I’ve seen Andrew Heaney pitch several times, but the most memorable occasion was at the 2012 Big XII Baseball Tournament. Oklahoma State and Oklahoma were facing off at 9:00 am on a Wednesday. Bleary-eyed and still trying to wake up, I snagged a coffee and a breakfast burrito (not my usual ballpark fare) from the concession stands and headed down to take my seat behind home plate. Clearly, my expectations for this game were pretty low; after all, this was possibly the earliest start time many of the players had ever experienced.
I may have been a bit low on energy, but Heaney was ready to roll. The lanky lefty took the hill like it was 7:00 pm on a Friday and proceeded to systematically dismantle a very good Oklahoma team that would go on to the super-regionals. Through the first eight innings, Heaney allowed only two soft singles, with one walk and eight strikeouts, on just 86 pitches. His fastball was a tick below his usual velocity, as he was maxing out at 92 mph instead of 94, but his three-pitch mix still had opponents flailing wildly. His mid-80s slider was maybe even better that morning than I’d previously seen, and he was consistently hitting the strike zone with his low-80s change-up as well.
The game didn’t end well for Heaney, as Garrett Carey, a .210-hitting utility player, ran into a fastball and put it in the seats for his first career home run to lead off the ninth and give Oklahoma a 1-0 win. By then, however, Heaney had done plenty to wake up every scout in attendance. A prominent national writer sitting a couple seats over turned to me and said, “That kid could probably be a fifth starter in the majors right now.” The Cowboys would go on to lose again the next day, ending their season and Heaney’s collegiate career, but he certainly made an impression on his way out.
Even in college, Heaney was a tremendously polished pitcher. His delivery is easy and repeatable, with little wasted effort. None of his three pitches are what I would call plus offerings, but they’re all at least average and he pounds the strike zone with all three. Heaney may not have the ceiling of an ace, but his floor is likely that of a consistent back-end starter. I think the key to him reaching his maximum potential is bulking up his frame a bit. The 22-year-old is pretty thin; I’d like to see him fill out, as it would alleviate durability concerns and hopefully add a couple ticks to his fastball.
In his 122.1 minor-league innings, Heaney has been excellent, pitching to a 2.21 earned run average while striking out just under a batter per inning. He was similarly dominant in this year’s Arizona Fall League, allowing just 28 total baserunners in 27.2 IP, striking out 24 on his way to a 1.95 ERA.
The one major negative I have for the former 9th-overall pick is that he likely won’t pile up the strikeouts in the majors. He finished the 2013 season in Double-A, where his strikeout rate dipped all the way down to 6.15 per nine innings. I view him more as a 7.00 K/9 guy long-term, but that’s still nothing flashy. Furthermore, his strike-thrower mentality may hurt him a bit in the big leagues, as major-league hitters are more likely to be able to square up pitches on the black.
So where does Heaney stand for fantasy purposes going into 2014? To begin, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Heaney breaks camp with the Marlins. They showed last year with Jose Fernandez that they’re willing to push their prospects, and I’ll go out on a limb here and say that I don’t think anyone in Miami would be particularly thrilled if Tom Koehler made 23 starts again this year. Suffice it to say, there’s room for Heaney in the Marlins’ rotation to start the season if they think he’s ready. If not, expect him up by June.
Whether it happens in April or June, I expect Heaney to be successful from the get-go due to his command/control profile and high baseball IQ. While he may not be a huge strikeout guy, I like the chances for a strike-throwing lefty in a spacious ballpark. While I don’t see him being a hot commodity in standard mixed leagues in 2014, owners in NL-only leagues should keep a close eye on Heaney as the season approaches. I’m confident in saying that he will likely be owned in the vast majority of NL-only leagues by year’s end.
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