Editor's note: Today marks the start of our month-long coverage of the 2014 MLB Draft with regards to the Miami Marlins. We begin by discussing the Fish's current assets before going into the future of the organization, and we start out by reviewing the organization's deepest area: pitching. -MJ
In one month's time, the Miami Marlins will be drafting in one of the more critical drafts in team history, as the Fish will be selecting second and should have a chance at snagging an important player who could contribute to the team's bright future. But before we can discuss the 2014 draft and all of its intricacies for the Fish, we should address the team's current situation and see where Miami is at its deepest or its weakest. To start things off, we will discuss the organization's biggest strength: pitching.
The Marlins opened the 2014 season with an enviable amount of pitching depth led by one of the best prospects in baseball, lefty starter Andrew Heaney. While Heaney is a top-20 talent, the Marlins landed three other players in the top 150 prospects according to John Sickels of Minor League Ball, and two of those players were pitchers. Beyond those two pitchers, Miami has an additional talent who is almost at the big-league level and another surprise name who climbed up the ranks last season, plus a number of promising lower-minors arms. In all ways, the team's starting pitching is its deepest position.
The Marlins make up for that depth by having little in the way of high-end talent. Heaney is head and shoulders above the rest of the prospects, but the other players are not projected to be much. Many of them have the same ceiling and floor description: mid-rotation starter at best, with a likely reliever or non-contributor floor at worst. The Marlins have at least three players who profile like stable back-rotation starters or relief options, with none of them expected to reach heights even Nathan Eovaldi has already achieved.
Heaney is the diamond of the deep group of starters. He is an elite, polished talent who, only part way into his second short stint in Double-A, already looks big-league ready. Before the season, this is what Fish Stripes prospect maven Sam Evans had to say about Heaney.
If everything goes right, Heaney is in the Marlins starting rotation by midseason. Andrew Heaney has a bright future with the Marlins but only time will tell whether or not they made the right choice taking him as their first-round pick. Heaney deservedly sits at the top of this list because of his prestige, potential, and his track record so far in professional baseball. Andrew Heaney doesn't have the most potential of anyone in the Marlins farm system, but he probably his the most likely chance to reach his potential in the Majors.
Here is what John Sickels said about Heaney before the season.
1) Andrew Heaney, LHP, Grade A-: Borderline B+. Is it just me, or does this guy not get enough attention? He’s one of the top pitching prospects in baseball with three quality pitches and a great performance record. He’s not going to be a superstar but I would be surprised if he doesn’t have a long and successful career.
Both essentially said similar things. Heaney appears to top out as a second starter with a polished college repertoire and three Major League offerings. His command and control displayed during each stop in the minors has only fueled his status as an elite prospect. Once, he was listed as a "safe" pick at ninth from Miami, but now Heaney is expected to anchor a rotation behind Jose Fernandez as early as the middle of this season.
Nicolino was acquired in the Toronto Blue Jays fire sale trade and was viewed as the most polished but lowest-ceiling of a trio of worthy Jays pitching prospects. He spent time in 2013 in various top-100 prospect lists, but he struggled to generate strikeouts in 2014 and lost some status as a result. He ranked 150th in Sickels's top 150 prospects.
Here is what Fish Stripes prospect maven Eric Weston said about Nicolino before the season.
Despite his struggles at the end of last season, Nicolino looks to be very nearly a finished product. The surplus of pitching in the system will grant him another crack at Double-A, but under different circumstances, he could likely start in the majors today without too much trouble. His ability to mix velocities and locate to both sides of the plate might make him a better candidate to start now than Brian Flynn. Unlike Flynn, however, he represents an important piece in the Marlins' long-term future, and will benefit from additional seasoning in the minors.
Here is what John Sickels said about Nicolino before the season.
3) Justin Nicolino, LHP, Grade B-: Borderline B. His component ratios slipped last year with a reduced strikeout rate in Low-A and Double-A, and his projection is as more of mid-rotation guy than an ace. His stock is down a little although I think that the bigger problem is that I overrated him as a B+ last year when he should have been a straight B. I still like him more than I perhaps should; we’ll see how he adapts this year.
Nicolino is struggling through a low-strikeout valley in Double-A (10.2 percent rate), but he also has a 2.90 ERA and 2.79 FIP in six starts thus far. The continuing problems with strikeouts may drop his stock further.
Conley was a second-round draft pick in 2011 who developed very well since beginning his trek up the minors. He has shown improvement at each level despite making the conversion from reliever to lefty starter, and his work has earned him a fifth-placed ranking in Fish Stripes's preseason top 20 prospects and a 144th-place ranking in Sickels's top 150 prospects.
Here is what Sam Evans had to say about Conley before the season.
Working at times in the same rotation as Jose Fernandez, Conley definitely was able to steal the spotlight from Fernandez some times with absolutely dominant performances. In 2013, Conley continued to shine, this time in 138.2 innings pitched for Double-A Jacksonville. There, he posted a 2.95 FIP and struck out 8.37 batters per nine innings.
Adam Conley has a very bright future in the Majors and he's a good bet to become a reliable #3 or #4 starter for years to come.
Here is what Sickels had to say.
5) Adam Conley, LHP, Grade B-: Successful season in Double-A (3.25, 129/37 K/BB in 139 innings) on strength of low-90s fastball, strong change, improving slider, and deceptive delivery. Some scouts still see him as a reliever down the line but he’s done enough to merit consideration as a fourth starter.
Conley is flourishing in Triple-A New Orleans in terms of peripherals. with a fantastic 26.2 percent strikeout rate and a 2.95 FIP to his name. However, hitters are snagging hits with some good fortune early (.330 BABIP), leading to an ugly 4.77 ERA.
Urena has a hard fastball with a solid changeup and developing breaking pitches, but he also has the mentality of Nathan Eovaldi. Urena's control has been lauded as he climbs the levels, but he has gotten away with subpar stirkeout rates for a player who throws as hard as he does.
Here's what Eric Weston said about him before the season.
Here's John Sickels's take.
9) Jose Urena, RHP, Grade C+: Borderline B-. Another potential mid-rotation starter, posted 3.73 ERA with 107/29 K/BB in 150 innings in High-A. Good control of fastball/changeup combo, breaking stuff still under development.
Urena boasts similar strikeout rates and a bump in walks during a rough season thus far in Double-A. His FIP remains steady at 3.66, which is similar to his numbers at two previous levels, but his ERA of 5.85 is ugly early in the year.
Desclafani was a forgotten member of the Blue Jays trade, but he has turned a low-90's fastball and control repertoire into some successful outings for the Fish. So far this season, the University of Florida product has posted a 22.1 percent strikeout rate and a 3.19 FIP, identical to the one he put up last year in Double-A.
Here's what Sam Evans had to say about him.
In 2012, with Toronto A-ball affiliate Lansing, DeSclafani posted a 2.70 FIP in 123 innings, but still he seemed to fly under the radar. In 2013, DeSclafani started 12 games for High Class-A Jupiter and 13 for Double-A Jacksonville. At both levels, he dominated, but perhaps what finally got him some attention was that his strikeouts were starting to go up. Overall, combining the two levels, DeSclafani posted a 2.67 ERA and struck out 115 batters in 127 innings. Not bad for a pitcher who was seemingly an afterthought in one of the biggest trades of 2012.
Here's what John Sickels said before the season.
6) Anthony DeSclafani, RHP, Grade B-: Control-oriented inning-eater type, posted 115/33 K/BB in 129 innings between High-A and Double-A, using 90-95 MPH fastball, good slider and occasional curves and changeups. Like Flynn, Conley, and Nicolino, he projects as a competent starting pitcher.
The final piece of the pitching depth puzzle at the top of the organization is Brian Flynn, who is working in Triple-A for the second straight year. He was initially an additional prospect piece in the Anibal Sanchez trade, but with Jacob Turner's struggles, he has the potential to be the best piece of that deal. Right now, however, he has just a 3.79 ERA and 4.03 FIP in Triple-A, which pales in comparison to his best-in-the-league performance in 2013.
Here's what Eric Weston had to say about him.
And here's John Sickels on Flynn.
4) Brian Flynn, LHP, Grade B-. Huge 6-8 lefty led Pacific Coast League in ERA due to improved slider and changeup to go with 88-95 MPH fastball. He got hit hard in 18 big league innings due to command troubles which hadn’t bothered him during the minor league season, but he will get more chances. Relief work is fallback option but he could become a solid fourth starter.
The Marlins are also blessed with some decent, if flawed, talent further down the pipeline. Austin Brice held some promise before an ugly 2013 season, and Angel Sanchez is making his way up the minors while being above average age for his level.
Miami's other area of depth is in their relief corps, where they have a few prospects of interest who could contribute soon for the team. Nick Wittgren leads the relief charge after a stellar year in High-A Jupiter. His early season results in Double-A are not great, but he is only 14 innings into his career in higher levels. Arquimedes Caminero and Sam Dyson represent talent close to the majors who could produce this season, though Caminero's first Major League run in 2014 was a struggle. Colby Suggs is a 2013 draft pick who could move quickly through the minors as a highly-selected relief prospect.
What do you Fish Stripers think of the Marlins' pitching depth? Who are you most interested in? Should the Marlins target pitching early and often in the 2014 draft? Let us know in the comments!