2016 Batavia Muckdogs Season Preview

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Batavia Muckdogs 2016 Season Preview

2015 Team Stats

25 HR/176 XBH
649.2 IP, 4.00 ERA, 1.459 WHIP

With the arrival of summer come the arrival of the dog days of the year. Not just in regards to the hottest outside temperatures of the year but also in relation to the beginning of the New York Penn League short season and with it the start of the next Batavia Muckdogs’ short season campaign. This year’s Muckdogs will welcome back some familiar names from the organization from the past year such as Isaiah White, Samuel Castro and Ryan McKay while also housing draftees participating in their first pro season such as Reilly Hovis, Corey Bird, J.J. Gould and Aaron Knapp to make up a Dogs’ team chock full of young talented men waiting to prove themselves worthy of the title prospect.

Angel EspadaLeading this next crop of potential Marlins in to battle will be manager Angel Espada who returns for his fifth straight year as a Marlins’ short season coach and fourth straight season as the Muckdogs’ skipper. Espada is a former player who was drafted in 1994 by the Atlanta Braves. He was a blip on the radar on a couple of occasions including during a .301/.368/.345 campaign as a 19-year-old in the Appalachian League in which he ranked as the league’s 20th best hitter but overall was just a .277/.328/.317 career hitter in five minor league seasons, all below high A before he confined himself to the independent leagues in 1998. He enjoyed a great career as an unaffiliated player, slashing .311/.356/.375 over nine seasons, most of which came as a member of the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League including a career best .356/.405/.440 campaign in 1999 which made him the league’s batting champion. He also stole 40 bases, second most in the league. Espada repeated as batting champ in 2000, slashing .337/388/.403, barely beating out the next closest competition by less than a single hit. After two subpar years in 2001 and 2002, a 27-year-old Espada was his league’s tenth best for average hitter in 2003 by way of a .323/.370/.393 line. He appeared on the Atlantic League leader board for the last time in 2005 with a 17th best .309/.345/.386 effort before retiring in 2007. Known as a patient top of the order hitter with plus speed and a snappy bat as well as solid defensive skills which attributed to a 4.65 career range factor with eligibility at shortstop, second base and all three outfield spots, Espada was a tactically sound player whose wealth of knowledge has benefited Marlins minor leaguers since 2009. He comes in to 2016 with a career 139-162 managerial record. Filling out Espada’s staff will be his former teammate in the independent leagues in the late 90s following a .263/.326/.408 minor league career and an eight year major league career Luis Quinones (hitting coach), former Muckdog turned bench coach Thomas “T.J.” Gamba, and former Red Sox pitching prospect beginning his second year coaching hurlers and first at the affiliated level, Chad Rhoades. Last season he coached the independent Florence Freedom to a 3.69 ERA, third best in the Frontier League.


OF Corey Bird
SS Samuel Castro
OF Jhonny Santos
2B J.J. Gould
OF Isaiah White
DH Aaron Knapp
C Pablo Garcia
2B Rony Cabrera
1B Joseph Chavez

Corey Bird is a 20-year-old 6’0″ 180 pound outfielder out of Marshall University and the Marlins’ seventh round draft pick from the draft earlier this month. A two sport athlete in high school where he hit a ridiculous .457 over a four year campaign was selected to two All-Tournament teams, was his county’s Player of the Year once and West Virginia’s representative as Gatorade’s Player of the Year once, Bird began his college career with the Thundering Herd in 2014. Despite missing seven games at the beginning of the year due to a toe injury that season, Bird came back to lead his team in BA (.292), hits, walks and steals (which he was second in his entire conference in) and place second in OBP (.370) and SLG (.321). At one point that year, he had a 16 game on base streak. These exports garnered him Conference USA All-Freshman honors and second team honors on the All C-USA squad. Bird showed off his stamina in his final two college seasons, starting in 107 of 110 of the Herd’s contests. After again leading the team in multiple categories in 2015 including BA (.307), runs (34), and total bases (77) as well as stealing 10 more bags and placing second on the team in OBP (.377), Bird ended his college career this year by appearing in all 55 of Marshall’s games hitting an even .300 and, by way of a career best 26/24 BB/K, a .375 OBP. In the stolen base category, Bird made good on his surname, flying around the bases and totaling 34 steals, most in Conference USA. His 44 runs scored were 10th most in C-USA. He was once again named to the C-USA All Tournament team and earned All-Conference USA second team honors. He comes to the pros and to the Marlins as a career .301/.374/.342 hitter with a 58/15 SB/CS or a 79% success rate swiping bags. He also boasts a more than respectable 68/76 BB/K. As his playing time in college indicates, Bird is an extremely athletic young man, so much so he earned best athlete amongst all C-USA players this season from Baseball America. At the plate, his stance matches that reputation as he cuts down on the strike zone by standing from a straight away but very low stance. He waits out pitchers well, often committing to pitches late but his slappy bat and speed allow him to get away with having very little power to speak of. In Bird, the Marlins knew they weren’t getting a guy who is going to slug much of anything but rather a guy who is going to play the catalyst and get on base and in to scoring position ahead of their heavier bats. In addition to his athleticism, Bird boasts plus defense at all three outfield spots, making him very easy to get in to lineups and in to games as a sub. His current makeup has him fitting that of a prototypical fourth outfielder and defensive replacement, but with work, he has plenty of potential to become an every day starter.

Infielder Samuel Castro came to the Marlins organization in 2014 as an international signing out of the Dominican. He enters his first pro season at the ripe age of 18. At just 5’10”, 160, Castro has a very immature body but he has great instincts at on the infield where he is a natural shortstop but with good reads off the bat and a plus arm, can slot in at any position numbers 3 to 5. As you may have guessed he has very little to no power but, from both sides of the plate, he already has a good feel for the strikezone, good bat control and speed, a solid natural approach and all the willingness in the world to learn. He will be a fun prospect to watch grow.

J.J. GouldJ.J. Gould was the Marlins’ 24th rounder in this year’s draft. Originally a Florida State Seminole, Gould appeared in just 15 games in Tallahassee before making the move to the much lesser known Eastern Florida State College in Cocoa, Florida before ending his three year collegiate career at Jacksonville University. Between Eastern Florida State and Jacksonville though, Gould flashed the assets that made him attractive to the Seminoles out of high school, a skill-set that would have seen him taken much earlier in the draft had he stuck there. In 2014 as an Eastern Florida Titan, Gould, facing the sixth most plate appearances in his league, placed on league leader boards in OBP (.445) and OPS (.951). His 84 total bases ranked 10th in the league and his six triples placed him in a second place tie. He also flashed a great situational approach with the third most sacrifice hits and fifth most sacrifice flies. Overall, he slashed .325/.445/.506 with a more than respectable 33/46 BB/K. To round out his game, all Gould accomplished was becoming his conference’s defensive player of the year. Last year, Gould returned to Div. I ball and appeared in 55 of 56 Jacksonville University games. While his total numbers looked much different than those during his days at the lesser levels in Div. II, Gould still placed sixth on his team in OBP (.362) and his glove stayed gold as he continued to show terrific range and contributed to 13 double plays. He was also somewhat of a road warrior for the Jacksonville U Dolphins as he hit .296 away from their home field. He comes to the professional ranks as a career .294/.401/.431 bat. Leaning over the plate from a low athletic stance, Gould uses a light front foot timing trigger, active hips and a turned in back knee to get around on a lofty line drive swing. He possesses great bat speed and soft hands, making him both an on-base and power threat, a rarity found at second base. Gould is still a bit raw when it comes to knowledge of the strike zone, something he will look to improve on in his early days in the minors. If his coaches are able to get him to cut down on K totals, Gould could become a Chase Utley-esque threat with the defense to match.

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Isaiah White is a speedy outfielder who spent his first pro season in the Gulf Coast League after being drafted out of high school in the third round of last year’s draft. Despite being described as extremely raw upon being drafted, White flirted with a .300 BA, ending the season at .294. He flashed his speed by stealing 13 bags which tied him for a team high and placed him and teammate Garvis Lara in a tie for ninth most in their league. Much like his new teammate, Bird, White’s best assets are his jets and his glove. He goes gap to gap with ease in center field, reads pitchers well and gets good jumps upon committing to a stolen base opportunity. The difference between Bird and White, although you wouldn’t know it by looking at his 6’0″ 170 pound frame, is that White has some hidden power. With a swing that has some slight uppercut loft, White gets his weight moving backward well and points his front foot timing trigger towards the ball. His extremely quick swing and ability to maintain looseness set him apart from most guys his size in that he can put quite the charge into the ball when he squares up. Although he isn’t currently nor will probably ever be a guy who hits a ton of balls over the fence, he flashes the potential to reach outfield gaps. Should his hits reach the wall, his speed will turn them in to easy doubles if not more. Coming from a tiny K-12 North Carolina school which had never produced major league talent before his draft year, White will definitely need some nurturing but after his success with the GCL Marlins, things are definitely looking in favor of White who just turned 19 in January. We will be following this project closely.

Aaron Knapp is the Marlins’ eighth round pick from this year’s draft out of the University of California. After enjoying a decorated high school career in the Southern California area which included a .434/.536/.645 junior campaign in which he was selected to multiple honors including All-State, All Section, All City and All League as well as Rawlings All-American and Perfect Game USA honorable mentions, Knapp became the third member of his family after his brother Andrew who is currently pitching in the Phillies organization and his father Mike to attend the University of California. On top of owning an epic mustache during his days as a Golden Bear, he possessed a .272/.333/.347 career line over three seasons. After a .235/.302/.304 inaugural campaign as a freshman, Knapp made great strides in his sophomore year appearing in all 57 of Cal’s games and becoming a .310/.376/.375 hitter. He placed second on his team in BA, third on the squad in walks (25), and second in triples (4). The speedster who also was a standout as a football safety in high school stole a team-high 12 bases and scored a team-high 45 runs, marks that placed 11th and 9th in the entire Pac 12. Knapp’s four triples placed 7th in his league and his 232 ABs placed 7th. With reports out on him this year as he appeared in 53 of the Bears’ games this season, Knapp fell back to earth a bit overall, hitting .251/.302/.340 but still managed to add to already fantastic clutch stats including a 30-91 mark with runners in scoring position by driving home a career high 26 runs. He again lead his squad with 10 steals, which ranked 10th in the league and triples (7) which ranked 2nd in the league. The blazing speed he showed during his entire amateur career led scouts to ranking at a 60 out of 80 skill and it is what he should continue to base his approach off of. More loft to his swing last year is what led to his sub-par numbers slash line wise. In his first year as a pro, Knapp should return to his roots as a slap and slash bat whose good first step out of the box and steamy jets force infielders to make mistakes and lead to high OBP numbers, prototypical of a leadoff hitter. A split stance hitter whose front hip points towards first base, he does need to work on staying true through the ball rather than trying to run before he finds the barrel as he was doing very well last year. Knapp hurt himself and his draft stock trying to become something he isn’t ever going to be; a fly ball power threat. He undoubtedly realizes that and will attempt to turn back time as a Muckdog. Should he do so, thanks again to his speed, his fantastic range and playmaking ability as a center fielder despite average arm skills make him close to an all-around athlete and a future staple at the top of any lineup.

Pitching Rotation

1. Reilly Hovis
2. Ryan McKay
3. Jose Diaz
4. Travis Neubeck
5. Jordan Holloway

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Reilly Hovis is the Marlins’ 9th round pick from last season out of powerhouse North Carolina. He pitched primarily out of the pen in his freshman year holding down a 2.36 ERA and a .164 BAA in 34.1 IP. Despite the success, Hovis returned to the pen in 2014. That season, Hovis was one of the ACC’s very best, ranking fourth in the league with a ridiculous 11.39 K/9. Despite pitching almost exclusively as a reliever (1 start), Hovis had a team high 9 wins. He was again next to impossible to hit, holding down a .194 BAA, allowing just 8 XBHs including 2 HR. Despite pitching in at least 20 less innings than three of his teammates, Hovis bordered on totalling a team high in Ks (81 where the team high was 83). His ERA of 2.25 bested the rest of the Heels’ rotation by at least .4 and was second best on the entire team. The only one of his teammates to best him pitched in nearly half as many innings. At that point, Hovis was slated to go no later than round three in the upcoming MLB Draft. However, before season’s end, he underwent Tommy John surgery for a right forearm strain which caused many teams to look past him. The Marlins believe they got a steal by drafting him 266th overall — and so do I. With a high leg kick and a snap through quick delivery after dropping his arm down below his knee, the hard to pick up and quick to the plate delivery is finished off by spectacular stuff. Usually starting hitters off with a heater that sits in the 93-95 MPH range from a downward plane, his best secondary offering is a slider that has 10-4 movement and sits in the 84 MPH slot. He can throw the slide piece to both sides of the plate and paint both sides of the black, inside outing hitters with ease, making it very much a plus out pitch. Hovis also has a split changeup that rests at the 86 MPH slot. It is the least developed of the pitches in his arsenal but because of his technically sound repeatable approach from his athletic build and rarely wavering arm speed, it is still an above average offering, flashing good run from the inside out and late fade. Rounding out his repertoire, Hovis also holds a cut fastball that was a go-to pitch for him in college. It sits around the 89 MPH range and has drop-off-the-table type movement thanks to minimal backspin. The pitch made plenty an ACC hitter look foolish during Hovis’ days in Tarheel blue as he got them to commit to swinging at what they thought was a straight fastball before the ball wound up 15 inches lower in the back of the catcher’s glove. Should he show no ill affects from his surgery which was reported to be an undaunted success, Hovis, with great control and fantastic command and confidence on the mound along with good feel for all of his pitches and the ability to throw all of them in any count which leads to a well rounded deceptive arsenal especially for a heady kid who reasons and manages his outings as well as he throws them, has the ability to become a back-end rotation starter. At the very least, he is a future forefront of the bullpen. Don’t be surprised if you see this guy’s name surfacing in the majors within the next three years.

Ryan McKayRyan McKay is the Marlins’ 11th round pick from last season out of Satellite High School in Satellite Beach, Florida. After striking out 93 and holding down a 0.63 ERA as a senior, he spent his first pro season in the Gulf Coast league, where he posted a record of 1-3 in 10 games, seven starts and 34.2 IP. His control was worrisome as a first year pro as he walked 21, struck out 17, let up hits at a .300 clip and experienced both a heightened WHIP (1.82) and ERA (4.15). McKay has the stuff to succeed including a fastball which has grown in velo from 86 MPH in his junior year to where it currently sits at 94 with the probability to tick up even more as he grows. His best secondary offering, his curveball falls in at 74 MPH, giving him an impressive 20 MPH velo differential. The curve has been flashing plus since scouts started noticing him in his junior season. With tight spin and late bite, McKay has the ability to paint corners with the pitch, usually throwing it to the outer half utilizing it’s late movement to back door his opponents. His mix in pitch is an 82 MPH changeup. He has made strides with the pitch in a short amount of time since first developing it in his sophomore season. Although he still needs to work on getting his arm angle consistent and doesn’t have much command over the pitch, it flashes good downward run. McKay also owns a slider but he rarely goes to it. Right now, it’s nothing more than very much an experiment. While his other three pitches, namely the heat and curve, show plenty of promise, the challenge for McKay has been and will be growing in to his big 6’4″, 195 pound frame. He is slow and methodical to the plate and throws from a high 3/4 delivery on a downward plane after a full arm circle, there are times when McKay can look dominant, there were more frequent times during his first pro year where he looked very uncomfortable on the mound, unable to get his long limbs under control, struggling with his release point and his balance on his follow through. If McKay is going to succeed over the long term as a starter, he needs to make some mechanical adjustments to iron out these flaws. If he is able to do so, he has the stuff to succeed as a back of the rotation arm or long reliever.

Projected Team Stats

21 HR/144 XBH
652 IP, 4.31 ERA, 1.462 WHIP

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