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2019 Marlins Season Preview: Jorge Guzman

An immense ceiling, and a volatile floor; there is more to Guzman’s performance than command.

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

“Guzman’s tools [are] amongst the best in all of the minor league; not just the Marlins. The issue? Command.”

This entire Jorge Guzman season preview could be condensed into that single paragraph.

Believed to be the biggest asset acquired in the Giancarlo Stanton trade, this right-hander is the poster-child for high-risk/high-reward prospects. That’s been the overriding theme for the Marlins during their rebuild: target prospects with tantalizing ceilings and trust the development staff to steer them away from unproductive floors.

What did we learn about Guzman from his 2018 campaign? And how far away is he from making a major league impact?

How did he get here? Traded from the New York Yankees to the Marlins on December 11, 2017

MiLB 2018 Stats: 4.03 ERA, 4.45 FIP, 101 K, 64 BB, in 96.0 IP

2019 ZiPS Projections: 5.88 ERA, 6.10 FIP, 73 K, 76 BB in 82.2 IP

Despite being selected to represent the Marlins at the All-Star Futures Game, Guzman’s most recent season was a disappointment. He had previously put up Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) marks of 2.73, 2.52, and 2.47 in his professional career. He looked like a very different pitcher in Jupiter, though, putting up a 4.45 FIP. The flamethrower who was striking out minor leaguers at an outstanding pace in 2016 and 2017 suddenly could not find the strike zone nor avoid bats.

The obvious issue for Guzman? Lack of command. It’s why some scouts are unconvinced that he can remain as a starter, according to Baseball America.

However, don’t overlook how additional factors like total innings and talent level may have contributed to his 2018 performance.

The Astros and Yankees deployed a patient and careful approach with Guzman’s big arm. Coming up through their farm systems, he repeated rookie ball and feasted against younger competition.

Miami opted for a different philosophy. While I don’t blame the organization for attempting to accelerate his developmental trajectory (skipping Low-A and increasing his workload), it remains possible that this approach may have impacted his performance more than most fans realize. He went from a 2015-2017 average of 54 innings per season all the way to 96.

Guzman’s splits before and after the Florida State League All-Star break suggest that he was adversely affected by the full-season schedule. His ERA ballooned from 2.44 in the first half to 5.63 in the second. It got especially ugly in August, where he allowed nearly two baserunners per inning.

First half versus Second half splits

Guzman’s arm was likely unprepared to reach this amount of innings pitched while also adjusting to the FSL, frequently facing batters with more professional experience than him. A bullpen role would manage that workload, or Miami’s deep pool of rotation candidates may force him there regardless.

A few things are certain: Guzman still has some of the best pitching tools in baseball, his ceiling is immense, his floor is volatile, and he wasn’t ready for his arm to be stretched the way it was.

“Guzman challenges fellow right-hander Sandy Alcantara for best pure stuff in the Marlins system,” Baseball America writes, “and if everything clicks, he could become a future frontline starter.”

The Marlins challenge now is to either appropriately build up his fatigue-driven performance, or find a role for him that will allow him to avoid this significant drop-off.

Guzman was added to the 40-man roster this offseason. If his conditioning has improved and/or the Marlins begin a conversion to relief, don’t be shocked by a potential September call-up.

Do you agree that his immense increase in innings pitched and competition could have played a role in his 2018? Do you see something elsewhere that I may have overlooked? Let me know in the comments!