Due to both offseason trades and the many promotions from last year’s great 75-61 Grasshoppers team, many Marlins draftees from the last two years look to make their presence felt in their first full season of pro ball this year. It’s a young squad and in most aspects a pretty raw one but with talent such as Jose Devers, J.C. Millan, Brayan Hernandez, Remey Reed and Brady Puckett on board, there’s plenty to be excited about this year in Greensboro.
.246/.321/.356, 70 HR, 414 XBH, 2.81 K/BB, 135 SB
1184.2 IP, 3.67 ERA, 1.205 WHIP, 3.34 K/BB
At all levels of the minors and especially in the lower levels, the focus is not on winning but rather justifiably on development. However, at any level of sport, in regards to a player’s intangibles such as his/her psyche and drive to succeed, there are few things more valuable than being on the victorious side of games. In his first year at the helm in Greensboro, Todd Pratt proved that, partnering wins with positive growth in perfect harmony. While compiling a 75-61 record, second best in the South Atlantic League and bringing the Hoppers to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, Pratt saw upwards of 10 players graduate to the next level. According to third baseman James Nelson who was a Sally League All-Star and MVP candidate and second place finisher for the batting title via a .309/.354/.456 slash line as well as a very likely promotee this season, Pratt was able to do so by managing a carefree, loose clubhouse and by so doing, successfully shielding his club from any brand of unwarranted pressure.
“Pratt is one of the coolest coaches I’ve had the pleasure to play for. He keeps the game fun but it gets serious if things aren’t how they are suppose to be,” Nelson said. “The clubhouse has a lot of laid back vibes. Baseball is already hard and he doesn’t want to make it harder by stressing out after losses.”
J.C. Millan echoes his teammates sentiments.
“Pratt is awesome overall. On the field and of the field, he lets us go out and play and have fun. He’s always going to be in a great mood no matter what and that always motivates us to always enjoy the game just like he enjoys his job as a manager,” Millan said. “He likes to do everything the right way and he is always encouraging us to play hard no matter what the circumstances are.”
Rounding out Pratt’s staff will be hitting coach Frank Moore who oversaw the Sally’s best team walk rate of 10% and a .246/.321/.356 slash line last year. Returning pitching coach Mark DiFelice managed the Grasshoppers staff to a 3.66 ERA by way of a 1.20 WHIP, third best in the Sally League. Their 3.35 K/BB also ranked third.
SS Jose Devers
LF Michael Donadio
RF Isael Soto
DH/1B Lazaro Alonso
CF Brayan Hernandez
1B/DH Eric Gutierrez
2B J.C. Millan
3B Micah Brown
C Jared Barnes
Devers is a 2017 Yankee’s draftee who came to the Marlins in the trade for Giancarlo Stanton. He was acquired as a distant second piece compared to his former teammate, fireballing hurler Jorge Guzman. However, judging by what he showed both last season and this year in camp, there may be more ceiling value than currently meets the eye.
Despite averaging just .246 last year, Devers at just 17 years old last year, OBP’d .359. He did so by exhibiting the brand of strike zone knowledge of a Major League ready leadoff hitter, a tool many pros find too difficult to come by. What’s more is he was able to accomplish this against pitchers who were on average, nearly four years his elder. Devers coupled his selective offensive approach with even more impressive work in the field where he shows good range to both sides, amazing athleticism and a strong and accurate throwing arm. He has the ability to dazzle with the glove and make “how did he do that?” type plays regularly, going completely across his body with jump throws and showing lightning quick transfer tools after flashing just as fast a reaction time and first step to the ball off the bat. Devers rounds out his game with absolutely blazing speed on the bass paths that allowed him 15 steals last year at a positively alarming 85% success rate.
A tall and lanky 6’0” 155, Devers in both stature and skill set bears a striking resemblance to Elvis Andrus who hit a similar .265/.324/.362 in his age 17 season in A ball and who is a +9.9 career dWAR player. Devers, who will turn 18 in December, has a bit of work to do in the areas of bat speed and overall physical approach in terms of weight transfer and balance but that should come as his body fills out. Watching him play and go 100% every time he’s on the field, it’s easy to see why he was a favorite of former Yankees farm director turned Marlins farm director Gary Denbo and a target of his this offseason. Expect Devers to get a long and healthy amount of attention by the organization going forward starting this season in Greensboro.
LF Michael Donadio
2017 – A- – 31 G, .278/.407/.392, 8 XBH, 13 RBI, 23/16 K/BB
Donadio is a 2017 Marlins draft pick who had a beastly collegiate career at St. John’s. As a member of the Red Storm, Donadio hit .323/.433/.463 over a four year career including a .374/.473/.547 senior season. He was the first player in St. John’s history to earn first team All-Conference honors in each of his four seasons. Looking at his collegiate stats, there isn’t much to dislike. The only thing that may have turned him off to scouts is his lack of power (28.8 career XBH%) and his pretty pedestrian .252/.344/.313 showing against top talent in the Cape Cod League in 2015.
For whatever reason, the Marlins stole Donadio in round 30 of the 2017 Draft. From there, he finished out his season with the GCL Marlins. The change in competition level didn’t phase Donadio one bit. In his first 97 pro ABs, he hit .278/.407/.392. His OBP ranked second on the team and tied him for 17th best in the league. Donadio parlayed that performance into a great showing this spring against older talent.
Standing 6’, 195, Donadio is an athletic specimen who gets low in his left handed stance, keeps his head down and views pitches all the way to the glove. He reads pitchers well, gets in their heads and anticipates the break on pitches advantageously, fights off tough pitches and rarely lets a mistake go to waste. There’s some uppercut action to his swing which allows him to go to all fields with line drives. His favorite area to attack is straight up the middle of the box. While the extremely quick reflexes and strike zone management are extremely encouraging, Donadio is currently all arms and very little legs. Getting his lower half involved in his swing a bit more could give his game another aspect: the ability to reach fences. He’s probably never going to be a guy who hits 20+ homers but with some slight mechanical alterations, he could be a 20+ doubles threat with a great eye, making him an atypical table setter for the middle of the lineup.
In the field, Donadio flashes a good arm and good range to either side. He projects best as a top-of-the-order left fielder with room to grow into more. With projection, I like Donadio as a diamond-in-the-rough type draft selection and a candidate to skip Batavia and start with the Hoppers this season. If he’s not in North Carolina on Opening Day, he will definitely be there at some point this year.
RF Isael Soto
2017 – DNP (injury)
Soto is a Marlins’ 2013 international signee out of the Dominican looking to reestablish his prospect status after missing all of 2017 with a broken foot. It was the second time he’s missed significant time. In 2015, he missed almost the entire season with a torn meniscus. Once as high as the Marlins’ #8 prospect, his future is in some serious doubt due to his inability to stay healthy.
At the plate, Soto makes up for fairly limited size (6’0”, 190) by showing awesome bat speed and a short barrel path to the ball, giving him plus plus power upside. However, he’s far too aggressive early in at bats and his approach carries tons of swing and miss potential with it as proven by his 115/43 K/BB in 2016. His plate vision and over-commitment to swings need to make some huge leaps if he is to reach his ceiling as a potential frequent fence finding threat with a plus defensive arm in right field. However, with all the time he’s missed, that ceiling is starting to slip away. Entering his age 22 season still in low A, he’s starting to enter make it or break it territory.
Lazaro Alonso is an interesting backstory. Once regarded as the eighth best prospect in Cuba by way of a great breakout .299/.436/.494 showing in the island’s national series and a .395/.495/.535 campaign in 2016 season in its 23-and-under league, Alonso joined the Marlins in the 2016 International Draft, the same draft that held picks such as Yoan Moncada and Yasiel Puig. While he is very much their inferior in terms of service time and MLB readiness, Alonso had a great showing in Batavia last year as he adjusted to stateside ball by hitting .255/.366/.348 with a 56/37 K/BB.
As you may guess by looking at Alonso who stands 6’3”, 230, he owns ridiculous raw power. However, the word raw should be emphasized here. As decent as he was in his introduction to pro ball, he has tons of work to do mechanically. His biggest issue is an off-balanced load spurred by a faulty power transfer stance in which he bends his back leg in and his front leg out. It looks as uncomfortable physically as it projects statistically at the upper levels. While he can rope pitches on the inner half, he gets handcuffed on pitches on the outer half and gets caught reaching, often falling off to the plate side, leading to weak contact outs. If he can be coached to close his stance, cover the plate more advantageously and go to his opposite field, he has the swing selectiveness, batter’s eye and muscle to be at least a 20/20 threat while also posting a good OBP. A heady hitter who lets his natural tools work for him and doesn’t try to overpursue, I like Alonso as a very under-the-radar candidate to come out of virtually nowhere and make a name for himself.
CF Brayan Hernandez
2017 – A-/AAA – .263/.309/.406, 14 XBH, 42/10 K/BB
Hernandez, the main return piece in the David Phelps trade with the Mariners hails from Venezuela. A .252/.306/.408 hitter in 28 games with the Everett AquaSox, he finished his season out with the Muckdogs hitting a very similar .271/.302/.407 in 15 games. Though he is scouted as a potential five tool threat, Hernandez has a way to go if he hopes to reach that ceiling both in physical and mental growth. Just a 6’2”, 175 pound 20-year-old, hope is that Hernandez is simply a late bloomer both physically as well as mechanically and mentally. Playing in the Mariners organization probably hasn’t helped the right fielder who has a career 5.7 walk rate and 21.1 K rate. Seattle hasn’t graduated a top-tier outfield talent since it assisted with Adam Jones prior to his trade to the Orioles in 2008.
Two things will be needed if Hernandez is going to reach his ceiling as a complete talent: a rigorous new training regiment centered around adding muscle and a supreme focus on improving his recognition of breaking pitches. He also has a bad habit of trying to do too much on pitches on the outer half, trying to pull them instead of going with them.
In the field and on the bases, there is little to dislike about Hernandez’s games. He has plus speed with good instincts and the ability to cover all necessary ground at all three spots. He projects best as a center fielder but given the current scope of the Marlins minor league system, he will probably start seeing more time in right field. Entering his age 21 season, Hernandez still has time to reach his Odubel Herrera-esque ceiling but if that is to become a reality, he will need to start making progressive advancements towards it this year.
Millan, a Cuba native, spent his high school and collegiate years locally in South Florida. After attending high school at Brito Academy, he was a standout in a single season at Broward College where he hit .324/.407/.443 where his batting average, OBP and .850 OPS all ranked top five in his conference. He also swiped 18 bags, second in the conference. Prior to the 2016 MLB Draft, the Marlins signed Millan as a free agent. After breaking in in the GCL that year, Millan began to show positive adjustments to the wood bat professional ranks last year when he hit .273/.304/.402 in 44 games in Batavia and earned himself a cup of coffee with the Grasshoppers at the end of the season. But as excited as he was to enjoy the success he did, Millan knows it was the beginning of a lengthy ride and that there’s still tons of work to be done, starting immediately.
“2017 was a good start for me but that’s already in the past,” Millan said. “This year is a fresh start. I’m excited to get back on the field and get rolling.”
Millan participated in camp this year on the main backfields and against the highest competition on low A-high A camp days, sometimes against competition as high as A+ and, by my estimation, looked great. He collected a few hits and made all the plays necessary of him in the field. Millan credits his readiness for his first full pro season to the cup of coffee he got in Greensboro at the end of last year, even though initially, it was a bit of a sharp learning curve, adjusting to both his competition and surroundings.
“Greensboro was great for me even though it didn’t come out how I wanted.” Millan said. “The speed of the game took over me the first week I went up. It was first time I got to play at such a nice stadium. But those were all learning experiences that I had to go through and I will be prepared for the upcoming season.”
Regarding how he is feeling heading into by far the most extensive season of his baseball career, Millan believes he is well prepared and is focused well focused on keeping his body at 100% capacity. With a lot of familiar faces around from his time in Batavia last year, he also believes there will be great camaraderie from the get go.
“I’m excited for this full season. I got a little taste of how it was going to be and it’s going to be a fun ride with all the guys I’ve played with,” Millan said. “It’s just a matter of staying healthy all year and going out everyday to give it your best.”
Millan is a 6’0”, 185 pound athletic specimen who swings from a preloaded split stance that stretches nearly the entire frame of the batters box. With slight bend in his back leg and a short stride to the ball, he generates good line drive contact from the barrel. He’s aggressive in the fact that he likes to crowd the inner half and shows good ability to get extended to pitches on the outer half. He could use to find more strength in his hands to fight off pitches high and in but his hands are still quick enough to get around on them. During his time in Greensboro last year, as he stated, was getting accustomed to the quicker pace of play, the speed of the field and the much higher level of competition. However, all of those are things that will and have already started to come with more innings and more at bats.
Heading into this season, I really like Millan to surprise a lot of people as a catalytic type singles threat with good foundational patience and mechanics and good footwork and range to either side in the field, and plus plus speed on the base paths. A potential ceiling leadoff threat and 20+ base stealer while hitting for a plus average, he’s a great story out of Cuba, reminiscent of Jose Fernandez with similar compete level who shouldn’t be slept on.
SP Tyler Kolek
SP Remey Reed
SP Tyler Braley
SP Brady Puckett
SP Brandon Miller
CL Colton Hock
2017 – A- (rehab) – 3.2 IP, 29.45 ERA, 4.91 WHIP, 0.07 K/BB
If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it is. After missing all of 2016 and nearly all of 2017 with Tommy John, Kolek will make his return to the Grasshoppers this season. A prized first round draft pick, second overall by the Marlins in 2014 after he wowed scouts by hitting as high as 103 mph as a high schooler, Kolek’s career so far has been an unbridled disaster that has cost the Marlins $6,000,000 in signing money.
After signing in 2014, the first two years of Kolek’s career were underwhelming at best. He showed similar plus velocity on his heat that he was valued for pre-draft (though he rarely hit triple digits and was definitely overthrowing when he did) but the pitch was dead straight. Each of Kolek’s secondary offerings were very immature to the level they were barely existent. He showed the beginnings of a 86-88 mph changeup and a similar velo slider but the release points are very inconsistent and he looks very uncomfortable throwing each of them. Another mechanical issue for Kolek was repeatability stemming from very little action in his lower half. Instead, Kolek appeared to be all arm, failing to push off the rubber and failing to throw downhill which is definitely what led to his arm being blown out.
Now 21 and returning from major injury, Kolek, who enjoyed very little pro success, will need to completely rebrand both his arsenal and tools if he hopes to succeed as a big leaguer. Can he do it? The answer is time will tell. What is undoubtedly evident is that Kolek has the compete level and drive to do so. However, it takes a special individual to become a different player at this point in his career. While such a high draft pick will be given every chance to do so, I suspect Kolek’s big league future lies in the bullpen.
A Marlins’ 6th rounder in 2016, Reed held down a 2.66 ERA in 122 innings at Division I Oklahoma State mostly out of the bullpen, Reed saw extensive time as a starter with Batavia last year, proving the Marlins are tabbing him as a future rotational candidate. Reed performed fairly well in this interview of sorts, especially considering they came in his first season as a professional. In his eleven starts, he held down a 4.15 ERA with a 42/12 K/BB over 43.1 IP. The highlight was a 6 inning 2 hit shutout in his second-to-last outing of the year against Mahoning Valley in which 47 of his 77 pitches went for strikes.
Reed is a massive 6’5” 230 which would make him the fourth tallest pitcher to ever throw in a Marlins uniform behind only John Rauch, Chris Volstad, Andrew Miller and Josh Johnson. The biggest knock on Reed’s game so far in his career is that he hasn’t been able to use his great size to his advantage. Rather than using his long limbs to generate plus velo, he is a slow and deliberate worker with an arsenal that matches. Rarely touching 90, he releases late from a high over the top slot without much deception in his delivery. He commands his fastball well and it has a flash of late life to it but each of his secondaries, an 83-86 mph changeup, an 86-88 mph slider and a slow 71-74 12-6 curve are very unpolished. He has the profile to pitch deep in games and be an effective low-effort innings eating starter but he will need to develop a better feel for his offspeed stuff. If he can modify his mechanics to include better lower body involvement, his ceiling could be that of a 2-3 starter. Right now though, with a lot of arms ahead of him in a similar time frame, he projects best as a reliever.
2017 – A- – 49 IP, 2.92 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 35/9 K/BB
Puckett is another huge specimen — 6’8, 220 — which would make him the second tallest hurler in Marlins history
Here, there’s a ton of plus projection. Though the Lipscomb University alum is another guy that won’t wow with velo, Puckett, 22, already owns a plus-plus secondary offerings on top of a good lively arm side running heater. He gets his size involved in his delivery well, leaning slightly to his arm side, creating a downward plane and throwing from a high 3/4 slot, making him incredibly difficult to pick up. Everything is commanded well on the lower half creating advantageous weak contact, and plenty of late swings, setting up the out pitch slider which has the capacity to be downright unfair when he’s painting the corners with it. From his high release point, the pitch planes down and sweeps to the corner with extremely late life. It’s a plus-plus pitch at this point and by far his best offering. Regarding the pitch, Puckett says he can throw it multiple ways. Depending on how good it is daily, he is able to hit both his arm side and inside opposite corners, giving it more of a cut fastball profile.
“I like to call it a cutter but some days it moves more like a slider,” Puckett said. “I’m pretty confident in it. I like to throw it to both left handed and right handed hitters.”
He also owns a solid 85 mph changeup that shows good depth and the beginnings of a slow curveball that shows flashes but at this point is just a mix-in.
A master at inside-outing hitters and working the entire zone when he is on, Puckett projects very well as a back end starter. He could use to improve a bit in terms of location consistency. Puckett says that trouble arises when he lets pressure get to him, leading to a tendency to overthrow. But he has a plan to remedy that issue.
“Whenever I try to throw the ball real hard is when I get myself into trouble,” Puckett said. “I just need to stay within myself and think miss smaller, not throw harder.”
Though he is headed into his first full professional season, Puckett says his past two years of work have made he and his body well equipped for the rigors of a large amount of work.
“The past 2 years I have thrown around 150 innings each year so I’m hoping that will help my body be prepared for a full season,” Puckett said.
Even though can be quite hittable when he doesn’t have his best stuff and is catching too much plate, he shows the ability to adjust and still does enough to limit damage. A guy who already has good command of two plus pitches, is developing two more, uses size by creating downward action and deception and has improving command, Puckett profiles as a good mix of a strikeout guy and limited contact guy. A hurler who can get outs multiple ways, I like Puckett to reach a ceiling somewhere comparable to Brandon McCarthy, a career 3.97 FIP, 2.97 K/BB starter.
.226/.307/.342, 56 HR, 375 XBH, 152 SB, 2.9 K/BB
1191 IP, 3.86 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 3.10 K/BB
2015 Team Stats
69 HR/302 XBH
1203 IP, 3.40 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
LF Kyle Barrett
RF Dalton Wheat
CF Stone Garrett
DH Isael Soto
2B Justin Twine
C Korey Dunbar
3B J.J. Gould
SS Giovanny Alfonzo
The 2016 regular season wasn’t exactly a great time for Stone Garrett. On top of hitting just .213/.265/.371 on the field, the first baseman got into a bit of a pickle off the field when he had his finger cut nearly off by former teammate, Josh Naylor during the enactment of a practical joke. But Garrett refused to end his 2016 calendar year in baseball like that. At the end of the MiLB season, he accepted an invitation to join the Sydney Bluesox of the Australian Baseball League. There, he has produced numbers much more becoming of an organizational top five prospect, hitting .258/.302/.430. It is that brand of baseball Garrett will hope to continue playing and build upon when he comes back to America. There, in upstate North Carolina, he will join fellow returnees from 2016 such as Kyle Barrett, Isael Soto, Cody Poteet, Tyler Kolek and Justin Jacome as well as newcomers to full season affiliated ball Dalton Wheat, J.J. Gould and Brett Lilek in making up new head coach Todd Pratt’s 2017 Opening Day lineup for the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
Coming off a .297/.352/.581 season in Batavia, a year which saw him become the all-around best bat in the New York Penn League by way of a .933 OPS, the Marlins had very high hopes for Garrett in his first year in full season ball in 2015. Despite suffering an injury right at the end of the 2015 short season that caused him to cease baseball activities for that entire offseason and caused him to miss the first 16 games of 2016, Garrett was still able to come back and hit .244/.303/.450 in his first 35 games with the Hoppers. Then, following Greensboro’s June 1 game in Lexington, Garrett was injured in a freak accident by his then teammate, roommate and fellow top 10 organizational prospect Josh Naylor during a prank that according to Marlins’ president of baseball operations, Mike Hill, “went a little too far.” The injury was a near severing of the thumb on Garrett’s dominant right hand that required corrective surgery. He would miss a full month’s worth of action.
Garrett was well enough to return Greensboro on August 16 after a very short three game stint in the Gulf Coast League, but with the strength still very gradually returning to both of his injured hands, especially his more recently gimpy dominant right hand, Garrett was pretty much on an extended rehab assignment and it showed. Over the final 17 games of the Grasshoppers’ season, Garrett hit just .152/.188/.212 with a 24/3 K/BB.
As skimpy as those numbers look, Garrett did show some light at the end of the long tunnel he has traveled down with the injury bug attached to him at the end of the MiLB season, going 7 for 31 in his final nine games including his only homer his second half and first in over a month on August 30. In his tenure with the Sydney Bluesox in Australia this year, that light has gotten much brighter and it would appear as though Garrett is finally back near 100% headed into 2017. This is evidenced by a .258/.301/.445 slash line along with seven homers, most in the ABL, the fact that he at one point had 13 game hit streak and the fact that he has hit in 31 of his 39 games played. The strikeouts have continued to pile up for Garrett as he owns a 44/7 K/BB in Australia and while he is a power hitting free swinger, this is the area of his game he will need to temper if he hopes to succeed in the upper minors. Garrett can do this by improving his plate vision including doing a better job picking up pitches out of the opposition’s hand and not committing too early to a swing. Garrett has good mechanics which he worked on diligently as he came into the pros but right now, he is still all hands and arms. He stays back on the ball wall as he stands near the very back of the box, advantageous for a fly ball hitter, but he needs to work on getting his lower half more involved in his follow through and acquire the ability to transfer his weight from his back leg as he strides through the ball via active hips. If he does so and does not need to rely so much on his upper half, his true power potential which is still being realized by way of Garrett still growing into his already a 6’2″ 195 pound frame at age 21 will come to fruition much sooner. Should that occur, Garrett could turn into one of the better extra base hitting prospects in the league.
If Garrett comes back to the minors at the level he is playing the Australia, he likely won’t be with Greensboro long. It is what he does after that that will be telling of his level of maturation and status as a prospect. While this is far from a make it or break it season for the 21-year-old Garrett, it is a barometer for how far he could potentially go as a prospect. Should Garrett clean up his patience and get his legs more involved in his power hitting approach, Garrett, who can play all three outfield positions but projects best as a speedy corner guy due to an average arm, should get a look in the upper minors as a 22-year-old next season.
Kyle Barrett is a 23-year-old Marlins’ 15th round pick from 2015 out of the University of Kentucky where he enjoyed a .324/.386/.391 collegiate career and wound up 22nd on UK’s all time hits list with 174. He began his career in short season Batavia upon being drafted in June but just four games into his pro career, he was placed on the 60 day DL with an injury. Despite missing an entire season, he re-started in full season ball last year with the Hoppers last season. Due to lingering effects from the injury, Barrett got off to a slow start in 2016, hitting just .167/.225/.181 in his first 22 games, but as he got healthier, he began to show his true potential. From May 29 to June 19, Barrett hit safely in 16 of 22 games and went from the aforementioned .167/.225/.181 slash line to a .277/.311/.297 line. Going straight from playing in 50 games a year to playing in 101, Barrett ended the season with an impressive .282, second on the team with a respectable .333 OBP and .345 SLG. He also added 17 steals, another second-best total among Hoppers. The plus speed outfielder also had a very good year defensively, recording outs in 161 of 165 total chances by way of a 1.78 range factor. He committed just three errors while seeing time at all three outfield positions.
Barrett attributes his success last season to staying calm in the face of frustration, not trying to do too much too fast and letting the game come to him.
“I didn’t have the success I wanted the whole season due to the injury,” Barrett said. “It took me some time to get my timing, but I just trusted in the process and balls started finding holes.”
Barrett, who reached base safely in 81% of his games in college and followed it up by reaching in 70% of his games in his first full season in pro ball, is a speedy kid with a quickly developing top of the order catalyst type skill set and even a bit of hidden power underneath his small 5’1″”, 185 pound frame. Where he succeeds at getting on base more often than not is with his extremely quick bat speed and ability to shorten up and fight off tough pitches from his simple straight through line drive approach. What he needs to improve in order to put himself on pace to become a complete lead off or two hole bat is the rate at which he walks. (8.1% in college and just 6.4% last year). Heading into 2017, Barrett says he is making this a priority.
“I intend to get my walks up by having deeper at bats and having a more select zone and approach at the plate,” Barrett said.
Like every ballplayer, Barrett hopes his success last year in the face of adversity will allow him to crack some national top prospect lists, but if he doesn’t, he is completely fine with flying under the radar.
“The new list comes out pretty soon so I hope I am on it. If not, nothing changes,” Barrett said. “I’ll stick to my approach and do my best to prove people wrong.”
Like Garrett, Barrett should be another guy who is a fast graduate to Jupiter within the first half of the season. It is there, playing at a level whose average player is his exact age, that the 23-year-old will prove exactly where he is as a prospect. If he is indeed left off of nationally recognized lists this year, don’t be surprised if you see his name surface next season when he enters the upper minors in Jacksonville.
Isael Soto is a Marlins’ 2014 international signee out of the Dominican Republic. He broke into the league in his signing year by flashing prodigious power, dropping a .426 SLG on the Gulf Coast League as an 18-year-old before breaking into stateside ball in 2015. However, after just 17 games, he became yet another guy who is setting up to be a 2017 Grasshopper and the third of three players covered so far that fell victim to a lengthy injury. On May 3, the Hoppers placed Soto on the DL with a meniscus injury in his left knee that would cost him almost four months. What is worse for the power hitting lefty is that it was the knee of his front foot his plant leg. He spent the rest of that season on a rehab assignment in the GCL and in single A short season Batavia.
Soto returned to the Hoppers in 2016 after an offseason worth of conditioning and was able to post a .247/.320/.399 line with nine homers, tied for most in Greensboro while avoiding serious injury, but he still couldn’t avoid the injury bug altogether. An injury to a troubled achilles tendon first cost him nine days in April then another seven in June. This time, the injury was in his back right plant leg. While the numbers Soto posted were decent enough for a 19-year-old, few of them were becoming of a top six organizational top prospect which he entered that season as, especially not his 115/43 K/BB, even for a pure power free swinger. While some of that can be blamed on the time he missed, it is more so a product of his mechanics. From a straight up and down stance in the box, Soto uses a slight front foot timing trigger — and that’s where the inclusion of his lower half in his swing ends. He has a solid uppercut power swing which he can shorten up on and which he pulls the trigger on with extremely quick bat speed. However, keeping his hips and waste stationary and not exploding through his swing at all but rather relying completely on his arms, he wastes the most powerful part of his 6’0″, 180 pound (and still growing) frame. Soto has the ability to completely clobber straight stuff but not stepping into the ball leads to him struggling mightily against anything that bends or curves, especially towards the outer half of the zone where he is a prime victim to get caught reaching across his body. Soto especially struggles against same side pitchers. This past year, he only hit lefties at a .209/.278/.313 with a 44/11 K/BB.
That’s the bad news. The good news for Soto is that he is still just 20 years old with just 192 games under his belt, games in which, though mixed with some struggles and proof that he needs to rectify his mechanics, he has shown flashes of becoming a 25-30 home run threat, especially against righties (.262/.336/.434, 7 HR, 71/32 K/BB in 2016). Similar to his offense, Soto is still very raw in the field as well. However, he has also shown the ability to hold down right field with good speed and a solid accurate arm that produces throws that carry very well. Like his antics at the plate, he has offset it by making some pretty bad errors but again, the talent it there; it just needs to be perfected.
In what was his first season in pro ball after he missed essentially a full season (minus 29 games), Soto put the building blocks in place for a breakout year in 2017. Though he fell out of the organization’s top prospect rankings, if Soto, who’s die is not cast and can still be groomed, can manage to stay healthy, get his big lower half more involved in his swing by driving off his foot through the ball with active hips into his already solid power swing, improve his plate vision especially against lefties and continue to make strides toward playing consistent defense, he could wind up in Jupiter to end the year and break back into the Marlins’ top 30 next season. Right now, I put a healthy Soto’s ceiling at a platooning righty mashing corner outfielder with an average glove and a plus arm.
As I wrote a few months ago when the Marlins signed him out of the unaffiliated independent ball ranks, Dalton Wheat comes to the Fish as one of the organization’s most intriguing prospects in more ways than one. The 23-year-old out of Wichita, Kansas comes to affiliated ball after a roller coaster two year process which saw him go from the high of finishing off a .353/.435/.531, 149 RBI, 105 SB collegiate career to the low of somehow not being selected in that year’s MLB Draft which led him to contemplate his possible life after baseball only to return to the peak of becoming the best player in all of the indy leagues. After posting a .335/.414/.403 slash line in 67 games with the Kansas City T-Bones, Wheat finally comes to the professional ranks as a Marlin.
It is safe to say that things just keep getting brighter for Wheat after he endured quite the storm that nearly forced him out of baseball altogether just a year previous, making him the embodiment of the agage, “the dawn is darkest just before the dawn”. Through everything that has happened off the field though, one thing has remained constant: Wheat’s more than solid play on the field. Despite the aforementioned setbacks, Wheat continued to show up to the park with the same positive attitude and the same great work ethic. These are just a few of the things Wheat has stuck to that made him a standout collegiate player and a spectacular semi-pro and that he hopes make him an effective pro.
Among other things that Wheat has stuck to with his “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset are the “batting” gloves he dons at the plate. An avid outdoorsman in the offseason, Wheat has had a pair of old work gloves somewhere in his truck for as long as he can remember. One day before one of his practices at Butler College, the school he broke into collegiate baseball with, a teammate came to Wheat in need of a pair of batting gloves. Wheat obliged and hit bare-handed that day only to develop a blister on one of his hands. In order to protect it from getting worse, Wheat grabbed a pair of gloves fit more for a lumberjack than a baseball player and threw them on. He’s been wearing them at the plate ever since and will continue the tradition as a Grasshopper.
“I liked the way they made me feel like I didn’t have to over grip the bat so I’ve been using them ever since,” Wheat told me two months ago. “I plan on continuing to wear them unless I’m told otherwise.”
Moving to more traditional matters, we look at Wheat’s approach and skillset. A complete hitter all throughout college and the independent leagues, he boasts a lot of above average assets but his best tools are his plate discipline that allowed him to post a .414 OBP as a T-Bone preceded by a combined .435 OBP in college and his speed which has allotted him a combined 114 steals in 135 total chances (84%). There is very little wrong with Wheat’s mechanics and approach. The 6’2″ Wheat protects a big strike zone by exhibiting great vision and patience and strong hands needed to fight off pitches inside where opposing righties traditionally like to try to jam lefties. Despite his size, Wheat yields a power swing in favor of a straight through line drive hack with snappy bat speed. From there, he lets his legs and plus plus speed do the rest in turning would-be singles into extra base hits. An aggressive baserunner with great instincts, Wheat, though he was limited to just 12 attempts last season with the T-Bones, is a 30+ stolen base threat. All of this spells out a more than solid top of the order OBP machine with fantastic run creating prowess.
Wheat’s speed continues to serve him in the field where, paired with his good arm strength, he has the ability to play all three outfield positions. He makes good reads off the bat and makes accurate throws more often than not. Wheat has played right field most regularly and due to the fact that his throws from the corner are more frequently on line and show better carry than his throws from center, that is probably where his future will be.
Scouts are placing Wheat’s professional ceiling at a fourth outfielder but should he learn how to drop down bunts for hits and develop a bit more power which are the only two things pretty much non-existent from his game right now, the 23-year-old Wheat, who is still growing into a already large athletic frame, could become a complete lefty hitting top of the order threat. For those reasons, Wheat, whose signing was barely covered this offseason and who will probably be another quick graduate to A+ which is where I and others had him starting his pro career, is one of my top organizational picks to burst onto the scene with a great season (as long as he successfully adjust to a new level of competition, which he had no problem doing going from college to the independent circuit) and force the baseball world to notice his arrival. At this time next season, I foresee there will be a lot more written about Wheat than just a few blurbs in the deep dark corners of the baseball affiliated internet.
J.J. Gould is a Marlins’ 24th round draft pick from last season out of Jacksonville University whom he joined after spending his freshman year at Florida State. As a Jacksonville Dolphin, Gould enjoyed a .303/.403/.473, 12 HR, 62 RBI, 108/55 K/BB two year career before turning pro in 2016. Between 53 games with the Muckdogs and a short 11 game stint with the Grasshoppers at the end of the year, Gould’s pro career got of to a great start in the power department. After posting team high totals in slugging, .407, homers, 6, and doubles, 15, Gould wrapped his year up by smacking three more homers in 39 ABs with Greensboro. Still growing into a 6’0″ 195 pound frame, Gould, who just recently began to tap into his power potential when he went from three homers and 12 XBH in his junior year to nine homers and 28 XBH in his senior year two seasons ago before translating that success to the pros this year, definitely has room to grow into even more plus power ability.
Gould shows fantastic potential for a fit and muscley doubles first power threat but he is plate prescence is still very raw. Often a strikeout victim even in college, his patience and vision need to be groomed at least to the point that he isn’t striking out three more times than he walks if he plans to succeed as an every day bat. If Gould can improve that area of his game, his good mechanics which include him striding through his lofty swing fluidly and transferring his weight from back to front very well from a low stance and an even 6’0″ frame which diminishes his strike zone, he will become a solid middle of the order hitter with the abiliy to extend innings and help turn lineups over.
Defensively, Gould can play short, second and third. He shows good reflexes and a good first step toward the ball off the bat which allowed him to post a 2.47 range factor last year. A part time pitcher in high school, Gould’s arm was clocked as high as 82 MPH from the mound. With maturation into his body, that velo has grown to right around the 87 MPH mark. After spending his 2015 collegiate season at shortstop where he contriubted 128 assists and was involved in 32 of the Dolphins’ 50 double plays, Gould spent most of his 2016 season at the hot corner where he contributed 61 assists in 94 total chances and a solid 2.47 range factor. Considering that in half as many games at short he contributed more errors last year (8 Es at SS vs 5 at 3B), it would appear as though Gould is more comfortable making throws directly across the diamond. That and his power potential make him a better fit at third and that is where he will probably live out his future.
1. Cody Poteet
2. Tyler Kolek
3. Brett Lilek
4. Justin Jacome
Cody Poteet is a Marlins’ fourth rounder from 2015 out of UCLA where he enjoyed a 3.91 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 2.25 K/BB three year career, including a 2.45 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 2.27 K/BB junior year which earned him his draft stock in the first five rounds and the 190th best prospect in the 2015 draft, according to BaseballAmerica. Upon his arrival in the pros, Poteet would unfortunately become another 2016 Hoppers’ returnee that would fall victim to a serious injury. At the ripe age of 20 just 12.2 innings into his Marlins’ career, Poteet was placed on the 60 day DL thereby ending his season. It was thought at the time that, like most other players who suffer such an injury at such an early stage of their career, that Poteet’s development would be seriously hampered.
However, last year in his first year in full season ball and in the first action he’d seen in nearly a full calendar year against the best competition he’s ever faced, Poteet was not only able to prove those beliefs invalid, he was able to place himself among the Marlins’ top 13 organizational prospects by having a standout season. Throwing exclusively as a starter, Poteet posted a 2.91 ERA, fifth best in the South Atlantic League among qualifiers. This came by way of a .240 BAA, 11th best in the Sally and an 8.13 K/9, good enough for 15th best among the 34 qualfying starters.
The area that Poteet struggled in and which led to him posting the Sally’s 14th highest 1.30 WHIP was limiting walks. His 2.41 K/BB ranked 22nd among the same 34 qualifiers and his 3.38 BB/9 were 13th highest. Poteet has great command of his solid four pitch arsenal when he is going well but he needs to develop more control over it as he moves through the minors to complete his game. This is the biggest of few areas of concern for the 22-year-old.
Poteet’s repertoir consists of low-mid 90s heat that possesses good late run to the corners and good bite when low in the zone, where it usually lives but can get him in trouble when he misses up or out over the plate. Poteet’s best pitch is a power slider that sits in the 83-85 MPH range and which shows great late bend away from hitters. If he hits the right arm slot, the pitch has the ability to make the opposition look silly fishing out of the zone. Poteet keeps hitters guessing by throwing in a low 80s curve which he has the ability to spin in well with hard bite and not much arc, making the slightly above average pitch a good compliment to the slider which he keeps on the outer half. Again though, when the release point is off, it can cost him. If Poteet hopes to stick as a starter, his changeup, currently a work in progress and a mid 80s offering, will need to improve in order to become a piggybacking pitch to the fastball. He began to throw the pitch much more frequently last year since developing it late in his college career. At times, it showed flashes of the capibility to become a plus offering with good deep fade. If Poteet can develop the consistent arm speed and gain more of a feel for it as he moves up in the minor league ranks, it will be a perfect early and equal count partner pitch for his faster heat and slower curve and slider.
Poteet’s delivery mechanics before release are pleasure to watch. Slow and methodical through most of his rocker step wind-up, he explodes through his downhill release with great snappy force, making him extremely difficult for hitters to time. On the downside, the powerful release is where his control problems stem from due to his tendency to overhrow, leading to the aformentioned issues with his release points and arm speed. It is getting this in check and keeping it in check as he grows into his body and possibly more velo that will be the trick for the 22-year-old. If he can, his ceiling is pretty high: 3-5 starter. If not, his floor is still that of a solid back end reliever. Due to his success last year, Poteet is another guy who should be on the move quickly if he plays the same game to begin 2016.
Tyler Kolek is the Marlins’ top overall prospect from last year who slips to number two this year after the drafting of Braxton Garrett and a lot of struggles in 2015 before missing the entire 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery. A high schooler in 2014, Kolek surged up draft boards by throwing consistently over 100 MPH, making him one of the best velo guys in MLB Draft history, according to MLB.com. After a short stint in the GCL, Kolek joined the Hoppers in 2015 to a lot of buzz but delivered very little desired results. His velo dropped from the triple digits he showed before being drafted down to the mid 90s making his fastball which can flash good downward action but is usually straight as an arrow much more hittable. Compounding the situation was the fact that neither of Kolek’s breaking pitches, his slider or his change, showed much in the way of being any more than mediocre with control of his entire arsenal absolutely putrid. This led to an ugly 81/61 K/BB or a 4.0% K/BB%, fourth worst in the Sally and a tenth highest 4.56 ERA by way of a fourth highest 4.87 FIP.
In 2015, Kolek dropped his velo from his 100+ in his pre-draft days where he threw 100+ to 94 MPH. This probably came at the request of his pro coaches who likely suggested he was too max effort all the time. That same reason compounded by an apparently irresponsible high school coach who didn’t instruct him otherwise is likely what led to discomfort and ineffectiveness in 2015 and what led to him undergoing TJ at the young age of 20. A quote from Dr. James Andrews, the world renowned quintessential expert of Tommy John, points out the carelessness of coaches at the entry levels in a quote to DriveLine Baseball by saying the following:
“It used to be that we didn’t see these injuries until they got into high-level professional baseball. But now, the majority of the injuries are either freshmen in college, or even some young kid in ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th grade in high school. These young kids are developing their bodies so quickly, and their ligament … isn’t strong enough to keep up with their body, and they’re tearing it.”
Dan Jennings, who was the Marlins’ GM when Kolek was drafted and likely one of the big reasons for Kolek being instructed not to go 100% all the time, was quoted in the same article as saying:
“You get these specialized regimens where you build large muscle groups, but not the small muscles around the rotator and UCL. The large muscles get developed so large that when you try to decelerate, you can get badly hurt.”
During the 2015 Grasshoppers’ season, Marlins’ scouting director Marc DelPiano made a comment that would seem to confirm the ideology of Kolek was going max effort at all times during his high school days, which led to the injury.
“I think all of it’s been just energy-related, so he’s kind of modified his energy. He’s not as high-effort, he’s more effortless in how he approaches things with his delivery and his release.”
So, now that we know where the injruy came from, can Kolek, who suffered the injury in the most crucuial stage of his body growth, can the ligament make a comeback and allow Kolek to live out his true potential as a prospect? Recent findings and the miracle of modern medicine suggests that he can. Where Tommy John used to be thought to be a kiss of death for pitchers, it currently holds an MLB success rate of 78% according to the Hardball Times. This means that near 80% of those who underwent the surgery were able to come back to pitch in at least one major league game. That survey was done in 2015 and the number was steadily rising. In Kolek’s case, even though a return to the mound will be very exciting and he will want to do everything he can to make up for lost time, he needs to keep things in perspective. Still just 21, there is plenty of time for him to succeed in this league and that is the wisdom that needs to be imparted on him by his coaches. It will be a new way of life for a pitcher that went full bore for four full years in high school but it is an attitude which he needs to grow accustomed to if he wants to succeed in this league. During that time, Kolek needs to develop secondary stuff to compliment his 70/80 fastball. If he can do so, he has a potential ceiling of a future ace. At the very least, a healthy Kolek has the floor of a very effective fiery closer. As a second overall draft pick, the Marlins are going to take it easy with Kolek and give him every chance to succeed. For this reason, I expect Kolek to spend most of 2017 repeating low A where he will try to complete his arsenal before a potential call to Jupiter to end the year.
Brett Lilek is the Marlins’ second round draft choice from 2015 out of the Arizona State University. There, Lilek enjoyed a fantastic collegiate career, tossing to the tune of a 3.05 ERA via a 1.22 WHIP. Lilek struggled slightly with control in his college career, leading to a 4.33 BB/9 including a 4.69 mark in his draft year which is likely what kept the standout lefty from being selected even sooner than 50th overall. However, Lilek was able to iron out those issues in his pro debut season in Batavia, posting a 43/7 K/BB and a 3.34 ERA in his first 11 games and 35 IP. On June 24, 2015, Lilek was one of three pitchers to contribute to a Muckdogs’ combined perfect game, the first in the club’s storied 76 year history. Lilek credits his success in Batavia in perfecting his logistics and thereby nailing down his control and getting his walk totals in check to his pitching coach, Brendan Sagara.
“One thing I did to channel my walks was refine my mechanics and I believe working with Sags really helped me,” Lilek said. “He helped me understand the mechanics from the bottom up and make adjustments when needed.”
With a great debut season under his belt by way of both physical and mental improvement, Lilek entered 2016 as the fifth best organizational prospect according to BaseballAmerica and looked primed to place himself on the fast track to the majors. So when he came out and tossed to the tune of very uncharacteristic numbers including a 5.06 ERA and a 16/16 K/BB in his first seven games and 16 IP, it was obvious something wasn’t quite right. On June 4, it was revealed what that something was. On that date, the Grasshoppers placed Lilek on the DL with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. He would not return for the remainder of the year. The only mound Lilek saw for the rest of the year was in extended spring training in Jupiter. As dim as that may sound, Lilek praised the positive attitude of his fellow rehabbing teammates and laments it as a huge stepping stone to healing quicker.
“While in Jupiter, it really was just everyone wanting to see one another overcome their injury and have success,” Lilek said. “Every rehab person obviously doesn’t want to be there; they want to be playing the game that we all love so dearly so really taking advantage of your time there and making the most of it really helped propel myself into the offseason.”
Lilek’s return to the mound at NewBridge Bank Park and the Sally League will come this year when he returns to North Carolina for what he hopes to be his first real look in full season ball. However, he hasn’t been waiting until then to get back on the horse. Fortunately, able to avoid surgery, Lilek has stayed as active as possible putting in all the work necessary to come back stronger than ever.
“This offseason, I trained four times a week and through accordingly to the program that was provided by the Marlins,” Lilek said. “I believe following those guidelines have put me in a great place to perform during spring training to my highest potential.”
But the amount of hours and work Lilek has put in in order to ensure a healthy comeback hasn’t only been limited to following that training regiment. After getting the go-ahead to resume on-field workouts by the Marlins, Lilek promptly flew overseas to the Dominican Republic where he has been working out individually under the watchful eye of the Marlins’ staff. Lilek touts the time he has spent in the Dominican, which has been accompanied by some fantastic climate conditions that have allowed him to get the most out of each day, as a great catalyst for getting back to and even past the 100% he was at in 2015.
“I’m down in the Dominican refining my game, working one on one with the coaches and taking full advantage of the beautiful weather that I have been blessed with during my stay.” Lilek said. “I truly believe that this time down here has helped me become stronger, and more ready for the season and spring training that is ahead of me.”
Considering he was able to avoid going under the knife and since has not wasted a single hour of any day this offseason, thus putting in all the work and then some needed to get back to the mound healthier than ever, Lilek is a great candidate to take the next step this season. Before the injury, Lilek was already 6’4″, 220 with a fantastic downhill fluid, repeatable delivery from a deceptive arm angle. His arsenal included a 94-95 MPH heater, an already plus slide piece especially for his level of development which he threw with very controlled arm speed and sweeping action to the corners that got in well on the hands of righties allowing him to use it as either a setup pitch or an out pitch and a good mix-in which also flashed plus with good fade. He had great control over all three of his pitches and, with improved command, was setting up to realize his ceiling as a back end starter and realize it quickly. If Lilek can come back completely rebuilt physically and with another year of growing into his frame in the past which could spell even more power and a rise in velo, not only could he place himself back on the same track to fulfill his potential, he could raise his stock even further. Wherever Lilek’s future lies, one thing is for sure: at just 22, he has handled the harsh reality of a season ending injury in just his second year as a pro with maturity well beyond his years and gone above and beyond the call of duty in order to get back to playing the game he admires and respects. For those reasons, Lilek is an extremely easy guy to root for. This may be the start but trust me, if things play out advantageously and his health holds up, this won’t be the last time we hear the name Brett Lilek mentioned in the same sentence as great accomplishments this season.
Projected Team Stats
75 HR/385 XBH
1,190 IP, 3.62 ERA, 1.22 WHIP
2015 Team Stats
100 HR/318 XBH
1212 IP, 4.49 ERA, 1.43 WHIP
CF John Norwood
2B Alex Fernandez Jr.
RF Stone Garrett
1B Austen Smith
DH Korey Dunbar
C Brad Haynal
SS Justin Twine
3B Brian Schales
LF Travis Brewster
It will undoubtedly be an exciting season in Greensboro this year where, along with new manager Kevin Randel, the newest cast of young stud prospects will join a plethora of improving talent for what is sure to be a Grasshoppers team worth following. Names such as Garrett, Fernandez, Dunbar and Hillyer will meet up with those such as Smith, Twine, Norwood and Kolek, fusing the 2016 Hoppers into a squad worthy of Sally League title contention.
When Stone Garrett fell to the Marlins in round eight of last year’s draft, some scouts were surprised he fell that far. In his first professional season in Batavia last year, Garrett justified that astonishment by setting the New York Penn League on fire. By way of a .297/.352/.581 slash line, the 19-year-old became the it’s best hitter. He had hits in 39 of his 58 appearances and at one point, had a hit in twelve straight games. The 6’2″, 195 pounder paced the NYPL in nearly every major power hitting category, including SLG (.581), HRs (11), XBHs (35), total bases (129), and RBIs (46).
Looking at those numbers in contrast to Garrett’s final high school season before the draft, while the potential was known to be there, it’s almost hard to believe the improvement Stone has made in just one short season. In under a year’s time and in 74 more ABs, Garrett’s BA rose 61 points, his OBP 83, points and his 311 points. In 2014 in the Gulf Coast League, he did not hit a single home run. With the single A Muckdogs, he hit 11 and his RBI total more than doubled from 11 to 29. Both scouts and Garrett himself attribute this to the fact that he learned how to utilize the lower half of his 6’2″, 195 pound frame much more efficiently.
Garrett’s huge power swing is no longer all arms. He is getting his hips and legs involved in his approach while still managing to stay behind the ball very well. He transfers his weight from his back foot to the ball like he’s been doing it for years. This has resulted in Garrett becoming a much more dangerous man at the plate. He is no longer reaching for pitches away but rather stepping into the ball and making good contact on pitches on the outer half. His quick hands are also allowing him to find the barrel on pitches inside. Ultimately, nearly everything Garrett touches is hit well and hard and the ball jumps off his bat. Though the power is there for him to reach the fences every time, Garrett maintains his discipline. He doesn’t try to do too much with pitches. Instead, he relies more on a short straight-through quick stroke and plus speed to turn hard line drives into XBHs. He has a good first step out of the box and flies down the line with sub-7 second ease. On the odd chance that he only collects a single (53% of his hits last year went for at least a double), he utilizes those jets to get in to scoring position. He swiped eight bags last season in 13 attempts. While this area of his game could use a little polishing when it comes to reading opposing pitchers, the raw talent is there for him to become a 30-30 guy. If there is one knock on Garrett’s approach, it’s that he is susceptible to breaking balls in the dirt. However, from the beginning of last season, he seems to have tempered that. After K’ing 27 times in his first 18 games, he K’d just 28 times in his final 40 games. Rounding out his game, Garrett has a strong arm on defense, worthy of manning any of the three outfield spots. His throws do tend to carry a bit but that is nothing that can’t be fixed with some TLC, maturation and consistency at one position on the way up. Stone’s speed best suits him for center field, making him quite the rare commodity: a right-handed power first oufielder with plus jets. Should the progression he showed last year continue through his first full professional season this year, this is a guy I will be very high on headed in to 2017.
Speaking on his new teammate whom he spent a few games with at the end of last season, Austen Smith echoed our excitement about this giant talent.
“I’m excited to have the chance to play with Stone again,” Smith said. “He’s such a physical specimen. He’s going to be a fun player to watch develop.”
As for Smith himself, the ever-so-modest power hitting first baseman is no light load, either nor is he without a wide variety of skills. The gargantuan 6’4″, 235 pounder will begin a second season in Greensboro but if his offseason work pays off, he will not be there long. Last year, after jumping straight from the Gulf Coast League in to his first full season, the 24-year-old’s stamina and athleticism served him well as he played in 113 of Greensboro’s 139 games, a team high. Going from 153 ABs in 2014 to 390, he was their third best hitter with a .241/.349/.431 line. He also placed second on the team in homers with 17. Smith made great strides last year when it came to maintaining his looseness, serving his pure power stroke very well. Swinging from a straight stance, the ball flies off his barrel when he makes contact with his uppercut hacks. He mashes straight stuff with ease and his best power is to dead center but as he proved last year, he can spray it to all fields. Like any pure power hitter, Smith is susceptible to the strikeout but he walks enough to offset them and still posts solid OBP totes. However, it would be nice to see Smith read breaking stuff a bit better and put some more meat on his BA. If his offseason work pays off this year, it undoubtedly will.
“I’ve worked on shortening my swing a bit,” Smith said. “Hopefully that will allow me more time to recognize pitches.”
Joining 2014 draftees Garrett and Smith will be a name that will take long-time Marlins fans on a nostalgia trip back to the mid-90s (or just make them feel old) as Alex Fernandez Jr, son of former Miami pitcher Alex Fernandez comes to Greensboro for his first taste of full-season ball. Fernandez Jr. will also man a spot on the infield; it will just be from a few feet back from where his dad did his work on the mound. Fernandez is, as you may have guessed, a South Florida resident who graduated from Archbishop McCarthy High School before graduating from Nova Southeastern University. In his undergrad days, he once hit a homer off of now Astros ace Lance McCullers. As he proved last year, it was no fluke. But first, for the defense. Arm wise, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree as Fernandez possesses a strong enough one to play virtually anywhere in the field. His ability to get in a low stance from his 5’10” build, good reads off the bat, good footwork, and soft hands make him most advantageous play at second base. In 150 innings there with the Muckdogs and GCL Marlins in 2015, he piled up a combined range factor right around 5.0, contributed to nine double plays and only committed six errors. At the plate, Fernandez’s stout build allows him to stand straight up and swing from a balanced stance. He swings with a straight through line drive stroke that surprisingly packs a bit of power behind it, especially for a guy his size, allotting the way for a SLG right at .400 last year. That said, his swing does have the tendency to get a bit long which is what contributed to a 2.8 K/BB last season with the Muckdogs. As a bottom half of the order bat with surprising power for his build and solid defense, this current version of Fernandez reminds me a lot of a young Jose Fernandez with a lot of room to improve before cracking the majors in what I predict to be 2019.
The Marlins addressed the thinnest position in the organization in last year’s draft by selecting upwards of seven backstops. One of those selections began producing immediately as a Muckdog. With the 596th overall pick, the Marlins drafted Korey Dunbar deep in the draft in round 20, his second time being selected. He was picked by the Dodgers in 2012 but elected to attend college at the University of North Carolina. After honing his craft there and improving with each passing season three times Dunbar forwent his senior year of college and joined the Muckdogs in Batavia on June 21st. In 17 games in upstate New York, Dunbar slashed .317/.406/.400 with 5 XBH and 5 RBIs, proving not only that he has the ability to improve as he matures with age but also that he has the ability to adjust to different levels of competition. Dunbar’s season in Batavia impressed the Marlins’ brass so much they gave him a jump-start on this season by promoting him to Greensboro for the end of the Hoppers’ season. He hit .238/.333/.286 with a double and 3 RBIs in 21 ABs. As a hitter, Dunbar has awesome raw power stemming from a huge uppercut swing. When he makes contact, he has good gap-to-gap strength and a knack for getting the ball at least to the wall. But there are some flaws in Dunbar’s approach that need to be rectified. Preswing, Dunbar relies far too much on his arms and not nearly enough on his legs. Looking at his swing, even on homers, he doesn’t get nearly enough of his lower half behind his stroke. Furthermore, Dunbar’s ABs rely almost exclusively on what happens on the first pitch. If he falls behind even 0-1, his ABs usually result in a strikeout which is what has led to 30/11 K/BB so far in his pro career and 2.13 K/BB in his college career. However, if Dunbar can make a few breakthrough changes in his approach and learn to be a bit more patient and not press especially on pitches away, he can turn in to a very dangerous hitter and being a power-first backstop, a very sought after commodity. The arm strength Korey uses at the plate further serves him on defense where he possesses a cannon throw. For a guy his size, he wears the gear very well and has the ability to block any pitch in the dirt. Like his offense though, his defense needs a bit of nurturing in the way that his throws tend to get a bit too much arm behind them and carry. If the trend Korey has shown so far in his career that he makes great strides on both sides of the ball every year continues, he will be a fun product to watch on the way up. I pencil him in as the DH and backup catcher to start the year in 2016.
Accordingly, I have the starting catching job falling to Brad Haynal. A third year catcher out of San Diego State where he hit .274/.341/.461 with 62 XBH and 98 RBI despite missing an entire season in 2012 due to a broken leg, forwent a red shirt college season to join the Marlins in 2014. Haynal spent most of his time in Batavia that season where he hit .271/.318/.373 with 8 XBH and 21 RBI. Last season, Haynal made strides in the area of plate presence that are nothing short of gargantuan. After piling up a dismal 51/10 K/BB in 43 games and 171 ABs in 2014, Haynal managed a 51/30 in 68 games and 248 ABs last year, paving the way for him to hit .274/.362/.407 with 21 doubles, 4 homers and 34 RBI. After placing near the bottom of the NYPL in OBP a season prior, he was the league’s 17th best in that category. With 25 of his 68 hits going for extra bases, Haynal was also the NYPL’s 17th best slugger. By trade, Haynal is a pure pull hitter, which pitchers exploited by shying far away from the inside half and pitching him as far away as possible when ahead in the count. That was until he fell under the tutelege of Rigoberto Silverio last season. Comparing hit charts and approaches, Silviero worked wonders with Haynal.
Instead of trying to turn pitches inside-out, Haynal began using his front foot trigger to point towards the ball and kept his head down much more efficiently, watching pitches all the way through. The results are evident. Where only something in the neighborhood of 17 of his ABs resulted in a ball just managing to reach the right field grass in 2014, Haynal had exactly the same amount of balls drop for contact in that vicinity, including three doubles and a homer. These improvements have made Haynal’s mechanics beautiful. As mentioned, he times pitches with an early front-foot trigger which he raises as soon as he sees the ball come out of the pitcher’s hand. He gets his lower half engaged well and snaps his hips through his swing. Perhaps his best asset though is his ability to maintain loose hands until he commits to contact. It gives his approach a great sense of fluidity and makes his slight uppercut swing look like it’s being executed with ease. He maintains a two hand grip on the bat all the way through his stroke and only raises his head after he makes contact. As a result of the work he put in with Silverio, Haynal has become a mechanically and athletically sound power hitting catcher with the ability to touch all fields. Considering his OBP and SLG both rose nearly 100 points and his BB/K more than doubled (2.5 to 5.8), it is safe to say Haynal has definitely been born again as a hitter. If Haynal can make similar progress on the defensive side of the ball where he has good raw tools that need to be harnessed, he will become quite the all-around backstop.
Along some of the rest of the infield, the Hoppers will likely welcome back shortstop Justin Twine and third baseman Brian Schales, both of whom were counted along the Marlins’ top organizational prospects last year. Unfortunately for some minor leaguers, even those who receive a lot of preseason hype, the baseball world isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Both Twine and Schales learned that last year as both of them struggled to tread water above the mendoza line and committed a combined 55 errors, causing them to drop off the top prospect radar this season in almost all circles. However, there is still plenty of talent in these two young players.
Firstly, we look at Twine. As a two sport athlete out of TCU in 2014, scouts raved about certain aspects of Twine’s game including his bat speed and athleticism neither of which were a problem last year. However, they also commented on his swing being entirely too long. That is something we saw plenty of in 2015. In addition to a weak followthrough, Twine’s footwork is way off-kilter. He uses a front foot trigger to time pitches and gets it down as the pitch arrives which is fine but as he follows through, his plant leg comes off the ground as well. This results in Twine essentially hopping in to his swings and throws everything else completely off. The product of this is an off-balance long swing, a ton of strikeouts (108 last year) and weak contact. While the raw tools and athleticism are not in question, this needs to be addressed by Silviero and the rest of the Hoppers’ staff if Twine is going to live up to his potential at the plate. Regarding Twine’s defensive game, it’s a very similar story. While he has great speed and the ability to close on anything hit in his vicinity, proven by his 4.03 range factor last year, he doesn’t always take the best routes to balls which results in hurried and off-balance throws. It was hoped that with more innings, this was something Twine would be able to correct, but after his first 1300+ pro innings it still hasn’t. For this reason and with improving his offense undoubtedly being his primary focal point, Twine may be better suited for either second base or an outfield position.
Then there is Brian Schales. After entering 2015 as the Marlins’ #16 prospect, the fourth round pick from 2014 didn’t have a terrible campaign, slashing .260/.330/.348, but hardly one becoming of that placement within the organization. While some of the reason for this can be attributed to 2015 being his first pro season, Schales’ game is definitely in need of some grooming. Schales stands in a similar stance as that of Twine, nearly straight up with a slight bend in the knees. Other than that though, Schales has far better mechanics than his fellow infielder. He engages his lower half well and has a much shorter swing, which compliments his style of slap singles hitting well. Vision wise, Schales is quite decent but he could use to get a bit better when it comes to following the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. He is late to pick up the break on pitches and while he doesn’t strike out much, he very rarely finds the barrell. If the 20-year-old can improve in that aspect, it will work wonders for the kind of hit-for-average type guy he hopes and needs to become to be a success professionally. On defense, Schales is the kind of guy that has the ability to make a fantastic play on any ball hit near him but his arm is still very immature. He tends to get on top of his throws very often, resulting in either hard-to-handle or throws far off the mark. Overall, though, there’s still plenty of talent in this young infielder and he isn’t many breakthroughs away from placing himself back near the top of the Marlins’ prospect list. With good coaching and some effort, he can place himself back on the fast track to the majors this season. Watch him closely.
1. Tyler Kolek
2. Michael Mader
3. Jordan Holloway
4. Brett Lilek
Young fireballer Tyler Kolek who topped triple digits as early as his days in high school had high hopes surrounding him as he entered 2015 as the Marlins’ top ranked prospect. Over the course of his 108.2 innings as a full-season professional, the 20-year-old had that same incredible velocity — and that’s about it. As he labored through the season and after the campaign wound up, his struggles were well documented. Here are my takeaways. In very simple terms, Kolek, right now, is a one-pitch pitcher. That one pitch is his fastball. In high school, Kolek could get by with this, putting all of his arm behind the pitch and just purely blowing it by hitters. However, as Kolek has learned, that won’t cut it in the majors. Tinkering with his delivery has cost him some MPH off his fastball and caused it to settle in to the mid-90s, usually sitting at around 93-95. The pitch has good downward movement as it is thrown from almost a completely over the top delivery and has some slight sinking action. It is the first pitch he throws in nearly every AB, as it should be. His command of the pitch is iffy but it is good enought at the moment to allow him to place it where he wants more often than not. Other than that, the rest of Kolek’s stuff is literally all over the place. He is not confident in any of the rest of his offerings, leading to a long arm action and a delivery stride in his legs that often finds him throwing from well behind the stride in his plant leg. This leads to a pitch that is nearly impossible to control and depending on where it winds up, either a very hittable pitch or a very obvious ball. Either way, his offspeed stuff is very easy on hitters’ eyes. While these are issues that can be worked out with good coaching, they are issues that deter him from the fast track making him less of an A type prospect and more like a B-C type. 2016 isn’t a make-or-break season for Kolek as he is still very young but it is a year in which we will further be able to establish his status as a prospect and where he may spot in future Marlins’ plans.
Re-joining Kolek will be his teammate from last year, Michael Mader. Mader is a 22-year-old Floridian lefty drafted with a supplemental pick in 2014. He owns a mid-90s fastball usually sitting around 93 MPH, a good biting out pitch curveball in the 80-MPH range and a solid mix-in changeup. When on, Mader was brilliant in 2015, six times topping 6 innings with one run or less. But when he was off, he was really off, six times failing to go more than 4 innings and givin up more than four runs. Mechanically, Mader is a very sound pitcher, throwing from a 3/4 delivery with a downhill stride. His fastball has been clocked as high as 95 but usually sits in the 90-92 MPH range. His best offering is undoubtedly his slurvy curve out pitch which possesses excellent late movement. The one hitch keeping the athletically build 6’0″ 200 punder away from a future rotation spot at the moment is his inconsistent command. As good as his slider can be when on, it can be equally as hittable when he isn’t. This is the biggest issue facing Mader if he hopes to make it as a starter. He could also use to further develop his third pitch changeup.
As for the third and fourth roty spots, I have both them going to newcomers from Batavia. Firstly, Jordan Holloway is a pick the Marlins took a big chance on in round 20 of the draft. By the looks of him so far, the gargantually tall 6’4″ righty has paid off. With his fastball topping out in the 93 MPH range which he has very good command over, Holloway mixes in a variety of breaking stuff, the best of which being a curve whcih spins tightly into the zone, that is provided he doesn’t get on top of it too much which should work itself out as he matures. His work-in-progress pitch is a changeup which he tosses in the mid-80s. Should that offering come to fruition as well as his hook further improving, the huge downhill thrower who makes the most of his large build is a projectable 3-5 starter with plenty of upside.
Finally, there comes lefty Brett Lilek whom the Marlins drafted in the second round last season. The now 22-year-old produced impressive results in his college career with the Arizona Sun Devils, going 10-8 with a 3.05 ERA and a 7.97 K/9 over his three seasons. Last season in Batavia, Lilek was one of the Muckdogs’ most effective hurlers, with the worst luck ever, going just 1-2 in 11 starts despite compiling a 3.34 ERA by way of a 6.14 K/BB. Lilek owns a vast variety of weapons including a 93-95 MPH heater with good downward movement and three breaking pitches including a great late-break slider, an improving curve, and a mix-in project changeup. With a 95-82 mix in velocities and the potential to become a four pitch pitcher who is athletic as they come, Lilek should be a fun peice to watch.
Projected 2016 Team Stats
82 HR/303 XBH
1185 IP, 4.02 ERA, 1.37 WHIP