Greensboro Grasshoppers 2016 Season Preview

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Greensboro Grasshoppers Season Preview

2015 Team Stats

100 HR/318 XBH
1212 IP, 4.49 ERA, 1.43 WHIP

Projected Lineup

CF John Norwood
2B Alex Fernandez Jr.
RF Stone Garrett
1B Austen Smith
DH Korey Dunbar
C Brad Haynal
SS Justin Twine
3B Brian Schales
LF Travis Brewster

It will undoubtedly be an exciting season in Greensboro this year where, along with new manager Kevin Randel, the newest cast of young stud prospects will join a plethora of improving talent for what is sure to be a Grasshoppers team worth following. Names such as Garrett, Fernandez, Dunbar and Hillyer will meet up with those such as Smith, Twine, Norwood and Kolek, fusing the 2016 Hoppers into a squad worthy of Sally League title contention.

When Stone Garrett fell to the Marlins in round eight of last year’s draft, some scouts were surprised he fell that far. In his first professional season in Batavia last year, Garrett justified that astonishment by setting the New York Penn League on fire. By way of a .297/.352/.581 slash line, the 19-year-old became the it’s best hitter. He had hits in 39 of his 58 appearances and at one point, had a hit in twelve straight games. The 6’2″, 195 pounder paced the NYPL in nearly every major power hitting category, including SLG (.581), HRs (11), XBHs (35), total bases (129), and RBIs (46).

Looking at those numbers in contrast to Garrett’s final high school season before the draft, while the potential was known to be there, it’s almost hard to believe the improvement Stone has made in just one short season. In under a year’s time and in 74 more ABs, Garrett’s BA rose 61 points, his OBP 83, points and his 311 points. In 2014 in the Gulf Coast League, he did not hit a single home run. With the single A Muckdogs, he hit 11 and his RBI total more than doubled from 11 to 29. Both scouts and Garrett himself attribute this to the fact that he learned how to utilize the lower half of his 6’2″, 195 pound frame much more efficiently.

Garrett’s huge power swing is no longer all arms. He is getting his hips and legs involved in his approach while still managing to stay behind the ball very well. He transfers his weight from his back foot to the ball like he’s been doing it for years. This has resulted in Garrett becoming a much more dangerous man at the plate. He is no longer reaching for pitches away but rather stepping into the ball and making good contact on pitches on the outer half. His quick hands are also allowing him to find the barrel on pitches inside. Ultimately, nearly everything Garrett touches is hit well and hard and the ball jumps off his bat. Though the power is there for him to reach the fences every time, Garrett maintains his discipline. He doesn’t try to do too much with pitches. Instead, he relies more on a short straight-through quick stroke and plus speed to turn hard line drives into XBHs. He has a good first step out of the box and flies down the line with sub-7 second ease. On the odd chance that he only collects a single (53% of his hits last year went for at least a double), he utilizes those jets to get in to scoring position. He swiped eight bags last season in 13 attempts. While this area of his game could use a little polishing when it comes to reading opposing pitchers, the raw talent is there for him to become a 30-30 guy. If there is one knock on Garrett’s approach, it’s that he is susceptible to breaking balls in the dirt. However, from the beginning of last season, he seems to have tempered that. After K’ing 27 times in his first 18 games, he K’d just 28 times in his final 40 games. Rounding out his game, Garrett has a strong arm on defense, worthy of manning any of the three outfield spots. His throws do tend to carry a bit but that is nothing that can’t be fixed with some TLC, maturation and consistency at one position on the way up. Stone’s speed best suits him for center field, making him quite the rare commodity: a right-handed power first oufielder with plus jets. Should the progression he showed last year continue through his first full professional season this year, this is a guy I will be very high on headed in to 2017.

Speaking on his new teammate whom he spent a few games with at the end of last season, Austen Smith echoed our excitement about this giant talent.

“I’m excited to have the chance to play with Stone again,” Smith said. “He’s such a physical specimen. He’s going to be a fun player to watch develop.”

As for Smith himself, the ever-so-modest power hitting first baseman is no light load, either nor is he without a wide variety of skills. The gargantuan 6’4″, 235 pounder will begin a second season in Greensboro but if his offseason work pays off, he will not be there long. Last year, after jumping straight from the Gulf Coast League in to his first full season, the 24-year-old’s stamina and athleticism served him well as he played in 113 of Greensboro’s 139 games, a team high. Going from 153 ABs in 2014 to 390, he was their third best hitter with a .241/.349/.431 line. He also placed second on the team in homers with 17. Smith made great strides last year when it came to maintaining his looseness, serving his pure power stroke very well. Swinging from a straight stance, the ball flies off his barrel when he makes contact with his uppercut hacks. He mashes straight stuff with ease and his best power is to dead center but as he proved last year, he can spray it to all fields. Like any pure power hitter, Smith is susceptible to the strikeout but he walks enough to offset them and still posts solid OBP totes. However, it would be nice to see Smith read breaking stuff a bit better and put some more meat on his BA. If his offseason work pays off this year, it undoubtedly will.

“I’ve worked on shortening my swing a bit,” Smith said. “Hopefully that will allow me more time to recognize pitches.”

Joining 2014 draftees Garrett and Smith will be a name that will take long-time Marlins fans on a nostalgia trip back to the mid-90s (or just make them feel old) as Alex Fernandez Jr, son of former Miami pitcher Alex Fernandez comes to Greensboro for his first taste of full-season ball. Fernandez Jr. will also man a spot on the infield; it will just be from a few feet back from where his dad did his work on the mound. Fernandez is, as you may have guessed, a South Florida resident who graduated from Archbishop McCarthy High School before graduating from Nova Southeastern University. In his undergrad days, he once hit a homer off of now Astros ace Lance McCullers. As he proved last year, it was no fluke. But first, for the defense. Arm wise, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree as Fernandez possesses a strong enough one to play virtually anywhere in the field. His ability to get in a low stance from his 5’10” build, good reads off the bat, good footwork, and soft hands make him most advantageous play at second base. In 150 innings there with the Muckdogs and GCL Marlins in 2015, he piled up a combined range factor right around 5.0, contributed to nine double plays and only committed six errors. At the plate, Fernandez’s stout build allows him to stand straight up and swing from a balanced stance. He swings with a straight through line drive stroke that surprisingly packs a bit of power behind it, especially for a guy his size, allotting the way for a SLG right at .400 last year. That said, his swing does have the tendency to get a bit long which is what contributed to a 2.8 K/BB last season with the Muckdogs. As a bottom half of the order bat with surprising power for his build and solid defense, this current version of Fernandez reminds me a lot of a young Jose Fernandez with a lot of room to improve before cracking the majors in what I predict to be 2019.

Brad HaynalThe Marlins addressed the thinnest position in the organization in last year’s draft by selecting upwards of seven backstops. One of those selections began producing immediately as a Muckdog. With the 596th overall pick, the Marlins drafted Korey Dunbar deep in the draft in round 20, his second time being selected. He was picked by the Dodgers in 2012 but elected to attend college at the University of North Carolina. After honing his craft there and improving with each passing season three times Dunbar forwent his senior year of college and joined the Muckdogs in Batavia on June 21st. In 17 games in upstate New York, Dunbar slashed .317/.406/.400 with 5 XBH and 5 RBIs, proving not only that he has the ability to improve as he matures with age but also that he has the ability to adjust to different levels of competition. Dunbar’s season in Batavia impressed the Marlins’ brass so much they gave him a jump-start on this season by promoting him to Greensboro for the end of the Hoppers’ season. He hit .238/.333/.286 with a double and 3 RBIs in 21 ABs. As a hitter, Dunbar has awesome raw power stemming from a huge uppercut swing. When he makes contact, he has good gap-to-gap strength and a knack for getting the ball at least to the wall. But there are some flaws in Dunbar’s approach that need to be rectified. Preswing, Dunbar relies far too much on his arms and not nearly enough on his legs. Looking at his swing, even on homers, he doesn’t get nearly enough of his lower half behind his stroke. Furthermore, Dunbar’s ABs rely almost exclusively on what happens on the first pitch. If he falls behind even 0-1, his ABs usually result in a strikeout which is what has led to 30/11 K/BB so far in his pro career and 2.13 K/BB in his college career. However, if Dunbar can make a few breakthrough changes in his approach and learn to be a bit more patient and not press especially on pitches away, he can turn in to a very dangerous hitter and being a power-first backstop, a very sought after commodity. The arm strength Korey uses at the plate further serves him on defense where he possesses a cannon throw. For a guy his size, he wears the gear very well and has the ability to block any pitch in the dirt. Like his offense though, his defense needs a bit of nurturing in the way that his throws tend to get a bit too much arm behind them and carry. If the trend Korey has shown so far in his career that he makes great strides on both sides of the ball every year continues, he will be a fun product to watch on the way up. I pencil him in as the DH and backup catcher to start the year in 2016.

Accordingly, I have the starting catching job falling to Brad Haynal. A third year catcher out of San Diego State where he hit .274/.341/.461 with 62 XBH and 98 RBI despite missing an entire season in 2012 due to a broken leg, forwent a red shirt college season to join the Marlins in 2014. Haynal spent most of his time in Batavia that season where he hit .271/.318/.373 with 8 XBH and 21 RBI. Last season, Haynal made strides in the area of plate presence that are nothing short of gargantuan. After piling up a dismal 51/10 K/BB in 43 games and 171 ABs in 2014, Haynal managed a 51/30 in 68 games and 248 ABs last year, paving the way for him to hit .274/.362/.407 with 21 doubles, 4 homers and 34 RBI. After placing near the bottom of the NYPL in OBP a season prior, he was the league’s 17th best in that category. With 25 of his 68 hits going for extra bases, Haynal was also the NYPL’s 17th best slugger. By trade, Haynal is a pure pull hitter, which pitchers exploited by shying far away from the inside half and pitching him as far away as possible when ahead in the count. That was until he fell under the tutelege of Rigoberto Silverio last season. Comparing hit charts and approaches, Silviero worked wonders with Haynal.

Brad Haynal (1) Brad Haynal

Instead of trying to turn pitches inside-out, Haynal began using his front foot trigger to point towards the ball and kept his head down much more efficiently, watching pitches all the way through. The results are evident. Where only something in the neighborhood of 17 of his ABs resulted in a ball just managing to reach the right field grass in 2014, Haynal had exactly the same amount of balls drop for contact in that vicinity, including three doubles and a homer. These improvements have made Haynal’s mechanics beautiful. As mentioned, he times pitches with an early front-foot trigger which he raises as soon as he sees the ball come out of the pitcher’s hand. He gets his lower half engaged well and snaps his hips through his swing. Perhaps his best asset though is his ability to maintain loose hands until he commits to contact. It gives his approach a great sense of fluidity and makes his slight uppercut swing look like it’s being executed with ease. He maintains a two hand grip on the bat all the way through his stroke and only raises his head after he makes contact. As a result of the work he put in with Silverio, Haynal has become a mechanically and athletically sound power hitting catcher with the ability to touch all fields. Considering his OBP and SLG both rose nearly 100 points and his BB/K more than doubled (2.5 to 5.8), it is safe to say Haynal has definitely been born again as a hitter. If Haynal can make similar progress on the defensive side of the ball where he has good raw tools that need to be harnessed, he will become quite the all-around backstop.

Along some of the rest of the infield, the Hoppers will likely welcome back shortstop Justin Twine and third baseman Brian Schales, both of whom were counted along the Marlins’ top organizational prospects last year. Unfortunately for some minor leaguers, even those who receive a lot of preseason hype, the baseball world isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Both Twine and Schales learned that last year as both of them struggled to tread water above the mendoza line and committed a combined 55 errors, causing them to drop off the top prospect radar this season in almost all circles. However, there is still plenty of talent in these two young players.

Justin TwineFirstly, we look at Twine. As a two sport athlete out of TCU in 2014, scouts raved about certain aspects of Twine’s game including his bat speed and athleticism neither of which were a problem last year. However, they also commented on his swing being entirely too long. That is something we saw plenty of in 2015. In addition to a weak followthrough, Twine’s footwork is way off-kilter. He uses a front foot trigger to time pitches and gets it down as the pitch arrives which is fine but as he follows through, his plant leg comes off the ground as well. This results in Twine essentially hopping in to his swings and throws everything else completely off. The product of this is an off-balance long swing, a ton of strikeouts (108 last year) and weak contact. While the raw tools and athleticism are not in question, this needs to be addressed by Silviero and the rest of the Hoppers’ staff if Twine is going to live up to his potential at the plate. Regarding Twine’s defensive game, it’s a very similar story. While he has great speed and the ability to close on anything hit in his vicinity, proven by his 4.03 range factor last year, he doesn’t always take the best routes to balls which results in hurried and off-balance throws. It was hoped that with more innings, this was something Twine would be able to correct, but after his first 1300+ pro innings it still hasn’t. For this reason and with improving his offense undoubtedly being his primary focal point, Twine may be better suited for either second base or an outfield position.

Then there is Brian Schales. After entering 2015 as the Marlins’ #16 prospect, the fourth round pick from 2014 didn’t have a terrible campaign, slashing .260/.330/.348, but hardly one becoming of that placement within the organization. While some of the reason for this can be attributed to 2015 being his first pro season, Schales’ game is definitely in need of some grooming. Schales stands in a similar stance as that of Twine, nearly straight up with a slight bend in the knees. Other than that though, Schales has far better mechanics than his fellow infielder. He engages his lower half well and has a much shorter swing, which compliments his style of slap singles hitting well. Vision wise, Schales is quite decent but he could use to get a bit better when it comes to following the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. He is late to pick up the break on pitches and while he doesn’t strike out much, he very rarely finds the barrell. If the 20-year-old can improve in that aspect, it will work wonders for the kind of hit-for-average type guy he hopes and needs to become to be a success professionally. On defense, Schales is the kind of guy that has the ability to make a fantastic play on any ball hit near him but his arm is still very immature. He tends to get on top of his throws very often, resulting in either hard-to-handle or throws far off the mark. Overall, though, there’s still plenty of talent in this young infielder and he isn’t many breakthroughs away from placing himself back near the top of the Marlins’ prospect list. With good coaching and some effort, he can place himself back on the fast track to the majors this season. Watch him closely.

Projected Rotation

1. Tyler Kolek
2. Michael Mader
3. Jordan Holloway
4. Brett Lilek

Young fireballer Tyler Kolek who topped triple digits as early as his days in high school had high hopes surrounding him as he entered 2015 as the Marlins’ top ranked prospect. Over the course of his 108.2 innings as a full-season professional, the 20-year-old had that same incredible velocity — and that’s about it. As he labored through the season and after the campaign wound up, his struggles were well documented. Here are my takeaways. In very simple terms, Kolek, right now, is a one-pitch pitcher. That one pitch is his fastball. In high school, Kolek could get by with this, putting all of his arm behind the pitch and just purely blowing it by hitters. However, as Kolek has learned, that won’t cut it in the majors. Tinkering with his delivery has cost him some MPH off his fastball and caused it to settle in to the mid-90s, usually sitting at around 93-95. The pitch has good downward movement as it is thrown from almost a completely over the top delivery and has some slight sinking action. It is the first pitch he throws in nearly every AB, as it should be. His command of the pitch is iffy but it is good enought at the moment to allow him to place it where he wants more often than not. Other than that, the rest of Kolek’s stuff is literally all over the place. He is not confident in any of the rest of his offerings, leading to a long arm action and a delivery stride in his legs that often finds him throwing from well behind the stride in his plant leg. This leads to a pitch that is nearly impossible to control and depending on where it winds up, either a very hittable pitch or a very obvious ball. Either way, his offspeed stuff is very easy on hitters’ eyes. While these are issues that can be worked out with good coaching, they are issues that deter him from the fast track making him less of an A type prospect and more like a B-C type. 2016 isn’t a make-or-break season for Kolek as he is still very young but it is a year in which we will further be able to establish his status as a prospect and where he may spot in future Marlins’ plans.

Michael MaderRe-joining Kolek will be his teammate from last year, Michael Mader. Mader is a 22-year-old Floridian lefty drafted with a supplemental pick in 2014. He owns a mid-90s fastball usually sitting around 93 MPH, a good biting out pitch curveball in the 80-MPH range and a solid mix-in changeup. When on, Mader was brilliant in 2015, six times topping 6 innings with one run or less. But when he was off, he was really off, six times failing to go more than 4 innings and givin up more than four runs. Mechanically, Mader is a very sound pitcher, throwing from a 3/4 delivery with a downhill stride. His fastball has been clocked as high as 95 but usually sits in the 90-92 MPH range. His best offering is undoubtedly his slurvy curve out pitch which possesses excellent late movement. The one hitch keeping the athletically build 6’0″ 200 punder away from a future rotation spot at the moment is his inconsistent command. As good as his slider can be when on, it can be equally as hittable when he isn’t. This is the biggest issue facing Mader if he hopes to make it as a starter. He could also use to further develop his third pitch changeup.

As for the third and fourth roty spots, I have both them going to newcomers from Batavia. Firstly, Jordan Holloway is a pick the Marlins took a big chance on in round 20 of the draft. By the looks of him so far, the gargantually tall 6’4″ righty has paid off. With his fastball topping out in the 93 MPH range which he has very good command over, Holloway mixes in a variety of breaking stuff, the best of which being a curve whcih spins tightly into the zone, that is provided he doesn’t get on top of it too much which should work itself out as he matures. His work-in-progress pitch is a changeup which he tosses in the mid-80s. Should that offering come to fruition as well as his hook further improving, the huge downhill thrower who makes the most of his large build is a projectable 3-5 starter with plenty of upside.

Finally, there comes lefty Brett Lilek whom the Marlins drafted in the second round last season. The now 22-year-old produced impressive results in his college career with the Arizona Sun Devils, going 10-8 with a 3.05 ERA and a 7.97 K/9 over his three seasons. Last season in Batavia, Lilek was one of the Muckdogs’ most effective hurlers, with the worst luck ever, going just 1-2 in 11 starts despite compiling a 3.34 ERA by way of a 6.14 K/BB. Lilek owns a vast variety of weapons including a 93-95 MPH heater with good downward movement and three breaking pitches including a great late-break slider, an improving curve, and a mix-in project changeup. With a 95-82 mix in velocities and the potential to become a four pitch pitcher who is athletic as they come, Lilek should be a fun peice to watch.

Projected 2016 Team Stats

82 HR/303 XBH
1185 IP, 4.02 ERA, 1.37 WHIP

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