The Miami Marlins are looking at yet another important offseason to establish their roster for the near future. The Fish are looking to extend Giancarlo Stanton to a long-term deal, but they are also trying to fill other positions of need. The team could look to Cuban free agent Jose Dariel Abreu as well.
One other thing that the team is considering is trading from theri considerable pitching depth in the minors to buy on a young, cost-controlled position player, at least according to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com.
Miami is building around a solid, young pitching staff. Four untouchables in that rotation are Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez and Jacob Turner. Aside from lefty, Andrew Heaney, now at Double-A Jacksonville, the club may consider dealing any other of their good, young arms for offensive help.
A hitting catcher appears high on Miami’s wish list.
Frisaro gives the example of Atlanta Braves catcher Evan Gattis as the type of player in whom the team would have interest. We know that the Marlins have enough pitching depth to survive failures from some of their prospects, but another way to manage those assets is to become a "buyer" and try and send one or two of those players away to acqurie talent that can fill a middle infield or catcher position for three to four years.
The part that I found interesting about those comments from Frisaro was the list of "untouchable" players. The most obvious inclusion is Jose Fernandez, who is set to be the team's ace for some time. The more questionable inclusions are three of teh team's 2013 keys to success, Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner, and Henderson Alvarez.
This designation is understandable to a degree. Of the team's other top pitching prospects, only Andrew Heaney and Brian Flynn seem potentially ready for 2014. Naturally, the Fish would like three pitchers who are carrying decent numbers in the majors to populate their rotation next year. Tack that onto the trio's good ERAs in 2013 and you can understand why Miami would want to hold onto them.
But each of those players has a distinct, obvious flaw, and the Marlins would be wise to rank them internally. Which one of these guys holds the best promise going forward, and which one can the Fish most afford to trade? The following is a ranking based on the latest developments of the pitchers and is determined based on current and future performance considerations.
3. Henderson Alvarez
Alvarez has had a stellar start to the 2013 season, but he is also still the player with the weakest tools among the three starters. His sinker is still a highly effective pitch, but his arsenal remains one that fails to get strikeouts, and his early lack of ground balls (49.4 percent) is not encouraging. The rest of Alvarez's pitches are so underwhelming right now that his growth is likely limited. The absolute best thing that can happen to him is that he has a long, effective career like those of Derek Lowe or Tim Hudson if he improves on his control. But he is still a long ways away from that.
2. Jacob Turner
Before the season, I had Turner as the most promising player in the group of five young prospects this season, but despite his solid return to the majors, there are legitimate concerns abut his game. It took a minor league demotion to start the year and his subsequent struggles in Triple-A to overcome his prospect pedigree as a "control pitcher" and highlight his difficulties placing pitches. The lack of control (or perhaps it is command in this case) has not hurt his walk rate, but it has bitten into his strikeouts and probably helped cause some of the hard-hit balls he has seen throughout his career. He still holds the promise of a top prospect, but it is clear at this point that he would have to take a leap from this level of production to become an above average starter, because his current arsenal will not get him there.
1. Nathan Eovaldi
Eovaldi's ascent to the top of the list of Major League ready pitchers acquired in recent trade by the Fish is a surprising one. Turner was once an elite prospect, and Alvarez had a solid 10-start beginning just two years ago. Eovaldi is also the oldest of the three players, a little less than two months older than the 23-year-old Alvarez.
But Eovaldi has one thing on his side, and he is the one pitcher with a clearly measurable difference in performance this year: his new, faster fastball. Quietly, Captain EO's fastball has jumped two miles per hour this season, up to 96.1 mph on average this season. Such an improvement is correlated with a 0.6 to 0.9 runs per game drop in ERA, and that is akin to what we have seen thus far this season.
The issue is that, while the fastball has improved, the rest of his arsenal still has not. His secondary pitches still remain weak. His strikeouts are up, so are his walks. The major contributor so far this year to his stellar performance (2.86 ERA, 3.83 FIP) is a low home run rate and a .231 BABIP. Neither of those will last for much longer (or at the very least, they are more likely to go up), so we cannot be sure just how much Eovaldi has improved.
All three pitchers are flawed, even if they are at least Major League quality. While Alvarez may be the most tradable and Eovaldi the least, these three are not all that far away from each other in terms of performance right now. None of them should necessarily be "untouchable" in any sense. If the Marlins get an interesting offer, they should consider it, even if it means leaning more on guys like Heaney and Flynn and less on slightly more proven talent.
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