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Catching up with the Hammerheads

The Marlins High-A affiliate is stocked with intriguing prospects.

Photo by @GoHammerheads/Twitter

“Shark Week” may be over, but on the shores of Jupiter, an exciting month of Hammerheads baseball is set to begin, starring some of the organization’s brightest young and recently acquired talent. This gives local Marlins fans a sneak peek at what the next decade and beyond will look like for their hometown team.

Following the return from the Yankees on Giancarlo Stanton will be a bit easier for the rest of the season as infielder Jose Devers joins former Yankees organizational teammate Jorge Guzman in Jupiter.

Devers, signed as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican, made an immediate offensive impact in stateside ball hitting .246/.359/.348 in 45 games last year for the GCL Yankees made his Marlins’ organizational debut and full season ball debut on April 19. After wetting his feet by going .220/.256/.293 in his first 10 games, Devers enjoyed a .280/.327/.340 June and .308/.333/.408 July. At one point, Devers reached in 16 straight games and in 19 of 20. At another, he found his way on in 24 of 25 games. Devers finished his Greensboro tenure off by reaching base in 15 of his last 16 contests. All in all, he hit .273/.313/.332 as a Grasshopper.

On the other side of the ball, the versatile fielder played perfect defense at second base (15 games) and .970 FPCT defense at shortstop (59 games). While making almost every routine play asked of him, Devers went far out of his way (literally) to get his glove on anything hit in his general direction, proven by his 3.9+ range factor between the two spots.

Among the countless individuals who Devers impressed during his time in Greensboro was manager Todd Pratt who says that despite his youth, because of his ability to positively adapt offensively and to make the most of natural defensive boons, Devers owns a baseball IQ that puts him well ahead of other prospects. Because of this, Pratt sees Devers having no trouble succeeding in High-A and beyond.

”Devers is ahead of the game in his overall knowledge,” Pratt says. “He was able to make adjustments after seven weeks here offensively. Defensively his game clock is unmatched.”

After facing the huge test of his first year in full season ball with steadfast success through his first 85 games, the Marlins will up the ante for the final month of the season. Devers will face off against competition that is on average over four years his elder in a mostly pitcher-friendly league.

Devers is already exhibiting above average bat-to-ball skills and plate coverage thanks to a heady situational approach and sizzling bat speed. He provides superior infield defense via great reads off the bat, along with plus-plus speed and transfer skills. Considering he’s just 18 years old, we like a fully developed Devers both mentally and physically to ripen into an offensive floor Ronny Cedeño comp (.245/.289/.353) and ceiling of Mark Grudzielanek (.289/.332/.393). Defensively, his ceiling could be Adeiny Hechavarria at short (+23 DRS) and Aaron Hill at second (+39 DRS) is within the realm of possibility.

The toolsy, baby-faced Devers has reached High-A very early in both his organizational and pro career, proving the team holds his ability in high regard. He is one facet away—power production—from becoming a five-tool cornerstone, and there’s plenty of time to add the required muscle and mass for that.

Expect the Marlins to allow Devers plenty of time to grow in High-A and beyond, but don’t rule out his MLB debut at the turn of the decade.

Another quick mover through the organizational ranks in his inaugural year with the Fish has been a Day 2 draft selection from this season, Tristan Pompey.

Similarly to his new teammate Devers, the cousin of Red Sox regular Rafael Devers, Pompey comes from a well-known athletic pedigree as the younger brother of Dalton Pompey.

Half of those genes were supplied to the Pompey boys by their father who excelled as an amateur and semi-pro football star, but succumbed early in his career due to injuries. In high school, Tristan allowed his infinite athleticism serve him by competing and excelling in three different sports: baseball, volleyball and basketball.

Ultimately though, Pompey, who was a major catalyst in the Junior National team reaching the World Championships in 2015 and regarded as the fifth best amateur prospect in his country that same season, committed himself full time to baseball. According to Tristan, of the three surfaces he manned, the baseball diamond agreed with his instinctive athletic core the most.

”Baseball has always come naturally to me so it was pretty easy for me to stick with it because when you have a natural talent and you work hard to improve it, the sky is the limit. I owe most of my success to my natural talent, upbringing and good bloodlines.”

When Tristan committed himself full-time to baseball, two other individuals did along with him: his parents. While one of them wasn’t initially too fond of the game and the other wasn’t too well versed in it, the couple was infatuated with their boys’ happiness and driving them—both figuratively and literally—to future success.

”My dad hated baseball but he would go and find the best coaches in the area to teach and train us,” Pompey says. “My mom actually read in a magazine about switch-hitting and when my brother was growing up, she told my dad to get the kids to switch hit. It was a a lot of driving and gas that went into it. Having committed parents that want the best for you definitely helps.”

Like Devers, Tristan has ridden his fantastic athleticism and natural baseball gifts to instant stardom as a young adult. Wherever he has played, Pompey has been a team leader both on and off the field. After his decorated high school career, Tristan attended the University of Kentucky where he hit a ridiculous .361/.464/.541 as a sophomore while racking up the most single-season at-bats in school history (266). Among his countless accolades that year were 96 hits, second most in the country, 70 runs scored, third nationally, 46 walks, 28th-most in the nation and the fact that he ended the season in the midst of a 37 game on-base streak. More of the same his junior year as he hit .335/..448/.557. That earned Pompey First Team All-American honors.

After being promoted to Greensboro after just four games in the GCL, Pompey proved his skills weren’t exclusive to the metal bat collegiate ranks by hitting .314/.422/.430 with the Grasshoppers. He reached in 21 of 24 games in North Carolina and ended his tenure there on a 15-32, 4 2B, 2 HR, 8/10 K/BB run.

Regarding how he has been able to so quickly adjust to the shift in competition level, Pompey credits it all to an ethos which tells him that the only way he can fail is to allow it to happen:

”My mindset is that I’m the best player on the field and the only person who can beat me is myself. I adjust well because I’m a competitor in everything I do so it will never change. The most successful people are not the ones stuck in their ways, but the ones who are consistently adjusting and adapting to the situation.”

A tall and slender 6’4”, 200 pounder, Pompey swings from an open stance that compacts upon execution of his swift uppercut swing. What he lacks in bulk is made up for by good swing paths and great plate coverage. Perhaps the most advantageous factor in Pompey’s game is the fact that his mother’s suggestion to teach him how to switch hit at such a young age has turned him into an equally dangerous threat from both sides of the plate. This season in Greensboro, he was a .722 OPS from the right side and .879 OPS from the left.

In his collegiate years, Pompey exhibited a huge front foot timing trigger which was a likely culprit for his 21% K rate.

This year in Greensboro, his pro coaches have quelled that issue by getting Pompey lower in a more closed stance and making the most out of his wide hips. He is turning inward and snapping outward upon swing execution, giving him a more advantageous step in to the baseball.

An above-average runner out of the blocks and out of the box, Pompey is an even better plus-plus runner at top speed, the product of countless hours spent at the track with father. The same acceleration tools that give Pompey a 20-25 SB potential serve him in the field, too. He makes good reads and has the ability to cover all necessary ground and then some. A smooth route-runner with great vision off the bat and the owner of a powerful throwing arm, a filled out Pompey projects to produce on the positive side of the dWAR equation as a right fielder.

Already the exhibitor of all five tools at the age of 21, a fully grown Pompey both physically and mentally is a pleasantly scary thought. Save his time spent in the Cape last season, a tenure which may have been a huge blessing in disguise for the Marlins who were able to snag this potential first round talent in Round 3, Pompey hasn’t only taken every jump in level in stride, he has met it with a boost in confidence. Off to another fantastic start at a new level with the Hammerheads (8-for-13 with two doubles in his first four games), it doesn’t appear Pompey is going to allow anything to hold him back.

With all of that in mind, we project Pompey’s ceiling to fall somewhere in between fellow switch hitter Randy Winn, a .284/.343/.416 yearly hitter, and current Diamondbacks star A.J. Pollock.

Speaking of power potential, let’s take a closer look at another recent promotee to Jupiter, Lazaro Alonso.

An international signee out of Cuba where he was regarded as the nation’s eighth best prospect in 2016, Alonso was a .255/.366/.348 hitter with 13 doubles and 30 RBI in his inaugural season in stateside ball with Batavia. This season with Greensboro, Lazaro’s powerful but patient offensive game took the next step. In 43 games with the Grasshoppers, Alonso hit .336/.428/.517 with 19 XBHs while posting a 51/23 K/BB. This included a 41-for-98 stretch (.418 BA) to open the season.

Though it has taken the under-the-radar B-type prospect a few weeks to adjust to FSL pitching and conditions, Alonso is beginning to come back around. He responded to a .182 July by hitting .286 in his first eight games of August. Overall, Alonso is 10 for his last 34 (.294).

A 6’3”, 220 specimen (almost certainly heavier than that listed weight), the lefty hitter embodies a David Ortiz Mini-Me at the plate in terms of stance, approach, mechanics and power-first mentality. The ball absolutely explodes off his bat, leading to some of the best exit velocities in the entire system.

As far as he’s come this season in just his second year in stateside ball (altering his approach to become a more closed and upright hitter, allowing his extremely wide lower half to serve him better and while his natural plate vision has remained constant), Alonso still has a ways to go to realize his full potential as a 20-plus homer threat at the next level. He must eventually improve his swing paths, covering the plate more advantageously and tempering himself from pulling off, learning how to use his opposite field when appropriate.

For the immediate future, we place Laz on the same path as fellow lefty power hitter and former teammate John Silviano. The 24-year-old recently got his call to Double-A after beginning this season in a repeat year in Jupiter. Alonso owns better raw power and much better discipline to jump Silviano in the organizational ranks. We place a modest MLB ceiling for him, somewhere around former Marlins Mike Lamb and Chad Tracy—defensively limited, but positive oWAR complementary piece capable of 15+ homers and 60+ RBIs between the bench and spot starts over the course of a full season.

Florida Marlins v Atlanta Braves
Tracy played for the 2010 Fish
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Perhaps the best feel-good story in Jupiter of late belongs to Josh Roeder. The right-handed pitcher has gone from nearly finding himself out of the professional ranks at the beginning of the season to becoming the most effective starter in the Hammerheads rotation.

A 21st-round selection by the Yankees after a single season at a D-II school followed by three years at D-I Nebraska, Roeder spent the bulk of his previous three pro seasons with the short season Staten Island Yankees. Following a 2.19 ERA, 29/7 K/BB start to 2017 in the NYPL, the depthy Yankees finally gave Roeder the call to full season ball. He skipped past past A in favor of A+ Tampa.

However, the 24-year-old was barely allowed to get his feet wet as a Tarpon, tossing in just eight relief innings before New York cut ties with him. The issue had nothing to do with Roeder’s arm—many arms including Chance Adams, James Kaprielian, Jonathan Holder, Domingo German and Justus Sheffield were ahead of him developmental-wise, limiting his opportunities in the organization. The Yankees cut him and allowed him to explore other ventures.

Roeder looks back on the tenure with positive thoughts and considers it a huge catalyst in making him the pitcher he is today. He gives due credit to the organization’s conditioning programs and attentive tutelage:

“My time with the Yankees was and still is greatly appreciated to this day. First and foremost they gave me the opportunity every kid ever dreams of and that is to play professional baseball. While I was there I learned a lot not only about myself personally, but also how to become a better pitcher and the areas I needed to improve.

“Coming out of college as a closer, I knew it probably wasn’t going to stick when I joined the Yankees. My time there was anywhere from back end of the bullpen to piggy backing the starter in my three year stint. I knew I had to be patient when it came to moving up and all I could do was go out there and pitch day in and day out and give them every reason to promote me. I learned a lot from the biomechanics department, all of my coaches, as well as the mental conditioning department and how to control all aspects of my game at the next level. I wasn’t so much concerned with just getting 8 IP in their A+ affiliate. I think it was more about finding a role in their organization that I fit in to and unfortunately there just wasn’t any room for me; that’s just part of baseball.

“But those are the kind of things I leave in God’s hands to take care of for me. All I can do is control what I do on and off the field and how I prepare and leave the rest to him, knowing that things will work themselves out when the time is right and I will be ready.”

Roeder didn’t wait long before the Miami Marlins came calling. Less than a month after his release by the Yanks, the Fish inked him to a minor league deal.

”This day was like being drafted all over again for me,” Roeder said. “Going from not knowing what I was going to do next to getting a call on Easter Sunday on the way to church with my family, I can’t thank the Marlins organization enough for giving me a second chance.”

This new chance for Roeder was also met with a new responsibility: starting games and making it deep into them. Despite only starting one game in New York’s organization, he has responded to the promotion to the rotation by tossing quality starts in eight of his first ten outings with the Hammerheads by way of a 1.05 WHIP and 39/13 K/BB.

According to Roeder, being used as the first man out of the ‘pen in Staten Island left him well prepared for the starting role. He is also reveling in the freedom of incorporating his full repertoire. This is the pitcher he was born to be.

”I came to the Marlins ready to fill whatever role they needed me to be in and fortunately for me it was as a starter. I have grown to love the role of a starter and everything it takes to be one at this level. I feel as if it allows me to also be the pitcher I truly am and use my entire arsenal of pitches versus maybe two or three as a reliever.

“The transition for me has been a lot of fun actually. Credit goes out to Manny Olivera and Jason Erickson for helping me kickstart the transition while I was in extended spring training and also to Bruce Walton who has been a ton of help ever since I made my debut with Jupiter. I try and keep a simple mindset about the whole thing and that is, ‘nothing has changed, I’m still pitching and I still have to go out there and do my job which is to throw strikes and get outs.’

“Now the only difference is that it’s at the beginning of the game and I go out and execute my job for as many innings as I can until Smoke tells me I’m done for the night. My goal is to always come out of the game giving my team the chance to win.”

Roeder overcomes his modest 6’0”, 175-pound frame by deploying a deep and well-planned out arsenal. He owns a four-seamer topping out at 95, a one-seam sinker that levels at 91, a tight slider in the mid-upper 80s and a high 70’s spinner, all of which he controls well. But perhaps the most important part of Roeder’s deep repertoire is his changeup, which he throws two different ways. He’ll alter the grip depending on where his previous pitch wound up and where his catcher sets up.

”Glove side will be four-seam/circle change and arm side will be the sinker-change as I like to call it because it’s not a tw- seam grip.”

This versatility with the change which piggybacks his first pitch fastball leads to an enhanced ability to take the hitter’s eyes away. The result is usually a swinging strike or weak contact. The stepping-stone changeup is usually used to set up his out-pitch slider, but can also be used to bring him back from down in the count.

A heady control-and-command guy who shows confidence in all of his stuff and uses the entire strike zone with a plus mix of heat and movement and has the staunch ability to miss barrels, the 25-year-old should be a quick mover. With similar success at Double-A, Roeder could contribute to the 2019 Marlins as either a back-end starter or long relief option. His past experiences give him good flexibility in virtually any pitching situation, which will play to his advantage in terms of earning service time at the highest level.