If you need reason to place faith in what the Marlins are building towards, look no further than the 2018 Jupiter Hammerheads. After a 67-68 year at the High-A level last season where the team batted .234/.305/.328, offseason acquisitions such as Robert Dugger and Jorge Guzman, along with sprouting young talent such as Joe Dunand and Brian Miller, have combined to make the current Hammerheads the best team in the Florida State League.
|Biweekly Stats||Yearly Stats|
|11-3, .273/.351/.361, 25 XBH, 71/48 K/BB||258/.347/.374, 15 HR, 56 XBH, 191/90 K/BB|
|109 IP, 2.31 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 3.07 K/BB||204 IP, 3.36 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 3.36 K/BB|
Through 24 games last season, the Hammerheads were a .250/.310/.357 team with a 2.97 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The offense dramatically improved this past April: .258/.348/.374 with a 2.13 K/BB. What stands out most is this team’s ability to make sufficient contact and reach base. It’s also reflected on the scoreboard and in the standings. Whereas last year’s team had 88 runs, a minus-seven run differential and 11-13 record early on, this year’s squad scored 122 runs with a plus-32 run differential and 18-6 record at the same point. They enter Friday at 20-7, one of the first minor league affiliates at any level to reach 20 wins in 2018.
Fresh of the heels of their 18-run explosion on April 14, the Hammerheads went on to win their next seven in a row. Over the eight-game win streak, the team hit .296.
There’s no quit in these Sharks, who consistently compete until the 27th out. During their recent 12-3 run, three of the Hammerheads’ victories came in walk-off fashion, including a two-run rally on April 29.
Down 2-0 going into the bottom of the 9th, the Hammerheads put two men on without putting the ball in play (two walks). After a Brian Miller single scored pinch-runner Michael Donadio, the winning run scored with Stone Garrett at the plate when a wild pitch plated Rodrigo Ayarza. Jupiter has four wins via walk-off already this season.
Walk-off ALERT! @Rindfleisch48 drives in the game winning run with a sacrifice-fly to center, scoring @stonegarrett22. Hammerheads win in 11 innings, 4-3! @MiLB @FloridaStateLg pic.twitter.com/rk2ug3laWs— Jupiter Hammerheads (@GoHammerheads) April 18, 2018
One of the biggest catalysts for the Hammerheads’ success is shortstop Joe Dunand. He has reached in 24 of his 26 games this season. Dating back to last year, he’s reached in 30 of 33 career games. He sports a career .393 OBP and just shows a natural knack for getting it done at the plate, finding barrels via great mechanical quickness and exhibiting fantastic plate vision. His plate coverage has improved from his college years in that he’s exhibited stronger hands on pitches on the inner half and the ability to stay inside the baseball. Dunand has shown significant growth since the Marlins made him a second-round draft pick out of North Carolina State. Uncle A-Rod would approve.
Another major contributor this season has been outfielder Brian Miller. Having hit in 21 of 25 games overall, Miller hit in nine of 10 to close out April, going 18-40 with four multi-hit efforts and two four-hit games. While the 6-foot-1, 186 pounder hasn’t hit for much power (just five extra-base hits), he is making contact at a ludicrous 85% rate. It’s all about making pitchers work and taking what he’s given, getting on base and using his plus speed and good baserunning instincts to get into scoring position (eight steals already).
Miller is a multi-dimensional leadoff threat with fantastic bat-to-ball skills, good patience and a lightning quick lateral line drive swing. He is flying through the minors with a .326 batting average in his pro career. While you’d eventually like to see a steeper launch angle to generate more lift, it’s pretty hard not to like the potential for Miller. He demonstrates four out of five traditional tools with Shane Victorino-esque ceiling (.265/.364/.426 career in the majors).
As good as the Hammerheads have been, they stand to get even better moving forward. On April 28, right-hander Jorge Guzman was recalled from extended spring training. He started that day and worked four innings of scoreless ball, allowing just two hits while striking out seven.
The Marlins No. 3 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Guzman’s calling card is his huge velocity that eclipses triple digits and tops out at 103 miles per hour. Guzman also possesses a slider that is borderline MLB-ready. Dipping down into the high 80s with that pitch gives hitters a completely different look and because he maintains the same arm motion and speed to the plate, it makes him nearly impossible to time. He’s also nurturing a low 90s changeup that needs further development, but which showed positively at the back end of last year in short-season ball.
There’s a lot of effort to Guzman’s release as he kicks his leg high, leans back and explodes to the plate, a characteristic that is usually telling of a future bullpen arm. However, Guzman is able to maintain his velocity and repeat his mechanics even as innings wear on. Should the development of his breaking arsenal continue and his health remain intact as innings pile up (career high 66.2 IP in 2017), this is a kid who could ascend to The Show as soon as next year. An extremely fun guy to watch compete, Guzman has a special skill set with major upside. We will be watching him closely.
Also on the verge of returning to action is the Marlins 9th-ranked prospect James Nelson. The 20-year-old corner infielder came within a point of winning the South Atlantic League’s batting title with the Greensboro Grasshoppers last summer. He hit .309, garnered an All-Star selection midseason and earned the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year award at the end of the season.
Nelson has been out since early in spring camp with a meniscus injury that required surgery. He had spent this past offseason prioritizing home run power by adding 20 pounds of mass, filling out his 6-foot-2 frame to an even 200 pounds.
It will be a busy season for Nelson, who will also aim to cut down on his 24 percent strikeout rate from 2017, increase his six percent walk rate and continue to perfect his craft at third base. The Marlins originally drafted him as a shortstop. He will take on all of those challenges after a month-long delay due to the injury.
On top of obvious natural talent that already has him well ahead of the game, Nelson will have the gargantuan benefit youth on his side. More familiarity and experience hitting with a wood bat and added raw power due to his improved size should allow him to succeed against older competition. He currently projects to make the big leagues as a 22-year-old in 2020 with good potential for all five tools.
- 5/4-6 @ FTM
- 5/7-9 @ PMB
- 5/10-12 vs. CHA
- 5/14-17 vs. FTM