Last week's prospect profile update: Austin Dean
Dean continues to drive base runners in at an exponential rate. He now has 12 RBI in his last 10 games, including four in his last two games while notching only one hit. His 33 RBI gives him the outright RBI-lead over teammate J.T. Riddle in all of the Southern League.
Marlins starting pitching propect Austin Brice is this week's prospect focus. Brice has shown significant growth this season at Double-A Jacksonville. In eight starts, he has an ERA of 2.25 and has held opponents to a .201 BAA (Batting Average Against). This compares encouragingly to his 4.67 ERA and .245 BAA from 2015. Inconsistency such as exemplified by the 2015-2016 stretch has been a major knock on Brice's ceiling as a future Major Leauger.
Brice has yet to put together back-to-back good seasons in his six professional seasons. Drafted in the ninth round out of high school, Brice was a raw talent that Miami signed based mostly on potential. His 6'4'', 235 lb. frame with a serious power arm attached to it likely raised the eyebrows of Marlins scouts. Like most high school power arms, though, Brice had major control problems. He took that with him to the minor leagues and really hadn't shown signs of moving past his lack of control until this season.
Brice was second in the South Atlantic League (Single-A) in 2012 with 67 walks, first in 2013 with 82 walks (also South Atlantic League), and third in the Southern Leauge with 69 walks in 2015. These walk totals are beyond frightening. 2016, though, has been a slight improvement. Brice has walked only 14 batters in 44 innings. That is very good considering his past struggles. Even more impressive is his 1.02 WHIP which ranks fourth in the Southern League. He still has two games this season of allowing four walks, but aside from that he has shown great command of the zone. Progress in the "walk department" is a very positive sign for the Marlins.
The only other glaring area of weakness for Brice is his lack of innings pitched. Averaging less than five innings pitched per start is not what a team wants to see from a starting pitcher. It has cost him a few wins in the short season and it hurts his scope as a Major League starter. Brice's little durability may be the result of varied time spent in the bullpen throughout his minor league career. Nevertheless, the Marlins will need to see more innings out of Brice before even considering a promotion.
Improvements in those two areas is about all Brice needs. The tools are there, they just need to be refined. Brice throws a consistent mid-90s fastball and has a devastating curveball. His height provides him great tilt and will definitely make some hitters uncomfortable at the plate. If he can't make it to the majors as a starting pitcher, he definitely has the surehanded makeup of a reliever-- great velocity with two strikeout pitches.
Austin Brice is behind a few other pitching prospects in terms of a debut timeline, but the idea of a debut for Brice is definitely in the minds of the Miami front office. He's only 24-years-old, a realistic timeframe for a debut is likely sometime in 2018, maybe late 2017. Until then, Brice needs to dominate Double-A, and find his way to Triple-A by the end of this year.