The Miami Marlins are in the midst of a race for the NL East and the postseason, which is surprising given their cellar-dweller expectations before the season began. As a result, the team is potentially mulling moves over to compete for a playoff spot, and one of those moves is to promote top pitching propsect Andrew Heaney to the majors. According to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald, the most recent off day yesterday may open the spot for Heaney to be promoted this week.
Throw in the fact that it's now possible for the Marlins to safely call up Heaney from Triple A New Orleans without risking Super 2 status, and it muddles the picture even further.
Heaney went six innings Saturday for the Zephyrs, allowing a run on five hits over six innings. He struck out nine while walking one. He has now made four starts for New Orleans, going 3-0 with a 2.74 ERA. Overall this season, he is 7-2 with a 2.47 ERA while striking out 79 in 76 2/3 innings
If the Marlins decide to promote Heaney now, he could start either Friday or Saturday after the Marlins return home from their road trip. If they decide to give him another start at Triple A, he would likely come up in the Mets series at home.
Apparently the mid-June time period is the likely safe zone for Super Two arbitration, leaving Miami not at risk for paying an extra season of arbitration for their top pitching prospect. With that in mind, the Fish should immediately promote Heaney as soon as reasonably possible. The primary reason is that the Marlins need the help as quickly as possible, and Heaney has shown to be more than ready for the Major League spotlight.
But Bill Barnwell of Grantland highlights an even more interesting reason for such a move.
Jose Fernandez was basically the same guy in High-A ball he was in the major leagues. And had the Marlins pursued a more traditional development path with their young starter, the vast majority of these innings before his TJ surgery would have come in the minor leagues. Outside of concerns about starting a young pitcher’s service-time clock, that seems suboptimal. The Marlins obviously couldn’t have known when Fernandez would require surgery, but if there’s no way to guard against a pitcher getting hurt and a pitcher has only a certain number of bullets in his arm before hitting the operating table, a team’s goal should be to make those pitches as important as possible. And that’s accomplished only by getting him to the major leagues.
The premise that Barnwell highlights here is that the Marlins, as well as other teams, have no idea if and when a pitcher will run into the ulnar collateral ligament buzzsaw and require Tommy John surgery or any other injury repair. Provided they perform the best available care to their knowledge, teams should run prepared, ready pitchers out into the majors as soon as possible once financial hurdles are cleared. The earlier the pitcher makes it to the majors, the more significant his young, effective innings are. Throwing for the big league club as soon as possible provides the most value to the team.
And Andrew Heaney, who came out of college and was drafted in part because he would be ready by 2014, has certainly proven his mettle to the Fish. Over the last year and a half, he has motored through the minors at three different levels and dominated at each stop, including his latest stint at Triple-A. Through four starts, he has struck out 29 percent of batters faced and walked just 2.2 percent of them en route to a 2.74 ERA and 2.07 FIP. Everything he has shown screams "MLB-ready" for Miami.
The Marlins should waste no time in getting Heaney up here if the team feels he has cleared Super Two danger, and given that the Pittsburgh Pirates have already done the same for Gregory Polanco, it seems that should be the case. But the question of what to do with Heaney afterward is an even more intriguing one.
And then there's this: once the inevitable occurs and Heaney is promoted, it would only seem natural -- given their history last season with Jose Fernandez -- that they'll limit the left-hander's pitch count. Fernandez was shut down in September after throwing 172 innings. Heaney totaled only 95 innings last season, so he'll eventually be entering uncharted territory in terms of his total workload.
Heaney's career high last season was 95 innings, and if you prescribe to the old theory of advancing innings by 30 per season tops, then you would expect Heaney to have less than 50 innings remaining to pitch this season. If you want to go from his maximum innings, combining college and pro seasons, Heaney threw 145 innings in 2012 between Oklahoma State and the Marlins' low-level affiliates. If that suits your fancy, then that still puts Heaney's limits at 100 more innings on the year.
If the Marlins hit the limit for Heaney during a down time in their organization, when the club is out of contention, it would be wisest to carefully manage him and protect his arm. But if the Fish are in contention down the stretch in September, is there strong evidence that Miami giving him 10 to 20 more innings will break him? Given that Heaney is already close to the age when pitcher arms are full developed, it would seem that his risk should be less than someone like Jose Fernandez at age 21. Miami needs to do what it believes is best for its arms, but protecting a player who may inevitably hit the surgery table anyway is a little blindly altruistic,
As with most things, there will be no set rule for Andrew Heaney. Miami will make a judgment based on what it sees from his mechanics and from how his work develops in the majors. If alarms are raised, he will be shut down, and it will be the right thing to do. If not, and if the Marlins are contending, a tough decision will have to be made, and perhaps the right one will be to allow him to work despite the concerns of injury. A pitcher only has a certain number of bullets, and teams have no idea how many are in the chamber. Provided you manage a pitcher's work in games appropriately, why not let him fire those bullets at the most important time, when there are pennant flags on the line?