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
|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.
|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.
Marlins baseball may be over for the next five months on the east coast of the United States, but out west in Arizona, it rages on. Here is a look at what has occurred in the Arizona Fall League so far.
Brain Anderson has built on his productive third season as a pro which saw him make the most difficult jump in the minors from A+ to AA and in which he posted an overall .265/.348/.389 line with 11 homers and a 97/58 K/BB and earning 2016 organizational MiLB Player of the Year honors by getting off to a .367/.426/.592 start with the Mesa Solar Sox. With a 1.018 OPS that ranks is tops on his team among full time starters and also ranks fourth among qualifiers in the entire AFL and riding a 13-32 streak, Anderson earned an invitation to play in this week’s Arizona Fall League All-Star game as an AFL Rising Star among the likes of Yankees phenom Gleyber Torres and Baseball America’s #25 overall prospect, the Blue Jays’ Anthony Alford. As evidenced by the fact that 28% of his hits went for extra bases this past MiLB season which included 8 homers as a Jacksonville Sun, third most on that squad in 86 games despite being a fresh call up from Jupiter (and despite a rough initial learning curve to life in the upper minors as he hit just .165 over his first week in black and gold) and the fact that he already has two long balls in 11 games and 36 ABs this fall, Anderson is learning to harness some truly special power. As he is also proving in his second stint in the AFL so far, Anderson is getting his free swing a bit more under control. Working counts and gaining a better knowledge of the strike zone has evidently become a focal point for Anderson. With a huge 2.09 K/BB on his career in full season ball so far, Anderson has actually walked more than he has struck out as a Solar Sox, a notion that once seemed improbable, no matter how small the sample size, for the pure power swinger. Committing to swings less often has been the focus of Anderson’s coaches since 2015 when he struck out 109 times as a Hammerhead.
The work of his coaches paid dividends this past season. Again, even though he made the hardest jump there is to make in the minors, he posted his best full season K/BB total (1.68). This included a 1.63 mark at the highest level he’s ever played at. The 6’3″, 185 and growing 23-year-old is an athletic sight to behold at the plate. His swing is of the uppercut variety and his strength allows him to shorten up well on balls inside. With the K rate in check, I foresee more doubles than homers but if Anderson can continue to make good choices at the plate and maintain the softness in his hands through an opposing pitcher’s delivery and up until a viable point of commission of a swing, he could turn in to a 20+ long ball threat.
Anderson has been put through the ringer defensively as well in an attempt to get him to be more consistent with his throws. He has good instincts and vision of balls off the bat and makes all the plays necessary at the hot corner. He has the arm strength necessary to play third but the arm accuracy isn’t quite there. In 2016 full season ball, he made a career high 27 errors, most coming as a result of a throw. He’s performed pretty well in the AFL so far and has been taking on extra drills and conditioning in order to succeed at third. But, even though he likely holds more value as a third baseman, as he grows into his body, I foresee him becoming a more realistic option at first base where he has begun seeing time this fall as a Solar Sox.
Joining Anderson on the 2016 East Rising Stars Team is Jarlin Garcia. After a solid 97 innings in Jupiter (18 starts, 3.06 ERA, 1.23 WHIP), Garcia, a lefty and a Miami international signee in 2010, made it to Jacksonville to end that season. He returned to Jacksonville to start 2016 but after just 39.2 IP in 9 starts, Garcia hit the DL with a triceps injury in his throwing arm. After missing two full months, he returned to the mound on August 8th initially in the GCL and then back in Jupiter to end the season. In those eight outings, he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen. With the injury, which came after the posting very sub-par 330 IP, 4.09 ERA, 1.26 WHIP career stat line as a starter in leagues that weren’t the extremely pitcher friendly Florida State League including a 76.1 IP, 4.73 ERA, 1.367 WHIP start to his career in the upper minors, it’s looking like the pen is where Garcia belongs. That assertion is backed up by the 3.12 ERA, 6/2 K/BB and .975 WHIP Garcia has posted in 8.2 innings for Mesa this fall. A somewhat lanky 6’3″, 215, Garcia starts off with a slow slide step delivery to the third base side before performing a high leg kick and dropping the his arm to a complete 6:00 position, hiding the ball completely behind his back leg, ala Carter Capps. He completes a near full arm circle as he strides home. Up until this point, his delivery is mechanically sound and hard for hitters to solve but as he releases from his high 3/4 arm slot and pushes off from his plant leg, Garcia’s mechanics take a dive. His delivery loses its fluidity as he snaps through to the plate violently. The smooth liquid motion he has up until that point gives way to a jerky follow through which sometimes results in him falling off the rubber to the third base side. It isn’t much of a problem for him in the beginning of his outings but as his pitch count rises he tries to compensate for the max effort release by overthrowing. This results in him missing his catcher’s glove and overall bad command. Despite still being able to hit the zone, he catches too much of it and hitters take advantage. Thus oppositions start waiting him out, forcing him to throw as many pitches as possible in his first two innings of work then teeing off on him in the third.
Unless he reinvents his delivery, the lefty who turns 24 this year isn’t rotation material. For at least 25 pitches though Garcia has a late breaking 12-6 power curve which has seen ups and downs but is currently a plus pitch. He piggybacks that with an even better and more consistent changeup which he spins and fades nicely. His heater sits in the low to mid 90s with a max velo of 95 and an average of 92. Should he make the full transition to the pen, Garcia could contribute to the Marlins as early as 2017.
Somewhat shockingly not joining Anderson and Garcia on the Rising Stars team is the third of eight Miami participants in the AFL this season, speedster Yefri Perez. After stealing 197 bags in 249 attempts including a record 71 for the Hammerheads in 2015 and another 39 for the Suns in 84 games in 2016, Perez received his first call to the majors as a pair of very apt legs off the bench for the Fish this September. He served in that capacity almost exclusively (he got just 3 ABs in 12 games appeared in) for the on-the-brink Marlins and stole his first four MLB bases. The 5’11, 170 25-year-old has zero power to speak of but if speed equated to homers, he would be a 50+ home run threat. Thus, all Perez needs to do to succeed in any league is get on base. And to do that, all he needs to do is put the ball in play and make an infielder make a somewhat difficult play. Watching Perez in Jupiter in 2015, I even saw him reach base on routine ground balls. That’s the level this guy is at when it comes to his running game. He is by far the fastest guy the Marlins’ organization has ever seen, faster than Luis Castillo, faster than Juan Pierre and a perennial 50 stolen base threat. But only if he can avoid the strikeout. That has been what has held Perez back until this season and has been the focal point of his coaching staffs. Before this season began, he boasted 255 career Ks (including 95 as a Hammerhead in ’15) to just 139 walks or a 1.83 K/BB. Discounting his 28/30 K/BB season in the Dominican in 2009 or the only time he walked more than he K’d in his career, his K/BB figure rises to 2.08. However, the work that has been done with him both in Jacksonville this past season where he walked a career high 39 times to 66 Ks and in the AFL this winter where he is hitting .340/.417/.377 with a BA and OBP that rank fourth in the league just below Anderson and a very respectable 11/7 K/BB as well as seven steals which unsurprisingly ranks second in the league through is first 13 games seems to be paying dividends. Perez’s knowledge of the strike zone has more than doubled since that ugly season K-wise in Jupiter. Although all he knows he has to do is get the bat on the ball to most likely reach base, he’s not going nearly as far out of his way to do so and it seems that he has learned that taking four balls will allow him to reach indefinitely.
With an approach that continues to mature and the willingness and desire to continue to learn as well as already providing some exciting moments in a Miami uniform Perez has shown the organization that he wants to make a big splash in the coming year. With the ability to play all three outfield spots as well as three infield positions (though his speed is most advantageously used in center field), Perez should almost definitely be part of the Marlins in 2017. With the work he did in AA and the work he is currently doing in the Arizona Fall League though Perez could be destined for more. With the potential trade of Adeiny Hechavarria incoming as well as the almost guaranteed trading of Marcell Ozuna, with a good spring campaign, Perez could find himself in the conversation for a starting job. At the very least, he will serve as a switch hitting bat off the bench who will steal bases virtually at will.
As Today’s Knuckleball laid out earlier this week, baseball hasn’t been kind to Drew Steckenrider for most of his career. After a dim start to it as a starter from 2012-2014 which included Tommy John and saw him spending almost two years recovering, it was looking like Steckehnrider would need to pursue a different way to spend his working days. Then this year happened. With a firmly reconstructed throwing elbow and upon finally making a full-time transition to the a late inning relief role, Steckenrider found his inner peace. As a result, opposing batters have found their hell. In 52 frames mostly in AA Jacksonville but also in AAA New Orleans and a few in A+ Jupiter, Steckenrider held down a 2.08 ERA with a ridiculous 71-19 K/BB and a lowly 0.85 WHIP. He converted 14 of 15 save opportunities and held batters to just a .141 BA. So far in the Arizona Fall League, it’s been more of the same for the Marlins’ eighth rounder out of Tennessee. In seven games and nine IP, Steckenrider has yet to allow a run and has walked just one while striking out 11. He’s converted both of his saves successfully, including the latest on November 1st which came as he closed out a combined no hitter. Tall and athletic at 6’5″ 215, Steckenrider is a sight to stare down as an opposing hitter. He backs up that menacing appearance with equally menacing stuff. His running fastball holds good plus velo, sitting in the 96-98 MPH neighborhood and is backed up with filthy slider that runs and dives away from hitters. See the devastation of the pitch starting at the :30 second mark of the above video as he strikes out a pair of Yankees, prospect Miguel Andujar by running it inside and hitting the glove perfectly, buckling his hitter’s knees and then at 1:14 as he gets former MLBer Greg Bird with it by running it outside and generating an off-balance swing. The 84-85 MPH offering is Steckenrider’s best pitch and he will use it at both ends of an AB. Steckenrider’s third pitch is a 75 MPH curve that he likes to bury low in the zone or even in the dirt. Again, the pitch owns late break and generates tons of swings and misses. With great arm speed and command over the slow pitch, it is a fantastic mix in and piggyback to the slider. See it in action again in the Bird AB as he gets a lefty who once hit .871 in the majors to look bad fishing out of the zone on it for a second strike before the aforementioned set-down with the change. With three complete pitches all of which flash plus and a free and easy repeatable windup and delivery, Steckenrider has a fantastic future as a late inning set up man or closer, a future which shouldn’t be too far away for a Marlins team which has some filling out to do in their bullpen after the release of Fernando Rodney, the possible release of Mike Dunn who becomes a free agent this year, and a possible trade of AJ Ramos who holds great value. After a bit of soul searching and a lot of bumps in the road along the way to get where he is today, Steckenrider is a feel-good story and a very easy guy to root for. With a good spring training, the Marlins, who have stayed committed to him throughout, would love nothing more than to give him his major league debut next season.
With a career .244/.330/.321 slash line over 1975 MiLB ABs, Austin Nola has exhibited pretty limited offensive capabilities. However, what the 26-year-old 6th round pick from 2012 has exhibited is a fantastic throwing arm and versatility in the infield playing five different positions. This fall, the Marlins are adding another position to that resume: catcher. Where at one time the 6’0″, 195 pounder would be far too undersized for the backstop position, the evolution of baseball including the rulebook has made it a reality. For a guy with average to just above average at best offense at the upper levels of the minors, this could be the best thing to happen to Nola and should he succeed, his ticket to the majors. So far, it’s been a mostly behind-the-scenes project for Nola as he has played just one full contest at the position and seen just a few more innings as a replacement in actual game action. Judging by that one full game though, it’s going to take some time for Nola to get the feel for the position. The game he called was an 8-3 loss in which his only potential base stealer was successful and in which he contributed a catcher’s interference error and allowed a passed ball. The silver lining for Nola this fall in limited action (six games) has been the fact that he has gone 6-16 with 2 RBI and four walks and has yet to strike out. While it is a small sample size, the posting of a .375 BA and .938 OPS has to feel good for a guy who has never OPSed above .700. Playing mostly against younger competition though, this likely isn’t a corner-turning moment for Nola’s offensive game. He did show a bit more power this past full minor league season in New Orleans, hitting six homers and did post a career high BA. But those figures equated to just six long balls and a .261 average.
Nola will probably be in spring training with the Fish and his verastility gives him a good shot to either be with the club on Opening Day and if not, definitely later in the year as a defensive replacement but, unless his offense takes another significant and sustained jump or the catching experiment works out (which the Fish may not be willing to wait on), that will likely be his ceiling.
From waiting on a late blind date to waiting for the car in front of you to hit the gas at a green light to waiting for the loud chewer next to you to run out of popcorn in the movies, there are some things every American hates being patient for. Since his ridiculous month of May in which he hit .344 while the likes of Jeff Mathis was building to his current pace of just .222/.261/.483 line and Chris Johnson was barely managing to hit .237 and while the likes of Don Kelly, a .223/.288/.273 AAA hitter this year and Yefri Perez who has played zero games above AA were rewarded with roster spots, every Marlins fan with a knowledge of the minors felt the same way when it came to waiting for Tomas Telis to be called up. Their patience, including my own, were finally rewarded on Friday when Telis joined the Marlins for the second time, taking the roster spot of Justin Nicolino who was sent back to New Orleans.
I recapped Telis’ career leading up to this season earlier this month as part of my May Prospect of the Month write-up. For those details, give this a click.
To sum his career to this point up, which is a bit longer than most guys who just turned 25 thanks to him starting his career at 17 after being signed out of Venezuela, he is the latest product of the Texas Rangers’ rich tradition of scouting and signing quality catching help. The organization which once drafted future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez, held the likes of the game’s top three catching prospects Max Ramirez, Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the same 40-man, and which currently owns Brett Nicholas, the best hitting catcher in AAA (.303/.380/.514) brought Telis to the American major league scene in 2008. After a .317/.328/.434 start to his career in the Dominican affiliated league, short season single A and the Arizona Fall League, Telis came to full season ball in 2011. For the next three years, he jumped a level with each passing year, reaching AAA as a 23-year-old before receiving his first major league call up at the end of 2014. His Marlins career began during that offseason when the Marlins gave up quality pitching help in reliever Sam Dyson to acquire him.
This season, Telis has proven well worth that kind of investment as he has enjoyed his best season at the highest level of the minors. Aided by the second best full month of his career above rookie ball, a .344/.394/.508 June, piggybacking a .325/.438/.375 April and thus an overall .337/.420/.455 start to his season and a 14 RBI month of June, his third best run providing month in full season ball, Telis has become arguably the best all-around hitting catcher in the Pacific Coast League by way of a .311/.363/.413 overall slash line, 27 RBI, a 16/25 BB/K, and 13 XBH. The switch hitter has enjoyed sustained success against both lefties and righties slugging over .400 against both and batting well over .300 vs lefties very close to it vs righties, whom he has faced more frequently. He comes to the Marlins in the midst of an 18-56 run (.321/.360/.393) since June 19th.
A stout 5’8″ 220, Telis gets low in the box and minimizes a strike zone that he has good working knowledge of. While he isn’t a guy that is going to reach via walks a lot, he also will not strike out much thanks to a quick bat produced by good mechanics including soft hands that get horizontal quickly, elbows which he keeps pointed down toward the ball and a head which stays in a stationary downward position all the way through the ball. Due to limited size and strength, Telis isn’t a guy who is going to hit a lot of balls over the wall. But his knack for finding the barrel of the bat and surprisingly above average speed especially for a backstop makes him an XBH threat and a great for-average hitter that limits Ks and makes for a great bottom of the order candidate plenty capable of turning the lineup back over. On top of average defense behind the plate (32% CS% this year and 42% for his career), Telis, at his present, provides a solid platoon bat for J.T. Realmuto who is hitting just .167 vs LHP and a solid fill in fot Justin Bour who is on the DL, against righties, especially considering Chris Johnson is OPSing just .644 against them over the course of his past three seasons. Have the Marlins finally realized the value Telis provides to the current situation of this team, which is trying to stay in the wildcard hunt? Only time will tell. If not, I’ll be back with an update in the coming days.
UPDATE: As feared, Telis has been sent back to the minors in favor of Yefri Perez, who has never played a game above AA and who struck out 125 times last year as a member of the Jupiter Hammerheads. Although Perez was off to a much improved start to the year this year with the Jacksonville Suns and is the fastest man this organization has ever seen, the fact the Marlins sacrificed a quality switch hitting bat for him can only suggest to me that the Marlins do not think very highly of Telis, especially considering the likes of Kelly and Johnson remain with the team. It would not surprise me at all to see Telis traded as part of a package to bring back a back end starting pitcher before the trade deadline, nor would it surprise me to see Telis go on to bigger and better things as a type B prospect.
Up until this point, previews for teams have been my projections. With lineups released and the season a month old, this preview will be based upon factual evidence. Players I have already covered in previous previews who happened to make it to a higher level will be marked with a * and my writing on them may be a bit brief. For more info on those players, visit my previous team previews.
2015 Team Stats
71 HR/304 XBH
1204.2 IP, 4.07 ERA, 1.362 WHIP
CF Yefri Perez*
RF Jeremias Pineda
LF Austin Dean
1B Brady Shoemaker*
DH Moises Sierra
SS J.T. Riddle
3B Matt Juengel
C Francisco Arcia
2B Avery Romero*
Making it rain baseballs. Something that is frowned upon and disallowed at every bar and club in North America. That is until this year. Because that is exactly how the Jacksonville Suns will be hoping Austin Dean, Brady Shoemaker, Avery Romero and the rest of their 2016 squad will christen their brand new left field gazebo bar and will make into a tradition all season long.
No matter if you have the ridiculous raw speed needed to label you the fastest man the organization has ever seen and to steal an absurd 71 bases, most in your A+ league in over five years, if you only are able to muster a sub-300 OBP, you likely aren’t ready to crack the upper levels of the minors. Accordingly, I predicted to be the case for Yefri Perez after he slashed just .240/.286/.269 and struck out 95 times for the Hammerheads last season. Long story short on Yefri (pun intended), is that his swing was entirely too aggressive and long in 2015 and he used it far too often. With over half of his success reaching base coming off of bunts and slow-rolling grounders, Perez was far too aggressive early in the count and remained so when down two strikes, chasing pitches off the outer half and pulling the trigger on anything close. Still, stealing upwards of 70 bags and setting a franchise record despite only being on base 20% of the time in garnered Perez some worthy recognition as he was selected as an FSL All-Star and at seasons end, invited to attend Marlins’ spring training. It was evidently at the latter of those in which Perez proved he made the necessary adjustments needed to move to AA Jacksonville. Perez stuck around the big league team for nearly all of spring, reaping the benefits of his fellow players and coaches. Early on in the Suns’ season, it appears as though that experience is paying dividends for Yefri. Appearing to have put on a little bit of weight, Perez is using it to his advantage by executing a much better timed swing but not before he maintains the looseness in his hands much longer, taking away his previous tendency to commit early and get out in front. Because of this, would-be swings and misses, something Perez did far too frequently last year, are turning into at the very least foul balls, prolonging his ABs. Furthermore, he is also waiting longer to commit to bunts which is giving him an extra step towards first base upon a later infield reaction (not that he needs it) and what should equate to a higher success rate as it will allow him to square up the break of pitches more advantageously. While the sample size is indeed tiny and while Perez’s 2015 got off to a very similar start through his first week of play before he began showing his true colors, this new, improved, stronger, more patient, and more technically sound version of the 25-year-old has allowed him to show initial success at a higher level of competition that I did not think he was even remotely ready for. While it remains to be seen if Perez can keep this up over the course of a full year or even longer than a seven day span, the early product of Perez’s game with the Suns is indeed encouraging and it has all come while he has maintained his blazing speed as he as already stolen 5 bases in 5 attempts. Perez’s speed also serves him well in the field, giving him the ability to play virtually anywhere. His ability to cover all the ground needed for any position makes him playable at all three outfield spots and both middle infield spots. He makes good reads off the bat and runs good routes to the ball. On the infield, he exhibits good footwork, quick soft hands and great gap coverage. Because his outfield throwing arm is average at best (just 28 outfield assists in nearly 3,000 innings), he lines up more advantageously as a second baseman but, either way, he isn’t a hard guy to get in to games. Although he is 25 and first getting a taste of AA, if his early season plate presence and improved swing continue to show themselves, Yefri will become a fantastic spark plug bat off the bench and late inning defensive replacement. He has the makeup to be the type of utility player every team seeks.
Even on the occasion that pitchers manage to get around Perez this year, there will be little time to breathe in the way of harnessing speed as they will be forced to stare down Jeremias Pineda. Signed near the very end of the offseason, Pineda is a 25-year-old formerly of the Twins organization who spent last season playing in the Mexican leagues. Despite baseball south of the border being known as being very hitter friendly, Pineda still posted an impressive catalyst type slash line in 2015, going .285/.362/.339. It is the hope that Pineda’s success in Mexico translates back to the majors and his Marlins’ career. For that to happen, Pineda will need to improve upon a raw offensive approach, something he hasn’t been able to do in five years, which already ended his American majors career once, and despite the good numbers on the surface of his Mexican league season last year, still caused him to strike out a ridiculous 168 times to 71 walks in a league not known at all for pitching prowess. So much about Pineda reminds me of Yefri. He’s 25, he’s a switch hitter, he’s extremely fast (though not quite as fast as Perez), most of his offensive success comes from beating out infield hits and he is entirely too aggressive at the plate, especially when behind in the count. Hope is that these players, who will be hitting behind one another, can feed off each other and help each other succeed and turn them in to the extremely valuable utility players they have the capability of being. Pineda may be a step slower that Perez speed-wise but his outfield throwing arm is that step then a few more ahead of Yefri’s. For that reason, many of his starts should come in the outfield this season though, again like Perez, his versatility will allow the Suns get him into the lineup in many if not all games.
As he proved in the Arizona Fall League after a very good year considering it was in the pitcher’s haven of Jupiter last full season, the Marlins may really have something in Austin Dean. Following a .268/.318/.366 year with the Hammerheads which led his team and placed 18th in the Florida State League and earned him a FSL All Star Game invite as well as an invite to the Arizona Fall League where he hit .323/.364/.452 and made his second All-Star game of the year, Dean comes to the Suns riding high. What he has to thank for his success is a balanced approach, including the ability to wait pitches out until they are finished breaking and a short quick line drive stroke, backed by a solid lower half. His solid and still improving plate vision makes him a pesky out to get. He gets in the mind of pitchers, frustrating them by trying not to do too much with pitches out of his reach but rather just foul them off, forcing pitchers to make mistakes. Dean’s swing isn’t one that’s going to warrant him a ton of long balls but rather a prototypical short line drive stroke (as proven by a career 18.66 LD% coming into this year) that has the ability to reach all fields. As proven by a 77/148 BB/K over the course of his first two full seasons in the minors, Dean also isn’t afraid to take a walk if he doesn’t get what he likes. His patience, swing and plus speed which includes a good first step out of the box and warranted him 18 steals last year make him a fantastic future leadoff or two slot candidate. Dean will be and, by way of a .306/.416/.472 through his first 20 games in AA which includes an OBP that is currently fifth in the Southern League and a SLG and BA which rank 15th making him one of if not the best all-around bat thus far, already has been a fun project to watch fill out.
In Brady Shoemaker, we have a guy who must have done something drastic to someone within the organization to warrant the treatment he has received in his Marlins career because as of late, the organization has done everything possible to hold him back. It all started innocently enough for Shoemaker with a bout of bad luck. After being claimed off waivers by the Marlins in 2013 after he spent that entire season out of baseball, Shoemaker returned to the minors with a vengeance in 2014, hitting .274/.374/.433 in AA Jacksonville. That year, he either led or was a close second in nearly every major offensive category amongst full time Suns including HR (12), OBP (.374), OPS (.808), walks (67), BB/K (.74) and RBI (71). Amongst qualifiers who appeared in at least 100 Southern League games, Shoemaker’s .374 OBP ranked 10th and his .808 OPS ranked 12th. His accomplishments warranted him a well-deserved call-up to AAA in 2015. At the highest level he’s ever played at, a 27-year-old Shoemaker quickly became one of the Zephyrs top players. Heading into a game on May 24th, Shoemaker was hitting a robust .310/.393/.509 and looked to be the next man in line for a call-up and probably would have been when Giancarlo Stanton hit the season ending DL with a hand injury on June 27th, leaving the Marlins scrambling for outfielders. Moreoever, Shoemaker, who also plays first, would have been the best choice considering first baseman Justin Bour’s struggles against lefties beginning to come to fruition and the fact that Shoemaker’s mashing versus them which amounted to the tune of a .302/.402/.573 that year was also beginning to rear it’s beautiful head. However, May 24th is when Shoemaker’s run of rough luck began. In the Zephyrs’ game that night against El Paso, Shoemaker broke a pinkie finger, putting him on the shelf for the rest of May, the entire month of June and the beginning of July, causing him to miss his window and an opportunity to make his major league debut. Being the consummate professional that he is and being no stranger to missing time only to come back even better, Shoemaker returned on July 7th and although his second half was, quite understandably after breaking a finger in his dominant hand, wasn’t as good as his first half as he struggled to find gaps as regularly as he did before the injury, Shoemaker remained one of the Zephyrs’ key contributors. By season’s end, he was arguably their full-season MVP, ending 2015 with a .284/.359/.417 line. His .776 OPS ranked third on the team as did his .417 SLG, once again not just making him a candidate but rather the prime candidate to become Justin Bour’s platoon partner at first base in 2016 after Bour ended the year with a .221/.293/.279 against southpaws. Even after the signing of career reclamation project Chris Johnson to a major league contract, Shoemaker at the very least still seemed lined up to make the roster as the fifth outfielder, especially after he began his spring by hitting (), one of the best bats in camp. However, that didn’t stop the Marlins from inexplicably making Shoemaker part of the first round of spring cuts. He watched as Cole Gillespie earned the nod as the fifth outfielder and planned to make the trip back to New Orleans. But the hits didn’t stop coming there. At the end of spring training, Shoemaker wasn’t assigned to New Orleans. He was, once again for reasons lost on everyone who has followed his career of late, assigned all the way down to AA Jacksonville. It would seem as though frustration has understandably so finally gotten the best of the now 28-year-old who could be playing in the majors and definitely should be playing above AA as his season with the Suns has gotten off to just a .212 start. While there is no doubt that the power hitting, balanced approach hitter that Shoemaker is and as his OBP (.356) and SLG (.353) are already proving, he will (continue to) improve upon that line as the season progresses but whether he makes the majors with the Marlins or not seems to be very much up in the air. Simply put, the guy can’t catch a break and the organization doesn’t seem to be willing to help him along.
In addition to a best-selling jersey waiting to happen, the Marlins have potential five-tool talent in J.T. Riddle, who will man the infield for the Suns this year. After hitting .286/.322/.405 and receiving All-Star honors in Jupiter last year, Riddle, a 13th round draft pick, comes to the Suns as a .274/.316/.373 lifetime MiLB hitter. Swinging with a light balanced load, the 6’1″ 180 pounder is a mostly singles bat but he packs a bit of hidden power and will surprise with his ability to hit gaps. Add to the fact that he still has time to add power by way of growing physically and it’s easy to see why Riddle was named the Marlins’ top hitting prospect in 2015 and remains a top 10 organizational prospect this year. Despite owning a short stroke, Riddle is a bit too aggressive at the plate, making him susceptible to the K and the reason why he hasn’t posted an OBP over the .325 mark at any level and something the Marlins would like to see temper as he makes his way through the upper minors. Riddle made quite the impression with the Suns in the second half of 2015 when he hit .289/.323/.422 for them and has continued to set fire to Southern League pitching on fire in his first 23 games in Jacksonville this year, hitting .279/.330/.395 with 7 XBH and 18 RBI. Though he is a natural second baseman, the Marlins have been giving Riddle playing time at other infield spots in hopes that he can become a quality utility player and lefty off the bench, ala Derek Dietrich and, although his speed is average, he has the arm strength and the quickness needed to cover all the ground and do so. However, if he continues to show improved pop as he grows into his body along with the raw talent that he owns behind his approach and maintains similar success against righties and lefties, Riddle has the opportunity to turn into an every day starter. He is a piece very much worth watching as he progresses this season.
Avery Romero mans the other up-the-middle spot for the Suns this season despite an average at best year in Jupiter last year in which he hit just .259/.315/.314, all career lows for the 22-year-old. While some of that dumbing down of his slash line can be blamed on the pitcher’s paradise that is Roger Dean Stadium, especially considering he came in to 2015 having never failed to hit at least .276/.341/.391 over the course of a full season and was coming off of a .320/.367/.423 year in between Greensboro and his first 26 games as a Hammerhead, Romero did exhibit some worrisome setbacks last year, including a career worst 71/38 K/BB and a 1.29 GO/AO, his worst since his days in rookie ball. Despite exhibiting a good short line drive swing that generates a lot of contact and puts his 1/100 rating in that category at 81 and his career line drive percentage at 21%, Romero has always been more of a free swinger rather than a count worker and has been known to press when frustrated. The Marlins are hoping that immaturity is the reason for his struggles last yar and that with a change of scenery to the much more neutral Southern League as well as a year’s worth more of experience under his belt, those tensions will ease. Defensively, Romero made the switch from shortstop to second base after high school. Thanks to Romero’s athletic frame as well as his quick hands and swift footwork following him from the plate into the field, he has made the move rather well overall, attributing to a 4.49 career range factor at the number 4 position. Last year, he contributed to a career high 79 double plays. However, Romero also proved he still has some growing to do, arm accuracy and decision wise as he rushed a lot of erratic throws at 2B and also committed a career high 20 errors but that is a flaw that should work itself out with more innings and more age. Whether Romero makes his ETA next season or not will depend upon his ability to improve upon his plate presence and patience and this season is his make it or break it moment. So far in 2016, it hasn’t happened as Romero is hitting just .170/.286/.283 but there is still plenty of baseball left to play. We will be monitoring him closely throughout the course of the year.
1. Austin Brice
2. Jake Esch
3. Jarlin Garcia
4. Tim Berry
Austin Brice is a huge 6’4″ 240 pound 9th round draft pick from 2010 who is impressive at times and has made strides improving his arsenal in recent years but who just can’t seem to put it all together. The physical specimen is an intimidating force for opposing hitters to stare down on the mound and he ramps up the kind of velo to match, occasionally throwing his pitch-off primary fastball in the mid-90s but usually sitting in the 90-92 MPH range. His best secondary pitch is a slider which he just recently got a feel for in the last two seasons. Sitting in the 82-86 MPH range, Brice will throw the pitch in any count and has the ability to hit corners with it when it is on. His curve has similar velo and when he is throwing it well, has good 11-4 break with some late bite. Notice, however, that in describing all of those pitches, “when it is on” is mentioned. That is Brice’s biggest crux and the reason why he owns an unimpressive 4.26 ERA over 560 minor league innings. The trend with Brice’s game is that there is no trend at all. From start to start or even inning to inning, he can either be the hero on the goat. When he is off, like many pitchers of his size the problem lies in his ability to repeat his delivery and most importantly maintain his release point, suggesting he is likely destined for a mid-late relief role rather than a rotation job. With two plus pitches already and two more, the aforementioned curve and a mid-80s changeup and still improving, the fact that he is good at subduing power, and held righty hitters to a .171 BA last year, he could make quite the living in that role at the major league level. All of that said, Brice has begun 2016 as consistent as he ever has been, not allowing more than 3 runs in any of his first five starts with half of them being of the quality variety. He also owns a 23/6 K/BB and he is pounding the zone with 246 of his 367 pitches (72%) of his pitches going for strikes. While it may be a last gasp effort (pun intended) for the gargantuan but somewhat unathletic Brice to save his future as a rotation starter, his start is encouraging.
Jake Esch is the Marlins’ current number nine prospect and an 11th round draft pick from 2011. He stands at an athletic 6’3″, 205 and owns a four pitch arsenal consisting of a 93-96 fastball which he can spot corner to corner. He can also pitch off of the other end of his velo range, a mid 80s slider that has 10-3 movement with late bite. His ability to lead hitters off with both ends of the spectrum allows him to keep hitters off balance despite what they may see from the on-deck circle. He mixes in a still improving mid-80s change which also flashes above average and which plays off his fastball well, especially against opposing righties which he last year with the Suns held to just a .200 BAA. The Esch curveball is the least progressed of his pitches but although the spin needs to be improved, it has good 11-5 shape and can make hitters look silly when he places it correctly. After getting off to a great start in AA last year in which he held down a 3.48 ERA through 85 innings with a 68/33 K/BB, Esch received the call to AAA. However, being just 400 innings into his career as a pitcher (he came up through high school and college primarily as an infielder which allows him to field his position extremely well), he understandably proved he needs more seasoning in AA. While he is a bit old to begin a repeat season at the sub-AAA level, Esch has made great strides in a short amount of time. Should he continue to build upon a second great start that he has gotten off to in Jacksonville this year (2.93 ERA, 21/8 K/BB, 1.05 WHIP through is first 27.2 IP), he should get a better timed call to AAA and, with similar success there, could make an impact with the Marlins as early as next season.
Jarlin Garcia is a bit of an oddity in the way that he owns a 6’3″ 220 pound power pitcher’s frame but will rarely reach the mid-90s. That said, by not overthrowing and relying more on good control over all four of his pitches, Garcia has become the Marlins’ third ranked prospect. His arsenal consists of a fastball that can touch 95 on the rare occasion that he ramps it up that high but usually lives in the 90-91 MPH range. Garcia has great feel for the pitch can paint corners with it, letting it run either in or out and consistently keeping it down in the zone making it a pitch he will throw in any count. He pitches off of the heat with a changeup that he developed better feel for last year and dips down to 82 MPH. Garcia’s bulldog approach gives him the fearlessness needed to come right after hitters with the pitch and, with good late fade, generates plenty of swings and misses. The Garcia slider is of the 78-81 MPH variety and, while it is the least developed of all of his pitches, it flashes plus when Garcia is on, showing 10-4 movement and the ability to saw hitters off by putting it in on their hands due to late sweep. While Garcia can look dominant when he is throwing well, he isn’t without fault. First, mechanics-wise he doesn’t engage his huge lower half, nearly enough but rather relies more on raw arm strength on his way to the plate. The windup starts out slow with Garcia dropping his arm all the way down behind his plant leg before he comes toward the plate with a long stride, his arm trailing behind him. Even though Garcia rarely throws the ball as hard as he can, the delivery is not repeatable whatsoever if he hopes to use it 100 times per game and stay healthy. Furthermore, by releasing the ball from the point he does, Garcia doesn’t advantageously shorten the distance to the plate for a guy his size. Long story short, Garcia not only just doesn’t do nearly enough with his god-given physical characteristics to be considered much more than a 4-5 starter, concerns about him remaining healthy in his current state may regulate him to a bullpen role. Psychologically, Garcia is also a bit green as nearly every big time scout has been critical of his command, citing the fact that he tends to overthrow in high leverage situations which translated to an awful start to his AA career last season. Going in Garcia’s favor here is the fact that he is still just 23 with room to grow and not become so easily rattled. Much more concerning are the aforementioned mechanical problems. If Garcia hopes to have a future as a starter, they need to beging being ironed out now but after doing something the same way for six years, bad habits can be hard to break. Hopefully his stone isn’t already cast. We will follow him carefully this year.
Projected Team Stats
77 HR/347 XBH
1201 IP, 4.02 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
2015 Team Stats
41 HR/222 XBH
1228.1 IP, 3.08 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
CF Yefri Perez
2B/DH Avery Romero
1B K.J. Woods
C Arturo Rodriguez
3B Brian Anderson
RF Dexter Kjerstad
DH/2B James Roberts
SS Justin Bohn
LF Cameron Flynn
Three varieties of tacos, three varieties of nachos, empanadas, Corona — judging by the fare being offered up at Roger Dean Stadium this spring, the Hammerheads are excitedly awaiting the arrival of Arturo Rodriguez. Either that or its just an amazing coincidence. In any event, the Mexican export will come to Jupiter this summer.
Somewhat suprisingly thanks to the price tags the Mexican League places on their players, Rodriguez came to the American majors after a .313/.366/.493 career south of the border. Even more surprising was the fact that he was signed by the usually thrifty Marlins. He rewarded that surely hefty, although still not (and probably never will be) certain cost by having a fantastic first half of the season with the Grasshoppers. Over his first 63 games and 237 ABs in the US minors, Rodriguez slashed a team leading .300/.350 /.422 with 6 HR, 32 RBI, and a 28/19 K/BB. In the second half, although the power numbers persisted and he hit 13 HR over Greensboro’s last 62 games, the rest of his stats would suggest that the quicker pace of play and level of competition (the Mexican league is officially classified as AAA but is more like single A and strongly favors offense) as well as the amount of technology and information available to American teams hurt A-Rod a bit as, after the break, his BA fell 50 points to .250 and his K/BB% went from 1.47 to 2.64. Rodriguez by trade is a dead pull hitter, something opposing pitchers started taking advantage of in the second half with catchers most often setting up on the outer half inducing plenty of swings and misses from Rodriguez who doesn’t advantageously step into contact on balls away resulting in either whiffs or weak contact, making him an easy matchup for righties who get ahead early in the count. It is a primary reason he only slashed .246/.304/.375 last year. This area of Rodriguez’s game will be in even more prominent need of improvement as he makes the jump to not only a higher level of opposing talent but also a gargantuan pitcher friendly ballpark this year. If Hammerheads hitting coach Frank Moore can work successfully with A-Rod on slightly tweaking his approach as well as recognizing pitches on the outer half and getting ahead in the count, something he only did at almost exactly a 50% rate last year, Rodriguez at 24, has the rest of the tools necessary to fly through the American minors and still make an impact as a starter at the major league level.
On defense, Rodriguez used a canon-like arm to throw out 40% of his runners in 2014. That figure took a wicked dive upon his transition to the majors. However, the fact that Rodriguez only committed three errors in 385 innings as the Hoppers backstop suggests the lower CS% shouldn’t be a discredit to him but more of a credit to opposing runners getting good jumps on Hoppers’ pitching. Furthermore, it should be noted that, save Tyler Kolek, the 2015 Greensboro rotation was made up Michael Mader, Jorgan Cavanerio, and Ben Holmes all of whom are to contact pitchers who rarely top 90 on the radar gun. That being said, as Rodriguez climbs the minor league ladder, his CS% should normalize. After all, at 6’0″, 235, he has the perfect athletic catchers’ build which he used to hold his passed ball total to a minuscule two last year and, in nearly 100 less innings than he played behind the plate in 2014, contributed three more assists. With good reflexes, a quick pop time and quick hands, Rodriguez, although he has also enjoyed some success at first (just three errors, a 9.27 range factor and 39 assists last year), he projects best as a catcher.
Speaking of first base, the Hammerheads will also welcome a huge power threat at that position who also played for last year’s Hoppers. 20-year-old KJ Woods is a 6’3″ 230 pound corner man who is currently on the fast track to the majors, having made a jump in level in each of his first three minor league seasons. In his first full professional season last year, Woods dazzled by way of a .277/.364/.496 slash line. His OBP ranked 15th in the Sally League and his SLG and OPS (.861) were second only to Shane Hoelscher, four years his senior. Not only does Woods’ build personify first baseman, his prodigal power which he is still just beginning to live up to and which Baseball America scouts once ranked at a 70, does as well. Even more advantageous for Woods is the fact that he is a lefty. Standing tall in the box with only a slight bend in the knees, Woods pivots beautifully into a prototypical uppercut power swing. His lower half mechanics are a thing of beauty, even at such a young age of development. He uses a slight front foot trigger and an even more pronounced front foot pivot which he uses to point towards the ball which he picks up very quickly out of the pitcher’s hand before using active hips and a back foot finish, giving his mechanics near-perfect balance. As you may have guessed, Woods heavily favors pull hitting and fouls tons of pitches off trying to inside-out them in ABs often ending in strikeouts which heavily lent themselves to his 30.3 K% last season. That said, looking at his hit charts, he has also flashed a premature ability to step into pitches go opposite field. If that ability can be further nurtured, Woods, who is still very young, has the potential to become a complete power hitter. Even if he doesn’t fully learn the art of oppo, the average cycle of maturation suggests a hitter like Woods will develop a better ability to not attempt to do too much and instead wait out opposing pitchers or induce a mistake. Having already great mechanics and being a great raw athlete, Woods is a lefty power hitter worth getting excited about as he fills out.
In 2016, the Hammerheads will likely welcome back the fastest man the Marlins’ organization has ever seen: Yefri Perez. The Dominican export is set to begin his second full season with the Hammerheads. Last season, he set a Hammerheads’ franchise record by swiping 71 bases. It was the highest total the FSL has seen since 2007. Delving a bit further into his stats, Perez stole a base 45% of the time he reached base. While that fact looks pleasantly impressive on the surface and remains so even as you look at the rest of his season, the smile drifts away from your face when you look at his slash line and realize he was only on base 169 times in 563 PAs (.286 OBP). However, when you think of what Perez could potentially accomplish if his ability to reach base should improve, overwhelming pleasant and frightening thoughts prevail, you beam a Mr. Burns-esque grin and rub your palms together in the same devilish manner. In simpler terms, if Perez was the base thief he was in 2015 with such a minimal slash line, it is insanely congenial to think about the prospect of what he could do should he make improvements to his offensive game at the plate. Perez has never been and never will be a power threat or even much of an off the bat XBH threat but thanks to his jets, he doesn’t have to be. What he does have to do is reduce his strikeout total from last year (95) which ranked as 18th most in the FSL. This can be done by way of both shortening his swing and not committing to pull the trigger on it nearly as often as he did last season. At 5’11”, pitchers who got ahead early and changed Perez’s eye level by climbing the ladder on him and who took the bunt out of order which is where Yefri found over half of his success when it came to hits, found him to be easy pickings by way of getting him to fish for pitches out of the zone. So many Ks was a bit of a new experience for Yefri who has always been a bit of a free swinger but never to this extent. Hopefully it is just a bump in the road for him but at 25 and still just at single A advanced, he can’t have too many more of these if he hopes to make an impact at the major league level. Perez seems to be aware of this fact as he spent his entire offseason playing in full speed games. He played in the Dominican Winter League before spending most of spring camp with the Marlins, getting in some valuable elbow rubs and tutelage from the likes of Barry Bonds, Don Mattingly and the big league roster. Hope is that Perez can put those experiences to good use and further his game. His prowess for speed aside, Perez is likely never going to be major league starting material at any position (he can play virtually anywhere) but if he hasn’t peaked as a sub-AA player, can make some improvements to his offensive game, cut down on strikeouts, and get his OBP back around average parameters, he can still make an impact as a late inning replacement. Watch Perez closely this season as, at his age, his future may very well depend on it.
As for the DH spot, I pencil in James Roberts, playing in his first full season in the Marlins’ organization and who’s recent past is a bit of an anomaly. Roberts is a 24-year-old 2013 Indians draftee out of USC where he had a .295/.373/.364 career which included a .320/.379/.429 junior year and earned him the right to skip straight to A+. In his first full professional season in Carolina, Roberts played in a team high 117 games and recorded a team high 407 ABs, holding down a respectable .268 BA and .339 OBP with a 75/34 K/BB. Upon the 2014 Mudcats’ move to Lynchburg, Roberts’ 2015 got off to a pretty rocky start. In his first 43 games, he hit just .228/.259/.302 spurring his release from the Indians’ organization. The Marlins signed Roberts on July 10th just after the All-Star break and after 2 games in the Gulf Coast League, sent him to Jupiter. In almost as many games as he played for the Hillcats and the Indians, Roberts was one of the Marlins’ and Hammerheads’ best second half minor league players at the plate, all while hitting in an extreme pitchers park as opposed to a much more neutral environment in which he struggled with Lynchburg. In his 35 games and 108 ABs with the Hammerheads, Roberts slashed .324/.368/.435. Looking at the rest of his pro career thus far, Roberts has been the same extreme on-again-off-again type offensive player and, at 24, the Indians evidently weren’t willing to wait for consistency. While it remains to be seen whether Roberts can be more than just a slighty-over-mendoza-line type weapon over the course of a full season, he earns top marks on the 40-80 scale when it comes to making contact thanks to a very mechanically sound short swing based off a great approach. Initially standing from a split stance in the box, Roberts transitions to a straight stance as he watches the pitcher’s motion and he adjusts to location well. Although he favors the pull variety of hitting and has a tendency to try to inside-out pitches, he has shown the ability to go with pitches and appears to have a great working knowledge of situationalism. Though he is a bit old to begin a second season at this level, it cannot be ignored that he barely spent any time at all at any other professional level after coming out of college and that, once reports got out on him in Carolina and followed him to Lynchburg (.283/.372/.319 in the first half of 2014 compared to .255/.308/.319 in the second half) are a very probable explanation for his struggles. Roberts is a smart hitter with a knack to find gaps and, if his start with the Hammerheads is any indication, is out to prove something after his release from the Indians organization. Roberts’ focus this year should be on better plate vision and less pressing when behind in the count, a better approach versus lefties whom he historically tries to do too much against, and keeping the fine pace he historically starts out with over the course of a full season. If he plans to make any impact at all in the National League, Roberts needs to make vast improvements to his defensive game. He has played most of his games at 3B but with 21 errors there over the course of 77 games thanks to an inaccurate throwing arm, his future is probably at 2B. He will likely get starts there versus righties this year, with Avery Romero starting in the field against lefties.
As for Romero himself, he also begins a second season with Jupiter. He joins Perez as the second of seven Hammerheads All-Stars from last season to at least begin a second season with the team. Romero is a third round draft pick from 2012 who, thanks to years of .276/.341/.391 in 2013 and .320/.367/.423 each of which has been rewarded with a jump in minor league level. In ’13, Romero ended the year in Greensboro after beginning it in Batavia and in 2014, he ended the season in Jupiter after becoming one of the Grasshoppers’ best hitters. That didn’t happen for Romero this year. The reason? A .259/.315/.314 slash line, his worst yet as a pro. After hitting a combined 295/358/400 to begin his career and jump at least one level with each passing season, the horseshoe was thrown in Romero’s wheels this season. While some of the reason for the decline can be blamed on the huge dimensions of Roger Dean Stadium, Romero also struck out a career high 71 times, part of a 1.87 K/BB% year. Romero’s crux seems to be in his timing. Last year, he was often out in front of the first half and behind the second half of the fastball/changeup combo and found himself behind in the count early in his ABs and often allowing pitchers to have a much easier time with him. The battler he is, Romero was still able to tough out 38 walks to keep his K/BB% under 2 but if he is going to succeed as the type of bat that he is, decent power but not enough to rely on it solely as a pure XBH threat, Romero needs to improve his plate vision. This is further proven by the fact that for his career, he owns just a .257 BA and a 13.7 K% against top 20 prospects. When Romero’s swing is on time, it’s a thing of beauty. He maintains softness in his hands well and strides through the plate with a solidly-built active lower half and a quick short stroke. If his aggressiveness can be turned down a notch (but not too much), Romero will be a bat worthy of top-100 prospect recognition in the coming years. Defensively, Romero came up as a middle infielder. However, in high school, he his best position was behind the plate, as proven by the sub-2 second pop and strong accurate on line arm he showed during multiple showcases. At 5’11”, 200 pounds with the aforementioned thick lower half, Romero has the perfect build for a modern era catcher and most scouts had him lined up to be transitioned to that spot as most recently as last year. But the Marlins don’t appear to be going that route with Romero. Since beginning his minor league career, he has played 279 games at 2B, 26 at third and zero at catcher. While some may consider that to be a waste of some great raw tools, Romero still plays a solid infield. At second, he goes gap to gap very well and reads balls off the bat like a pro. Like his antics at the plate, he could use to be a little bit less anxious when transferring from glove to hand but that should come with age and good coaching. Romero’s strong lower half allows him to maintain his stance well and stand up to some pretty tough slides on double play turns as we saw him turn some doozies last year. Long story short on this 22-year-old, is, while he is going to begin a repeat season at any level for the first time in his pro career and while he does require some tempering when it comes to his competitive attitude and make-up which often tempts him in to making bad decisions, he has arguably the most all-around skill of anyone in the system and still has a very good chance of making an impact with the Marlins by 2020, if not earlier. With a good start at Jupiter this year, Romero could and should find himself in a Suns uniform by the time the year is through.
The number nine spot on the field will belong to one of the funnest names to say that the Marlins have ever possessed: Dexter X Kjerstad. Kjerstad is a 6’1″ 210 2010 draftee out of high school who instead elected to attend college. Kjerstad was a spectacular NCAA power bat, boasting a .374/.426/.621 slash line. He hit a homer once every twenty ABs while also managing to rarely ever strike out. 1.07 K/BB. Kjerstad also flashed plus speed in his undergraduate days, going 20/27 in stolen base attempts and scoring 90 runs. His .388/.431/.608 season in 2013 made him the Rajin Cajuns’ best hitter and lead them to a Super Regionals berth. Following that season, Kjerstad was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Royals. As a 22-year-old in single A in his first year in pro ball, Kjerstad had quite the respectable season slashing .275/.336/.428 with 25 XBH including 6 HR and 33 RBI. Like any pure power threat, Kjerstad also K’d 59 times to just 18 walks but the good far outweighed the bad. By season’s end it would seem that he had placed himself on the fast track to the majors. That was backed up by the fact that during the offseason, he was promoted to A+. However, in Wilmington in 2015, Kjerstad was clearly overmatched. In 51 games and 158 ABs, he slashed just .247/.288/.316 with 6 XBH. While he struck out at a rate of 30%, he walked just seven times. Though his season wasn’t going great or even good, the Royals made quite the knee-jerk decision after Kjerstad got just 158 ABs above the single A level: rather than sending him back down, they released the 23-year-old. But Kjerstad wasn’t going to let the dream die there. He returned home to Texas and went back to the drawing board, working on perfecting his craft in a semi-pro league in his hometown of Amarillo. In 45 games with the American Association’s Amarillo Thunderbolts, Kjerstad was a man possessed. He slashed a ridiculous .300/.338/.584 with 11 HR (one in every 17 ABs), 26 XBH and 31 RBI in just 190 ABs. Again, the K/BB% was gargantuan but very easy to look past. Kjerstad was probably surprised when his phone rang at the end of that season and a major league club was on the other end but he shouldn’t have been surprised at which club it was — the Marlins — who have historically dug up some diamonds in the rough in similar situations as he found himself in. With the Hammerheads, Kjerstad will get a chance to start back over from where he left off after his solid 2014 season and make his tough 2015 seem like a bad dream. It will be an uphill battle for Kjerstad who goes from an independent league to playing in one of the most pitcher friendly associated leagues in the minors but it would seem as though he has got a lot to prove. As described, he is a pure power threat who favors pull but has the ability to go to all fields. After breaking into the pros, scouts rated Kjerstad’s speed, power, XBH-ability and durability all at or around 70 on the 30-80 scale. However, they also ranked his contact at a minuscule 38. And they were exactly right. Even though his accomplishments in 2014 shouldn’t be discounted, it cannot be ignored that his best and only good season as a pro came at the expense of a .332 BABIP. In fact, each season he has played whether it be collegiate or pro, save one, that metric has not been anywhere close to neutral, not even during his sub-mendoza line 2015 half season at this same level. It isn’t in doubt that there is plenty of strength, athleticism and talent packed in to Kjerstad’s 6’1″ 210 pound frame but if he is to fully realize it, he will need to time his swings a lot better. He tries to swing for the fences entirely too often and though he can spray it to all fields, he is an extreme straight line hitter who has trouble finding the gaps. Though he possesses good lower half mechanics, he tends to fly open on his swings causing it to get a bit long. All of those factors will need to be addressed. It will undoubtedly be a challenge for Kjerstad to re-tool himself as much as he needs to but he is without question thankful for the chance to play at this level again. Should he be willing to learn and perfect his craft, he has the ability to become quite the dangerous bat off the bench. A very low risk, high reward find by the Marlins, these are the kind of signings that can potentially make scout’s careers.
1. Jorgan Cavanerio
2. Jeff Brigham
3. Chris Sadberry
4. Jose Adames
5. Sean Townsley
My projected ace for the Hammerheads this year is sixth year pro, Jorgan Cavanerio. Since beginning his career at 16 years old and spending a few seasons in the Dominican and Gulf Coast Leagues, Jorgan has grown into an under-the-radar prospect who translates well as a 3-5 big league starter. At 6’1″, 155, he isn’t much of a physical specimen. As for his mechanics, again, they don’t appear to be anything to write home about. He throws straight ahead, not downhill and from a common 3/4 arm slot and doesn’t have a ton of power behind any of his offerings, topping out at right around 90 MPH. However, when Cavanerio releases the ball, you understand why he is an up and coming product worthy of top 20 organizational recognition. Cavanerio possesses four pitches all of which move and all of which he has either great or good and developing control over, allowing him to keep them low in the zone, making him a viable candidate to grow into a soft tossing finesse ground ball pitcher. His four seamer tops out at 92 but usually sits in the 90 MPH range. He has a good handle on it and rarely puts it out over the heart of the plate. He uses it to set up his best pitch, an 84 mile an hour changeup that has made leaps and bounds over the course of the last two seasons. Once a less-than-average pitch, it is now a pitch he can throw in any count with consistent control. When he spots it on the outside black after it starts out well out of the zone and stays there until the hitter starts to look it into the catcher’s glove, the pitch is nearly untouchable. The rest of Cavanerio’s arsenal consists of a sinking two-seamer and a slow arcing curve with rainbow-like 12-6 action. Both pitches are still works in progress but both have flashed plus movement. The curve bottoms out at 74, giving him a mix of speeds interval of 18 MPH. On the downside, Cavanerio does have a tendency to lose consistency on his release point from inning to inning which has led him to some pretty ugly lines but that is nothing that cannot be worked out with more innings and higher level coaching. Right now, Cavanerio reminds me a lot of a younger underdeveloped version of Adam Conley who just won the fifth starter spot on this year’s MLB team. Still just 20, Cavanerio still undoubtedly has the ability to bulk up and gain a few more miles per hour worth of velo. If he does that and his release becomes more constant and if he can learn to toss from more of a downward plane, there’s nothing against Cavanerio one day becoming a big league rotation fixture. He will be worth keeping an eye on as he progresses through the minors.
Jeff Brigham is a fourth round 2014 Dodgers draftee who came over to the Marlins in the Mat Latos/Michael Morse trade last season. Ranked the Dodgers 17th best organizational prospect headed into last year, Brigham skipped low A, going straight from rookie ball to single A advanced. Hope was that at 23, Brigham could prove he could handle a starter’s load of innings in high A quickly, placing him on track to perhaps break the big league club by 2017. A wrench was thrown in that plan however, as Brigham struggled mightily in 2015, compiling a 1.68 WHIP and a 5.96 ERA over 14 starts and 68 IP. Then in late July, Brigham’s change of scenery came when he swapped coasts going from Rancho Cucamonga to Jupiter. Brigham fared much better in the friendlier Florida State League and, although he gave up hits at a similar .276 clip over his last six games of the season (that figure was .286 out west), his walk rate fell considerably and he limited damage much more consistently, stranding an 77% of his runners as opposed to 63% earlier in the year. Throwing from a low 3/4 arm slot, Brigham works quickly and has an easy fluid repeatable delivery. Stuff wise, he is a three pitch pitcher but everything else he throws revolves around his fastball, the pitch that makes Brigham the prospect he is and his meal ticket to the majors. The Brigham heater is a two-headed monster in the way that he has the ability to make it explode out of his hand with 97 MPH velo and blow it by hitters or he can take something off of it and let the pitches’ fabulous running movement be the catalyst. Though he can throw the pitch virtually anywhere and generate swings and misses, he favors jamming hitters in on the hands and getting them to saw the pitch off. Brigham’s favorited placement on his slider balances the heater out nicely. Sitting at a slurvy 75 with late 11-5 break, it’s a pitch he can either throw to set up the fastball or toss at the end of an AB to get a hitter out in front. On common occasion when the pitch has been under his control, he has made many a righty hitter look silly going fishing out of the zone. When it comes to areas of improvement, because of the amount of movement each of his pitches owns, Brigham needs to get a more consistent handle on his tipping points and placing pitches more consistently at their targets. Should that happen, Brigham, with a nearly fully developed arsenal of pitches that all flash plus, should have no problem continuing on the fast track by making it to AA by the middle of the year.
Projected 2016 Team Stats
60 HR/325 XBH
1160 IP, 4.51 ERA, 1.42 WHIP