Sunday night, the Marlins addressed one of the biggest glaring weaknesses on the Major League team by acquiring righty Cole Sulser and lefty Tanner Scott from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for two prospects: teenaged outfielder Kevin Guerrero and 25-year-old lefty Antonio Velez, a player to be named later and a competitive balance draft pick.
With Adam Cimber, Yimi Garcia and John Curtiss all departed, the Marlins’ bullpen limped to a finish in. 2021, posting a 4.38 ERA over their last 210 games. Before Sunday, the Marlins were scarcely being linked to many relief pitchers in the offseason. They appeared to be headed into 2022 with much of the same bullpen and without one of their best in house options, Dylan Floro who is delayed with a minor injury. In Sulser and Scott, the Marlins get one arm that will step into high leverage immediately and another that has the stuff to do so very shortly.
Sulser is a recently turned 32 year old who made his MLB debut in 2019 and who has yet to hit his arbitration years. After a cup of coffee with the Rays in 2019, Sulser came back up to the bigs in 2020 with Baltimore. I’m 22.2 IP, Sulser struggled, allowing 14 earned runs in 22.2 innings. Despite his issues at the very hitter friendly Camden Yards, Sulser made the 2021 Opening Day roster for Baltimore and in his first full MLB season, showed massive improvement. Most strikingly, Sulser displayed a much better feel for his changeup. Despite a drop in velo, a softer grip has to game-changing improvement when it comes to the vertical movement on that pitch turned a two-plane offering into a four-plane offering.
Sulser has never had a very fiery fastball, sitting at 93 and rarely up to 95. What he did have in 2021 though was much improved command, allowing him to fill up more of the strike zone and change the eye level of his opposition. The combination of the fastball up and the changeup diving out of the zone has proven to be a mystery for opposing hitters.
Sulser can also mix in a slider which allows him to cover a wide range of the radar gun. Via very sudden improvements, he now has the stuff to start the year and, if his command consists, remain in a high leverage role for the Marlins this season.
Scott is a 6’, 235 pound southpaw who was a 6th round pick by Baltimore in 2014. He broke out in 2017 in AA where he held down a 2.22 ERA via a 1.319 WHIP and 87/46 K/BB in 69 IP, allotting him a major league cup of coffee at the end of the year. Since then, Scott has thrown most of his innings for the big league club. His results with the Orioles have been very suspect. In 156 innings in the show, Scott has a 4.73 ERA, a 1.545 WHIP and a 208/96 K/BB, pointing towards his issues with command.
While he may not have it all felt out yet, what Scott does have is absolutely electric relief stuff including heavy heat up to triple digits and some of the best spin rates in baseball all from the left side. In 2021, his average four seamer spin rate was 2582, 11th best among qualified pitchers. Additionally, Scott’s slider, which held an average 2666 spin rate, also averaged nearly 37 inches of vertical break, 14th highest among qualified lefties. He garnered an extremely high 46% whiff rate with it.
Scott has the velo and stuff to become a viable high leverage reliever, but if that is to happen, he needs to work out his crux: inconsistent command, particularly with his fastball. Catching the heart of the plate far too often, Scott’s fastball allowed hard contact 44% of the time, had a .244 expected batting average and a .419 expected slugging percentage. Scott commanded his slider much better than the heat. But due to the inconsistency of the fastball, he had to challenge with the slider a bit more than he probably liked. Still, opposing hitters appeared to be pretty fortunate against Scott’s slider. The pitch had an xBA of .214 and was hard hit just 27% of the time. However, the actual batting average against the slider was .250 and opposing teams plated 25 runs against it. Those numbers should normalize as Scott leaves Camden Yards and comes to loanDepot park. Also working in Scott’s favor, his hard hit rate decreased later in the 2021 season.
With an elite 80 grade fastball and a 60 grade slide piece, Scott has the stuff to keep him in a major league bullpen and he is coming to a Marlins’ organization that knows how to get the most out of their pitchers. Expect Scott to start his tenure with Miami in middle relief and potentially get looks in high leverage situations a bit later in the year.
Velez, a 6’1”, 195 pounder, is a Miami native and graduate of Brandon High School. After two years in JuCo, Velez was recruited to FSU where he had a solid junior year and was primed to build his draft stock in his senior season before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out almost everything, including the collegiate baseball campaign. In the extremely shortened 2020 MLB Draft, Velez went unselected. DJ Svihlik and the Marlins signed him shortly thereafter.
Immediately sent to A+ Beloit, Velez showed solid control and command over to-contact stuff, limiting his ERA to an even 3.00 and his walk rate to 2.9% while managing a respectable K rate near 24%. Velez got the call to AA Pensacola for his final three starts and showed much of the same: in 18 IP, he allowed just one earned run while striking out 18 and walking two.
Am extremely feel-good story who has recently answered multiple challenges posed to him both mentally and on the field, Velez will not overpower with velo (usually sitting 92-93). What sets Velez apart is a great knowledge of who he is as a pitcher and plus command and control. In addition to the fastball which has good arm side run and tail away from righty hitters, Velez has advanced feel for a tumbling changeup and a well spun slider with late vertical action, that allows him to place it on both the front and back door in the zone for strikes and outside of it for whiffs.
This trade is a good career move for Velez. With the depth in the Miami system, there were many pitchers above him in the pecking order. With the Orioles, he could contribute to the MLB team as early as this year. It is also a testament to the Marlins front office, their ability to recognize collegiate talent and their prowess for building up arms. Turning an undrafted free agent into a good looking piece and getting major league value out of him in a trade is an indicator of a very adept front office.
The other piece going north is Kevin Guerrero, a Marlins international signee from the Marlins’ 2021-22 international signing class. He signed for an undisclosed amount. At 6’3”, 165 pounds two weeks away from his adult years, Guerrero’s best current tool is his solid bat speed from the right side. One of the youngest players in Marlins camp this spring, Guerrero was getting looks against mostly AA competition on the backfields. While he was clearly overmatched, he got his first taste of what adjustments he needs to make to succeed at the higher levels. He was also exposed to stateside coaching, development and facilities. A .260/.373/.298 hitter in the Dominican last year, Guerrero has a ton of projectability and should come stateside full time for Baltimore this season.
In addition to two solid pieces (plus a PTBNL), the Marlins also traded away a compensatory draft pick. An event the club has leaned on heavily to find the next stars of their organization since the club’s purchase in 2018. Giving up prospects plus a draft selection to bolster their major league bullpen in addition the moves the club made earlier this offseason corroborates what Bruce Sherman said earlier this spring: this team wants to win at the major league level right now. Through this trade, they are closer to making that a reality.