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Jupiter Rotation Poised to Make Waves

As the club’s big-name prospects graduate to the Miami staff, the organization looks well-positioned to successfully develop further reinforcements for the future.

College World Series - Michigan v Vanderbilt - Game Three Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

As the Marlins replenished their farm system over the last few seasons, pitching emerged as an early strength. The club loaded up on arms with potential across multiple avenues, but got started predominantly via the trade market, acquiring current rotation stalwarts Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López, Sixto Sánchez—as well as Nick Neidert—over an 18 month stretch in three separate deals. All the while, however, the team continued to add to their stockpile through the draft and development, selecting Braxton Garrett and Trevor Rogers with first round picks, molding Edward Cabrera into potential frontline arm, and even snagging Elieser Hernandez in the Rule 5 draft and subsequently getting solid production out of him in the rotation.

Even as the organization has struggled on a number of fronts, identifying and developing pitching has proven to be a strength. In 2021, the chances are good that there will be more positive news emerging from that side of the farm, with some fresh names charging up the club rankings. While the club’s decision to use all five of their 2020 draft picks on pitchers (one of whom was just traded), factors into that forecast, those new additions have company from prior draft classes and the international market with just as much potential who will also be diving into full season pro ball for the first time.

The epicenter for starting pitching development this upcoming season projects to be Jupiter, recently locked in as the Marlins’ Low-A affiliate going forward. While we don’t know exactly how the assignments and roles will shake out to open the year, the Hammerheads’ projected rotation currently includes five very real prospects who could all conceivably have big league rotation futures in Dax Fulton, Evan Fitterer, Breidy Encarnación, Jake Eder and Chris Mokma.


In this group, there are a number of styles represented, all of which have unique appeal. Fulton carries the most traditionally coveted traits, and will headline the staff. The 19-year-old lefty stands 6’6” with a strong lower half and pitches from a downhill angle with what was low 90s velocity last he was on the mound. In his draft year he showed a slender upper body that portended potential velocity gains, and those could start to manifest early in his pro career. In addition to the lefty velo and extension afforded by his height and long levers, Fulton also drew attention as a prep for his breaking ball, a hard downer curve in the upper 70s that should also gain some additional juice as he fills out. Most pitchers this size have difficulty with their consistency and control at this age, and while Fulton will sometimes lose the plate for a pitch or two or see his breaking ball flatten out now and then, overall he shows very impressive body control and it’s not hard to imagine the command progressing significantly down the line. He’s coming off of Tommy John surgery, and while it did cost him his senior spring it was sort of advantageously timed as he didn’t miss any minor league games. The upside is considerable here if you want to dream, and it will be interesting to see what kind of progress Fulton can make with his body and changeup in his pro debut.

Likely joining Fulton in the rotation will be a pair of prep hurlers from the 2019 class, both of whom received overslot bonuses, in Chris Mokma and Evan Fitterer. While the two come from different backgrounds—Fitterer was a Socal kid and Mokma hails from Michigan—they both drew attention for on-mound athleticism and command potential. The builds are pretty similar, Fitterer is 6’3”, 195 lbs and fairly narrow, while Mokma is an inch taller, has slightly broader shoulders and tips the scales at 190, allowing for a bit more projection. Mokma also has youth on his side, being over six months younger than Fitterer despite the two coming from the same prep draft class.

Their arsenals are fairly different- Fitterer’s best pitch is a bending 11-5 curve that he shows tremendous feel for, with an ability to command it effectively to the chase region or the knees, even picking up called strikes by back-dooring it against righties on occasion. The curve has low-80s power, and projects to be the best pitch in his arsenal unless things change significantly. He generates most of his power with upper body explosion and arm speed, and while he’s a bit older than most 2019 preps and doesn’t have a ton of room to fill out, some added lower body power might allow him to add a tick or two of juice. The fastball curveball/combination is enough to carry most of the weight here, and so long as an average changeup, or perhaps some other offspeed offering, emerges to go with typical velocity/command gains, it’s pretty easy to forecast a #4 starter future even without superlative fastball heat. If he stagnates on those fronts, he projects very favorably as a two pitch reliever as well.

Mokma, on the other hand, already touches 94 with his heater compared to Fitterer’s 90-92, and he does it with a very easy, well-repeated delivery. His command was perhaps his best trait after the projectable velocity during his draft year, and it could be as good as plus in a best-case scenario given Mokma’s clean mechanics and athleticism. His changeup also draws much higher marks than those of most pitchers his age, with most evaluators preferring it over his breaking stuff. He has an okay slider that can help him in some situations, but it’s not on the level of Fitterer or Fulton’s breaking balls, with a smoother break. While his stuff may not have quite as much swing and miss potential as those mentioned above, Mokma shows the foundation for a solid average to above average fastball and plus command, with a changeup that could end up in above average to plus territory if it develops further, which would make up for the so-so breaking stuff and allow for a future in the rotation. If he were to have to transition to single-inning work, it would be reasonable to expect that he could average closer to mid-90s heat with his fastball, and if he’s able to locate effectively at a higher effort level and back that up with a swing and miss changeup, it could be an effective look.

The oldest pitcher in the projected group is another 2020 draft pick, and the only hurler in the group with college experience: fourth-round selection Jake Eder out of Vanderbilt. A highly touted prep player as a lefty with big velocity and feel for multiple secondaries, Eder was seen as a potential early pick in his senior spring, but a combination of uneven performance and a strong college commitment resulted in him heading to school. He was thrust into a starting role as a hyped freshman, and showed flashes of potential but struggled with his strike throwing and walked 22 batters in 33 frames, resulting in a 5.46 ERA despite some strong bat-missing and hit avoidance markers. A program like Vanderbilt doesn’t really have time to wait out struggles from their players as they are perennial championship contenders, so Eder was shifted to the bullpen for his sophomore season, a role that he thrived in, throwing a total of 39 13 innings while striking out 41 and walking a much more manageable 16. By season’s end, he was closing games for the Commodores, who went on to win the College World Series.

The strong sophomore performance had Eder slated to rejoin the rotation as a junior, and he was able to make four starts before the season ended prematurely. He had a much better go of it in the abbreviated sample than as a freshman, managing a 3.60 ERA and walking a reasonable 9 in 20 innings. As the numbers suggest, command is still a question mark for Eder, and many are unsure whether he’ll ever have enough to start long term, but some scouts are more optimistic about his outlook. Evaluators are generally big fans of Eder’s smooth delivery, and he’s a good on-mound athlete with an ideal body for pitching to boot. While progress has been slow and his stuff has been somewhat inconsistent for basically his whole career, at his best he can show solid control of three pitches that flash above-average or better, with most feeling that minor mechanical inconsistency issues were to blame.

The Marlins had scouted Eder heavily prior to his draft year, and count themselves among the teams who feel that his flashes of brilliance can become his baseline with some fine-tuning. The Miami Herald reports that the Dodgers hoped to acquire him this offseason in exchange for veteran reliever Dylan Floro. But the Fish turned them down, eventually sending Alex Vesia and Kyle Hurt to L.A. instead. Eder’s projected assignment to Jupiter is a bit conservative, and should afford him an opportunity to work on tweaks while he gets his feet wet in the pro game. Long term, he has a mid-rotation ceiling if his command and consistency make significant strides, but has a relatively solid floor as a setup type if improvement comes more slowly.

Rounding out the rotation will be the only international signee of the bunch, youngster Breidy Encarnación, an international signing from the 2018 period who hails from the Dominican Republic. Thanks to the COVID-19 shutdown, Encarnación is yet to pitch above the DSL level, but has impressed onlookers both there and in backfields work since, displaying an advanced feel for pitching to go with some projectability. Now 20 years old, Encarnación will be making a significant jump as far as level of competition is concerned in 2021, but should have the skills to manage. Despite being a relatively soft thrower last we saw him—mostly hanging out in the 88-90 range—reports indicate that he’s able to get significant ride on the pitch, which, along with his relatively advanced command, helps him generate whiffs. He also shows feel for a curve and changeup with some debate over which is the stronger offering, and has a back-end starter look so long as he’s able to add a bit of power as he fills out his frame and makes typical command progress. As he makes the leap to full-season ball, it will be most interesting to monitor his velocity and the whiff rate on his heater if they track positively, Encarnación has a good chance to re-solidify himself as a ranked prospect in the organization.

The pitching side of the Marlins’ pipeline projects to be hit hard in 2021, with the imminent graduations of Sixto Sánchez and Trevor Rogers, and the potential for players like Braxton Garrett, Edward Cabrera and Max Meyer to follow later in the season. Fortunately, their amateur acquisitions in the last few years look to have them poised to replenish the upper-minors stable in short order. Five deep with prospects with legitimate long-term starter appeal, the Jupiter rotation should offer a window into the future of the club and will be well worth monitoring for those looking for the new arm in the organization to get excited about. No matter which traits you value in a young hurler, there’s likely one in the group that suits your preferences.