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James Buckelew: Marlin on the Rise

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For the 2016-17 offseason, we counted down the Top 100 all-time Marlins. This offseason, we will instead cast our eyes ahead. I’ll be outlining the Top 100 Marlins prospects, as chosen by you on the ranker.com listing.

Coming in at number 91 in the offseason-long countdown is pitcher James Buckelew. Born on August 4th, 1991, the 6’2”, 155 lb. left-hander from Suwanee, Georgia was chosen in the 45th round of the 2010 amateur draft, by the Minnesota Twins.

According to baseballprospectus.com:

Buckelew is a minor league arm that can be used to eat innings out of a bullpen throughout the season. All three pitches are below average and lack projection, limiting his overall value.

Instead of signing with the Twins, Buckelew joined the Belmont Bruins for four seasons of college ball, posting a 19-17 record, a 4.27 ERA, and 176 strikeouts in 295 innings. The Marlins signed him as a free agent in 2014.

Buckelew joined the GCL Marlins in the rookie-league for four relief appearances after he signed, and he went 1-0 with a 1.13 ERA in eight innings of work, racking up one whiff per inning. He was sent on to the Batavia Muckdogs shortly thereafter, and went 0-3 with a 4.43 ERA in 11 games, with 21 strikeouts in 20 13 innings. In what proved to be a very busy year for him, he also made his high-A debut with the Hammerheads, but didn’t fare as well in three innings of work.

2015 would see Buckelew ply his trade with the single-A Greensboro Grasshoppers for the entire season. He led the club with six wins, going 6-4 while also leading the team with 43 appearances. He earned a dozen saves, with a 3.74 ERA, 70 strikeouts in 77 13 innings, and limited opposing batters to a 1.32 WHIP. He also uncorked 20 wild pitches. On May 8th, in a 3-2 loss to the Hickory Crawdads, he struck out four in two innings of scoreless relief. In back-to-back appearances on July 7th and 10th, he pitched a total of four hitless innings, facing the minimum and allowing only a walk.

Buckelew has an average fastball and can occasionally hit 91 on the gun, although it sits between 88 and 90. He can hit the lower quadrants but doesn’t miss bats with enough consistency. His changeup doesn’t have enough deception to fool batters, as he slows down his delivery when throwing it. As for his curve, it lacks a tight spin and is easy for hitters to identify out of hand. All three pitches are considered “below average,” with his fastball rating highest. - h/t to Tucker Blair at baseball prospectus. Observed near the start of the 2015 season.

In 2016, Buckelew spent most of his season with the Hammerheads, going 5-2 with a 2.74 ERA, 69 strikeouts in 95 13 innings, and a 1.227 WHIP. He didn’t give up a round-tripper all season long after allowing just one in the season prior. 12 of his 37 appearances were as a starter. On May 22nd, he earned a 13-3 win against the Brevard County Manatees by earning five strikeouts in as many scoreless innings, allowing just a hit.

Buckelew spent the first part of the 2017 campaign with the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp before joining the Hammerheads for the balance of the season in June. He went a combined 2-8 record with a more assuring 2.52 ERA, a solid 1.028 WHIP, and 72 strikeouts in 96 13 innings.

Buckelew seems to have raised his ceiling since he was scouted three seasons ago, and is good at limiting baserunners and avoiding the long-ball (just five surrendered in four seasons).