The Miami Marlins will finally turn to top prospect Andrew Heaney in tonight's game against the New York Mets, the first in a four-game series to wrap up this latest home stand. Miami is struggling, and the Marlins will turn to one of their best and brightest to light a fire under them in their race to the top of the National League East.
The Fish turning to Heaney was a wise move, both in terms of acquiring wins and avoiding arbitration problems. And the Fish will not restrict Heaney if they are still competing by the end of the year either. But what can Marlins fans expect from their latest much-hyped prospect? Here is a primer on everything Andrew Heaney.
It was well accepted that Heaney was among the best prospects in baseball before the season began. Here at Fish Stripes, we ranked him as the team's best prospect, and that was unanimous among the legion of other prospect writers ranking the Marlins' best youngsters. As for national recognition, he ranked 30th by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, and 29th by MLB.com.
Here is what Sam Evans had to say about the Marlins' best prospect.
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.
That sort of high-floor, low-ceiling approach was a surprise from Miami in 2012, but the Fish ended up benefiting in spades by picking Heaney ninth in that draft. While the Fish usually draft for potential, the Heaney selection appeared to be geared to supplement the team as early as 2014 as their rotation from that long-ago 2012 year slowly left Miami. Sure enough, Heaney is here helping a new but still effective rotation in 2014, exactly as planned.
Here are Mark Anderson and Brett Sayre of Baseball Prospectus discussing Heaney's pitches.
Heaney will routinely sit 91-93 mph with his fastball, dipping to 88-89 at times and ramping it up to 96-97 mph when he needs a little extra. His fastball has natural life and jumps at hitters thanks to his smooth and simple delivery. Everything looks easy for Heaney on the mound, and at times he appears to lull hitters to sleep before unleashing a plus heater.
Heaney’s best secondary pitch is a legitimate plus slider that has some projection remaining. He knows how to throw the pitch for strikes and move it out of the zone as a chase pitch, and even when he doesn’t have his best feel, the pitch can miss bats. At its best, Heaney’s slider can be a wipeout pitch that gives him two offerings that could approach the plus-plus range.
Rounding out his arsenal, Heaney offers an average changeup that is still developing. He was often too firm with the changeup last season but has gained feel and trust for the pitch during the first two months of this campaign. Adding the feel for the changeup was the finishing touch for Heaney, which should allow him to work through MLB lineups multiple times.
Two of Heaney's offerings are considered potential plus-plus pitches with already Major League quality to them. His best pitch is the slider, which he can throw against both sides of the plate. The slider buries deep in the back feet of right-handed hitters, making it a swing-and-miss tool against them, and it dips far and away against lefites. It offers a slurvy motion with good dip out of the zone as well, but he can throw the pitch for strikes.
The fastball sits at your typical left-handed velocity, but what Heaney does best with it is locate it well. Heaney's command of all three of his pitches is top-notch, and it allows him to get away with lesser raw stuff thanks to his pitchability. Heaney can get the fastball up in velocity as well as needed.
The core of Heaney's skill can be found in his mechanically sound approach. Having honed his craft for three years in Oklahoma State University, it seems Heaney's motion is deliberate but repeatable and features no major mechanical flaws.
Watching the video of Heaney's continuous pitching, you can see that his motion is smooth and without significant hitches. He has a deliberate leg kick in the windup that essentially disappears in the stretch. His issues with runners can be tied to that deliberate motion, however, as even his stretch work seems slow to the plate.
Still, the moves have little in the way of concern. The smoothness means his motion is low on effort, and that bodes well for elbow or shoulder concerns. The arm slot does not change between windup and stretch and he does not appear to tip or change anything with different pitch choices. The follow-through and stride is consistent and he ends on the same side and angle of the mound on almost every pitch. The reports on his polish on the mound are well deserved.
Heaney likely would have been promoted anyway regardless of his current numbers if he were simply progressing appropriately, as the Marlins were desperate to add rotation help. But it does help that Heaney was actually rolling hitters at two different levels to begin the year. At age 23, he was dominating hitters in a league about a year and a half older than him on average, having made the full-time jump to Double-A with no problems. He then ate up Triple-A in his final audition as he awaited the Super Two border, and once it passed, Miami was all but certain that Heaney was ready for the big leagues.
The most encouraging thing for Heaney's numbers is the increase in strikeouts this year. Last season, he attempted the conversion from the pitcher-friendly Roger Dean Stadium in High-A Jupiter to Double-A Jacksonville and his strikeouts suffered as a result. But after a highly successful Arizona Fall League stint this past offseason, Heaney bumped the strikeout rate in Double-A from 16.7 percent to almost 24 percent, and that alleviated fears that his stuff may not be good enough to increase his ceiling or advance him further.
Right now, the projection systems expect an ERA between 3.41 and 3.98. In other words, the Marlins are expecting to replace the near-replacement level performance of guys like Jacob Turner and Randy Wolf with Heaney's near-league average mark. But this expectation could go up as Heaney begins his Major League career. He is the most polished Marlins pitcher the team has ever drafted, as he remained a high-floor player with a back-of-the-rotation projection right from the draft, so the Fish are hoping that the last year and a half of performance is convincing enough to raise his Major League ceiling.
What do you Marlins fans think? Are you ready for Andrew Heaney?