With the turn of the tide for the Marlins franchise comes an influx of new talent on the shores of Jupiter, Florida. They come bearing jagged teeth that prove to get even sharper over these next five months.
The man overseeing that process will be former major leaguer Todd Pratt. Over his fourteen year career, the .251/.344/.398 is probably most remembered for this moment in the 1999 Division Series.
Prior to his playing career, Pratt embarked upon coaching in 2010 as the inaugural manager of the West Georgia Tech Golden Knights baseball team. After building the program up from club-level to Division I status, Pratt was named the school’s athletic director in 2011, a position he held through 2016. Pratt came to the Marlins in 2017 to coach the A Greensboro Grasshoppers. After two seasons there, he heads up the ladder to A+. Following Pratt to Jupiter this year are many of the young prospects Greensboro rostered last year. Joining the promotees will be a few new signees and prospects acquired via trade. Altogether, they make up a star-studded roster which holds 12 of the organization’s top 30 prospects, including four of the top ten. It is far and away the most talented roster Pratt has been responsible for. According to the skipper though, he is heading into the season with no weight on his shoulders.
“With all of the prospects, and I think there’s more prospects here than is being noted, you’d figure there would be a lot of pressure on the manager. I think it’s a pleasure to be he manager. I’ve had most of them before so I’m looking for them to have a good season, just playing the way they’re supposed to be playing,” Pratt said. “It is an honor to be able to lead a team that could be considered the future of the Marlins. I will use my 24 years of professional experience to keep the ship steady. My job is to get them ready daily and mentor them so they can become the player they and the Marlins want them to be.”
In moving from the single A to single A advanced ranks, Pratt will be tasked with guiding some of the Marlins’ top young talents to some of the biggest challenges they’ve faced in their careers. According to Todd, the toughest of those tests is being able to make positive adjustments as your opponents go through the same struggle. Coach Pratt says that is the biggest separator between ability at the A+ level.
“The big difference is the consistency of the talent. Players in high A have been around a couple of years professionally and know what it takes to grind everyday in a 140 game season. Players at this level are starting to learn they must make adjustments during the season as the opponents do as well. Scouting and analytics have come a long way since I played at this level so that needs to be taken into consideration as well.”
SS José Devers
CF Victor Victor Mesa
LF Tristan Pompey
1B Lazaro Alonso
3B James Nelson
DH Isael Soto
C Nick Fortes
RF Cameron Baranek
SS José Devers
2018 (A-A+) – .272/.313/.330, 16 XBH, 26 RBI, 47 R, 49/16 K/BB, 13/6 SB/CS
Devers is a 2016 Yankees’ international draft signee out of Somana, DR. After spending the first 11 games of his pro ball career in the DSL (.239/.255/.326), the 17-year-old transitioned stateside where he lived out the rest of his rookie season. In 42 games with the Yankees East Gulf Coast League squad, Devers hit .246/.359/.348 with a 21/18 K/BB and a 15/3 SB/CS. He also yarded his first career homer. Devers accomplished all of this against competition 2 1/2 years older than him.
Devers’ exceptional raw talent as well as his already mature speed and fielding prowess garnered the attention of Marlins scouts. Last winter, he was part of one of the biggest trades of the offseason, coming to the Fish in the Giancarlo Stanton swap.
Upon joining the Marlins as a viable but distant third piece to both Starlin Castro and Jorge Guzman, Devers was a more-than-solid for-average threat, hitting .273/.313/.332 in his first 85 games stateside. Those exports have allowed him to make the jump up to A+ this season. He will be competing in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League against competition nearly four years his elder. He is officially the youngest player on the circuit. Not only does Pratt feel Devers is up for that challenge, he has made the teenager his leadoff hitter to start the campaign.
Watching Devers this preseason, it isn’t difficult to recognize what the organization sees in Devers’ maturing natural abilities and maturing physical stature. After coming in to camp with at least 20 pounds of added muscle mass to his listed 155 pound stature, Devers has learned quickly how to put that weight to use. Approaching from a straight-away stance from the back of the box, his slashy singles swing is beginning to show some loft and he’s garnered the ability to stride downward into contact. His placement in the box allows him to use his plus plate vision to his advantage and once on base, Devers is an absolute weapon. Still very much a kid with tools that are growing at a very quick rate and a guy who has the potential do damage in a multitude of ways offensively on top of an already-elite defensive skill set, Devers projects as an every day starter at shortstop and future table-setter capable of a ceiling approaching a lefty-hitting Edgar Renteria, a .284/.343/.398 career hitter with a 73% SB% and an 8.9 career dWAR.
CF/DH Victor Victor Mesa
Mesa is the crowned jewel of the first offseason orchestrated by Jeter and Co. The top international prospect, Mesa (along with his 17-year-old brother Victor Jr) signed with the Marlins for $5.25 million. Here’s why:
After defecting from Cuba in 2016, Mesa hadn’t played an inning of organized baseball in almost two years when he suited up for Team Cuba in the World Baseball Classic. For that reason, the Marlins hoped to get Mesa as many at bats as possible this spring. That plan was turned on its head when Mesa injured his hamstring while running the bases in his first official stateside start. According to Pratt though, despite missing out on the opportunity to get some valuable ABs in this spring, Mesa has fully recovered.
“Coming into spring early he had some nagging stuff but anyone’s gonna have that going from not playing at all to being out there every day. He’s a full go,” Pratt said.
You don’t have to watch many videos or read many reports in order to see what the Marlins invested in when they doled out the biggest payday to an international free agent in franchise history. In Mesa’s approach, we see a lot of Giancarlo Stanton. From a slightly spread stance with his front foot straddling the edge of the box, Mesa uses a front-foot toe tap trigger to step into the ball. From there, his best swings explode through the zone from. The follow through is well-balanced as he keeps both hands and eyes on the bat through contact. From there, Mesa allows 70-grade speed to go to work for him. That speed follows him in to the field where he is exceptionally capable as a center fielder.
Where Mesa will need to improve is creating leverage and loft to his swing in order to make the most of his abilities. On top of that, VVM will need to adjust his timing and pitch recognition as he will consistently be facing some of the best pitching the baseball ranks anywhere have to offer. According to Pratt though, Mesa is perfectly capable of accomplishing those feats but after spending so much time off the field, his growth will be safely guided.
“He’s not an 18-year-old kid; he’s 22 years old. So he’s got an idea of what he wants to do; he just needs to play every day. There may be some days he has to take off because he hasn’t played in two years. We’re going to make sure he’s rested and at 100% every day he walks out there,” Pratt said. “Obviously, we want to get him as many ABs as possible but we don’t want to break him down. It will be a guided process.”
Mesa’s efforts in his first full pro season will be two-fold: adjusting advantageously on a North American field and adjusting to life in the US off the field.
“The game doesn’t change. The communication aspect is probably most difficult for these Latin players. I think we are right on track with him,” Pratt said. “We understand each other and I think he’s done well with Kevin Witt, our hitting coach. “He’s an exciting player who will play center field for us and we will see what develops.”
If Mesa can accomplish both, the 22-year-old has the upside of a special MLB talent with the ceiling of Odubel Herrera, currently a .280/.336/.429, 54/23 SB/CS threat with at least 60-grade defense.
Pratt sees the same potential in Mesa and says that once he makes health his ally, he will quickly begin to dominate the Florida State League and beyond.
“He just needs the reps and to learn what being a pro is all about. He was slowed in spring training due to some minor injuries, but he is starting to get healthy,” Pratt said. “I cannot wait until he is 100% as he is showing signs why he was highly sought after as a free agent out of Cuba.”
LF Tristan Pompey
2018 (RK-A+) – .299/.408/.397, 12 XBH, 23 RBI, 47/32 K/BB, 10/5 SB/CS
Pompey is the Marlins first round pick out of the University Of Kentucky in 2018 where he had a .321/.426/.521 career. After his $645K payday, Pompey broke into pro ball with Pratt’s Grasshoppers last season. There, the multiple time All-American hit .314/.422/.430 with four doubles and his first two professional homers in 86 ABs. He also stole five bases in eight attempts and had a 22/16 K/BB before being called up to the Hammerheads.
Pompey’s current skill set translated with superiority to the more pitcher friendly Florida State League ranks. In equal time with the Hammerheads (24 games), he hit .291/.396/.384 with five doubles, a homer, a 4/1 SB/CS and a 21/13 K/BB. He begins 2018 back with the Hammerheads, but if he enjoys similar success for the bulk of the year, he could wind up in AA Jacksonville by season’s end.
“He started with me in Greensboro last year and really didn’t belong there. He got up here and it was the same consistency with better ballplayers and the (Florida) heat,” Pratt said. “He can swing the bat from both sides with good discipline and a good knowledge of the strikezone. I’m very impressed.”
Approaching from a split stance, Pompey brings his front leg inward to the ball with a medium-high timing trigger before engaging a well-leveraged swing with good uppercut action. It’s a stroke tailor-made for doubles. Because of the inside-out action of his lower half, Pompey favors pull-side contact, but, thanks to his parents teaching him how to switch hit when he was a child, Tristan is able to mirror his mechanics from both sides of the plate, making him a much more complete offensive threat. Couple that fact with a patient eye and the bat speed to fight off tough pitches, Pompey projects as a plus for-average threat with the ability to add even more power. He will need to add more torque and use of his hips in order to play up to his full potential of the back half of that equation, but with more physical growth, that should come naturally. Add to the fact that Pompey is capable of plus speed on the basepaths, the 22-year-old projects as a future centerfielder, hitting top three in the batting order.
2B Riley Mahan
2018 (A+) – .250/.298/.340, 29 XBH, 40 RBI, 127/24 K/BB
Mahan is another Kentucky alum selected by the Marlins, this time from the 2017 draft class. Before his .311/.360/.524 three year career at UK, Mahan was a high school standout for the Archbishop Moeller Crusaders in Cincinnati, Ohio. There, he was a .367/.460/.538 career hitter and a 2014 preseason All-American. Postseason, he earned first team All-State and All-GCL honors. After hitting .304 with 22 RBI in the Cape Cod League in 2016, Mahan hit .336/.392/.618 as a senior at UK. The last of those figures was driven by a team leading 15 homers and 23 doubles. He also drove in a team high 67 runs. The boost in power was a huge catalyst in Mahan being selected at his $525K-worthy draft slot.After just six games with the Grasshoppers, Mahan suffered a groin strain, bringing an end his 2017 calendar year. However, after a strong camp, the Marlins saw enough to task the middle infielder with a quick graduation to A+ Jupiter to begin 2018. After missing two weeks early in the year with an aggravation to the same injury, Mahan hit right at the Mendoza line, slashing .250/.298/.340 with a team leading 23 doubles, three triples and three homers. With similar home and away splits, what really hampered Mahan from standing out even more offensively was his 31% K rate and 127/24 K/BB. Mahan will look to rectify that area of his game this season as he faces off against the same level competition.
An athletically built 6’3”, 200 pound specimen, Mahan hits lefty and throws righty. From a compact closed stance, he approaches from the back of the box, but crowds the plate, allowing him to get his average sized limbs all the way across the zone. In trying to create leverage in his swing though, his cut gets a bit long, leading to either weak contact or swings and misses. When Mahan shortens up though, he flashes a 50 grade hit tool stemming from good bat control, capable of a good average. His future will depend on his ability to read pitches more consistently, work counts and stay simple.
On the other side of the ball, Mahan possesses a good glove and nimble feet, but his throwing arm is just average, which limits his infield ceiling to second base. While that is where the team would like to continue to develop Mahan, the 23-year-old may be converted to left field during the fast-tracking process. Entering an important developmental season, we will follow this ceiling Kelly Johnson (.251/.330/.422) and floor fourth outfielder New Year’s Eve baby closely.
RF Cameron Baranek
2018 (A-A+) – .244/.307/.347, 17 XBH, 39 RBI, 79/26 K/BB
With the early season promotion of Corey Bird who heads up to the Jumbo Shrimp, right field opens up for Cameron Baranek (pronounced BAH-rah-NIK), a Marlins’ draftee from 2017. Baranek comes to the Miami after a two years in JuCo at Santa Ana College where he was a .344 BA, 435 OBP hitter and after a single season at Hope International University where he hit .364/.486/.672 with 14 homers and a 20/10 SB/CS on top of a 32/43 K/BB. Baranek’s single season totals at HIU not only helped his school to an NAIA World Series berth, they broke several school records including HR, SLG, total bases and SB.
Following his standout junior season, Baranek broke yet another Hope International mold, becoming the first player from the collegiate program to be selected in the MLB draft. The Marlins took Baranek in the ninth round at 269th overall.
“It’s quite an honor being able to represent HIU, and being the first draft pick from the school. The school and coaching staff were so helpful in every aspect to allow me to be the best student athlete I could be,” Baranek told us last season. “Being a smaller Christian school with a focus on quality education and it’s a really awesome place for growth, the coaching staff and baseball program is top notch and to get a good foundation and name in its second year is huge and hopefully will draw more athletes alike with the same goals to win a championship and make it to the next level.”
After finishing his 2017 campaign by hitting .234/.306/.351 with 22 RBI and nine total XBH including his first career homer in the GCL, Baranek received the call to full season ball last year. There, in Greensboro, the lefty quickly proved he was more than capable of low A ball, hitting .319/.400/.479 with four homers, a 19/13 K/BB and a 4/2 SB/CS in 94 ABs. After those 28 games, Baranek was given the promotion to A+ Jupiter where he lived out the year. Overall, he hit .208/.259/.284, but that doesnt tell the whole story of how he started to figure things out late in the year. In the month of August, Baranek hit .230/.284/.324 with four doubles, a homer and 13 RBI. He had a five game hit streak from August 10th through 16th. Baranek will look to build on that success this season as he begins his third pro season back in the Florida State League.
A stout but athletic 5’10”, 195, Baranek owns great bat speed and a mostly lateral swing with some slight loft, allowing him to hit gaps and occasionally a fence. Once on base, Baranek exhibits plus speed, capable of double-digit steals. When he’s making consistent contact, Cam is a catalytic type threat that can start a fire from either the top or bottom of a lineup. The main area of offensive improvement for Baranek is his plate discipline, especially against same-side pitching and gaining the ability to adjust to the count, attributes which should come naturally as he faces off more frequently against fellow professionals. With a 90+ MPH outfield arm capable of accurate throws that carry and good outfield readability, Baranek is a floor fourth outfielder and lefty bat off the bench and a ceiling starting and/or platooning outfielder with the prowess of a .270+ BA and a .400+ SLG.
While he isn’t a name that will stand out to even the informed Marlins fan right now, Baranek could be on his way to quietly sneaking on to an MLB roster sometime in the not too distant future.
As formidable as the Hammerheads’ starting lineup is this season, their pitching rotation is even more drool-inducing. The star-studded staff includes two Marlins first round picks, a fire-balling international draftee and two 20th round picks who are in the midst of standout minor league careers
1. Jordan Holloway
2. Trevor Rogers
3. Braxton Garrett
4. Edward Cabrera
5. Will Stewart
RHP Braxton Garrett
2018 – DNP (Tommy John)
Garrett is the Marlins’ first round pick from 2017 out of Florence High School in Florence, Alabama. Long and lanky with plenty of physical projection and velo which already sat at 92 with a best-pitch curveball and above average changeup, the lefty was ranked as the seventh best overall pitching prospect and second best lefty in his draft year of 2016.
The Marlins selected Garrett away from his Vanderbilt commit at #7 overall, rewarding him a $4.1 million payday.
After an impressive camp, Garrett was assigned to A Greensboro. Not long after that, though, the 6’3”, 190 pound lefty went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. After just four starts and 15.1 IP, it was revealed that Garrett’s throwing shoulder required Tommy John surgery. The injury cost him the rest of 2017 and all of last season.
This year, Garrett was one of the first Marlins’ back on the field as he participated in Captain’s Camp. In addition to his repaired shoulder, Garrett v. 2.0 also sports a pair of spectacles on the mound. But as a few things changed for Garrett, more things stayed the same, including Braxton’s mindset and his drive to succeed. According to Mark DeFelice, those intangibles attributed a lot to the reason the Marlins drafted Garrett and they will continue to aid him most handily in the future.
“He’s a guy that the organization spent a lot of money on. Obviously it was related to stuff but I think moreso the kind of person he is, his character, his integrity,” DeFelice said. “The type of person he is is going to withstand the injury. Rehab is grueling; you never know how someone is going to respond, be it physically or mentally. But I think he’s checked all the boxes when it comes to that.”
According to DeFelice, Garrett, now at 100% can go full bore 100% of the time, an aspect of his game that should allow him to make a huge leap in progression this year.
“I absolutely loved what I saw (in Greensboro) and moving forward, I think he’s going to be that much better having that healthy arm,” DeFelice said. “When something is ailing you, you tailor back. Now we are in the building process, building his arm strength back to getting that feel for his breaking ball. He’s made strides up until this point and I think that will continue into the year.”
A 6’3”, 190 pound physical specimen, Garrett is capable of an absolutely filthy three pitch mix. Anchored by a four seamer that is capable of 95 but usually sits 92, he mixes in an improving 85-87 mph changeup, pitching in to his best pitch high 70s curve which shows tight arc and late drop down into his spot on the lower half. Garrett shows the ability to both pitch cautiously away from contact on the outer half and come right after hitters, busting them in on the inner quadrants. Nearly everything is down and even when he isn’t at his best, Garrett is able to get by by inducing weak contact. A guy who shows the ability to adjust to his present stuff from start to start and even inning to inning, Braxton, despite the surgery, still projects as a front line starter with an ace’s ceiling.
RHP Edward Cabrera
2018 (A) – 100.1 IP, 4.22 ERA, 1.465 WHIP, 93/42 K/BB
Cabrera is a Marlins 2015 international signee out of the Dominican. Upon signing his $100K contract, the 18-year-old was immediately assigned to stateside ball in the Gulf Coast League, where hitters nearly three years his elder touched him up for a 4.21 ERA and 1.362 WHIP in his first 47 IP. However, despite subpar numbers, the Marlins saw the true potential in Cabrera’s fiery arm, skipping the regular reacher of 96 MPH up to low A in 2017. There, the numbers were even less satisfying: 5.30 ERA by way of a 1.4 WHIP in 35.2 IP. Still, the organization saw past the numbers and tasked Cabrera with his first year in full season ball last year. As a Greensboro Grasshopper, the 20-year-old managed a 4.22 ERA despite a 1.465 WHIP. In by far the most lengthy season of his career in a hitter friendly league, Cabrera managed a 2.21 K/BB. According to his pitching coach Mark DeFelice, Cabrera’s success stemmed from better confidence in his changeup and his ability to turn it in to a plus pitch.
“He was only 20 years old so with that maturity level, the question was can he handle his emotions? When he started getting hit, he had the tendency to go to the breaking ball a little more or start rushing and then his fastball started getting up in the zone and he started getting hit. He was able throughout the last year, to stay with the fastball command down and then elevate when he needs to,” DeFelice said. “The breaking ball had been there but his changeup development last year had gotten a little better. In previous years, he was only using 2-3 a game but we had him up to 15-20 per game. It’s almost like a two seam fastball coming out of his hand with the depth that’s created. I think moving forward his changeup has turned into his best secondary pitch over his breaking ball. This year, that’s going to be a pitch that’s going to take him from where he was to where he needs to be as a big league pitcher.”
Pratt, who will be Cabrera’s head coach for a second straight season, echoes DeFelice’s sentiments and likens the 20-year-old to a very high ceiling.
“He is over powering and his breaking ball is really starting to develop. The change was a plus pitch for him last season and as he is becoming more confident throwing it,” Pratt said. “He has three plus pitches in his arsenal now and he has shown dominance here early in the season. He will be a dominant starter in the future and I see him as a front-end starter on any staff.”
LHP Will Stewart
2018 (A) – 113.2 IP, 2.06 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 90/21 K/BB
Stewart is a Phillies’ 20th round pick out of Hazel Green High School in Hazel Green, Alabama. Plucked from the ranks of the unknown as just the twelfth professional to ever attend HGHS, Stewart stands to become just the second MLB player to spend his secondary school years there and the first to ever be selected straight out of the institution. While the school isn’t rich in baseball history, Stewart had scouts flocking to his starts. The primary reason for that was advanced feel and control over a sinker/changeup combo that had hitters spellbound.
Upon joining the professional ranks as an 18-year-old, Stewart had a bit of a wake-up call, pitching to a 4.29 ERA via a 55/32 K/BB over 65 innings in the GCL from 2015-2016 and a 4.18 ERA via a 1.48 WHIP and .268 BAA in short season ball in 2017. Last season though, in his first year in full season ball, Stewart’s fastball velo took a timely jump up to the 90-93 MPH range, giving him a much more advantageous differential down to his 86-88 MPH arm-side fading changeup and developing slurvy 84-86 MPH slider. In addition, Stewart commanded the zone with much more efficiency in 2018, throwing all three pitches for consistent strikes and keeping everything below his opposition’s eye level, leading to many long swings and weak contact. Stewart generated ground balls at a 62% rate, tops in the South Atlantic League.
A fairly averaged sized 6’3″, 175 pound specimen, Stewart puts every bit of his stature to use in his approach, especially vertically. Stretching all the way downward in his slow windup, Stewart strides and powers through his motion from a mid-3/4 release, adding deception to his delivery. The change of speeds and his ability to hide the ball as well as his repeatable release points keep hitters guessing and prevent them from timing him. In place of one elite pitch, Stewart is the owner of three plus offerings with a good feel for each of them. He will get hurt when he isn’t commanding well, but those instances are growing fewer and farther between. If his fastball velo takes another jump or if his slider can start generating more whiffs out of the zone, he has the ability to become a top-tier starter. At the very least, Will could be a viable back-end starter as early as next season.