Young, controllable pitching usually comes with a steep acquisition cost, as the Miami Marlins have learned this offseason.
The organization’s top two prospects, Sandy Alcantara and Jorge Guzman, are both new arrivals. Of course, the Fish had to deal All-Star sluggers Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton to get them here. Although the major league roster still features quality trade chips (such as Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto), a fire sale on its own does not lay the foundation for a sustainable contender.
The Marlins will need to find impact arms in unlikely places, relying on a mix of good scouting and good fortune. They’ll need more miracles like Marcus Crescentini.
A former youth football player, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Crescentini switched his focus to the mound as a teenager. He attended Indian River Community College (Fort Pierce, Florida) with the hopes of turning pro as soon as possible, then matriculated to the University of Tampa. But transferring more than 1,000 miles away to Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis—a move he tells Fish Stripes was “one of the best decisions in my baseball career”—ultimately got him selected in the 2015 amateur draft. The Los Angeles Dodgers picked the right-hander in the 26th round (No. 792 overall).
However, they quickly ran out of patience. Crescentini debuted in the rookie-level Pioneer League (7.43 ERA, 1.84 WHIP in 26.2 IP), and continued to struggle in early 2016 at Single-A Great Lakes (7.71 ERA, 1.96 WHIP in 16.1 IP). After 43 innings of work and exactly one year after the draft, the Dodgers released him.
Later that month, Crescentini was back on the field, this time as a Marlins prospect. He has since gone from expendable to nearly indispensable.
DID YOU KNOW: minor league RHP Marcus Crescentini owns a 1.47 ERA since joining the #Marlins organization during the 2016 season (in 85.2 IP).— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) December 19, 2017
That's our very random stat of the day. pic.twitter.com/0h5A0yZ1xs
Pitching last summer at age 24, it’s important to note that nearly all of his recent dominance came against younger competition. Still, the stats from that first full Marlins campaign were absolutely extraordinary:
- A 1.40 earned run average with only two homers allowed in 51 1⁄3 innings
- A .161 batting average against
- Struck out exactly one-third of all batters faced, including 38.8 percent of right-handed batters
- Streak of 16 straight relief appearances with a strikeout, spanning from April to June
“After I came to the Marlins, they were a little more hands on,” Crescentini says. “[They] showed me some tools that would help me prepare for each and every day of the full-season grind, and now it’s part of my everyday baseball routine.”
A steady trend* throughout his minor league journey has been an improving walk rate—from 17.6 percent (Ogden, 2015) to 13.4 percent (Great Lakes, 2016) to 9.6 percent (Greensboro, 2016) to 8.8 percent (Greensboro, 2017) to 5.9 percent (Jupiter, 2017). And that’s no coincidence.
“I’ve always been someone who strikes out a lot of hitters, but in college, the walks rarely hurt me. When I got to pro ball, that was a different story. I would say the biggest difference is being able to keep a consistent motion, so if I do start to struggle, I can make pitch-to-pitch adjustments, instead of outing-to-outing.”
*Excluding a week-long stint with Low-A Batavia in 2016
Todd Pratt, the longtime MLB catcher, was also new to the Marlins organization, serving as Crescentini’s manager for the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Pratt singled him out as one of the more impressive players on the 2017 team, and the respect is mutual.
“[Pratt] always kept things loose, regardless of what happened in the game or during practice,” according to Crescentini. “He made sure the team chemistry was high through things like kangaroo court or team cookouts. That being said, he wasn’t a pushover—if someone needed a kick in the right direction, he was not shy to do that.”
Crescentini identifies Kenley Jansen as a current pitcher he admires for the way that the Dodgers closer “attacks hitters with aggression and tenacity.” The comparison between them actually works on several levels.
Their stats last season were eerily similar in terms of run prevention, limiting baserunners, creating swings-and-misses, etc. They also sort of look similar from an opponent’s perspective. Scroll between these first two GIFs (Crescentini) and the third one (Jansen)—big differences in the deliveries, but both guys intimidate with their size and give you nightmares with late life on their fastballs.
Much like Jansen, Crescentini has been utilized solely out of the bullpen. He has no desire to start, but would be “up for the challenge” if asked to do so. In preparation for 2018, he’s focusing on agility and mobility exercises this offseason “along with better nutrition and typical strength training.”
While changing uniforms on his way up the professional ranks, Crescentini continues to update his left arm, too. What began as some forearm art a couple years ago is getting closer to a full-length sleeve. As if we needed another reason to root for him, major league money would open the door for even more exciting possibilities!
You can follow Marcus on Instagram and Twitter (@mcrest37).