Our Fish Stripes Top 20 Prospects list continues with numbers 13-15, featuring pitcher Mason Hope, outfielder Jesus Solorzano, and third basemen Zack Cox.
13. Mason Hope, RHP
Drafted: 2011, 5th round out of Broken Arrow HS (OK)
Age: 20 Height: 6'3'' Weight: 190 lb.
Out of all the pitchers in the Marlins minor league system, a system that has been drastically improved over the last year through trades and the draft, right-hander Mason Hope is one of the most intriguing. Despite not putting up overwhelming numbers on the radar gun with his imposing 6'3" frame, Hope's smooth mechanics and above-average offspeed offerings could give him a ceiling of a middle-0f-the-rotation make him a prospect that is certainly worth keeping an eye on over the next several seasons.
Hope was taken by the Fish in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, out of Broken Arrow High School in Oklahoma. If that high school sounds familiar, it's because it's also the alma mater of the first-round selection of the Arizona Diamondbacks in that same draft, righty Archie Bradley. However, just because Bradley got much of the spotlight at Broken Arrow, it didn't mean that Hope went unnoticed. During his senior season for the Tigers, Hope struck out a whopping 103 batters in just 58.1 innings of work. Like his teammate Bradley, Hope also had committed to the University of Oklahoma until the Marlins signed him away for $250,000.
Since being drafted, Hope has only seen limited action across two levels but the results have nonetheless been encouraging. He started 14 games last season for Jamestown, where he posted a 2.90 ERA and 1.75 GO/AO ratio in 71.1 innings of work. The one minor concern of Hope's 2012 season were reports near the end of the season that said he had begun to lose velocity and was only throwing his fastball in the high-80's. I'm sure that the organization is well aware of this and hoping it is only an isolated incident, but luckily because Hope is just 20 years old, the club can afford to monitor his pitch counts and perhaps even put an innings limit on the young righty going forward.
Mechanically, Hope possesses an extremely smooth and repeatable delivery that is rare for such a young pitcher. Hope doesn't overpower with his fastball, as it runs anywhere in the 90-94 MPH range, but his sharp curveball (already an above-average grade) could be the key to his development and being able to rack up strikeouts in the future. His changeup is still a work in progress but the good news is that based on his ground ball rate, he is at the very least effective in being able to keep the ball down in the strike zone. By the end of his development, Hope has the chance to have three above-average pitches in his arsenal.
Mason Hope may not have the ceiling of other top Marlins pitching prospects like Jose Fernandez or Justin Nicolino, but the 20-year-old's development is certainly something to keep an eye on over the next couple seasons. Hope should spent most, if not all, of 2013 in Greensboro and if all goes according to plan, there's a chance he could make his big-league debut some time in 2015.
14. Jesus Solorzano, OF
Drafted: Signed as international free agent (Venezuela)
Age: 22 Height: 6'0'' Weight: 190 lb.
Venezuela native Jesus Solorzano is another toolsy Marlins outfield prospect that could develop into a starter for the Fish down the road. The organization has been patient with the 22-year-old, who has flashed the potential for all five tools as he enters his fifth season in the professional ranks. Solorzano's impressive showing at Jamestown last season and his ceiling as a potential starter in the outfield lands him in the fourteenth spot of our Fish Stripes Top 20 prospects list.
Solorzano was signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela and spent his first two professional seasons with the club's Domincan Summer League team. After a rough debut in 2009, Solorzano started to flash his potential in 2009 after posting a .286/.365/.349 line to go along with 12 stolen bases. He saw his first action in the states during the 2011 season, after the club brought him to the Gulf Coast League. Solorzano once again improved his numbers from the year before, particularly in the power department as he saw his slugging percentage rise by nearly 100 points. As mentioned before, however, Solorzano's best season to date was undeniably his 2012 campaign with Jamestown in the New York Penn League. Solorzano posted a line of .314/.374/.519 with eight home runs and seven stolen bases. The numbers were certainly impressive, but it's also true that Solorzano is starting to get old for the levels he's producing at, which is part of the reason why 2013 is a bit of a make-or-break year in terms of his prospect status.
In terms of ability, Solorzano has the potential for average grades for all five tools. He's already shown the potential to steal bases because of his speed, although his stolen base percentages aren't exactly where they probably should be. He has improved his power numbers each and every season, but it's still unclear whether he'll have the power to profile at a corner outfield spot. Overall, Solorzano's hit tool has been his most consistent tool to date and that may very well be his ticket to the big leagues if he continues at his current pace.
Jesus Solorzano is another intriguing, toolsy outfielder making his way through the Marlins' system. Miami has handled Solorzano with care up to this point in his development, but I'd expect the organization to challenge and aggressively promote the 22-year-old this season, which may give them a better insight into what kind of ceiling Solorzano possesses. If all goes according to plan, you can expect to see Solorzano at the big-league level some time around late 2015.
15. Zack Cox, 3B
Drafted: 2010, 1st round, 25th overall (by St. Louis) out of Univ. of Arkansas
Age: 20 Height: 6'3'' Weight: 215 lb.
Third basemen Zack Cox is a prospect that has been steadily falling on most prospect lists since being taken by the Cardinals with the 25th overall selection in the 2010 draft. After acquiring Cox from St. Louis for Edward Mujica last season, the Marlins are hoping that Cox can prove his doubters wrong and help the club at a position they have had a hard time finding stability at over the past several seasons. Taking into account his recent history, Cox comes in as the fifteenth-best prospect on our Fish Stripes Top 20 list.
When the Cardinals selected Cox in the first round of the 2010 draft, many felt that he was one of the safer picks in the entire draft. Scouts lauded Cox for his advanced bat and chance to profile as a long-term starter at third base. Unfortunately, Cox has begun to fall out of favor with many of those same scouts. His first two seasons in the Cards' organization were extremely impressive but since then, Cox's numbers have fallen dramatically across the board. Part of that, and especially last season, likely had to do with Cox's injury issues, after missing time in 2012 for groin, concussion, and hamstring problems. Earlier this spring, Juan C. Rodriguez from the Sun-Sentinel mentioned how Cox had essentially tried to force himself into being more of a power hitter last season and that he didn't allow himself to fully regain his health. From all indications, Cox has overcome his nagging injuries from last season and sounds motivated to prove scouts and others who may have gotten off the bandwagon to reconsider their decision. He'll likely never be a major power threat, but if he can swing the bat and get on base at a high clip like he did early in his professional career, he can still be a valuable starter at the big-league level.
The Marlins made the low-risk, high-reward move by acquiring Cox, a player who is on the cusp of being considered a "former top prospect." With the signing of Placido Polanco as a one-year stopgap option at the hot corner, they've afforded Cox the opportunity to get some bats at Triple-A New Orleans before deciding whether he'll be ready to take over the third base duties on a regular basis. If Cox is able to return to his early top prospect form, he could wind up becoming the organization's biggest steal from 2012's now-infamous roster annihilation.