Tagged: Justin Nicolino

2017 Spring Training Power Rankings

We are eight games in to the 27 game spring training ledger and Opening Day roster battles are in full swing. Here is a look at who’s hot and who’s not in Marlins camp among those vying to have their name announced and line up along Marlins’ Park’s baselines on April 11.

Fourth Bench Spot

Miguel Rojas Hitting .375/.353/.813 in first eight games, 16 AB and has most recent MLB experience. Also has the most positional flexibility with eligibility at first, second, third, shortstop and left field. He suffered an injury this week when a throw to second from Tomas Telis took a bad hop off wet ground and hit him in the face. He underwent concussion tests as well as other examinations. Everything came back negative. He is the odds-on favorite to win the final bench job, as long as his bat stays hot.

 

Matt Juengel The Marlins’ 24th round draft pick from 2012. After a .284/.304/.378 21 game start to the year in AA, he spent most of last season hitting .263/.325/.431 with 11 homers. His combined 132 game, .266/.322/.423 campaign was his best since his days in low A. Quite possibly the most disciplined hitter of anyone in the running for this final bench spot, he has a career 1.99 K/BB. This spring, he is off to a .313/.421/.375 start with a 3/3 K/BB and has reached in six of his 10 appearances. Primarily a rangey 3B with a decent arm but has eligibility at 1B in LF. Also has experience in CF and RF. The most positionally flexible of all candidates after Rojas, if Juengel keeps showing off his all fields plus power bat, he’ll be the next guy in line should anything go awry with the Opening Day roster.

 

Brian Anderson The Marlins’ best positional prospect is not-so-arguably enjoying the best spring of all Marlins’ NRIs. Hitting .421/.421/.789 with four doubles and a homer in his first 19 ABs, he’s reached base safely in eight of 11 games. Has also flashed great range at third especially for a 6’3″, 185 pounder due to good reads off the bat and a quick first step to the ball. Throwing arm is strong but still inaccurate as it has been throughout most of his minor league career including last season when he committed 27 errors. Also has eligibility at second base but power and size project best as future 1B.

Despite great showing this spring, he’s still only played 85 games above A ball so making the Opening Day roster is probably out of the question. However, if Anderson continues to hit in the upper minors and if the Marlins’ experiment platooning J.T. Realmuto with Justin Bour at first and sacrificing offense behind the plate by forcing A.J. Ellis into more starts doesn’t work out, Anderson, who has absolutely crushed lefties in his career in the minors (360+/.430+/.520+ including .303/.370/.500 last year) should be next in line after Rojas and Moore to platoon at 1B. Therefore, don’t be surprised if you see the 23-year-old at Marlins Park sooner rather than later.

 

Tyler Moore Signed by Miami after electing free agency from the Braves where he most recently had an injury hampered .229/.276/.375 campaign between AAA and rehabilitation rookie ball which came after he missed nearly all of 2015 due to a left ankle sprain, a fully healthy Moore has made a name for himself in a Marlins’ uniform on the early spring. Hit home runs in each of his first two spring training appearances and went on to reach base in four of his last seven appearances. Hitting .333/.368/.833 overall. Going off recent history, he is a health risk and has minimal positional flexibility, limited to 1B and LF. However, he’s a .290+ BA, .350+ OBP, .560+ SLG minor league bat against lefties who could serve as a platoon partner at 1B and/or heavy late game bat at some point this season.

 

Matt den Dekker Fifth round signee by the Mets out of the University of Florida and the SEC in 2010. Once a highly regarded prospect but suffered the fate of a quadruple A player, hitting .272/.339/.440 in his MiLB career but just .236/.318/.359 in his 154 game Major League career thus far. Released by the Nationals after being DFA’d and outrighted last year; signed with the Marlins as a free agent. With a career .988 fielding percentage and a 2.27 range factor on top of 29 assists, den Dekker is a more than solid defensive center fielder who also has eligibility at the corner outfield spots. Has sub-par career numbers anywhere above the AA level. Performed decently early in spring, reaching base in five of his first 11 appearances but starting games for Christian Yelich who is playing in the WBC, has since gone ice cold, going 0 for his last 8. Will need to pick it up a bit with the bat but his defensive prowess makes him a candidate to crack the Opening Day roster as a late game replacement and lefty bat off the bench.

 

Yefri Perez The fastest man the Marlins have ever seen as he proved last year when he made his MLB debut, nearly exclusively as a pinch runner, getting just two turns to bat in 12 game appearances. Next to Rojas, he has the most positional availability out of anyone going out for this roster spot, eligible at second, short, left and center. However, he’s just 2-17 this spring. He should be included in the next round of cuts. That being said, Yefri vastly improved his patience at the plate last year in AA, improving his walk rate to 10.3%, nearly double the 5.5% mark he posted in A+ in 2015. Preceeding that, he also had a great showing in the Arizona Fall League, slashing .270/.349/.297 with a 10.8% walk rate and of course, in true Yefri fashion, seven steals in 18 games. Despite getting just the two ABs, it would appear as though being in a MLB clubhouse worked wonders for the speedster who will return to AA this year. Should he continue to find his way on base as a Jumbo Shrimp, the 26-year-old could be back with the Marlins sometime this year, this time in a much more complete bench player capacity.

 

Brandon Barnes Minor league free agent signee who has had a respectable power producing .260/.320/.437, 99 homer minor league career but translated it to just a .242/.289/.356 major league career in which he has posted a putrid 5.6 K/BB% over 1,153 ABs. 2-19 with eight Ks so far in spring training. Limited to the outfield. He along with his many tattoos will be sent to AAA shortly.

 

Fifth Starter

Dan Straily The return piece in the Marlins’ late offseason trade that was very fortunate to have the season he had last year in Cincinatti. His luck was first proven by his ability to somehow hold down a 2.90 ERA by way of a .197 BAA and a .212 BABIP at one of the most hitter friendly parks in the league (versus a much more Dan Straily like and much more realistic 4.70 ERA via a .242 BAA and .269 BABIP on the road). This spring, his luck last year is being proven by his early allowance of four runs off two homers in just 2.2 IP. Since he came at the expense of the Marlins’ second best pitching prospect Luis Castillo, he will probably be given a long leash and stick around until the very end of spring training, but with a straight fastball that barely touches 90 and breaking pitches which he can’t command low in the zone, Straily will either start the season in AAA or be sent there not long after the season starts, the product of another doozy by Michael Hill.

 

Jarlin Garcia The Marlins’ third best pitching prospect entering 2017, he missed time with an injury in 2016 when the Marlins called him up to the majors following a 4.04 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, .239 BAA start just to keep him on the bench for nine days. Upon his return to AA, the Suns tried to ease him back into action but his second time back out, he went down with an injury that would cost him two months. He spent the rest of the season in the GCL and in Jupiter getting back in to shape. He arrived at spring training this year back at 100% and has had a good start (albeit in very limited action), not allowing a run over his first three appearances, all which lasted a single inning. He’s fun to watch on the mound, winding up slowly before exploding through his delivery which generates mid-upper 90s heat. He shows a good velo range, dropping his piggybacking changeup and best breaking pitch down about 10 miles an hour and mixes in a power curve which he needs to develop a better feel for and throw it from more consistent release points. The Marlins are probably going to take it easy with Garcia who has thrown in just 16 games above A ball. However, while it is possible that Garcia’s long term future is in the bullpen, the Marlins, with very little MLB ready rotational depth to speak of, could give Garcia a shot at the back end if he gets back on track in the upper minors to start the year and as soon as the Dan Straily experiment fails.

 

Justin Nicolino 6’3″ 200 pound lefty who was once a promising prospect, appearing inside the Marlins’ top 10 prospects every year from 2013-2015. Made his MLB debut in the last of those seasons, tossing to the tune of a decent 4.01 ERA and 1.24 in 12 starts. Started 2016 in AAA where he was very good. Despite a somewhat embellished 4.13 ERA, he held down a 1.18 WHIP and a 49/13 K/BB, warranting another call to the majors. However, upon his second arrival in as many years in Miami, that’s when Nicolino took a turn for the worst. In 18 games (13 starts) and 79.1 IP with the Marlins, he was lit up to the tune of a 4.99 ERA by way of a .307 BAA and 1.46 WHIP. He walked 20 while striking out just 37. His woes have continued this early spring as he’s allowed six runs on nine hits in 4.1 innings. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why things have gone so far downhill for Nicolino. His reputation for having impeccable control has followed him to the majors where he limited walks to 2.4 per nine innings in 2015 and improved that metric slightly to 2.4 in 2016.


One explanation for his struggles though may lie in his command. Not being a guy who is going to blow any of his pitches which barely reach 90 past anyone, Nicolino has to be a guy who keeps the ball low in order to generate weak contact. Most of the way through the minors and in his first 12 MLB appearances, the 6’3″ hurler, throwing from a downward plane, did that advantageously. However, according to his heat maps, this past year, he threw from a much more vertical stature and hit the middle and upper half of the zone much more frequently, leading his 22.7% soft contact rate to drop to 15.4%, his medium contact rate to rise from 47.1% to 51.7% and his hard contact rate to jump from 30.2% to 32.9%. He’s still just 25 so his stone isn’t cast and there’s still time for him to go to the minors and rectify his delivery problems. However, the ceiling he once had as a top end starter is probably out of reach. At this point, he’s more of a 4-5 starter or even more realistically, a long relief bullpen option.

 

Jeff Locke Acquired in the offseason as a free agent from the Pirates. A 3.63 ERA, 1.271 WHIP, 3.22 career minor leaguer, had a solid first full season in the majors in 2013, posting a 10-7 record in 30 starts with a 3.52 ERA via a 4.03 FIP and making the All-Star Game. However, that’s also when his control problems began. Having never posted a walk rate above 3% in his career, that metric ballooned to nearly 5%. In 2014, Locke was in the strike zone much more often but judging by his walk rate shrinking down to 2.74% but judging by his allowance of more than a homer per nine innings and on 13% of his fly balls, he was getting way too much of the zone. You wouldn’t know it if you judged him by his 4.49 ERA but going on his peripherals, 2015 was Locke’s best season. That year, his walk rate normalized back to 3.21 but his K rate improved to 6.9%, a MLB career high, his HR/9 shrunk back down to 0.8. Despite a heightened .312 BABIP, he held down a 3.95 FIP and was a 1.6 WAR pitcher. Locke’s slow but steady improvement in getting his walks in check while also improving his command to become the guy he was two years ago can be attributed to then Pirates’ special assistant to the GM and renowned “pitcher whisperer”, Jim Benedict. It is that version of Locke the Marlins hope can be brought back by Benedict who was hired away from the Pirates by Miami last year. What the Marlins don’t to see is the Locke that struggled mightily without Benedict last season, the Locke that only struck out 5% of his hitters while walking 3.3% of them, allowed hard contact at a career high 30% rate while inducing weak contact outs at a career low 16% rate, and had a 5.44 ERA (seventh highest in baseball) by way of a 4.84 FIP and 1.53 WHIP (10th highest in MLB).

It was the Marlins’ hope when signing Locke that being reunited with Benedict would bring Locke circa 2015 back but this spring, it hasn’t happened. A lot of the reason for that is because Locke suffered a throwing shoulder injury early in spring training workouts that required an MRI and revealed tendinitis. However, since starting to throw again last week, Locke has apparently not shown much, causing Don Mattingly to label him as “a guy we just don’t think is ready“. Even though he just arrived in Miami and hasn’t thrown much since doing so, there’s still doubt surrounding the possibility of even Benedict fixing the 29-year-old for a second time, at least in getting him back into rotational capacity.

While he may never get back into a MLB rotation, Locke isn’t a complete lost cause. Despite his overall horrible 2016, he finished the year in the bullpen where he held down respectable numbers, including a 3.38 ERA and a 3.0 K/BB. Though he will probably start the year in New Orleans due to all of the missed time with injury this spring, he adds another lefty arm to the Marlins’ great relief depth. After getting back in shape in AAA and hopefully making a smooth transition to a full-time pen role, a process that will undoubtedly be aided by Benedict, Locke should make his Marlins’ debut out of the pen this season with the possiblity of seeing some spot starts. As for an Opening Day job though, he’s completely out of the running.

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2016 Spring Training Power Rankings: 3/14/16

2016 Spring Training Power Rankings

Introducing my yearly spring training power rankings where I will update positional and pitching battles happening in Jupiter. Rankings are based both off of stats and off of eyewitness accounts and reports, will be updated weekly throughout the remainder of camp. Stats for this update are current as of 3/14/16.

5th Outfielder

   

Cole Gillespie


Gillespie ended the 2015 regular season with the Marlins hitting .290. He is off to a 7-14, 2/1 BB/K, RBI, SB start this spring. In the field, Gillespie didn’t commit an error in 15 games last year and is eligible at all three outfield spots. After a journeyman type AAAA career, he’s found some projectable pop, slugging .360 in AAA before slugging .428 with Marlins. It’s make it or break it time for this 31-year-old and he appears to be aware.

 

 Brady Shoemaker  

Brady Shoemaker


Here we have a guy that likely had the most personally frustrating 2015 campaign of anyone in the organization. Through the first month and a half of the season, all Shoemaker managed to do was become the Zephyrs’ best hitter by way of a .308/.390/.504 line. However, despite injuries to Christian Yelich and lackluster play by in-house options Ichiro and Michael Morse, the left-handed hitting power bat was ignored. To make matters worse, a month before Giancarlo Stanton hit the disabled list with a broken bone in his hand, Shoemaker had taken a trip to the DL himself with a similar injury, forcing the Marlins to look past him in calling up a replacement. Adding insult to injury (literally), even after he came back and picked up right where he left off hitting .279 and OBPing .346 with 11 XBHs, Shoemaker didn’t even make September callups over the likes of Jordanny Valdespin, Tom Tellis and Reid Brignac. Still, Shoemaker, being the pro he is, finished the year strong ending up with a .284/.359/.417 slash line consisting of 24 XBHs and 50 RBIs as well as a 36/49 BB/K. Although it should have come already, Shoemaker’s major league debut isn’t far away. And when it comes, it will be one that will turn heads.

 

   

Justin Maxwell


Maxwell came to the Marlins this offseason amid the speculation that the team was looking to replace Marcell Ozuna. With tensions between the team and Ozuna’s agent, Scott Boras seeming to have quited down, the 32-year-old is now in the mix for the fifth OF job. He has served in a similar capacity for much of his major league career, which spans seven seasons and 441 games over which he has hit .220/.303/.399. Most recently, he hit .209/.275/.341 in 100 games with the Giants last year. Like Gillespie, Maxwell’s career has screamed AAAA player thus far (he was a fourth round draft pick and has mashed the ball in the minors, proven by a .260/.352/.450 career MiLB line), but watching him in camp thus far, it’s been hard to tell. After showing up to camp in what looks to be great shape, Maxwell, who’s huge 6’5″ 225 pound frame screams and personifies baseball player, has already homered twice including a walk off, doubled, and knocked in four runs. While, like any power hitter, Maxwell is susceptible to the K, everything his bat touches is of the cover-tearing-off variety. His brand of pop off the bench as a late inning replacement and pinch hitter is something the Marlins missed dearly last season. As a team, they only hit .179/.258/.238 in PH situations. Add to the fact that Maxwell will be being coached by the all-time leader in pinch hits, Lenny Harris and you have a prime situation for him filling this role. Defensively, Maxwell has been equally impressive this year, twice robbing hits and once venturing in to the deepest corner of Roger Dean Stadium to rob a home run with a leap at the wall. He gets around the outfield with ease. In 79 games last year, he contributed three outfield assists and was a +5 in the DRS category. Although he has only managed to hover just above replacement level in his career thus far, Maxwell looks to have come to Marlins camp rejuvenated and driven, perhaps a sign that he knows he isn’t getting any younger. Should his early success continue, he will likely find himself pulling on a Marlins uniform on Opening Day.

 

   

Kenny Wilson

 

Having never hit more than .239 above AA, Wilson came in to camp as a bit of a longshot to do more than just gain experience with the major league squad. But after the year he had last season with the Suns and the start he has gotten off to in camp, the 26-year-old has begun to turn some heads. Following a .270/.348/.394 hitting line complimented by 37 steals (3.7 SB% above average) as well as 9 assists and a 2.45 range factor in the field, the 26-year-old has gotten off to a 3-7 start this spring, albeit in limited action. He has also shown an outfield arm well becoming of the position he is trying for by contributing 2 outfield assists and covering more than all the ground necessary to make it as a late inning replacement. If he can learn to temper his strikeout rate, Wilson, even at 26, is a guy who can still contribute very positively at the major league level.

 

   

Isaac Galloway

 

After managing to hit just .249/.278/.358 last year with the Zephyrs, Galloway is another guy who came in to camp as a bit of a longshot to win the job. Though he remains that right now, his start has been impressive. He’s gone 6 for his first 16 with two doubles and played defense becoming of the 2.84 range factor he displayed last year, covering good ground and taking good routes. With eligibility at every OF position and above average speed, this 26-year-old is very becoming of the role he is trying to fill, a late inning pinch runner and defensive replacement. However, on an even much higher scale than Wilson, Galloway could use to put his strikeout total very much in check. Last year with New Orleans, he struck out 108 times to just 18 walks. Considering he has already struck out 5 times to 0 walks this year in camp, he still remains a longshot for this or any MLB job.

 

   

Xavier Scruggs


Scruggs came to the Marlins in the offseason via a minor league contract. A right handed power bat, Scruggs has never had a problem reaching the fences and beyond, homering 20+ times in five times in his six minor league seasons above low A. However, that has also come at the price of well over 100+ Ks in each of them. In 2013 and 2014, his .376 and .370 OBPs could be attributed to BABIPs of .335 and .336. That figure dropped substantially last season to .285 and for the first time in his minor league career, his ISO did not top .200. With only 14 long balls to his name, another career low, and after a second medicore cup of coffee, the Cardinals cut him. He comes to the Marlins as a low risk, high reward signee. At 28 with just a handful of major league appearances to his credit, it’s unlikely Scruggs is going to reach the potential he once appeared to be capable of and his spring performance this far shows it. In eight games and 17 ABs, Scruggs has just two hits (one being a homer) and a 3-1 K/BB.

 

5th Starter

   

Adam Conley


Conley was one of the guys whom the Marlins were forced to turn to due to injuries in 2015. After spending just four seasons above low A in the minors, including a spectacular 19 starts with the Zephyrs in 2015 which equated to a 2.52 ERA, an 81/40 (9.4%) K/BB, a 1.17 WHIP and a 77.2 LOB%, numbers which made him the ace of New Orleans’ staff and one of the Pacific Coast League’s top hurlers, the 25-year-old lefty joined the Marlins on June 10th. Conley responded well to his first taste of MLB action, holding his ERA under 4 with a 59/21 (13.5%) K/BB over 14 games, 11 starts, and 67 IP. He was susceptible to giving up the long ball as a Marlin, allowing seven over that same span, something which the newly moved in fences at Marlins Park will definitely not help but which the improvements he’s shown this spring definitely will. After his fastball touched an average of just 91 MPH in 2015 during his time with the Fish, Conley has come in to camp flashing a heater reaching as high as 96. The pitch also has improved sinking action and allows him to get ahead far more often than not. The Conley changeup has also made some jumps by the looks of it this spring, with tighter spin and a better release point. Those pitches set up his low-70s slider which he has the ability to bury. Keeping hitters completely off-balance with his newly improved velo and the fact that he is and has historically performed better against righties, this southpaw continues to surprise and impress. Early in camp, he looks like the contender to beat.

 

   

Justin Nicolino

 

Nicolino came in to 2015 as the Marlins’ second best pitching prospect and unlike top prospect Tyler Kolek, he hasn’t disappointed so far on his minor league career but he isn’t quite there yet. Following a 14-4, 2.85, 1.07 WHIP season in AA in 2014, Nicolino made his third jump in level in as many years, reaching AAA at the age of 22. There, the pitch-to-contact finesse thrower hit a bit of a bump in the road. In 115 innings with the Zephyrs in 2015, he posted a 7-7 record, had a .294 BAA, a WHIP over 1.4, and an FIP over 4.6. Injuries to the starting rotation forced a premature MLB debut for Nicolino. In 12 starts with the Marlins, he was able to hold down a 4.01 ERA by way of a very low .259 BABIP. That said, he also gave up eight homers in 74 IP, his FIP was a heightened 4.85 and his xFIP was above 5. While Nicolino isn’t far away from being a MLB ready 3-5 starter, he lacks any sort of quality out pitch offering. Without one, his sub-90 MPH fastball, still developing changeup (although it flashes plus), and 75 MPH curve that doesn’t quite have enough downward velocity to induce swings and misses aren’t going to cut it at the major league level. That said, Nicolino is better against righties than lefties and still has plenty of time to fill out as a starter. His progression during the 2016 season with the Zephyrs will be monitored closely.

 

   

Jose Urena


Like Conley, Urena is another guy the injury-plagued Marlins were forced to turn to in 2015. Unlike Conley though, he didn’t respond well. Coming to the Fish after just 11 games and 67.2 IP above AA, Urena was tagged for a 5.25 ERA (4.64 FIP), and a 1.1% K/BB in 20 games including nine starts. While Urena has the stuff to succeed as proven by the fact that he went from rookie ball to AAA in less than five years, he’s still very green. He has both a two-seamer and a four-seamer to his credit, both sitting in the 93 MPH range. The two-seamer lacks sink and is more of a fourth pitch in the works right now. His slurvy curve is even more so of a pitch in the works. Sitting in the 80 MPH range, it doesn’t have the bite Urena would advantageously like to place on the corners and quite often floats back over the heart of the plate. The rest of his breaking arsenal consists of a slider which has made strides over the last two years and his best pitch, a mid-80’s changeup. With more experience at the AAA level, Urena has the stuff to become a worthy back of the rotation arm or late reliever but with still some potential to live up to as well as some hitches in his mechanics to iron out when it comes to his arm angle and release points, he will need at least another half to full season in the minors.

 

   

Edwin Jackson


After inexplicably waiting to sign or do much of anything until well near the end of winter, the Marlins scraped the bottom of the free agent pitchers market barrel by inking Edwin Jackson to the minimum MLB contract. Jackson comes to the Marlins following three straight dismal seasons with the Cubs, totaling 16-32 record, a 4.4 ERA, and a 1.52 WHIP over 82 games, after which he was DFA’d. At the end of last year, he joined the rebuilding Braves and tossed 24.1 relief innings. Although it’s a small sample size, those innings and the 31 relief innings he threw with the Cubs last year have been the best product Jackson has turned in in years. In those 55.2 frames, he held down a 3.07 ERA and a 1.168 WHIP. Coming down the stretch of a long 15 year career, Jackson no longer has much value outside of that capacity. That said, his stuff retained the best velo it’s had since 2012 last year. Though he is not what he once was by any stretch of the imagination whatsoever and has less of an outside chance of making the rotation especially after giving up five runs in his first two spring innings, the veteran is a class act, a good clubhouse guy and can still contribute positively in a 2-3 inning role out of the pen.