Due to both offseason trades and the many promotions from last year’s great 75-61 Grasshoppers team, many Marlins draftees from the last two years look to make their presence felt in their first full season of pro ball this year. It’s a young squad and in most aspects a pretty raw one but with talent such as Jose Devers, J.C. Millan, Brayan Hernandez, Remey Reed and Brady Puckett on board, there’s plenty to be excited about this year in Greensboro.
.246/.321/.356, 70 HR, 414 XBH, 2.81 K/BB, 135 SB
1184.2 IP, 3.67 ERA, 1.205 WHIP, 3.34 K/BB
At all levels of the minors and especially in the lower levels, the focus is not on winning but rather justifiably on development. However, at any level of sport, in regards to a player’s intangibles such as his/her psyche and drive to succeed, there are few things more valuable than being on the victorious side of games. In his first year at the helm in Greensboro, Todd Pratt proved that, partnering wins with positive growth in perfect harmony. While compiling a 75-61 record, second best in the South Atlantic League and bringing the Hoppers to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, Pratt saw upwards of 10 players graduate to the next level. According to third baseman James Nelson who was a Sally League All-Star and MVP candidate and second place finisher for the batting title via a .309/.354/.456 slash line as well as a very likely promotee this season, Pratt was able to do so by managing a carefree, loose clubhouse and by so doing, successfully shielding his club from any brand of unwarranted pressure.
“Pratt is one of the coolest coaches I’ve had the pleasure to play for. He keeps the game fun but it gets serious if things aren’t how they are suppose to be,” Nelson said. “The clubhouse has a lot of laid back vibes. Baseball is already hard and he doesn’t want to make it harder by stressing out after losses.”
J.C. Millan echoes his teammates sentiments.
“Pratt is awesome overall. On the field and of the field, he lets us go out and play and have fun. He’s always going to be in a great mood no matter what and that always motivates us to always enjoy the game just like he enjoys his job as a manager,” Millan said. “He likes to do everything the right way and he is always encouraging us to play hard no matter what the circumstances are.”
Rounding out Pratt’s staff will be hitting coach Frank Moore who oversaw the Sally’s best team walk rate of 10% and a .246/.321/.356 slash line last year. Returning pitching coach Mark DiFelice managed the Grasshoppers staff to a 3.66 ERA by way of a 1.20 WHIP, third best in the Sally League. Their 3.35 K/BB also ranked third.
SS Jose Devers
LF Michael Donadio
RF Isael Soto
DH/1B Lazaro Alonso
CF Brayan Hernandez
1B/DH Eric Gutierrez
2B J.C. Millan
3B Micah Brown
C Jared Barnes
Devers is a 2017 Yankee’s draftee who came to the Marlins in the trade for Giancarlo Stanton. He was acquired as a distant second piece compared to his former teammate, fireballing hurler Jorge Guzman. However, judging by what he showed both last season and this year in camp, there may be more ceiling value than currently meets the eye.
Despite averaging just .246 last year, Devers at just 17 years old last year, OBP’d .359. He did so by exhibiting the brand of strike zone knowledge of a Major League ready leadoff hitter, a tool many pros find too difficult to come by. What’s more is he was able to accomplish this against pitchers who were on average, nearly four years his elder. Devers coupled his selective offensive approach with even more impressive work in the field where he shows good range to both sides, amazing athleticism and a strong and accurate throwing arm. He has the ability to dazzle with the glove and make “how did he do that?” type plays regularly, going completely across his body with jump throws and showing lightning quick transfer tools after flashing just as fast a reaction time and first step to the ball off the bat. Devers rounds out his game with absolutely blazing speed on the bass paths that allowed him 15 steals last year at a positively alarming 85% success rate.
A tall and lanky 6’0” 155, Devers in both stature and skill set bears a striking resemblance to Elvis Andrus who hit a similar .265/.324/.362 in his age 17 season in A ball and who is a +9.9 career dWAR player. Devers, who will turn 18 in December, has a bit of work to do in the areas of bat speed and overall physical approach in terms of weight transfer and balance but that should come as his body fills out. Watching him play and go 100% every time he’s on the field, it’s easy to see why he was a favorite of former Yankees farm director turned Marlins farm director Gary Denbo and a target of his this offseason. Expect Devers to get a long and healthy amount of attention by the organization going forward starting this season in Greensboro.
LF Michael Donadio
2017 – A- – 31 G, .278/.407/.392, 8 XBH, 13 RBI, 23/16 K/BB
Donadio is a 2017 Marlins draft pick who had a beastly collegiate career at St. John’s. As a member of the Red Storm, Donadio hit .323/.433/.463 over a four year career including a .374/.473/.547 senior season. He was the first player in St. John’s history to earn first team All-Conference honors in each of his four seasons. Looking at his collegiate stats, there isn’t much to dislike. The only thing that may have turned him off to scouts is his lack of power (28.8 career XBH%) and his pretty pedestrian .252/.344/.313 showing against top talent in the Cape Cod League in 2015.
For whatever reason, the Marlins stole Donadio in round 30 of the 2017 Draft. From there, he finished out his season with the GCL Marlins. The change in competition level didn’t phase Donadio one bit. In his first 97 pro ABs, he hit .278/.407/.392. His OBP ranked second on the team and tied him for 17th best in the league. Donadio parlayed that performance into a great showing this spring against older talent.
Standing 6’, 195, Donadio is an athletic specimen who gets low in his left handed stance, keeps his head down and views pitches all the way to the glove. He reads pitchers well, gets in their heads and anticipates the break on pitches advantageously, fights off tough pitches and rarely lets a mistake go to waste. There’s some uppercut action to his swing which allows him to go to all fields with line drives. His favorite area to attack is straight up the middle of the box. While the extremely quick reflexes and strike zone management are extremely encouraging, Donadio is currently all arms and very little legs. Getting his lower half involved in his swing a bit more could give his game another aspect: the ability to reach fences. He’s probably never going to be a guy who hits 20+ homers but with some slight mechanical alterations, he could be a 20+ doubles threat with a great eye, making him an atypical table setter for the middle of the lineup.
In the field, Donadio flashes a good arm and good range to either side. He projects best as a top-of-the-order left fielder with room to grow into more. With projection, I like Donadio as a diamond-in-the-rough type draft selection and a candidate to skip Batavia and start with the Hoppers this season. If he’s not in North Carolina on Opening Day, he will definitely be there at some point this year.
RF Isael Soto
2017 – DNP (injury)
Soto is a Marlins’ 2013 international signee out of the Dominican looking to reestablish his prospect status after missing all of 2017 with a broken foot. It was the second time he’s missed significant time. In 2015, he missed almost the entire season with a torn meniscus. Once as high as the Marlins’ #8 prospect, his future is in some serious doubt due to his inability to stay healthy.
At the plate, Soto makes up for fairly limited size (6’0”, 190) by showing awesome bat speed and a short barrel path to the ball, giving him plus plus power upside. However, he’s far too aggressive early in at bats and his approach carries tons of swing and miss potential with it as proven by his 115/43 K/BB in 2016. His plate vision and over-commitment to swings need to make some huge leaps if he is to reach his ceiling as a potential frequent fence finding threat with a plus defensive arm in right field. However, with all the time he’s missed, that ceiling is starting to slip away. Entering his age 22 season still in low A, he’s starting to enter make it or break it territory.
Lazaro Alonso is an interesting backstory. Once regarded as the eighth best prospect in Cuba by way of a great breakout .299/.436/.494 showing in the island’s national series and a .395/.495/.535 campaign in 2016 season in its 23-and-under league, Alonso joined the Marlins in the 2016 International Draft, the same draft that held picks such as Yoan Moncada and Yasiel Puig. While he is very much their inferior in terms of service time and MLB readiness, Alonso had a great showing in Batavia last year as he adjusted to stateside ball by hitting .255/.366/.348 with a 56/37 K/BB.
As you may guess by looking at Alonso who stands 6’3”, 230, he owns ridiculous raw power. However, the word raw should be emphasized here. As decent as he was in his introduction to pro ball, he has tons of work to do mechanically. His biggest issue is an off-balanced load spurred by a faulty power transfer stance in which he bends his back leg in and his front leg out. It looks as uncomfortable physically as it projects statistically at the upper levels. While he can rope pitches on the inner half, he gets handcuffed on pitches on the outer half and gets caught reaching, often falling off to the plate side, leading to weak contact outs. If he can be coached to close his stance, cover the plate more advantageously and go to his opposite field, he has the swing selectiveness, batter’s eye and muscle to be at least a 20/20 threat while also posting a good OBP. A heady hitter who lets his natural tools work for him and doesn’t try to overpursue, I like Alonso as a very under-the-radar candidate to come out of virtually nowhere and make a name for himself.
CF Brayan Hernandez
2017 – A-/AAA – .263/.309/.406, 14 XBH, 42/10 K/BB
Hernandez, the main return piece in the David Phelps trade with the Mariners hails from Venezuela. A .252/.306/.408 hitter in 28 games with the Everett AquaSox, he finished his season out with the Muckdogs hitting a very similar .271/.302/.407 in 15 games. Though he is scouted as a potential five tool threat, Hernandez has a way to go if he hopes to reach that ceiling both in physical and mental growth. Just a 6’2”, 175 pound 20-year-old, hope is that Hernandez is simply a late bloomer both physically as well as mechanically and mentally. Playing in the Mariners organization probably hasn’t helped the right fielder who has a career 5.7 walk rate and 21.1 K rate. Seattle hasn’t graduated a top-tier outfield talent since it assisted with Adam Jones prior to his trade to the Orioles in 2008.
Two things will be needed if Hernandez is going to reach his ceiling as a complete talent: a rigorous new training regiment centered around adding muscle and a supreme focus on improving his recognition of breaking pitches. He also has a bad habit of trying to do too much on pitches on the outer half, trying to pull them instead of going with them.
In the field and on the bases, there is little to dislike about Hernandez’s games. He has plus speed with good instincts and the ability to cover all necessary ground at all three spots. He projects best as a center fielder but given the current scope of the Marlins minor league system, he will probably start seeing more time in right field. Entering his age 21 season, Hernandez still has time to reach his Odubel Herrera-esque ceiling but if that is to become a reality, he will need to start making progressive advancements towards it this year.
Millan, a Cuba native, spent his high school and collegiate years locally in South Florida. After attending high school at Brito Academy, he was a standout in a single season at Broward College where he hit .324/.407/.443 where his batting average, OBP and .850 OPS all ranked top five in his conference. He also swiped 18 bags, second in the conference. Prior to the 2016 MLB Draft, the Marlins signed Millan as a free agent. After breaking in in the GCL that year, Millan began to show positive adjustments to the wood bat professional ranks last year when he hit .273/.304/.402 in 44 games in Batavia and earned himself a cup of coffee with the Grasshoppers at the end of the season. But as excited as he was to enjoy the success he did, Millan knows it was the beginning of a lengthy ride and that there’s still tons of work to be done, starting immediately.
“2017 was a good start for me but that’s already in the past,” Millan said. “This year is a fresh start. I’m excited to get back on the field and get rolling.”
Millan participated in camp this year on the main backfields and against the highest competition on low A-high A camp days, sometimes against competition as high as A+ and, by my estimation, looked great. He collected a few hits and made all the plays necessary of him in the field. Millan credits his readiness for his first full pro season to the cup of coffee he got in Greensboro at the end of last year, even though initially, it was a bit of a sharp learning curve, adjusting to both his competition and surroundings.
“Greensboro was great for me even though it didn’t come out how I wanted.” Millan said. “The speed of the game took over me the first week I went up. It was first time I got to play at such a nice stadium. But those were all learning experiences that I had to go through and I will be prepared for the upcoming season.”
Regarding how he is feeling heading into by far the most extensive season of his baseball career, Millan believes he is well prepared and is focused well focused on keeping his body at 100% capacity. With a lot of familiar faces around from his time in Batavia last year, he also believes there will be great camaraderie from the get go.
“I’m excited for this full season. I got a little taste of how it was going to be and it’s going to be a fun ride with all the guys I’ve played with,” Millan said. “It’s just a matter of staying healthy all year and going out everyday to give it your best.”
Millan is a 6’0”, 185 pound athletic specimen who swings from a preloaded split stance that stretches nearly the entire frame of the batters box. With slight bend in his back leg and a short stride to the ball, he generates good line drive contact from the barrel. He’s aggressive in the fact that he likes to crowd the inner half and shows good ability to get extended to pitches on the outer half. He could use to find more strength in his hands to fight off pitches high and in but his hands are still quick enough to get around on them. During his time in Greensboro last year, as he stated, was getting accustomed to the quicker pace of play, the speed of the field and the much higher level of competition. However, all of those are things that will and have already started to come with more innings and more at bats.
Heading into this season, I really like Millan to surprise a lot of people as a catalytic type singles threat with good foundational patience and mechanics and good footwork and range to either side in the field, and plus plus speed on the base paths. A potential ceiling leadoff threat and 20+ base stealer while hitting for a plus average, he’s a great story out of Cuba, reminiscent of Jose Fernandez with similar compete level who shouldn’t be slept on.
SP Tyler Kolek
SP Remey Reed
SP Tyler Braley
SP Brady Puckett
SP Brandon Miller
CL Colton Hock
2017 – A- (rehab) – 3.2 IP, 29.45 ERA, 4.91 WHIP, 0.07 K/BB
If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it is. After missing all of 2016 and nearly all of 2017 with Tommy John, Kolek will make his return to the Grasshoppers this season. A prized first round draft pick, second overall by the Marlins in 2014 after he wowed scouts by hitting as high as 103 mph as a high schooler, Kolek’s career so far has been an unbridled disaster that has cost the Marlins $6,000,000 in signing money.
After signing in 2014, the first two years of Kolek’s career were underwhelming at best. He showed similar plus velocity on his heat that he was valued for pre-draft (though he rarely hit triple digits and was definitely overthrowing when he did) but the pitch was dead straight. Each of Kolek’s secondary offerings were very immature to the level they were barely existent. He showed the beginnings of a 86-88 mph changeup and a similar velo slider but the release points are very inconsistent and he looks very uncomfortable throwing each of them. Another mechanical issue for Kolek was repeatability stemming from very little action in his lower half. Instead, Kolek appeared to be all arm, failing to push off the rubber and failing to throw downhill which is definitely what led to his arm being blown out.
Now 21 and returning from major injury, Kolek, who enjoyed very little pro success, will need to completely rebrand both his arsenal and tools if he hopes to succeed as a big leaguer. Can he do it? The answer is time will tell. What is undoubtedly evident is that Kolek has the compete level and drive to do so. However, it takes a special individual to become a different player at this point in his career. While such a high draft pick will be given every chance to do so, I suspect Kolek’s big league future lies in the bullpen.
A Marlins’ 6th rounder in 2016, Reed held down a 2.66 ERA in 122 innings at Division I Oklahoma State mostly out of the bullpen, Reed saw extensive time as a starter with Batavia last year, proving the Marlins are tabbing him as a future rotational candidate. Reed performed fairly well in this interview of sorts, especially considering they came in his first season as a professional. In his eleven starts, he held down a 4.15 ERA with a 42/12 K/BB over 43.1 IP. The highlight was a 6 inning 2 hit shutout in his second-to-last outing of the year against Mahoning Valley in which 47 of his 77 pitches went for strikes.
Reed is a massive 6’5” 230 which would make him the fourth tallest pitcher to ever throw in a Marlins uniform behind only John Rauch, Chris Volstad, Andrew Miller and Josh Johnson. The biggest knock on Reed’s game so far in his career is that he hasn’t been able to use his great size to his advantage. Rather than using his long limbs to generate plus velo, he is a slow and deliberate worker with an arsenal that matches. Rarely touching 90, he releases late from a high over the top slot without much deception in his delivery. He commands his fastball well and it has a flash of late life to it but each of his secondaries, an 83-86 mph changeup, an 86-88 mph slider and a slow 71-74 12-6 curve are very unpolished. He has the profile to pitch deep in games and be an effective low-effort innings eating starter but he will need to develop a better feel for his offspeed stuff. If he can modify his mechanics to include better lower body involvement, his ceiling could be that of a 2-3 starter. Right now though, with a lot of arms ahead of him in a similar time frame, he projects best as a reliever.
2017 – A- – 49 IP, 2.92 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 35/9 K/BB
Puckett is another huge specimen — 6’8, 220 — which would make him the second tallest hurler in Marlins history
Here, there’s a ton of plus projection. Though the Lipscomb University alum is another guy that won’t wow with velo, Puckett, 22, already owns a plus-plus secondary offerings on top of a good lively arm side running heater. He gets his size involved in his delivery well, leaning slightly to his arm side, creating a downward plane and throwing from a high 3/4 slot, making him incredibly difficult to pick up. Everything is commanded well on the lower half creating advantageous weak contact, and plenty of late swings, setting up the out pitch slider which has the capacity to be downright unfair when he’s painting the corners with it. From his high release point, the pitch planes down and sweeps to the corner with extremely late life. It’s a plus-plus pitch at this point and by far his best offering. Regarding the pitch, Puckett says he can throw it multiple ways. Depending on how good it is daily, he is able to hit both his arm side and inside opposite corners, giving it more of a cut fastball profile.
“I like to call it a cutter but some days it moves more like a slider,” Puckett said. “I’m pretty confident in it. I like to throw it to both left handed and right handed hitters.”
He also owns a solid 85 mph changeup that shows good depth and the beginnings of a slow curveball that shows flashes but at this point is just a mix-in.
A master at inside-outing hitters and working the entire zone when he is on, Puckett projects very well as a back end starter. He could use to improve a bit in terms of location consistency. Puckett says that trouble arises when he lets pressure get to him, leading to a tendency to overthrow. But he has a plan to remedy that issue.
“Whenever I try to throw the ball real hard is when I get myself into trouble,” Puckett said. “I just need to stay within myself and think miss smaller, not throw harder.”
Though he is headed into his first full professional season, Puckett says his past two years of work have made he and his body well equipped for the rigors of a large amount of work.
“The past 2 years I have thrown around 150 innings each year so I’m hoping that will help my body be prepared for a full season,” Puckett said.
Even though can be quite hittable when he doesn’t have his best stuff and is catching too much plate, he shows the ability to adjust and still does enough to limit damage. A guy who already has good command of two plus pitches, is developing two more, uses size by creating downward action and deception and has improving command, Puckett profiles as a good mix of a strikeout guy and limited contact guy. A hurler who can get outs multiple ways, I like Puckett to reach a ceiling somewhere comparable to Brandon McCarthy, a career 3.97 FIP, 2.97 K/BB starter.
.226/.307/.342, 56 HR, 375 XBH, 152 SB, 2.9 K/BB
1191 IP, 3.86 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 3.10 K/BB