 25-year-old first baseman who has improved his balance and timing with each jump he’s made to acquire a roster spot and be used as a lefty power threat off the bench. Lusignan who came from modest beginnings in a small town in central Florida and never played above D2 before being drafted, deserves a hat tip for what he’s been able to accomplish so far and considering his level of focus and drive to succeed, likely isn’t done yet. Remember the name. You’ll could be seeing it in a Marlins lineup soon.
Brigham is a 6’, 200 pound righty out of the University Of Wisconsin. In a three year career there, he posted a collective 3.71 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP and 1.65 K/BB over 174.2 IP. His standout season occurred in his junior year when he went 7-4 with a 2.90 ERA, 11th best in the PAC12 via a 1.13 WHIP and 1.96 K/BB. That year pushed Brigham up into the top five rounds on draft boards. Ultimately the Dodgers selected him in round 4. He signed for $396K.
After finishing out his draft year season cutting his teeth in pro ball with the short A Ogden Raptors (32.2 IP, 3.58 ERA, 1.47 WHIP), Brigham skipped single A and joined the A+ Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. After 17 games and 69 innings, the assignment proved to be too difficult for the 23-year-old’s developing to-contact arsenal and he was demoted to single A Great Lakes. He appeared in just two games there, tossing seven innings before the Marlins came calling at that year’s trade deadline.
On July 30, 2015, Brigham along with Victor Araujo and Kevin Guzman were traded to the Marlins for Mat Latos and Michael Morse. Upon his change of scenery, the Marlins gave Brigham a shot at redemption at the A+ level assigning him to the Jupiter Hammerheads. Brigham responded well, tossing 33.2 innings for Jupiter and recording three straight quality outings from August 16-28, a string of outings where he allowed just one total earned run.
In 2016, Brigham once again began the season in A+. After just two starts though, he landed on the DL with a back strain. Though he was able to return a week later, Brigham wasn’t back to pitching pain free until mid June. This fact shown true in his numbers: from April 22 through May 31, Brigham went 32.1 IP with a 6.73 ERA and 1.56 WHIP.
Though he was able to avoid making another trip to the DL, Brigham didn’t make another start until June 12. Over that two week span, he appeared in just one game throwing a single inning out of the bullpen. The time off was exactly the medicine Brigham needed. Over his last 15 appearances of the season, Brigham threw 82.2 innings and held down a 2.41 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. This included a fantastic month of July in which Brigham managed a 0.33 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in five outings and 27.2 IP as well as a 3.13 ERA and 1.09 WHIP string of starts from August 13-29.
Last season, Brigham began a third season with the Hammerheads. He was performing masterfully, tossing to the tune of a 2.68 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in his first 10 starts, six of which were quality starts and all of which lasted at least five innings and contained four earned runs or less. During a 5 IP, 6 H, 1 ER outing on June 30, Brigham struck out a career high nine. Rolling along and undoubtedly making sure to keep his phone charged and close, Brogham was derailed on July 25 when during a start, he suffered an oblique strain in his throwing arm. The injury would cost him the rest of the season. These unfortunately weren’t untested waters for Brigham. In 2012, he missed nearly his entire freshman year of college after undergoing Tommy John.
After resuming throwing mid-offseason, despite another injury to an already surgically repaired arm, Brigham showed up at camp this season and was a mirror image of the pitcher he was eight months ago, maintaining his 94-96 mph velo and his outpitch slider while continuing to rebuild his changeup. Despite the missed time, coaches saw enough to start Brigham off in AA this season.
From his rocker step delivery and high 3/4 slot, Brigham has consistently flashed a good moving two-seamer with good sinking life down in the zone and an even better hard and snappy 86-88 mph slider with lateral run to his glove side that can get downright nasty when he’s ahead in the count and hitting his release point. Alternatively, the immaturity of Brigham’s changeup is what has held him back as a prospect. Last season though, the pitch looked to take a huge leap forward as he gained a better feel for the grip and gained the ability to let the pitch float off the tips of his fingers, adding spin and depth. Mixing it in much more rather than just using it as a waste pitch, it complimented his inside-out fastball/slider combo perfectly. While he still doesn’t have the consistency to pitch off the changeup, he’s using it with much more confidence and shows the ability to hit spots all around the plate. If he shows more dependable control of the change this season and manages to stay healthy, the 26-year-old Brigham could become a Major League ready starter, something I commonly found within the Marlins very young organization this season.
Duval is a massively built righty that had quite the whirlwind start to his baseball career, playing all over the country and making the shift from an offensive first to defensive first player. After attending community college in San Luis Obispo, California, Duval played Division 1 ball at the University Of Hawaii. In 2012, the infielder hit .186/.255/.271. For Duval, the subpar season was disheartening considering how much work he would put in and how much of an infatuation he had with swinging the bat.
“I loved hitting. And when I say “loved”, I mean that in college, there was nobody that would spend more time in the batting cage than me,” Duval said. “It was therapeutic for me. But no matter how hard I worked, I struggled in games.”
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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