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2015 Miami Marlins minor league depth: Relief Pitchers Pt. 2

As top relief prospects Grant Dayton and Nick Wittgren continue to dominate at their respected levels in the Marlins minor league system, there are others looking to prove that they should be considered as the next arms to hold down wins out of the Marlins major league bullpen. So hold in your prospect drool as we breakdown the Best of the Rest in the Marlins minor league bullpens.

Best of the Rest

Colby Suggs

As I have stated before, in my article “The Enigma Prospect: Miami Marlins Colby Suggs,” Suggs dominated in his time at the University of Arkansas, never finishing a season with an ERA higher than 1.74. He earned his “Bulldog” nickname by continually boosting his career stat line as a Razorback, finishing with a 1.36 ERA to go along with 53 walks and 65 strikeouts in a total of 79.2 innings pitched over three seasons. This gave the Marlins strong reasons to select him with their 2nd round, supplemental 73rd overall pick in the 2013 Amateur draft.  After all, what’s not to like when you can have a right-hand reliever whose physical attributes place him around 6’0″ in spikes and 235 lbs. strong on the mound? This physicality, combined with his show time curveball, contributed to MLBPipeline experts ranking him as the Miami Marlins Organizational #10 prospect in 2014. Unfortunately, Colby Suggs scouted talent is yet to catch up with his hype when taking a look at his recent minor league stats below:

Colby Suggs

With the High-A Jupiter Hammerheads in 2014, Suggs allowed 25 walks, six wild pitches and seven hit batsmen – while pitching 58 1/3 innings in 46 appearances. These statistics represent the same erratic tendencies on the mound that he showed in 2013 after signing with the Marlins and being promoted to High-A where he allowed 14 free passes in 18 1/3 innings, facing a total of 79 batters out of the pen.

Going forward, Suggs, who is ranked this year as the Marlins’ 17th-ranked organizational prospect by MLBPipeline.com, will need to find consistency in his mechanics and mental make-up. If he can master control of his devastating curveball the can be a force to be reckoned with, especially when paired with his above-average fastball that sits 93-95 on the gun. Honing in on these skills will help to put Colby Suggs back on the fast track to the big leagues, and make him one of the top relief prospects to watch in the Marlins minor league system this season.

Brian Ellington

Is Brian Ellington a possible fast track prospect in 2015? Ranked as the Marlins’ 21st-ranked organizational prospect by MLBPipeline.com at the age of 24, Ellington, who stands at 6’1″ 215 lbs, has the desired aggressive relief mentality that could land him in the big leagues in 2015. Drafted by the Marlins in 16th round of the 2012 June amateur draft, Ellington already possesses all the intangible traits you like to see in a reliever – high motor, aggressive and short memory. These traits have him ranked this high on the Best of the Rest list. These tangible traits include his major league ready fastball – that sits in the 92-95 MPH and max efforts at 98 MPH. Ellington’s above-average curveball has developed into his best off-speed pitch, which tends to be inconsistent more times than not, but is a better offering pitch than his average to below-average slider, change-up and developing splitter. These are average off-speed offerings that Ellington developed in 2013 while being promoted up the minor league ranks from rookie ball all the way up to Low-A Greensboro in the Marlins farm system. This repertoire of pitches helped him be successful in 2014, while putting him on the prospect fast track to start the 2015 season – statistics shown below:

Brian Ellington

It’s no secret that Ellington possesses the raw tools and arm strength to be a top tier reliever in the big leagues, especially when armed with more off-speed offerings than any other relief pitcher in the farm system. Like every prospect though, there is always a downside – and right now Ellington’s is his inconsistent command of the strike zone, which can be attributed to his lengthy delivery. This is something he will need to work on this season if he wants to see a promotion to Triple-A New Orleans. Looking at the stats above for 2015, if Ellington can continue to keep his walk rate down, which currently stands at 1.72 walks per nine innings pitched through 9 appearances, then we could see him develop into a late inning set-up guy at the major league level for the Marlins – making him a strong bullpen candidate to watch down on the farm this season.

Miguel Del Pozo

There’s a good chance that Del Pozo is the best lefty reliever in the Marlins minor league system. The 22 year-old , 6’1″ 185 lbs. left-handed reliever Del Pozo signed with the Miami Marlins in the summer of 2010 at the age of 16.  It wasn’t until the 2014 season though, that the Marlins front office finally got to take a good long look at the Santo Domingo, DR baseball product. After spending his first 2 seasons in the instructional rookie level leagues for the Marlins, Del Pozo got an opportunity to make a name for himself in 2013 – starting the year with the Marlins short-season affiliate the Bavatia Muckdogs. Pitching for the Muckdogs, Del Pozo out pitched his 4.81 ERA by posting a 3.14 FIP, while striking out 36 hitters and stranding 68.1% of runners on-base in just 24.1 innings pitched. These statistics combined with his low 90’s fastball and above-average curve-ball combination, sparked his seasons end promotion to High-A Jupiter – where he pitched just 2 innings and faced a total of 10 batters. Del Pozo carried his success from 2013 over to his first full season of minor league ball in 2014 for Low-A Greensboro, as seen in his statistics below:

Del Pozo

The only worry about Del Pozo’s game up to this point in his minor league career, was his walk rate issues in his first 3 seasons with the organization. This has improved since the 2013 season, helping to elevate his prospect ranking as reported by Under the Radar Minors blog:

“Del Pozo could be one of the first young relief pitchers to make the push to Miami. He has the ability to miss bats as he struck out 85 in 66 innings at Low-A Greensboro. One promising stat was his BB/9 rate which hovered around 6.o over his first 3 years as a pro, but was slimmed to 2.6 last season in 41 appearances. One area he needs to improve is holding runners from scoring, based on his career 4.71 ERA.”

Not only does this state that Del Pozo has made drastic improvements on the control front, but he is continuing to make a name for himself outside the Marlins front office. With Grant Dayton and Nick Wittgren in line at Triple-A in front of him to be the next relievers to hit the big leagues, Del Pozo will need to put together another strong statistical resume during his 2015 campaign in hopes of landing a spot in the Marlins bullpen behind front runners like Dayton and Wittgren.

Matt Milroy

Could Matt Milroy be a fast track prospect as a reliever? Drafted by the Miami Marlins out of the University of Illinois five rounds before previously named Brian Ellington in the 2012 MLB Draft, Milroy became the highest-drafted Illini pitcher since 2001. After finishing his junior season ranked ninth in the nation in strikeouts per innings pitched (10.98), and first in the Big Ten conference in opponent batting average (.207) and strikeouts (65) as a starter, it’s easy to see why the Marlins were so high on Milroy. Unfortunately, those statistics didn’t translate over to his first appearance in pro ball with the Bavatia Muckdogs – posting a 5.04 FIP while walking 23 and striking out 30 over 35 innings pitched, making eight appearances out of his nine total as a starter. Even with his pure stuff on the mound, Milroy struggles continued in his first full season of pro ball at Low-A Greensboro in 2013, finishing the season with a 5.49 ERA and 4.44 FIP while walking 5.18 per nine innings pitched with 59 strikeouts in 57.1 innings pitched – only making nine starts out of his 17 appearances. In 2014 though (his second full season), things started clicking for Milroy – shown in his statistics below:

Matt Milroy

Milroy made huge strides in 2014, splitting his time starting and relieving out of the Grasshoppers bullpen. He registered 12.36 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and dropped his astounding 5.18 walk rate from the previous season – down to 3.27 before being promoted to High-A Jupiter. This promotion featured Milroy as a starter out of the pen and brought back images of his erratic control problems- he finished his High-A campaign in 2014 with a 6.84 walk rate and minor league career low 6.66 strikes out per nine innings pitched over 50 innings.

With all his struggles with control as a starter, Milroy seems to be slowly finding a place as a fast track prospect out of the bullpen. With a low 90’s fastball that can touch 95 MPH on occasion and a wicked late-breaking mid 80’s slider, pitching out of the pen would certainly allow his pitches to play up – as seen in his 2015 stat line above. It will also allow Milroy to develop his change-up into an above-average third offering, while continuing to be successful with his fastball-slider combination in late in relief without any setbacks.

It’s still too early to tell whether Milroy will end up as a starter or reliever by the time he makes the big league roster, but the 6’2″ 190 lbs. right-hander has the pure stuff and mound moxie to create a lot of swings and misses if he can continue to harness his control issues.

Other notable relief pitchers to watch:

Josh Hodges/6-foot-7 235 lbs./Drafted by the Marlins in 2009 (11th round) out of Ingomar Attendance Center High School in New Albany, MS.
Esmerling De La Rosa/6-foot-2 202 lbs./Signed with the Marlins in June 2009 out of Santo Domingo, DR.
Nick White/6-foot-3 205 lbs./Drafted by the Marlins in 2014 (11th round) out of Berryhill High School in Tulsa, OK.
Kyle Porter/6-foot-2 205 lbs./Drafted by the Marlins in 2014 (31st round) out of the University of California.

2015 Miami Marlins minor league depth: Relief Pitching Pt. 1

It’s no secret that the Miami Marlins bullpen has struggled to hold down leads for the Fish this season, contributing to 4 of the Marlins 14 losses, and is armed with just three relievers with a FIP below 3.00. As of this moment, the only bright spots in the Marlins major league pen are A.J. Ramos, Sam Dyson and Nick Masset. The brightest spot of them all so far, is of course, A.J. Ramos. He has thrown well so far posting a 1.65 FIP while stranding 84.6% of runners on base in 15 innings pitched, continuing to pound the strike zone with his three main pitches – Fastball, Slider and Change-Up. He has also brought back his Cutter, which hasn’t been seen in his repertoire since 2012. If Steve Cishek continues to struggle in the closer role, look for Ramos to have his name called again this season to step up and close out wins for the Marlins.

With that said, the Fish have built their major league bullpen around their farm system since the disastrous season in 2012, which leaves us scouring the Miami Marlins minor league farm system in search of the prospect with the “Next man up mentality”.

Before diving into the hidden gems in the lower levels of the Marlins farm system, it’s important to note that names like Carter Capps, Matt Ramsey and Andre Rienzo are all listed in the bullpen for Triple-A New Orleans. These are the four-A bullpen guys for the Marlins that add quick fill in value if someone goes down in the major league pen. At Double-A Jacksonville though, the Best of the Rest really start to shine – as we look at the Best reliever prospects pitching in the Marlins minor league system in 2015.

Best of the Rest

Blake Logan

Almost a complete unknown in the Marlins baseball community, Logan stands to make a name for himself this season. Drafted in the 2012 MLB draft (13th round) out of Eastern Oklahoma State Junior College, Logan – standing at 6’1 225 lbs. – dominated at the junior college ranks, posting a 11-2 record as a starter with a 1.55 earned run average and 124 strikeouts in 93 innings pitch. These statistics had him set to be the ace at Wichita State the following season, had the Marlins not drafted him that year.

In his first season of professional ball Logan seemed to pick up right where he left off in college – going 1-2 (W/L) with a 2.56 FIP and 29 strike outs in 31 innings pitched as a starter for the Batavia Muckdogs. Unfortunately though, things fell apart for Logan in his first full season of pro ball in 2013 as made the transition from starter to reliever at Low-A Greensboro. He finished that season with a 4.61 FIP – with opposing hitters registering a .333 BABIP against him at the plate. Control seemed to be the issue as he walked 20 total hitters and hit 8 in that same season.

Looking to rebound in 2014, Logan started off the season at Low-A Greensboro where his struggles continued out of the pen – recording a 5.42 FIP in 13.1 innings pitched before he was promoted to High-A Jupiter. This promotion seems to have rejuvenated his minor league career – Logan was finally able to find his footing out of the pen. His stint with the Hammerheads was outstanding, as he out pitched his 3.45 ERA, registering a FIP of 2.51 and 41 strike outs in 44.1 innings pitched while only walking nine. These statistics warranted the end of year promotion to Double-A Jacksonville, where the buff right handed hurler managed to dominate the opposition. Armed with a knee painting mid-90’s fastball, mop-up slider and above-average change-up, Logan out pitched his 1.73 FIP by posting a 0.00 ERA with one walk and a .636 WHIP after facing 40 hitters over 11 innings. This was the icing on the cake to a great 2014 campaign for Blake Logan – moving through three levels of the Marlins farm system, while placing himself on the fast track to the big leagues with the kind of impressive stats listed below:

Blake Logan

Logan has started this season with Double-A Jacksonville and has looked to continue the same kind of success seen from him in 2014. Unfortunately though, up to this point, Logan has post a 4.82 FIP and has given up 2 home runs in six appearances. This stat should drop as he receives more seasoning at the Double-A level, making him a top candidate to watch out of the bullpen in the Marlins’ minor league system this season.

Luis Castillo

Acquired by the Miami Marlins this off-season in a trade for Casey McGehee from the San Francisco Giants, the 6’2″ 170 lbs. string bean Castillo brings the same kind of electric arm as trade mate prospect Kendry Flores. With a Fastball that sits in the mid-90’s, Castillo put himself on the map with the Giants rookie ball affiliate in 2013, recording 20 saves in 27 appearances with a 1.12 FIP and 34 strikeouts. He kept hitter’s bats at bay- posting a .221 BABIP and 3 walks after facing 106 batters at the end of his 2013 campaign. All this just 2 years after signing a free agent contract with the Giants out of Bani, Peravia, Dominican Republic.

After his 2013 performance, Castillo was promoted to Low-A Augusta in the Giants farm system – where he flashed signs of becoming a shutdown closer in the big leagues, posting a 2-2 record with 10.13 strike outs per nine innings pitched, and a FIP of 4.00 over 58.2 innings pitched – as shown in his statistics below:

Luis Castillo

At the age of 22, Castillo still has a lot of seasoning ahead of him before making the leap to the Marlins major league pen. So far though, the Marlins front office like what they see from this potential future closer. The hope is that he will continue to add body mass and durability to his wiry frame. Castillo is off to a good start this season at Low-A Greensboro. He has collected 2 saves in 8 appearances while striking out 15 over 13.1 innings pitched, as well as flashing his advanced control walking .66% per nine innings pitched – which is down from his 3.84% in 2014.

If Luis Castillo can continue to make improvements as he moves up the ranks of the Marlins minor league system, the 22-year old righty could find himself on the fast track to the Marlins big league roster if we continue to see veterans and four-A call-ups struggle.

Other notable relievers to watch:

Sean Donatello/6-foot-2  205 lbs./Drafted by the Marlins at the age of 20 years-old in 2011 (25th round) out of the University Connecticut – Avery Point.
Steven Farnworth/6-foot-2  108 lbs./Drafted by the Marlins at the age of 20 years-old  in 2014 (23rd round) out of Cal Poly Pomona University.

2015 Miami Marlins minor league depth: Outfield Pt. 2

As I mentioned last week in Pt. I of the 2015 Miami Marlins minor league depth at the outfield position, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna are set in stone as members of the Marlins outfield for the future. Four-A players provide the supporting cast as they roam the gaps at Triple-A New Orleans – Brady Shoemaker, Austin Wates , Cole Gillespie and the versatile Jordany Valdespin.  These players don’t help predict how bright the Marlins future truly is, but they do provide fill in value at the Major league level to keep the team competitive for the 2015 season.

Austin Dean and Isael Soto were highlighted in last week’s article as two of the best top prospects in the Miami Marlins minor league system playing the outfield position. Dean and Soto aren’t the only two outfield prospects that deserve mention – so, as I alluded to last week in my article, here are the Best of the Rest down on the farm for the Fish at the outfield position.

Best of the Rest

Casey Soltis

Drafted in last year’s MLB Amateur draft in the 5th round by the Miami Marlins, the left-handed hitting, 6’1″ 185 lbs. Casey Soltis from Granada, California astounded Marlins minor league management in his first season of pro ball in the Gulf Coast League – hitting a .364 BABIP in 138 plate appearances, as shown in his statistics below:

Casey Soltis

Before being drafted by the Marlins in 2014, Soltis was a two sport star at Granada High School – playing both football and baseball his senior year. On the diamond that season, Soltis hit for a .353 average at the plate with 16 runs batted in and 13 stolen bases, as well as four home runs and 9 triples. These statistics were the reason he was the first outfielder selected by the Marlins in the 2014 MLB draft, and why Marlins VP of scouting Stan Meek spoke so highly of his potential:

“It’s a good swing, it’s a good strong athletic body and we felt like, as an outfielder, we think he’s gonna hit,” said Stan Meek, vice president of scouting for the Marlins. “I think the question is how much power we’re gonna get.”

Listed as the Miami Marlins #15 organizational prospect by MLBpipeline.com heading into the 2015 season, it’s clear that the Marlins front office and fans alike are just as high on Soltis’s offensive capabilities as they are with his defense capabilities. Primarily listed as a centerfielder, Soltis has the strong arm and above average speed that will allow him to play all outfield positions – including right field. On the offensive side of the ball, Soltis has a quick compact swing that promotes line drives to all parts of the field – at the same time showing an advanced level of comfort at the plate for a teenager.

The biggest skill set to pay attention to in Soltis’s game this season will be to see if he can develop the Hawkeyes (advanced plate vision) approach at the plate. This will bring down his 23.9 strikeout percent at the plate in 2014. It will also foster better pitch selection and lead to a higher overall average at the plate as he is promoted throughout the Marlins minor league system. It should also help him tap into some of that raw power we are yet to see from him at this point in his early minor league career.

Matt Juengel

At the age of 25, the Texas A&M product and the Miami Marlins 24th round pick in 2012, Matt Juengal is on the proven block. Standing at 6’2″ 190 lbs., Juengal has finally found his stroke in the Marlins minor leagues the past two seasons. In a break out performance in 2013 at Low-A Greensboro, Juengal hit for a .280 BABIP in 499 plate appearances with 14 home runs and 22 doubles. Unfortunately though, as it happens to all prospects that stop through the friendly hitter confines at Low-A Greensboro, the promotion to the next level tends to lead to decreased power statistics as seen in his 2014 statistics below at High-A Jupiter:

Matt Juengal

Even if his power numbers were down in 2014, Juengal still put together a top prospect like slash line for the Hammerheads – .272/.330/.393 with 32 doubles. These statistics supported his end of year promotion to Triple-A New Orleans, where he flashed his power hitting one home run in a limited 13 plate appearance. If he can continue to work on shortening his swing at the plate, while still producing the kind of massive pop he is prone to generate from his swing, then we could see him up in Triple-A by the end of the season.  With sub-par to average defense capabilities, it will be Juegnal’s right-handed bat that gets him promoted up to the big leagues, so continuing to work on his craft at the plate will be of the utmost importance to him this season. Off to a hot start, Juengal has already hit 4 home runs in 74 plate appearances with a .246 BABIP for Double-A Jacksonville this season and will look to continue that hot stroke for the rest of his 2015 campaign – in hopes of becoming a September call-up at seasons end.

Anfernee Seymour

One word describes the play of Anfernee Seymour – speed! Hands down the fastest prospect in the Miami Marlins minor league system, Seymour, standing at 5’11″ 168 lbs., was drafted by the Fish in the 7th round of the 2014 MLB draft out of American Heritage High School in Plantation, Florida – two picks behind high school outfielder Casey Soltis.  After signing his contract with the Marlins, Seymour literally hit the ground running in the Marlins instructional Gulf Coast League, swiping 11 bags on 13 attempts while being a singles machine and registering a season ending .338 BABIP in 112 plate appearances, as shown in his statistics below:

Anfernee Seymour

Listed on the Marlins depth chart as an outfielder, Seymour has the speed to make up for mistakes with his developing footwork in the outfield. This also makes him a threat up the middle as an infielder – playing at shortstop in 9 out of his 26 games played. This is a position the Marlins like seeing him at – with his fluent hands and above average arm.

Rated as the Miami Marlins organizational #28 top prospect by MLBpipeline.com, Seymour will have his work cut out for him when he hits the field in 2015. He will hope that his speed and slap happy hitting approach can place him on the fast track to the big leagues, but will need to continue his polish to possibly become the next Jarrod Dyson or Terrance Gore. Their speed has allowed them to develop in the big leagues with the Kansas City Royals, and could do the same for Seymour – who could double as a utility infielder.

With everything being even, Seymour, with his speed, definitely shines in a pile of solid outfield prospects in the Miami Marlins minor league system. If we believe that he could develop into another super utility player down the line, you have another highly touted outfield prospect to follow this season, – one that should find his way to Low-A Greensboro before the end of his first full season of pro ball in 2015.

Other notable outfielders to watch:

Cameron Flynn/6-foot-0 190 lbs./Drafted by the Miami Marlins in 2012 (23rd round) out of the University of Kentucky.
John Norwood/6-foot-1 185 lbs./Signed a free-agent contract with the Miami Marlins in 2015 out of Vanderbilt University.

Who will become Lucky #5 in the Marlins rotation when the dust settles

Assuming the Marlins don’t shop the recently committed Dan Haren before the season starts, the battle for the 5th spot in the Miami Marlins rotation just got exciting in the form of unpredictable.

After showing up at camp on Friday in Jupiter, FL to report for the Marlins pitchers and catchers workout, Dan Haren has made it clear he is here to stay, only fueling the fire with regards to the internal battle to find a 5th starter for the 2015 Marlins opening day rotation. Now that he has voiced his commitment to the team, Dan Haren may not be the one who’s caught up battling for the last spot in the rotation. Rather the battle for the last spot now could come down to watching the kind of numbers Brad Hand, Tom Koehler and David Phelps can put up, in hopes of solidifying the last spot in the rotation. We can assume that Dan Haren will now slide into the 4th spot in the rotation, barring any kind of injury, the Marlins are unlikely to send a much needed savvy veteran down to Triple-A or take his “Man-Card” from him by making him a long reliever, instead of the consistent work horse he has always been. Significance being, that there will be a new internal battle for the 5th spotin the rotation that will take place between Tom Koehler, David Phelps and the only lefty in the bunch Brad Hand.

Tom Koehler: (Leading Right-Handed Candidate)

Koehler is the lead horse in the race for the 5th spot going into the spring. Based on his stat line from last year where he registered a win-loss record of 10-10, while recording a career high in IP (191.1), ERA (3.81) and K/9 (7.20) striking out 153 total batters. All the while, walking just 3.35 batters per nine innings pitched. Although he tends to wear down in the late innings proven last year by Koehler going 7 strong innings just 9 times over 32 games started. However, he did end the season with 17 quality starts out of those 32 games, where he went six or seven innings for the Marlins and gave up just 3 runs or less on those occasions. Meaning, if he can come into the spring with an improved fatigue rate and a better feel for his arsenal of pitches than there will be no questions asked about who will land the 5th spot in the rotation.

Brad Hand: (Lefty Favorite)

Even though Hand doesn’t have the strongest starting resume when compared to the likes of Tom Koehler and David Phelps, he made a case to be looked at this spring by the Marlins organization based on the numbers he was able to put up after returning to an injury riddled Marlins rotation in July of last season. Making just 14 starts done the stretch, 8 of which were quality starts and compiling a 3.80 ERA, while striking out a total of 43 batters in just 83 innings pitched after being recalled from Triple-A New Orleans. Giving him a 4.66 K/9 ratio, but its his .323 BABIP over those 83 innings that is cause for concern going into spring training, proving that he still hasn’t developed a consistent put away pitch at the major league level. Thus, instead of heading into the spring with a solidified spot in the Marlins rotation, Hand will have to prove he has developed an advanced feel for his off-speed offerings to keep hitters at the major league level at bay, if he wants to land that back-end 5th spot in the Marlins Big league rotation.

David Phelps: (The Underdog Righty)

I think by all accounts it’s safe to assume that Phelps will either start the season at Triple-A New Orleans as a starting pitcher or will end up falling into the same profession as he did with the Yankees. Meaning, if he makes the major league roster out of spring, it will likely be as a long reliever with the chance of receiving spot starts here and there as needed. He will, like the others get a chance though at the starting spot based on what he was able to accomplish in his 17 starts last season for the New York Yankees. Only winning 5 decisions of those 17 starts, but posted a 4.28 ERA with a 6.80 K/9 ratio in his 96.2 innings pitched when he toed the rubber as a starter for the Yankees. For Phelps to come out of spring training as the 5th starter in the marlins he will need to show complete control in his repertoire of pitches and come out with an improved mound presence translating to dominance on the mound that will hopefully cast shadows upon Brad Hand and Tom Koehler, allowing Phelps a true chance to complete for the last spot in the rotation.

With everyone final factored into the equation, and assuming the rotation is already preset with Mat Latos, Henderson Alvarez , Jarrod Cosart, and possibly Dan Haren (in no particular order) these final three pitchers listed above will have their work cut out for them when spring training games beginning next month. So make sure to pay extra attention to the screen when these pitchers take the mound for the Marlins, as they will be bringing their best stuff in hopes of earning that final spot in the rotation.

2015 Prospect Outlook: Justin Nicolino

If everything evolves as predicted, the future for Justin Nicolino, one of the most decorated Minor League pitchers, looks bright. However, where does he fit in a talented Miami Marlins rotation that will feature a dominant Top 3 with the return of Jose Fernandez mid-season from Tommy John surgery to join Mat Latos and Henderson Alvarez?

Rated as the Miami Marlins organization’s  #2 prospect by Baseballamerica.com, there’s hope within the front office that we will see the Marlins most coveted left-handed pitching prospect wearing the vibrant big league uniforms in 2015. Having recently traded Andrew Heaney to the Angels and the 2012 Mega Deal’s Anthony DeSclafani to the Reds for Mat Latos, the organization has slotted Nicolino as “The Next Man Up” if in need of mid-season help. The likelihood that he breaks camp in the Marlins big league rotation is slim, even though the need for a left-handed starter in the rotation is strong. The Marlins are hoping Brad Hand can land that job coming out of spring training, even though the organization believes Nicolino is the better option. This suggests that he is more likely to debut after the Super 2 Deadline in July. Alternatively, the Marlins may wait to bring him up late in the season, hoping he will make a 2003 Dontrelle Willis like impact, after some further fine tuning at either Double-A Jacksonville or Triple-A New Orleans.

Labeled by scouts as a Command & Control style pitcher, he registered an impressive BB/9 rate of 1.06 in 2014. This is attributed to his tall frame, high baseball IQ and a deceptive overhand throwing motion that creates a downward plane on his pitches, allowing him to keep his strikes low in the zone, and generating weak contact. His .03% HR/FB ratio in 2014 is evidence of this. This type of pitchability allows his arsenal of pitches to play up at the next level. However, he carries a mediocre Fastball that clocks in around 89-92 MPHs and a below-average Curveball that has been labeled more of a Slurve at 77-80 MPHs. The one pitch in his arsenal that is already tailor-made for the big leagues is his change-up. It generates excellent late fade, and paired with his deceptive arm speed, it has become his go to swing and miss option when ahead in the count on hitters.

Despite being equipped with all these tools, there are concerns he may not reach his maximum potential. Seen by his dramatic regression in his K/BB rate from 24% in Single-A, to 11.8% after being promoted to Double-A Jacksonville in 2013. This appears to reflect his inability at this point to develop tighter spin on his Curveball. This is needed to improve its consistency and late break, adding that “whiff” factor needed for him to be successful not only at the next level, but at the Major League level. In addition, scouts are worried how his arm will hold up as he takes on more innings. The aggressive manner he throws across his body leads to a lot of arm side run and deception on his Fastball, but scouts are worried he could develop serious shoulder issues.

With growth and development we all hope he can astound at the Major League level like he has at the Minor League level. It will be difficult to surpass his current awards of being the 2014 Minor League Pitcher of the Year and finishing 2014 Ranked #1 as the Top-Control Starter in the Minor Leagues. There is little reason to think he couldn’t become a future Ace, or even a strong #2 in the rotation behind Jose Fernandez. For now though, don’t expect to see him on the opening day roster unless the Marlins suffer injuries during spring training, and without a consistent “whiff” factor present in his Curveball he projects to me, at best a #4 in the Marlins Rotation.