Miami Marlins' 3 Sleeper Prospects to Watch in Spring Training
In some shape or form, you've probably already heard Andrew Heaney, Colin Moran, Jake Marisnick and Justin Nicolino are the next wave of highly touted prospects the Miami Marlins will depend on as the building blocks toward a brighter future.
But not every prospect can elicit the kind of hype such as a Jose Fernandez, Hanley Ramirez or this quartet. Otherwise, players such as Mark Buehrle, Dan Uggla, Antonio Alfonseca and Chris Coghlan would've been household names long before they arrived in the majors.
By the way, Buehrle, Uggla, Alfonseca and Coghlan were never named to Baseball America's Top 100 prospects list, and yet, these former Marlins have a combined seven All-Star Game appearances, four Gold Gloves, one Silver Slugger Award, one National League Rookie of the Year Award and one Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award.
Pretty impressive for players who were once nondescript prospects.
So, while Heaney, Moran, Marisnick and Nicolino get all the attention, there are plenty of prospects chomping at the bit for a shot at the major leagues regardless of the spotlight. But in order for the coaching staff to notice these supposed lesser prospects, they need to be able to showcase their skills, and there probably is no better place than spring training.
After the Marlins latest move on Friday, they have 26 non-roster invitees in addition to the 40-man roster which will be at spring training this year. That's a lot of players in one setting, especially when the Marlins have to cut the roster down to 25 by Opening Day.
In this exercise, we will take a look at prospects who haven't had much publicity but could make some noise in spring training. The only prerequisite is these players must not have appeared in MLB.com's 2014 Top 100 Prospect Watch or Keith Law's 2014 Top 100 prospects (ESPN.com Insider subscription needed).
With that in mind, here are three sleeper prospects to watch in spring training for the Marlins.
RHP Anthony DeSclafani
Well, it seems right-handed pitcher Anthony DeSclafani was overlooked.
In his first season in the organization, DeSclafani was named the Marlins' Minor League Pitcher of the Year, as he had a 9-6 record with a 2.65 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 129 innings, according to the team's website.
DeSclafani was 4-2 with a 1.67 ERA in 12 starts for Advanced Single-A Jupiter. Furthermore, he earned the Marlins' Pitcher of the Month honors in April, the Florida State League Pitcher of the Week honors for June 3-9 and the FSL Mid-Season All-Star honors. DeSclafani was promoted to Double-A Jacksonville on June 19, where he went 5-4 with a 3.36 ERA in 13 starts.
With such a great year, DeSclafani shot up the totem pole. Baseball America has DeSclafani as the organization's fifth-best prospect, while Law has DeSclafani rated sixth. Moreover, DeSclafani earned an invitation to spring training.
Law said he wouldn't be shocked if DeSclafani arrived on the scene in the second half of 2014 because the right-hander has the velocity and control to be a starting pitcher. However, Law also states DeSclafani, at 6'2" and 195 pounds, isn't physical and might not have the stamina for 200 innings a year, so he could be more effective coming out of the bullpen.
Meanwhile, Brian Chattin, the Marlins' director of player development, shared his thoughts about DeSclafani:
"His performance on the field in two levels, his maturity and professionalism and committing to being the best pitcher that he can be is very enjoyable to be around. He's a consummate professional, and I think his leadership and how he goes about his business rubs off on his teammates," Chattin told milb.com's Danny Wild. "He's a pitcher that excelled at high-A and Double-A. A power arm, very good slider, changeup is a work in progress, but he's not far away from impacting our major league team."
If DeSclafani has a big spring, he might surface sooner than Law or Chattin predicted.
OF Kyle Jensen
If there's one guy in the Marlins' organization who can match Giancarlo Stanton home run swing for home run swing, it's probably Kyle Jensen.
The 25-year-old minor league outfielder has smashed 97 home runs in the last four seasons, including at least 18 in each of those campaigns. That's valuable for the only team which finished 2013 with less than 100 home runs.
Power isn't going to be an issue with Jensen, especially since Baseball America thinks Jensen is the Marlins' best power hitter. Baseball America isn't alone in that assessment.
"He's the best power hitter in our system, and he showed it again, hitting almost 30 homers between two levels," Chattin told milb.com's Wild. "He's a player who will sit in the middle of your lineup and hit the ball out of the park in any at-bat. He worked hard on his defense and turned himself into a solid corner outfielder. A player like that is hard to find—a right-handed hitter with power."
Despite hitting a career-high 28 home runs last year (16 in Double-A Jacksonville and 12 in Triple-A New Orleans), Jensen batted just .235, had an on-base percentage of .328 and struck out 144 times. In fact, Jensen hasn't hit above .250 since he was at Advanced Single-A Jupiter in 2011, when he produced a .309/.385/.535 slash line with 22 home runs in 109 games before being promoted to Double-A in mid-August of that year.
Moreover, Jensen hit a combined .236 in Double-A and Triple-A in 972 at-bats. Because of his inability to make constant contact, Jensen is not considered a top prospect in the organization.
But his power has traveled, as he's hit 57 bombs at those levels, which means he should be able to knock the ball out of the park at the major league level.
Now, the Marlins are crowded in the outfield as Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna are expected to be the starters. Then, there's Marisnick waiting in the wings if Stanton is traded or if any of the three projected starters get hurt. But according to the Sun-Sentinel's Juan C. Rodriguez, Jensen is expected to compete with Ty Wigginton, Ed Lucas, Derek Dietrich, Donovan Solano, Jimmy Paredes and Joe Benson for one of the three available right-handed hitter utility jobs.
Considering the names on that list, Jensen could nab a roster spot with a strong spring, which is why he's a sleeper to watch.
RHP Colby Suggs
A year ago, Colby Suggs was at the University of Arkansas. By the end of spring training, Suggs could be a part of the Marlins bullpen.
The Marlins drafted Suggs with the 73rd overall pick in the 2013 draft, and many think Suggs could be fast-tracked to the big leagues because he's a hard-throwing right-handed relief pitcher, and relievers generally don't tend to need long to advance through the minor leagues.
According to MLB.com's Jim Callis, Suggs' arsenal consists of a heavy 93-96 mph fastball that can reach 98, as well as a hard breaking ball, which are normally the two-pitch setup relievers need to succeed.
Last year, Suggs set a single-season school record of 13 saves with a 1.74 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings despite battling a strained groin, according to Law. He finished his career at Arkansas with a 9-2 record and a 1.36 ERA in 65 games, all out of the bullpen.
When he joined the Marlins' organization, Suggs had a cup of coffee in the Gulf Coast Rookie League and then advanced to Short-Season Single-A Batavia, where he went 1-0 with a 1.13 ERA and converted all three save opportunities. Suggs' success at Batavia earned him a promotion to Advanced Single-A Jupiter, bypassing Single-A Greensboro completely, where he was 1-3 with a 3.93 ERA in 18 1/3 innings. Suggs finished his first season in professional baseball with a 2-3 record and a 3.29 ERA in 22 appearances. He also struck out 38 batters in 27 1/3 innings.
But with the Marlins thin on relievers, a big spring could catapult Suggs to the same two-level jump that a certain Marlins prospect accomplished last year. In fact, you may have heard of him.
His name is Jose Fernandez, the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year.