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Marlins enter 2019 with great pitching depth in MLB rotation, farm system

What a difference one year makes. The Marlins turned a weakness into a strength, but how strong is it?

Photo by @Marlins/Twitter

As I sit in my local barber shop, a fellow customer, my barber, and myself engage in a conversation about the Marlins and the improvements the organization has made over the last year. “I can’t wait to see the new renovations,” my barber says, followed by his support for the new logo. The fellow customer, sitting to my left, states that he is “hopeful and excited” to see if Lewis Brinson could take steps towards being “who he should be.”

He then turns and asks me to share what excites me about the upcoming season. There are some options to think about; I too am excited about the renovations, logo, and seeing Brinson roaming center field in front of the new ivy backdrop.

My answer probably surprised them: ”I am excited for the pitching.”

When the Marlins decided to overhaul their franchise, they did so for two reasons. First, they had not reached the playoffs since 2003, and secondly, the organization was void of pitching. From rookie ball to the Major League roster, the pre-rebuild Marlins had zero pitching to get fans excited about. No matter how impressive the offensive core, winning was unsustainable over a 162-game season.

Right now, a year-and-a-half after the first of their veterans-and-prospects swaps, the Marlins organization currently has more pitching talent and depth than in any year going back to 2003.

“But Danny, there is no José Fernández, Josh Beckett, or Josh Johnson in this organization.” I agree. However, the pitching as a whole is the best it has been in over a decade.

The following will familiarize you with the young controllable arms and key prospects who are most critical to the upcoming Miami core. They are not ordered in any particular manner, but I would love to see your rankings in the comments section. Additionally, if you believe that there has been better organizational pitching depth in the organization—after 2003—then please share!

Note No. 1: Many of these pitching profiles were also discussed in a previous article that focused on upcoming talent, both position and pitching.

Note No. 2: For those who are unfamiliar with my grades, I provide my own assessment, and then compare with other sites as a means of providing inter-rater reliability.

Photo by @Marlins/Twitter

1. Pablo López

Fastball: 55 | Changeup: 55 | Curveball: 50 | Command: 55

In the case of López, the reliability is high. And why should we expect anything differently? He is young, has a high ceiling arm, a relatively high floor, and has a personality that is as best as they come. López’ fastball stays in the low to mid 90’s, but has late life, likely yielded from his improving mechanics. López is able to keep hitters off balance by efficiently mixing his secondary usage (20 CB% and 20 CH%), often leading to hitters mis-timing his fastball/changeup combo.

Pablo López profiles as a mid to back-end starter, although his ceiling may be slightly higher due to his balanced approach and additional velocity.

2. Trevor Richards

Fastball: 50 | Changeup: 65+ | Curveball: 45 | Command: 50+

Richards’ introduction to the majors caught quite a few people off-guard, myself included. He dominated when utilizing his fastball-changeup combination, often depending on one of the filthiest changeups in all of baseball.

Fish Stripes original GIF

As highlighted in previous articles, Richards’ deception comes from his flawless mechanics. He has an uncanny ability to repeat his arm slot and delivery with both his fastball and changeup. Hitters tend to only realize that they’re swinging at a changeup after the umpire is ready to send them back to the dugout.

3. Sandy Alcántara

Fastball: 65+ | Changeup: 55+ | Slider: 55 | Curveball: 50 | Command: 45

Alcántara is the Marlins prospect which most closely resembles the tools of a future ace. He ranked No. 73 of the 2019 Baseball Prospectus Top 101 released on Wednesday.

The issue? His command needs to improve, with the hope of his BB/9 taking a significant dip. In Sandy, the Marlins have a pitching prospect with everything needed to be a future #1, but the coaches and Alcántara must work on putting the reigns over his raw stuff.

Make no mistake, his command will always be the volatile variable in his performance, but his weapons showed the ability to compensate for sporadic command. Look for Alcántara to break into the rotation this spring, and not look back.

4. Caleb Smith

Fastball: 50+ | Changeup: 50 | Slider: 55 | Command: 50+

Smith, also known as “Kaleb” due to his very impressive K%, was one of the welcomed surprises for the 2018 Miami Marlins. Smith’s ability to effectively keep hitters guessing with his three-pitch mix yielded a 27.0 K%; a tier of his own within the Marlins starting staff.

Smith’s fastball lives in the low to mid 90’s, but is deceptively swift when tactfully deployed with his slightly-plus slider, and third offering of a changeup. In an era of launch-angles, Smith does his best work in the lower part of the zone; forcing hitters to adjust their path, and yielding a vast majority of his batted ball outs to come via a flyball (68.8%) due to hitters attempting to get under the ball.

In Smith, Miami found a pitcher with an ability to strike out hitters at a high rate, while also pitching to the dimensions of the park and the vast outfield. Nonetheless, with a 3.96 FIP, Smith could be pitching at your local tee-ball park and still deliver effective outings.

5. José Ureña

Fastball: 65 | Changeup: 50 | Slider: 50 | Command: 50

Ureña is the ace of the Miami Marlins, and although this is likely a red flag for some who may question the top talent of the current pitching, this may also be the case of a pitcher finding his production later in his development than fans expected. Additionally, this is also the result of being part of a rebuild.

Ureña’s fastball is his bread, and his slider is the butter. When you step into the plate against Ureña, you must prepare for roughly 82% of the pitches being either the bread or the butter.

Stuff your face with these carbs!
Fish Stripes original GIF

The Miami ace experimented with his curveball upon first being brought up to the majors, but has since eliminated the pitch from his repertoire, instead relying on a mix of fastballs, sliders, and changeups.

Although likely a #2 to #4 starter on any given playoff team’s rotations, Jose Ureña will get his shot to lead the Marlins in 2019, and if he can replicate his 2018 success, there is a good probability he will survive the season in the rotation.

Albeit serious competition from the following prospects that are coming for his spot.

6. Nick Neidert

Fastball: 50 | Changeup: 60 | Curveball: 50 | Command: 60

Joining Alcántara as a 2018 Top 100 prospect (Baseball America), and possibly heading into 2019 as well, Nick Neidert cemented his place in the Marlins organization throughout his most recent campaign. Neidert is often compared to Kyle Hendricks, as both pitchers lack a flame-driven fastball or over the top curveball to get hitters out, but rather utilize elite precision and command on the rubber.

Of the top Marlins pitching prospects who have yet to make their major league debut, Neidert is the most likely to achieve this milestone feat in 2019. Upon doing so, expect Neidert to fit nicely into his role in the middle of the Marlins rotation for years to come, with the potential to have a few prime years in the #2 spot.

7. Jorge Guzman

Fastball: 70+ | Changeup: 50 | Slider: 55 | Command: 40

Guzman, the prized pitching prospect in the Stanton budgetary relief trade, has one of the more tantalizing ceilings within the organization. Unfortunately, he also shares one of the more volatile floors. Guzman’s fastball sits in the high 90’s, with the majority of his fastballs coming in above 96 MPH and often reaching 100+ MPH. In addition to his fastball, both his slider and changeup project as plus-pitches, making Guzman’s tools amongst the best in all of the minor league; not just the Marlins. The issue? Command.

Like with most young—he only turns 23 next week—pitching prospects, the true test will be if Guzman can begin to show acceptable levels of control with his raw stuff. If he does, then the Marlins have an additional ace in the hole. Without further development, Guzman’s floor would be that of a late-inning reliever with immense velocity and a nice three-pitch setup.

8. Braxton Garrett

Fastball: 55 | Changeup: 55 | Curveball: 60 | Command: 50

Assessing where Garrett is currently at is tricky business, due to injury and limited time on the mound. Similarly, assessing where Garrett can be in a year is equally tricky, but a fun exercise in projection.

Garrett’s tools coming out of high school had “future ace” written all over them. His limited work in 2017 also indicated that the Marlins had an ace in the system. His surgery should not change that, but we are now in a wait and see mode with recovery.

If Garrett returns with health and similar ability, the Marlins can add him to the group of prospects with frontline stuff, which thus far includes Alcántara, Guzman, and Garrett.

9. Trevor Rogers

Fastball: 60 | Changeup: 50 | Slider: 55 | Curveball: 45 | Command: 45

Similar to Garrett, 2019 will be a critical year in the development of Roger’s career. When drafted, Rogers was considered a mid-to-front end starter from the left side, with a good fastball and slider combo. Rogers also showcases a curveball, even though some scouts believe that his slider and curve evolved into a slurve, rather than two independent pitches.

Baseball America recently (2019) called Rogers and Garrett two “aces in the hole” for the Marlins franchise, and I tend to agree. There is no “sure thing” in this system, but we’re deep enough into this list for you to see that there are plentiful options for front-end starting pitching.

10. Edward Cabrera

Fastball: 65 | Changeup: 45 | Slurve: 55 | Command: 45

Cabrera, at age 20, is already reaching 100 MPH and locating the strike zone at a better rate than Jorge Guzman. The Dominican born international free agent was signed for $100,000 in 2016, and wasted no time in showing his impressive tools in the minors.

Although young and full of projection, Cabrera shows a good feel for his fastball, with his secondary offerings not too far behind. In theory, the most exciting aspect of his profile is that he is advanced for his age. His tools are loud and he easily projects as a solid rotation piece moving forward.

Cabrera’s projections are similar to Atlanta’s prospect Touki Toussaint. Now, the Marlins must be patient enough to allow that comparison to take shape.

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-All Star Game Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

11. Jordan Yamamoto

Fastball: 50 | Changeup: 50 | Slider: 50 | Curveball: 55 | Command: 55

More commonly referred to as the “fourth piece of the Yelich trade,” Yamamoto showed the Marlins and baseball community that he is more than just a throw-in. Rising through the minor league system, going from Rookie Ball to Double-A, Yamamoto struck out 85 hitters over a span of 63 innings pitched in 2018. He is the stereotypical pitcher that does not boast the loud tools, but “knows how to pitch” and be effective.

Yamamoto went on to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, where he represented the Marlins to the tune of six starts, going 3-0 with 2.08 ERA, 27 K and 12 BB.

Recently protected on the 40-man roster, he should compete to be a part of the big league rotation sooner than later.

Honorable Mentions: Jordan Holloway, Zac Gallen, Jeff Brigham, Robert Dugger, McKenzie Mills, Merandy González, Dustin Beggs, Josh Roeder, Brady Puckett

The Marlins current farm system—aided by both trades and regained health—may be as strong as it has been since the early 2000’s. It’s certainly debatable, and I am looking forward to seeing those in the comments section, but my belief is that the Marlins will look back and credit this pitching wave for leading them back to being competitive again.

The Marlins do not have their blue chip ace, but a handful of prospects may still develop into that mold. In addition to their aces in the hole, they have bountiful arms that profile as major league contributors, with most falling in the No. 3 to No. 5 slot.

The last Marlins core was not sustainable or successful enough to reach .500 in any given season due to their lack of pitching. It was a painful yet necessary lesson learned as they build for the future.