MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 05: Miami Marlins players make fun of the fuzzy backpack on newly called up pitcher A.J. Ramos #44 before playing the Milwaukee Brewers at Marlins Park on September 5, 2012 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
At first, it was not clear who the Miami Marlins would promote for September callups this season, particularly because many of the prospects the team needs to evaluate, such as Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, and Rob Brantly, are already in the majors. But after a few days, it seems the Marlins are bringing up a few players from the minors for the September roster expansion, and they are all relievers.
The Fish have promoted relievers A.J. Ramos, Tom Koehler, Chris Hatcher, and Dan Jennings to the majors so far during roster expansions, and we have seen a glimpse of each of these players either recently or previously during the 2012 season. For Hatcher and Jennings, this marks a return visit to the majors after multiple short-term promotions to the big league level this season. For Ramos and Koehler, this is their first opportunity at the big leagues and they have already made their debuts to strikingly different results.
Let's review these four players' seasons in the minors and see what they can bring to the table.
Ramos spent all of this season pitching for the Double-A Jacksonville Suns, and he had an excellent year out of the bullpen. The soon-to-be 26 year-old pitcher undrafted prospect out of Texas Tech threw 68 2/3 innings in Double-A and posted a spectacular 34.1 percent strikeout rate en route to a 1.44 ERA and 2.09 FIP. This followed an equally strong year in High-A Jupiter in which he posted a 1.78 ERA and 2.33 FIP. For his career, Ramos has always had ridiculous strikeout rates in the minors, with a career rate of 33.6 percent rate.So why was Ramos never featured? Aside from the fact that relief prospects in general are less intriguing, there is the additional problem that he has done this while being old for each level. As a result, Ramos was only ranked as the organization's 20th best prospect by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. In essence, the reason Ramos was never considered highly is that he is just too old to be considered a prospect as a reliever. But it does not mean that a guy with his kind of stuff based on the strikeout numbers cannot be used in the majors, and the Marlins should give him an extended look as a relief arm next season to fill in some of their pen holes.
Koehler is a 26 year-old starting pitcher who had one superb season in Double-A a few years back and since then has struggled to repeat that kind of success. At 24 years of age, he threw 158 2/3 innings and posted a 2.61 ERA and 3.29 FIP. He was promoted to Triple-A but faltered in 2011, putting up a 4.97 ERA and 4.89 FIP thanks in part to both a drop in strikeouts and a loss of control on the mound. His numbers have rebounded decently this season, but his year in Triple-A at an advanced age just is not impressive enough to warrant much discussion. He is a prototypical example of "minor league depth."
Jennings was not impressive in his major league stints thus far this season, having pitched 11 innings but walked seven with only four strikeouts. But in his second stint in Triple-A, he showed what he can do out of the bullpen: get ground balls (55.4 percent ground ball rate in Triple-A in 2012) and get swings and misses (22.6 percent strikeout rate). While Jennings was also a little old for the minors this season at age 25, he still has shown enough stuff that he could be worth a look as a second lefty out of the bullpen next year. Given that such a role carries a lot less leverage, the Marlins can afford to skimp and go with a fringe talent like Jennings rather than spend on a player like Randy Choate. If Jennings's sinker / slider combination can do well against left-handers, he will do for the sixth or seventh inning LOOGY position.
Hatcher has been quite successful in the minors thus far in his abbreviated pitching career, posting a 1.32 ERA in 95 2/3 innings pitched between Double- and Triple-A levels. This year, he struck out 23.9 percent of batters faced and posted a 0.77 ERA and 2.65 FIP along the way. He has gotten this kind of success mostly on the back of his mid-90's fastball, as his secondary offerings are far less developed. However, in two major league stints, one can see that he still has a ways to go before being a successful major league reliever with high-velocity stuff. Those secondary offerings are still the concern, especially with regards to control and command of the pitches.
Hatcher, among all of these names, has the best chance to be a good reliever based solely on his high-level stuff, but Ramos seems to have the most developed repertoire and could be shooting up the ranks for a spot in the pen next season. I would be willing to bet that Ramos, Hatcher, and Jennings will see significant time in the bullpen as the Marlins cut costs on fungible relievers and invest their money elsewhere, having learned the lessons of Heath Bell. If even one of these guys pans out into a successful major league reliever, the Fish will get a nice win out of it.