The page has turned again in Jupiter in more ways than one. The arrival of the second half of the season has come and along with it, the arrival of several promotees. After a mostly disappointing sub .500 first 70 games of the year, this new core has made the Hammerheads a 13-11 squad and has the team in the running for the second half title and a playoff berth. Here's a look at that hot start in this week's Sharks Recap.
- The Hammerheads continue to play to Roger Dean Stadium and the rest of the pitcher friendly Florida State League on both sides of the ball. Despite having a .232/.307/.325 seasonal line with figures that rank last, last and 10th in the FSL, the team still holds down the third lowest ERA (2.87) and WHIP (1.19) even though they have thrown in the league's most innings.
- The prospect-poor Marlins delved deep into the independent league ranks this year signing a multitude of unaffiliated ball superstars hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. In Boo Vazquez, they may have done it.
Born one day before the Marlins' inaugural Opening Day in 1993, Nicholas "Boo" Vazquez had fantastic start to his college career at Pittsburgh where he hit a combined .332/.417/.441. He also had a good showing in summer ball those two years, hitting .314/.408/.415. Accordingly, scouts had him coming off draft boards as early as the 10th round following the completion of his junior year. However, that season, Vazquez was the victim of some unfortunate circumstances. The Pitt Panthers moved from the Big East to the very competitive ACC and struggled mightily, hitting just .237 collectively. Against an elite class of pitchers that included Zac Gallen, Carlos Rondon, Daniel Gossett and Luke Weaver, Vazquez's numbers took a big hit. In his first year of draft eligibility, he slashed just .246/.312/.400 with a 32/18 K/BB and was not selected. Vazquez bounced back in his senior year hitting .285/.355/.460 but again wasn't taken in the draft. After finishing out 2015 by hitting OPSing .865 in the independent leagues and terrorizing talent there to the tune of a 1.067 OPS to begin 2016, he finally began his pro career with the Royals' rookie ball affiliate. In his first taste of affiliated ball, the 22-year-old slashed a very average .255/.320/.422. He was cut by the Royals last December and signed with the Fish in January.
This season, Boo, who has been anything but boo worthy, is scoffing at every scout, team and individual who doubted him in his draft years. In 67 games with the Grasshoppers, he hit .281/.364/.446 with an .809 OPS, 14th best in the South Atlantic League. In being promoted to Jupiter, he hasn't lost a single step. The 24-year-old began his Hammerheads' tenure by putting his name in team history books as he built a 16 game hit streak, a franchise record to start a Sharks career. He currently holds a 17 game on base streak.
At the plate, Vazquez gets low in his stance and minimizes what would otherwise be a large strike zone. From a slight split stance he engages a quick power swing after a medium high front leg trigger and toe tap. A quick-to-mature physical specimen that was listed at 6'4 200+ as early as his junior year of high school, Vazquez has had ample time to adapt to his body. He controls his limbs extremely well and doesn't try to do too much at the plate (especially not after he saw the reprecussions of that his junior year). He recognizes pitches extremely well and watches the ball all the way through the zone. He extends well on outside pitches and goes to all fields. Against upper level talent, the trick for Vazquez will be maintaining his timing and ability to get his hands into the ball which can get a little spotty at times, especially against same side pitching causing him to either miss barrels or miss altogether, which is where most of his Ks stem from. That small kink out of the way, this is a guy who exemplifies ballplayer in every sense of the word including in the way he looks, sounds, and competes. Just 24 this year, Vazquez lines up as a ceiling 20/20 left fielder with the floor of a heavy lefty bench bat. Not bad for a guy the Marlins virtually plucked off the street.
- Another recent promotee who has taken his call-up in stride and continued to perform well this year is righty Ben Meyer. Exclusively a reliever the first three years of his career, Meyer began to transition to the rotation in 2016, starting 10 games in Greensboro. This year for the Hoppers, it was back to the pen but for the Hammerheads, six of his first 11 appearances have been starts. Wherever and in whatever capacity he has been called upon to serve, Meyer has delivered good results, a testament to his ability to pitch and knowledge of the game.
The owner of the seventh most strikeouts in the history of the University of Minnesota baseball program, he's already up to 95 in a combined 74 innings this year. The 6'5", 180 pounder can attribute that to his downhill arc and shortened distance to the plate, his fastball which has ticked up into the mid 90s this year and which exhibits good run to the corners, a high 70s slide piece which burrows away from hitters and a fading changeup that he throws from the same exact arm angle as the fastball and generates plenty of whiffs. Most of all though, Meyer can attribute his success to his impeccable control. That along with his headiness for his craft allows him to throw all three of his pitches in any count and give his opposition a different look each time through the lineup. It is for those reasons he shouldn’t have much of a problem sticking as a starter, provided he can make the same success stand up in the upper levels of the minors.
Jeff Brigham, who stumbled early last year but had great second half only to begin this season on the DL is back from injury with a vengeance. The 25-year-old has pitched into the 5th in every start with four of those eight outings being quality starts. With Trevor Richards gone, Brigham has emerged as the ace of the Sharks' staff. On the year, Brigham owns a 2.60 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and a 43/16 K/BB. He has been lights out in his last three starts, all quality outings in which he has a collective 24/4 K/BB.
Health has always been an issue for Brigham since he had Tommy John that forced him to miss 2013 and redshirt as a junior in 2014. After being drafted by Los Angeles in the 4th round in 2015, he came to the Marlins as the center return piece in the Mat Latos/Michael Morse trade in 2015. Brigham was able to stay healthy for most of last year, logging 120 innings, including the aforementioned impressive end to his season. However, this latest ailment which was once again shoulder related, has his future as a starter very much up in the air. Brigham has been able to keep those hopes alive by adjusting to a slight drop in velo by developing his changeup into a more useable pitch. Once a stiff waste pitch type offering, the Brigham change has shown improved depth and balances well with his best pitch power slider.
Scott Squier is another Hammerhead who has overcome some adversity to start the season and emerged as a quality rotational arm. Following a shaky start to the season in which he struggled keeping pitch counts in check and getting deep in games, Squier has tapped into fantastic command and really developed his bread and butter changeup. Four of Squier's last 6 starts are of the quality variety, inlcuding his last outing, an eight inning, three hit gem. The 24-year-old's newfound control is exhibited by the fact that he has walked just seven over a 37.1 inning span.
Squier won't whiff a lot of guys but he is a master at generating weak contact outs. He doesn't use much, if any, back leg load in his delivery at all. Instead, he remains upright and tosses straight ahead which leads to some effort in his pitches. He doesn't generate easy velo, topping out inconsistently at 92 but his plus plus changeup and good biting slider may be enough to keep him at the back end of a Major League rotation.
- 7/18-20 @ St. Lucie
- 7/21-24 @ Daytona
- 7/25-28 vs Florida
- 7/29-8/1 vs Lakeland
- 8/3-6 @ Ft. Myers
- 8/7-9 @ Charlotte