By now it’s no surprise that the Marlins have one of the worst farm systems in the league. However, just because Braxton Garrett is arguably the only top 100 prospect in the league doesn’t mean that value can’t be found in other players.
League-wide trends suggest that relief pitching has been undervalued and that effective bullpen arms can be worth more than at first glance. That is not to say that a quality reliever is worth more than a top-of-the-line starter or position player, but a trust-worthy reliever certainly is part of the contender’s puzzle. One such reliever who may one day fit this profile is Drew Steckenrider.
Drafted in the eighth round by the Fish out of the University of Tennessee, Steck began honing his pitching skills in the low minors after being a two-way player in college. Although the comparison may be a reach, his build and repertoire is similar to that of a poor man’s right-handed Andrew Miller. He has a fastball that sits 94-96 that pairs with a newfound slider, which he began to develop consistently after he changed his grip to match that of his teammate Dillon Peters. He also intends to develop a changeup this spring, which has a chance to be a useful pitch on occasion considering his smooth ¾ arm slot.
Although he may never be as dominate as Miller, he certainly has impressive minor league numbers to this point despite missing some of the 2013 and all of the 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery. In roughly 175 innings pitched across every level in the minors, he has posted a 9.57 K/9, including a lofty 14.43 K/9 in 53 IP in the high minors and Arizona Fall League last season (where he touched 100 mph with his fastball). When batters have managed to make contact against Steck, it is normally on the ground. His groundball rate has been over 50% in each year he’s thrown.
The ZiPS projections seem to appreciate what Steck has done in the minors to this point, as he is projected to be a slightly above average reliever. Surprisingly, he is also projected to have the fifth highest K% out of all relievers. One reason why he may not be valued as highly is due to his high walk rate, which sits at a well below-average 3.81 BB/9 in his minor league career.
Without three quality pitches, some control issues, and already being 26 years old, it’s hard to envision Steck as an arm in Miami’s rotation. That certainly doesn’t mean that he can’t make a meaningful impact in the bullpen. He may not be the A-grade, well-known prospect that organizations like to flaunt, be he can certainly be a valuable piece at some point next year in the midst of the Marlins quest for a playoff birth.