Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick, right, created plenty of buzz as prospects in spring training last year. What Marlins prospects are generating some buzz in spring training right now?
After months and months of waiting, fans can finally lay their eyes on their favorite team's shiny new toys when spring training begins every year.
Some toys were imported from other markets; others took years to mold before hitting the showroom floor. When it comes to the imports, if the shiny new toy fails to live up to expectations, it can make fans rue the day their favorite team signed such a player in free agency. However, when it comes to the players the organization took time to develop, the payoff could be big or the team can always ship the shiny toy back to the production room for some refinement.
Today, we're going to take a peek at four of the shiny new toys the Marlins are developing that have created a buzz around the organization a week into spring training. Some of these prospects could break out and earn jobs with the Marlins, while others could see their time in camp cut short and be sent back to the minors.
For instance, take a look at last year's spring training, when the team's three top prospects heading into 2013 were Jake Marisnick, Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez.
Marisnick began the spring with five hits in his first 11 at-bats, but a broken bone in his left hand after he was hit by a Trevor Rosenthal pitch in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals ended Marisnick's spring training. He was sent back to the minors.
Yelich, meanwhile, had a spring to remember. He hit .364 with a team-leading five home runs and 14 RBI, which included a two-run, walk-off homer as the Marlins scored seven straight runs to post an 8-7 victory against the Boston Red Sox. Unfortunately, Yelich also returned to the minors because that was the plan all along.
As for Fernandez, he was also re-assigned to the minors midway through spring training, but that plan changed the day before the season began. And the rest is history.
So, from the prospect with the least buzz to the one most-hyped, here are the Marlins prospects creating the most buzz thus far in spring training.
Arquimedes Caminero was promoted in mid-August last year and equipped himself well in his first stint in the majors, yielding just four earned runs in 13 innings for a 2.77 ERA. Caminero also struck out 12 batters and held opponents to a .208 batting average.
Although it was a small sample size, the hard-throwing right-handed relief pitcher has created some buzz because of what his performance could represent: home-grown international signings making an impact with the Marlins.
According to MLB.com, Caminero signed with the club in 2005. Over the years, Caminero built himself into a robust 6'4", 255-pound specimen with a high-90s fastball. However, Caminero's progress was somewhat stunted when he missed the 2011 season because of Tommy John surgery.
Finally healthy, Caminero could stick in the majors as he's one of the favorites to earn a spot in the Marlins bullpen for the 2014 season.
Drafted last year out of the University of Arkansas, right-handed reliever Colby Suggs could quickly move through the Marlins minor league system.
If Caminero falters, 22-year-old right-hander Colby Suggs could be the one to pick up the pieces.
At this time last year, Suggs was the closer at the University of Arkansas, and he was en route to setting a single-season school record with 13 saves and a 1.74 ERA in 23 appearances. Suggs struck out 29 batters in 20.2 innings and held opponents to a .139 batting average.
The Marlins drafted Suggs with the 73rd pick of the First-Year Player Draft. After he signed with the club, Suggs ended his first season in professional baseball with a 2-3 record and a 3.29 ERA. Suggs also recorded three saves and had 38 strikeouts in 27.1 innings across rookie league, short-season Single-A Batavia and advanced Single-A Jupiter.
Since spring training began, Suggs, a non-roster invitee, has caught the attention of some observers thanks to his ability to throw gas despite lacking ideal size.
At 5'11", 230 pounds, Suggs has had his fastball velocity clocked as high as 99 mph. And that's just the way Suggs likes it as he's out to prove hard throwers comes in all sizes.
There are a lot of short guys out there who are throwing pretty hard right now," Suggs told MLB.com. "I'm not your prototypical 6-foot-5 pitcher. I go out there and compete. That's what I bring to the table.
Beside the high heat, Suggs also possesses a power curveball that's more like a slurve because of the way it breaks, as well as a changeup that he's been tinkering with. But the most important attribute Suggs has might be his bulldog mentality, which is something that might help him get to the majors quickly and possibly supplant Steve Cishek as closer one day.
Suggs discussed that quality of his with the Sun-Sentinel.
I feel like I'm suited for that role just because of the mentality I bring whenever I'm in the game. Everybody says, 'You're a bulldog,' that kind of stuff. That's really a compliment to me and the way I was raised by my father. He would beat me down in basketball. He was 6'5" and I'm only 5'11". Having that fire and will to win is really what you need to be a closer.
Justin Nicolino isn't far away from reaching the major leagues, and because of that, he has created some buzz as to when he'll join the Marlins.
Nicolino, who came to the organization in the 12-player fire sale trade in November 2012, finished last season with an 8-4 record and a 3.11 ERA between advanced Single-A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville. As a result, the left-handed Nicolino enters spring training as a candidate to win the fifth and final spot in the Marlins starting pitching rotation, according to the Miami Herald.
Despite a solid 2013 season, Nicolino intends to improve because of how unhappy he was with his performance at the end of last year.
In Jupiter, Nicolino was 5-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 18 starts. But after he got promoted to Jacksonville, Nicolino endured some bumpy roads as he went 3-2 with a 4.96 ERA in nine starts.
This offseason was a big offseason for me. I left Jacksonville not happy with how I finished up there. I want to prove to myself that I was better than that, and I have stuff to improve on this year.
If Nicolino needs a bigger chip on his shoulder, he could take a peek at how some publications have rated him heading into this season.
- MLB.com ranked Nicolino 81st in its 2014 Prospect Watch after ranking him 72nd in last year's edition.
- ESPN.com's Keith Law dropped Nicolino 31 spots from 62nd in 2013 to 93rd heading into 2014.
- Baseball America might be the cruelest of them all as Nicolino went from 86th in 2013 to unranked in 2014.
What Nicolino must do better this year is miss more bats, which is something he's done less of as he's moved up the ladder. In 2011, Nicolino averaged 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings, that number dropped to 8.6 in 2012 before falling to 6.0 last year.
MLB.com's Joe Frisaro doesn't expect Nicolino to join the Marlins until around the All-Star break, if not later, and Nicolino could possibly start the season in Triple-A New Orleans if the Marlins decide not to have him repeat Double-A.
Of course, the 6'3", 190-pound non-roster invitee could accelerate the timetable with a great spring training.
It's no surprise the player who has created the most buzz in spring training thus far just happens to be the Marlins' best prospect.
That guy is 6'2", 190-pound, 22-year-old starting left-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney.
Like Nicolino, Heaney is a candidate for the final spot in the Marlins rotation, and with good reason. Heaney had a 9-3 record with a 1.60 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 95.1 innings between advanced Single-A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville in 2013. And unlike Nicolino, Heaney did not struggle when he got promoted as he was 4-1 with a 2.94 ERA in six starts.
Heaney followed up an impressive 2013 season with an equally impressive performance in the Arizona Fall League, where he had a 1.95 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 27.2 innings.
After the dust settled, he was ranked in the top 35 prospects in baseball by MLB.com (29th), Baseball America (30th) and ESPN.com's Keith Law (34th). Moreover, he was rated as the best left-handed pitching prospect by MLB.com.
Despite the positive buzz, there are two things potentially standing in Heaney's way: durability and circumstances.
Heaney enters spring training healthy, but he ended last spring injured. In fact, Heaney began the season last year on the disabled list with a strained lat muscle and didn't make his 2013 debut until May 20, which explains why he threw just 95.1 innings.
As far as circumstances go, some people will wonder why Heaney can't be this year's version of Jose Fernandez, the Marlins right-handed pitching phenom who won the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year. But what some forgot is the only reason Fernandez even started the 2013 season with the Marlins was because of injuries to Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez. So unless Heaney stands out and another rash of injuries hits Fernandez, Eovaldi and/or Alvarez, Heaney will probably start the season in Jacksonville or Triple-A New Orleans.
But at this point, it's a matter of when, not if, for a pitcher who possesses a 90-93 mph fastball, a solid curveball that changes the eye level of hitters because of sharp movement to go with a sinking changeup, according to MLB.com.
Marlins pitching coordinator Wayne Rosenthal discussed Heaney with the Sun-Sentinel:
There are a lot of little things we still have to fine-tune, but the pitches are in place. The fastball is in place. The slider is in place. The changeup is in place. He needs experience, experience and then more experience, and other little tidbits like holding runners. Those little things can get exploited, but from the time he went to A ball to Double-A, vast improvement.