The Marlins Top 15 list has a little bit of everything and the organization boasts some impressive arms. There are three left-handed starters on the list that have the potential to develop into No. 3 starters, if not better. The overall depth of the system is improving but it’s still not quite where I’d like it to be.
Fernandez, just 20, dominated two levels of A-ball in 2012. The 14th overall pick during the 2011 amateur draft, the right-hander was considered an advanced high school arm but he’s been even better than advertised. He struck out 158 batters with just 35 walks in 134 combined innings last season. He has a four-pitch repertoire that includes a mid-to-high-90s fastball, plus changeup and two very good breaking balls in a curveball and slider.
Although he’s very advanced for his age, a contact I spoke with says Fernandez still has some work to do, including, “Learning how to pitch, reading hitters swings, and a better understanding of pitch sequences,” the talent evaluator said. The young hurler also has so many weapons at his disposal that he needs to learn when it’s appropriate to use each one for maximum effectiveness. Fernandez has a durable frame and should be able to provide 200+ innings with ease at the big league level. He will, though, have to watch his conditioning to prevent getting too big around the middle.
Fernandez has the tools necessary to develop into a true No. 1 starter, but he also has that special makeup that ace starters like Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay possess. The talent evaluator I spoke with said, “His singular focus on not just getting to the big leagues but being one of the best. His drive and commitment to succeed at the highest level is exceptional. [Fernandez] does not rely on his natural talent. He’s a great worker.”
The young Cuban native will open 2013 in double-A and could be in the majors at some point in the second half of the season. Say what you will about Miami’s thrifty ways, but the big league club has an impressive group of young starters with the likes of Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez, Jacob Turner, Nate Eovaldi, Justin Nicolino, Andrew Heaney, Adam Conley, Jose Urena, and Austin Brice. Fernandez should be the best of a talented bunch.
Originally considered a first base prospect coming out of high school, Yelich was immediately installed in the outfield as a pro and has settled into center field. He’s developed into one of the best pure hitters in the minor leagues. The California native was the Marlins’ first round draft pick in 2010 and he spent last season in high-A ball where he hit .330 with solid power and 20 steals in 26 attempts. After the 2012 season, Yelich attended the Arizona Fall League and hit more than .300 but he didn’t show much pop.
The lack of pop could be attributed to a long seasons in which Yelich wore down a bit at the end. He doesn’t offer a projection of plus power, but that tool should be average or better. Combined with his other tools — plus hit tool, above-average speed, above-average defense, average arm — the young prospect is close to being a complete player. Like any young hitter, he has some work to do at the plate. A contact I spoke with said Yelich needs to become more consistent with both his load and the direction of his stride. “He can get tied up on the inner third of the plate when [he’s] out of whack.”
When I asked the contact how good Yelich’s defense can be, I was told it will be above average. “He has range, instincts and deceptive closing speed,” the talent evaluator said. “The length of his release on throws needs to continue to improve. He has arm strength [but] the arm stroke is deep, long.” Yelich will move up to double-A in 2013 and could reach the majors by the end of the season. He’ll face some long-term competition for center field by recent acquisition Jake Marisnick.
Heaney came close to returning to Oklahoma State University for his senior year — despite being selected by the Marlins in the first round — but he ultimate came to terms on a pro contact. He made six starts after signing and finished the season in low-A ball. He struck out 21 with an impressive number of ground-ball outs and just four walks allowed in 20.0 A-ball innings.
A southpaw, Heaney is far from a soft-tossing lefty. His fastball has been known to touch the 96-97 mph range and he sits comfortably 91-94. He also has a solid slider that flashes plus potential. His changeup should also be an above-average offering in time, giving him three solid weapons and the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter. Heaney’s control is currently ahead of his command. His frame has some projection left to it.
A strong spring training could vault Heaney to either high-A or double-A ball to open the season. He’s exactly the type of pitcher the Marlins are looking to build around: He’s young, talented and will be cost controlled for the first three to six years of his MLB career. A contact I spoke with said the young hurler could reach the majors quickly. “We think Heaney can move quick. He is a strike-thrower with all of his pitches and they are all solid-average to plus,” he said. “He has plus make-up as well. His out pitch is his slider but he also has plus command of his fastball with a real good mentality to pitch and compete.”
The 2010 amateur draft could go down as one of the best in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays organization thanks to the plethora of high-ceiling arms that were acquired. However, the organization partially dismantled that depth through a number of high-profile trades — including one with the Marlins — in an effort to make the playoffs in 2013. Miami, on the other hand, enters yet another rebuilding phase but added a number of impressive prospects including Nicolino.
Although Nicolino has the least “pure stuff” of Toronto’s former “Big 3” group of young arms that included Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard (traded to the Mets in the R.A. Dickey deal), the lefty’s pitchability and command/control give him a chance to develop into a No. 3 starter. His stuff is still average, if not better, and he can get his heater up to 92 mph with plus control. That’s decent velocity for a southpaw and as one talent evaluator stated, “He has more velocity than most people think.” That same evaluator said that Nicolino’s changeup is a plus pitch and his curveball shows moments of being above-average, as well, and that he’s toyed with throwing a slider.
The downside to the lefty, though, is that none of his pitches currently project to be a swing-and-miss out-pitch at the big league level. When I saw him pitch mid-season, he was doing a solid job of hiding the ball, which helped his fastball look faster. He utilized a low three-quarter delivery and worked quickly. Everything was coming from the same release point and his delivery was smooth and easy. Nicolino showed some athleticism by fielding his position well. He should open 2013 in high-A ball for Miami.
Signed by Toronto for $1 million as a third round draft pick in 2009, Marisnick was placed on the fast track in 2012, playing at both high-A and double-A. The athletic outfielder produced respectable numbers prior to his promotion to double-A but then struggled against the more advanced pitching, producing a 74 wRC+ (well below league average) in 223 at-bats. During the off-season, he was traded within a package of prospects that headed to Miami for a group of veterans that included Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Jose Reyes.
Even prior to his big draft-day payday there were questions about Marisnick’s bat. However, one talent evaluator I spoke with was not worried about his double-A struggles and stated that the organization re-worked his swing twice during the season, including right after his promotion to double-A.
He also added that Marisnick was definitely the best athlete in Toronto’s system prior to the trade and was as good defensively as current Jays outfielder Anthony Gose – just not as flashy. “He’s a physical specimen,” the evaluator said of Marisnick. “He has a lot of ability and tools.”Toronto sent the center-field prospect to the Arizona Fall League to continue to get comfortable with the new mechanics of his swing and the talented evaluator commented, “I expect him to go off next year in double-A.”
The 23-year-old Cuban is known for being a highlight-reel shortstop with outstanding range, soft hands and a strong arm. He should take over for the recently-departed veteran Jose Reyes, who went to Toronto in the same deal that brought the rookie to Miami. Hechavarria saw time at third base, shortstop and second base for the Jays during a 41-game debut and his offensive skills are not suited for the hot corner at all.
The right-handed hitter has some gap power but likely won’t challenge double digits in home runs even with regular playing time. Because he doesn’t use his speed on the base paths to steal bases, Hechavarria’s ceiling with the bat is reliant on his ability to hit for average but he projects to hit in the .240 to .260 range, which would make him a below average offensive player and an eighth-hole hitter.
Poor plate discipline is the main issue with Hechavarria’s approach so there is some hope that he’ll improve in that area given enough experience. His outstanding glove work and run-saving ability, though, could make him a solid big league regular. Ideally, he could probably use at least another half year of seasoning in triple-A but he faces no competition for the shortstop job in Miami after the club flipped Yunel Escobar — also acquired from Toronto in the same deal — to Tampa Bay for another member of the Top 15 list, Derek Dietrich.
Ozuna, 22, is a prototypical right-fielder with perhaps the best power and strongest outfield throwing arm in the Marlins system. A contact I spoke with told me that the prospect flashes four tools. “He has all the tools except for the hit tool at present. [Ozuna] runs well, has an above-average arm, well-above average defense. He’s a very tooled-up athlete.” High strikeout rates caused by an over-aggressive nature and poor pitch recognition means that Ozuna currently projects as more of a .230-.260 hitter in the big leagues. He hit just .266 in high-A ball in 2012 but also slugged 24 home runs — the third straight year he’s surpassed the 20-home-run mark — and drove in 95 runs.
The 22-year-old outfielder spent the off-season playing in the veteran-heavy Dominican Winter League and got regular at-bats — a rarity given his inexperience — and held his own with 21 of his hits going for extra bases, including nine home runs. Ozuna will face a stiff test in 2013 when he moves up to double-A where pitches can typically command their secondary pitches much better and breaking balls break a little bit crisper. He’s probably about two years away from planting his feet firmly in the majors.
Urena has one of the highest ceilings in the Marlins system with mid-to-high-90s fastball velocity paired with above-average control. He also has a power slider, a curveball and a developing changeup. Urena, like any young pitcher, has a number of areas to focus on for improvement, a contact told me, including “consistency of his off-speed repertoire. He tends to work around his slider, [and has] limited action to his changeup.” He added that Urena can be in the strike zone too much at times, allowing hitters to relax.
When asked what impressed him about Urena, the talent evaluator told me, “His ability to throw strikes with a power arm. It’s not common at lower levels [of the minors].” Because his ability to throw strikes is both a benefit and a detriment, Urena will need to improve his pitchability and learn that it’s sometimes OK to throw a ball outside the strike zone. Urena will move up to high-A ball in 2013. He could reach the majors to stay in 2015.
When I saw the young hurler, he showed a fastball-heavy approach and a very quick arm. He struggled with his release point but, when everything was clicking, his heater showed some arm-side run. His slider was potent at times and his slow curveball was just OK and was used more for upsetting hitters’ timing than as an out-pitch. Urena has narrow hips, wide shoulders and long limbs. On his follow through, he falls to his left, which hinders his ability to field balls back at him.
Traded to Miami last July in the deal that sent Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to Detroit, Brantly should open 2013 as the Marlins’ starting catcher. He’s an offensive-minded catcher with a solid swing and an all-field approach that gives him a chance to hit for a solid batting average. Brantly doesn’t get a ton of leverage in his swing so he has gap power but probably won’t hit more than seven to 10 home runs in a full season.
Behind the plate, Brantly should be an average defender. He moves OK behind the dish and has an average arm. His receiving should eventually be average. Veteran defensive whiz Jeff Mathis — acquired from Toronto during the off-season — could end up being an excellent mentor for the young backstop.
Conley is the third left-handed hurler on the Top 15 list and is a little more ahead of the other two. He’ll possibly open 2013 in double-A, although the organization may be a little cautious with him and have him return to high-A for a month or two. An amateur reliever until late in his college career, Conley’s secondary pitches still need significant improvements. His changeup shows the most potential and he’s need to develop a reliable breaking ball.
With a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, the southpaw can overpower hitters at time when he’s able to command the pitch. It has a lot of movement and he induces above-average ground-ball rates. A contact I spoke with said Conley, 22, still needs to improve his physical strength and stamina, which will allow him to go deeper into ball games. Because he’s sandwiched between some higher ceiling starting prospects, a shift to the bullpen may be in the cards for Conley even if he improves his breaking ball and stamina.
To his credit, Realmuto has moved steadily through the Marlins minor league system despite the fact that he didn’t start catching regularly until he turned pro. Drafted in the third round of the 2010 draft, the former Oklahoma high school shortstop and football player has made huge strides behind the plate and does an excellent job controlling the running game. His game calling and receiving still needs some polishing.
A contact I spoke with told me that Realmuto has impressed the organization with his improvements. “His progress has gone very well, due mainly to his work ethic, well above average athleticism and work from former catching coordinator Tim Cossins,” the talent evaluator said. “He will be at least average defensively. He receives the ball well, range is sound and throwing is above average. Has a plus arm and quick release.”
At the plate, he’s a little too aggressive at times but he does a nice job of making consistent contact and doesn’t strike out much. Realmuto has a solid build but he hasn’t tapped into much in-game pop to date. He tends to wear down late in seasons due to the rigors of catching. After spending the 2012 regular season in high-A ball, he was sent to the Arizona Fall League for some additional work. Realmuto will move up to double-A in 2013 but the acquisition of Rob Brantly allows the club some extra time to ensure the latter prospect is a little more polished before he’s called upon.
Just 20, Brice is a raw but promising arm. He throws in the lower 90s and can touch 95-96 mph. The North Carolina native’s repertoire also features a curveball and a rare changeup. He spent 2012 in low-A ball where he made 19 starts and six relief appearances. He was dominant at times with 122 strikeouts in 109.2 innings. Brice, though, will struggle to reach his potential unless he improves his command and control (68 walks).
The right-hander’s future role is still up in the air. When I saw him pitch, Brice was very much ‘throwing the ball’ as opposed to pitching. He struggled with his fastball command and found himself working behind in the count more often than not. He had a solid plan, though, by trying to get ahead in the count with his heater and then using his curveball to strikeout hitters. I was impressed with his breaking ball even though he was inconsistent with his release. His curve showed 65 potential on the 20-80 scale.
The big issue for me is Brice’s delivery. He doesn’t use his lower half much in his delivery and follow through, resulting in a lot of stress on his shoulder and arm. He has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter but I personally envision a back-of-the-bullpen future for the young hurler.Brice will move up to high-A ball in 2013 and could be ready for the majors at some point in 2015 if he makes strides with his command and control.
Shortly after Yunel Escobar was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays during the blockbuster deal that also brought Top 15 prospects Justin Nicolino and Jake Marisnick, the veteran shortstop was dealt to Tampa Bay for Dietrich. The left-handed-hitting middle infielder is a former second round draft pick (2010) out of Georgia Tech. He spent most of 2012 in high-A ball but finished off the last 34 games of his season in double-A.
Dietrich, 23, has slightly-above-average pop (15-20 homers in his prime) and hits for a decent average but none of his offensive tools scream “plus.” His numbers are dragged down by his struggles against southpaws. He could also stand to get himself into better counts to see more hitters’ pitches. In the field, he’s projects as a fringe-average shortstop or average second baseman. His strong arm helps compensate for his lack of foot speed, which limits his range. There was talk that third base could be his eventual home but he doesn’t offer the type of power that teams typically look for from the hot corner. Dietrich should open 2013 in double-A and could be ready for a cup of coffee in the majors by the end of the year.
The Marlins lacked a second round draft pick in 2012 and signed Romero for significantly more than slot ($700,000 vs $458,400). A Florida native, he was bought away from his commitment to the University of Florida. The 19-year-old projects to develop into a solid hitter with average or better power. Romero has good hands and solid bat speed. He’s also shown a willingness to take the ball where it’s pitched.
His defensive ability is the biggest question mark with Romero and the prep shortstop played three positions after turning pro: shortstop, second base and third base. When asked about his potential in the field, a contact stated, “Romero has enough power for the corner but we also believe he may be athletic enough to play second base along the lines of [Dan] Uggla. He gets a little careless on defense so he needs to focus on being more consistent with his glove.” A strong spring could push Romero to full season ball after he finished 2012 in the New York Penn League. He’s about four years away from reaching the majors.
Barnes is not the most physically gifted player on the field but he has a lot of things going for him. He shows a nice level swing and the ball jumps off his bat. He makes solid contact (10.8 K%) and the ball makes a nice sound coming off of his bat. The Arizona State alum has an excellent eye at the plate and walked almost as much as he struck out in 2012 in low-A ball. When I saw him hit, Barnes was bent over a little too much and that may have been in an effort to reach the outer half of the plate.
Barnes, 23, played both second base and catcher in 2012 but he’s been catching for just four years and appeared in just 16 games back there last year so he may not be more than a third-string catcher in the majors. He’ll move up to high-A ball in 2013 and could see double-A by the end of the year. He may end up as a part-time player but he could also become an everyday guy at either second base or catcher if his defense finally clicks.