There’s a new GM at the helm for the Marlins’ 2021 draft, but we should expect that their organizational tendencies largely hold up this year regardless, as there wasn’t wholesale turnover in the front office. Those tendencies have gradually come into focus over the last few years, and it could be argued that they are particularly well-defined on the pitching side. The 2020 draft was illuminating in this regard, as the club spent all six of their draft picks on pitchers, five from the college ranks, and there were some clear through lines within that group.
The Marlins first pick at #16 overall in the upcoming draft. As July 11 draws closer, it’s begun to look more and more like their string of pitcher picks could continue through that selection. Draft boards are by no means final at this point, but on the whole, the pitching class has performed much better than their position-playing counterparts this spring, and there are only a handful of bats who have performed well enough this season to consider at full-slot with a pick as high as the Marlins’ first rounder. There are some bat-swinging candidates for the pick—prep slugger James Wood stands out as both a potential value and organizational fit, Sam Houston State outfielder Colton Cowser could be a fine value in that range, and Adrian Del Castillo will surely be a hot name amongst Miami fans thanks to his local connections, to name a few—but were I handicapping things, I’d lean towards the fish going back to the starter well.
While there are dozens of potential day one college arms in the ‘21 class, there are a subset that to me seem most like potential Marlins selections. Their current scouting department has stated, and demonstrated, a preference for pitchers who show velocity and high octane breaking stuff out of the box, and draft picks like Max Meyer, Kyle Nicolas and Zach McCambley from the 2020 fit into this bucket. If the front office is so inclined, they’ll have plenty of strong options at 16th overall to add similar talents to the organization, so let’s take a closer look at the best fits.
Sam Bachman, RHP, Miami (OH)
After Kumar Rocker, it’s very difficult to think of a pitcher in the 2021 class with a better right-now breaking ball than Sam Bachman’s demonic slider, a slicing, mid-80s weapon that terrorizes hitters of either handedness. It’s backed up, and enhanced, by Bachman’s equally explosive fastball, which has touched 100 and higher on several occasions with serious movement. He rounds out his arsenal with a changeup that, while inconsistent, flashes swing and miss quality as well, and has been completely dominant in the MAC when healthy.
Bachman’s stuff is of a top of the draft quality, but there are some question marks in his profile that give the Marlins a puncher’s chance of acquiring his services. His mechanics are strange- he employs an unorthodox arm action that has few analogues in the pro game, and he throws with a fair amount of intensity which lead to some concerns about his command/control projections, which he hasn’t fully quieted during his college career, as he has walked quite a few hitters. While he’s shown walk rate improvement in 2021 with just 8 free passes issued in 26 innings, you probably just noticed that he hasn’t thrown all that much this year, and that’s thanks to injury. He’s avoided major medical issues thus far, but has had recurring trouble with nagging ailments, which is worth monitoring.
Even with the red flags, it’s likely that Bachman goes off the board in the top 15 and the Marlins never get a chance at him, but it’s possible that things could shift over the next two plus months. Were he available, I’d imagine that he’d be near the top of the Miami board.
Jackson Jobe, RHP, Heritage Hall HS (OK)
Most would rate Kumar Rocker’s FB/SL combo as the best fastball/breaking ball tandem in the ‘21 class, but Oklahoma prepster Jackson Jobe might be the next in line. An athletic 6’3”, Jobe is explosive on the mound and turned just about every head in the building when he took the hill on the showcase circuit last summer. He uses a combination of powerful legs and plus arm speed to uncork heaters into the upper-90s with ride, and while he throws with definite effort, evaluators aren’t pigeonholing Jobe as a relief arm, as the on-mound actions are largely smooth.
The fastball alone would be enough to get Jobe noticed, but the real crown jewel of his profile is a video game slider which combines elite movement with considerable power up to the mid-80s. The pitch regularly spins at over 3,000 RPM, has incredibly tight break, and should generate ample whiffs at any level of play. Jobe can do a better job of landing it to ideal locations, but the break is harsh and consistent. The slider shows plus-plus potential and is one of the best overall pitches in a strong class of hurlers. He’ll need to come along a bit slowly and be handled with care, but Jobe shows true frontline potential in a best-case scenario. He may be off the board a bit before the Marlins make their first selection, but is currently projected to go right around that range.
Ryan Cusick, RHP, Wake Forest
Owner of one of the best pure fastballs in the 2021 class overall, Cusick has been a mercurial presence in the Deacs’ rotation over the last three years, showing some gradual improvements that are exciting big league clubs. A Massachusetts native, Cusick has a behemoth frame at 6’6”, 225 lbs., and is able to channel every bit of it into an absolutely hellish triple-digit fastball, though his command of that heat still needs some work.
Cusick has grown considerably since his freshman year at Wake, when he let up 85 hits and 10 home runs in 65 and 2⁄3 innings, but still shows something of a volatile profile. His stuff has few doubters- he can run his fastball up to 100 MPH and higher with regularity and sits in the mid-90s, and he tunnels an above-average downer curveball off of it very effectively at times. Evaluators also like Cusick’s mechanics—while he has struggled with strike-throwing, his delivery is actually pretty clean. He generates a ton of velocity using his powerful lower half, and his arm action is quite simple, which gives many hope that the location can continue to get better.
As with Bachman, there is some considerable reliever risk here, more than some teams might be comfortable with in a first round arm. However, there’s plenty of reason for optimism between the top-flight stuff, impressive mechanics and upward trajectory that Cusick’s command has been on. If a pro club can help him continue to improve his strike throwing and command of his stuff, it’s not hard to envision him becoming a mid-rotation starter. Failing that, he could easily transition into a late inning relief role with a two pitch focus. It’d be a mild surprise if he made it to pick 31, so if the Marlins like him, they’ll probably need to use their first round pick to acquire his services.
Matt Mikulski, LHP, Fordham
The ‘21 pitching class is deep, but most of that depth is found among the right-handers, which has allowed some smaller-school lefties like Mikulski to stand out. In his case, precipitous improvement between 2020 and 2021 has also played a role, as his velocity has made a significant jump. Mikulski went undrafted last year thanks to mechanical red flags and poor strike throwing, but has looked like a new man this season and may ride his momentum all the way to a first round selection.
His results in 2021 have been outstanding—he cut his walk rate slightly while almost doubling his K rate from 2020—and the scouting reports offer plenty to get excited about as well. Mikulski now works in the mid-90s consistently, can hold his velo deep into outings, and his slider, already a big piece of his repertoire prior to this year, has also taken a step forward. He hasn’t been tested by top-level competition yet, which may hold his stock back slightly, but if a pro team can coax another half-grade of command out of him, mid-rotation outcomes are within reach. Mikulski has taken to mechanical changes like a fish to water thus far, so there’s plenty of optimism that he can do just that around the game. He’d be a bit of a reach with the Marlins’ first pick, but could well be in play with a later selection.
Chase Petty, RHP, Mainland HS (NJ)
Petty may own the single most explosive fastball in the 2021 draft class. He regularly touches 102, sits around the upper-90s in longer outings, and gets serious sink and run on the pitch making it very difficult to square up, provided hitters can even catch up to it. He looked a bit raw and one-dimensional over last summer, but has been showing an improved slider in ‘21- the pitch has great horizontal movement and solid drop, giving Petty a rock-solid complement for his heater. He’ll even throw in the occasional changeup, and while the pitch needs some polish he gets strong movement on it as well.
The raw stuff here is difficult to top, but there are reasons that he is likely to be available in the mid-first round. Most notably, his delivery is very high effort, with some violent qualities, which leads to questions about whether or not he’ll ever have starter’s command or durability. Those concerns are legitimate, but Petty has an arsenal that allows him to go right at hitters with little fear, so he doesn’t need to turn into Shane Bieber to stick in the rotation. He’d probably fit as more of a Lance McCullers Jr. type than a true 200 inning starter, and the reliever risk is more significant than any of his counterparts on this list, but the all-around stuff quality is simply too good to ignore. If the Marlins want a chance at him, they’ll need to pop him at #16.
Joe Rock, LHP, Ohio
I take every opportunity I can get to talk about Rock, one of my personal favorites in the 2021 class overall. While he isn’t going to be a candidate for the Marlins in the first round, I think they’d be wise to consider him strongly at any of their later selections. Newer to pitching than most of his classmates, Rock has been on a rocket ship trajectory this season. A long, lanky lefty with considerable projection remaining for a college arm, Rock has an explosive FB/SL combination that has the potential to generate swings and misses all the way to the big leagues.
Rock’s college career started inconspicuously, as he accumulated a pedestrian 5.19 ERA and 41/37 K/BB ratio in 59 freshman innings. He nonetheless got the opportunity to head to the Cape, and while he impressed with his raw stuff, he was only entrusted with 3 innings of work. He was then unable to get any regular season work in 2020 due to COVID and academic eligibility issues, which meant that he entered 2021 as something of an enigma. He quickly announced his presence back on February 26 of this year with a dominating 7 inning no-hitter against Morehead State, and hasn’t slowed down all that much since.
Having coached at @NIU_Baseball for a year back in 2000 I return to DeKalb today to see #MLBDraft prospect Joe Rock @Ohio_Baseball. Up to 92 early see what else Rock had cooking in next week's @d1baseball Scouting Trail and @prepbaseball College CrossChecker. pic.twitter.com/CnZADOZjNX— David Seifert (@DSeifertD1PBR) April 16, 2021
There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Rock. He hasn’t faced strong competition at any point yet, for one, and his strike throwing still needs work. Additionally, he’s more or less a pure two pitch guy right now. But, with all of that said, he shows a ton to work with as a starting pitching prospect. His delivery is slightly funky but largely clean, and even creates a bit of deception. His long build is ideal for pitching, adds extension to his heater, and offers some long term projection. His slider already shows plus quality with late biting action— he’ll need help getting his command fully dialed in, and he needs to find a third pitch somewhere to stick in the rotation, but the FB and SL are strong enough to be his bread and butter against hitters of either handedness. Rock is on a great trajectory right now, and I’d want him to continue it with my club. The Marlins #52 pick could be an ideal range to pop the ascendant lefty.