5 Miami Marlins Prospects off to the Hottest Starts This Year
The first impression might be the best impression.
So it goes without saying that while performances in April represent a small sample size, a hot start might give off the impression that a player is ready to turn a corner or, more importantly, the prospect is ready to be promoted to the majors.
Whether the player can keep up with the blistering pace over the course of a season remains to be seen. At least he has gotten himself on the radar, if he hasn't done so already. For a prospect, being on the radar is certainly good news.
What? You thought we were going to select 29-year-old infielder Josh Rodriguez (.311/.410/.567, six home runs, 12 RBI) or 27-year-old pitcher Elih Villanueva (1-1 record, 2.77 ERA, six walks and 18 strikeouts in 26 innings)? While those two career minor leaguers have been excellent thus far, they are not considered prospects as they present no upside and little development left in them to be staples at the major league level. Then again, they can always pull an Ed Lucas.
In descending order based on the team's top 20 prospects on MLB.com, here are the five Marlins prospects who are off to the hottest starts this year.
MLB.com's Marlins Top 20 prospect ranking: No. 17
Current level: Advanced Single-A Jupiter Hammerheads
Current stats: .315/.364/.467, one home run, six RBI, 10 extra-base hits (seven doubles, two triples)
Of all the catchers in the Marlins organization, Austin Barnes could make the case he might be having the best start of them all.
The 24-year-old Barnes, who was drafted in the ninth round of the 2011 draft out of Arizona State, hit the Hammerheads' first home run of the season in an 11-0 win against the Mets on April 8 and fell a home run short of the cycle in last week's 12-1 victory against the Charlotte Stone Crabs.
According to MLB.com, Barnes was initially a second baseman before the Marlins moved him behind the plate full-time last year. In fact, Barnes played 116 games at second base from 2011-12 compared to 47 as a catcher. Last season, it was 75 games at catcher compared to four at second base. That said, Barnes should not only continue to get time behind the plate, but he should also play second base as well as any other position he can handle to expand his versatility.
The issue, though, is Barnes is too old to be in Jupiter, especially since he's repeating that level again. Last season, Barnes had a .260/.367/.343 slash line in 417 plate appearances before he was promoted to Double-A. With the Jacksonville Suns, Barnes' slash line was .339/.446/.484 in 74 plate appearances.
But with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jeff Mathis, Rob Brantly and J.T. Realmuto blocking his path, Barnes will have to continue to hit his way out of Jupiter.
MLB.com's Marlins Top 20 prospect ranking: No. 14
Current level: Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs
Current stats: 0-1 record, 2.76 ERA, one save, 13 strikeouts in 16 and one-third inning (eight appearances)
After a rough first two games, where Sam Dyson gave up four runs in three innings, Dyson has been on a roll as he has not been scored upon in five of his last six appearances.
Unfortunately, the only time during that stretch where the opposition scored against Dyson, he picked up the loss as he yielded one run in two innings of work in a 2-1 loss to the Colorado Springs Sky Sox on April 21.
Dyson worked exclusively as a starting pitcher last season, starting 21 of his 22 games in the minors. But this season, he's worked all eight games out of the bullpen.
The good news is if the Marlins need a reliever, Dyson could be the next guy called up. After all, he's no stranger to the big leagues as he has pitched in the majors in each of the last two years.
The bad news is if the Marlins need Dyson, get ready for some possibly horrendous outings. In 2012 with the Toronto Blue Jays, Dyson surrendered three earned runs in two-thirds of an inning in two appearances. After arriving in 2013, Dyson gave up 11 earned runs in 11 innings over five appearances.
MLB.com's Marlins Top 20 prospect ranking: No. 9
Current level: Double-A Jacksonville Suns
Current stats: .300/.360/.475, three home runs, 15 RBI, five stolen bases
The second go-round in Double-A Jacksonville has been much kinder to catcher J.T. Realmuto.
In just one month's time, Realmuto has hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning in a 4-3 victory Monday against the Montgomery Biscuits, won the Southern League Player of the Week and has drawn the praise of the organization's top prospect, pitcher Andrew Heaney.
That's much better than what Realmuto did last year, when he produced a .239/.310/.353 slash line with five home runs and 39 RBI in 106 games.
In regards to his POW honors, Realmuto batted .500 (12-for-24) with seven RBI, 10 runs scored, three doubles and three stolen bases from April 14-20.
If his hitting and handling of a pitching staff continues to improve, he could be with the Marlins at some point this year. According to milb.com, his glove is nearly big league ready as he leads the Southern League with a .467 caught stealing percentage (seven of 15 would-be base stealers thrown out in 2014).
As far as hitters' tendencies, I'm trying to be better about that. [Realmuto] is really good about that. That helps out a lot. He has a plan for everyone who comes up. I don't shake him off too often. He played in this league last year, so he knows a lot of the hitters. He's just really good at that. He knows how I like to pitch. He uses what he knows with my strengths and what I like to do.
MLB.com's Marlins Top 20 prospect ranking: No. 4
Current level: Double-A Jacksonville Suns
Current stats: 2-2 record, 2.83 ERA, five walks and 13 strikeouts in 28 two-thirds innings (five starts)
It looks like Justin Nicolino is taking the next steps toward a major league career.
Nicolino needed only 87 pitches to throw a career-high eight innings, yielding three hits and a walk with four strikeouts in a 10-0 shutout Sunday of the Montgomery Biscuits. At one point, Nicolino retired 17 batters in a row. Nicolino told milb.com:
Today was basically going after the hitters, attacking the zone with whatever I had and executing pitches. I feel like I did that in situations that I needed to. If I fell behind, I got right back into the count. I feel like that was a big key for me.
Two starts ago, Nicolino took a shutout into the seventh inning before finishing the night yielding one earned run on five hits in 6 two-thirds innings to claim his first win of the season. More impressively, Nicolino was able to accomplish this quality start without his best pitch, the changeup.
At the rate Nicolino is going, he could be promoted to the big leagues before the end of the season.
MLB.com's Marlins Top 20 prospect ranking: No. 1
Current level: Double-A Jacksonville Suns
Current stats: 2-1 record, 2.25 ERA, six walks and 28 strikeouts in 28 innings (five starts)
The best prospect in the Marlins organization might also have had the hottest start this season outside of Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton.
During a three-start stretch from April 10-20, Heaney surrendered just one earned run on eight hits with two walks and 22 strikeouts in 19 innings. In the first start, Heaney threw 56 of his 80 pitches for strikes and retired 11 consecutive batters at one point in six shutout innings of work. In the following start, Heaney picked up his second win in as many chances by tossing another six scoreless innings of one-hit ball. And then in the final start of that stretch, Heaney recorded a season-high nine strikeouts while yielding just three hits and one run in seven frames.
Like Realmuto, Heaney received Southern League Pitcher of the Week honors from April 14-20.
Unfortunately, Heaney has committed two stinkers to sandwich that terrific three-start stretch. Heaney gave up three runs on 10 hits in five and one-third inning in his first start of the season, and in his last start, Heaney lasted just three and one-third inning, surrendering five runs (three earned) on six hits with three walks and three strikeouts.
Despite those two mediocre starts, Heaney's numbers are as good as they come.
If Heaney continues his rapid ascent, he could quickly arrive to the majors, although MLB.com's Joe Frisaro doesn't expect to see Heaney before June. Sporting News profiles Heaney as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, while MLB.com said Heaney combines stuff and pitchability as Heaney's slider is his best pitch, the fastball is also a plus offering and the changeup is a solid third option.