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November 28, 2006

Future Shock

Florida Marlins Top Ten Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

image 1

Excellent Prospects
None
Very Good Prospects
1. Sean West, LHP
2. Ryan Tucker, RHP
3. Chris Volstad, RHP
Good Prospects
4. Brett Sinkbeil, RHP
5. Gaby Hernandez, RHP
6. Aaron Thompson, LHP
Average Prospects
7. Rick Vanden Hurk, RHP
8. Tom Hickman, OF
9. Henry Owens, RHP
10. Jose Garcia, RHP

1. Sean West, LHP
DOB: 6/15/86
Height/Weight: 6-8/200
Bats/Throws: L/L
Draft: 1st round, 2005, Louisiana HS
What he did in 2006: 3.74 ERA, 120.1-115-40-102 at Low A
The Good: The towering lefthander is actually a good 20-30 pounds heavier than his listed weight, helping fill out a potentially stick-like frame. He currently throws 91-94 mph with plenty of room for improvement velocity-wise. All of his pitches fall a long way because of his height, leading to plenty of ground balls. Has strong competitive drive.
The Bad: His secondary offerings still lag behind, but they've come a long way since he was drafted as a one-pitch pitcher. Conditioning may be an issue, as he tends to lose velocity in later innings.
The Irrelevant: Part of one of the strongest draft classes in Louisiana history, West was one of seven pitchers from the state to be selected in the first 83 picks in 2005.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A front-of-the-rotation lefty starter, with closer possibilities in the background as Plan B.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. West's ceiling is greater than any of the arms from Florida's 2005 first-round pitcher-fest, yet the gap between what he is and what he can be is significant. Like all of them, a huge season is possible as they move en masse to the pitching-friendly Florida State League.

2. Ryan Tucker, RHP
DOB: 12/6/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 1st round, 2005, California HS
What he did in 2006: 5.00 ERA, 131.1-123-67-133 at Low A
The Good: The best raw arm of the young guns, pumping heavy 92-95 mph fastballs and touching 98 at times. He flashes a plus slider at times and has shown a good feel for a changeup.
The Bad: His slider is very inconsistent, leaving him extremely vulnerable when it's not on. He needs to throw the change up more in order to gain more confidence with it, as it certainly should become at least an average offering. His command is an issue at times, but improved throughout the season.
The Irrelevant: Of Tucker's 11 wild pitches on the season, five came in his first start.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A solid No. 3 starter at the least, and a No. 2 if the breaking ball comes around.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. Tucker's ability to light up radar guns is not an issue, so he'll spend 2007 working on his secondary pitches. That could mean another year of stats that are less impressive than the total package.

3. Chris Volstad, RHP
DOB: 9/23/86
Height/Weight: 6-7/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 1st round, 2005, Florida HS
What he did in 2006: 3.08 ERA, 152-161-36-99 at Low A
The Good: The tall righthander gets excellent downhill plane and good sink on his 89-93 mph fastball, generating a 2.3 groundball-to-flyball ratio. His secondary pitches are solid, his control is excellent for a young arm with such height, and his size offers projection for greater velocity. Does not get rattled.
The Bad: For a player with his combination of size and stuff, he was very hittable--both his hit and strikeout ratios were more than a little disappointing--and few have a good explanation for it.
The Irrelevant: Volstad faced only three batters in bases-loaded situations all season, and struck out all three.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 2 or 3 starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. Volstad is the most polished of the 2005 first-rounders, and many within the organization feel that he's the best of the group, and thus the one most likely to reach Double-A ahead of schedule. For that to happen, he'll need to make a number of adjustments, but the Marlins think that more of the groundballs will turn into outs as he moves up. While it's unlikely for everything to click at once, at the same time all of the expected changes are reasonable expectations based on Volstad's talent.

4. Brett Sinkbeil, RHP
DOB: 12/26/84
Height/Weight: 6-2/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 1st round, 2006, Missouri State
What he did in 2006: 1.23 ERA, 22-14-8-22 at Short-Season; 4.99 ERA, 39.2-45-14-32 at Low A
The Good: The rare college arm in the system, he's a polished product with a low-90s sinker that can touch 95 and an above-average slider. He has good size and clean, repeatable mechanics.
The Bad: His changeup is still a work in progress. He was clearly out of gas late in his pro debut, which is surprising considering that he missed a good chunk of the college season with a strained oblique.
The Irrelevant: Of the 26 runs Sinkbeil allowed in 13 starts, 16 of those runs were scored in his last six appearances.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 3 starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Sinkbeil will begin the season at High A in what will be a prospect-laden rotation, but he's likely to reach the majors before any of them.

5. Gaby Hernandez, RHP
DOB: 5/21/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 3rd round, 2004, Florida HS (Mets)
Acquired: December 2005 - Traded by the Mets with Dante Brinkley to the Marlins for Paul Lo Duca.
What he did in 2006: 3.68 ERA, 120-120-35-115 at High A
The Good: Advanced for his age, he throws a three-pitch mix of 91-93 mph fastball, curve, and changeup with good command. Above-average control gives him confidence in all of his offerings.
The Bad: The curveball has a tendency to get slow and loopy, giving him trouble against left-handed batters at times. Despite his youth, Hernandez has a mature body that offers little projection.
The Irrelevant: Hernandez allowed zero or one earned runs in 10 of 21 starts.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average to low. Hernandez was shut down in late July with a fracture in his foot, but he's 100% now, and will begin 2007 at Double-A despite the fact that he doesn't turn 21 until six weeks into the season.

6. Aaron Thompson, LHP
DOB: 2/28/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/195
Bats/Throws: L/L
Draft: 1st round, 2005, Texas HS
What he did in 2006: 3.63 ERA, 134-139-35-114 at Low A
The Good: The cerebral lefty has an 87-90 mph fastball and plus slider to go along with pinpoint command. He mixes in a changeup, and is aggressive within the strike zone.
The Bad: His success depends far more on finesse then power, and his velocity fluctuated during the season, dropping into the mid-80s at times.
The Irrelevant: Thompson will be an interesting one to watch at the plate when he reaches Double-A. A two-way star in college, he'd have hit in the middle of the Texas A&M lineup had he attended college.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A solid but unspectacular left-handed starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Thompson's polish could allow him to move quickly, but he lacks the projection of some of the more physical pitchers ahead of him on this list.

7. Rick Vanden Hurk, RHP
DOB: 5/22/85
Height/Weight: 6-5/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Netherlands, 2002
What he did in 2006: 1.20 ERA, 15-4-8-26 at Rookie-Level; 2.70 ERA, 10-5-6-15 at High A
The Good: Patience finally paid off, as the Dutch import blew away hitters in Hawaii, firing mid-90s fastballs and striking out 63 in 40 innings.
The Bad: Elbow problems, including a Tommy John surgery, have limited him to just 53.2 innings in the last two years. He turns 22 next May but is still as raw as a high school arm. His curveball has always been inconsistent, which is why the organization is toying with the idea of scrapping it for a slider.
The Irrelevant: Left-handed batters facing him in Hawaii went 9-for-69 (.130) with 34 strikeouts.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: Too early to say. Some see a starter, some see a power reliever.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. After a winter campaign that made him one of the biggest stories of the re-formed Hawaiian Winter League, the Marlins will keep Vanden Hurk as a starter for now, but where he begins the year will depend on other assignments among the organization's plethora of young arms.

8. Tom Hickman, OF
DOB: 4/18/88
Height/Weight: 6-1/180
Bats/Throws: L/L
Draft: 2nd round, 2006, Georgia HS
What he did in 2006: .263/.377/.411 at Rookie-level (207 PA)
The Good: A sweet left-handed swing that generates hard contact to all fields. Hickman's a good athlete with some speed and power potential. He also drew 30 walks over 175 at-bats in pro debut.
The Bad: Most doubt his ability to stay in center field. His plate discipline led to too many strikeouts, as he needs to learn the fine line between patience and passivity. He struggles against lefties.
The Irrelevant: Hickman reached base in 44 of 50 games during his pro debut.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A starting corner outfielder.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Very High. In a system absolutely bereft of hitting prospects, Hickman is one of the few long-range hopes, the key term there being 'long-range.'

9. Henry Owens, RHP
DOB: 4/23/79
Height/Weight: 6-3/230
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: NDFA, 2001 (Pirates)
Acquired: November, 2006 - Traded by the Mets with Matt Lindstrom for Adam Bostick and Jason Vargas.
What he did in 2006: 1.58 ERA, 40-19-10-74 at Double-A; 9.00 ERA, 4-4-4-2 at MLB
The Good: Undrafted out of college, Owens put up numbers at Double-A that border on absolutely ridiculous thanks to a 90-96 mph fastball that he short-arms, creating a lot of deception as batters get little opportunity to pick up the ball out of his hand.
The Bad: His slider exists, but that's about all one can say about it. Owens will almost assuredly be the only Top 10 prospect in any organization who was born in the 1970s. The Irrelevant: Owens planned on attending medical school before the Pirates convinced him to try pitching.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A set-up man, maybe even a closer.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. Obviously, Owens is pretty much a finished product, and he'll go into spring training as a favorite for earning one of many available bullpen jobs with the Marlins.

10. Jose Garcia, RHP
DOB: 1/7/85
Height/Weight: 5-11/165
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2001
What he did in 2006: 1.87 ERA, 77-60-16-69 at High A; 3.40 ERA, 84.2-78-25-87 at AA; 11.25 ERA, 4-5-4-5 at AAA; 4.91 ERA, 11-10-5-8 at MLB The Good: Big stuff in a small package, as the undersized righty started the year in High A and reached the majors. He works with a low 90s fastball, decent slider, and plus changeup, and he throws them all for strikes.
The Bad: He's undersized, with little projection; his breaking ball could be more crisp.
The Irrelevant: Garcia singled off Jamie Moyer in his first big league at bat after going 5-for-15 at Double-A.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 4 or 5 starter, or a swingman.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. Garcia rocketed through the system last year, but should have a more stable year in 2007. He'll compete for a roster spot in spring training, and if that doesn't work out, he'll be on the short list for a callup from Triple-A Albuquerque.

The Sleeper: Yes, he hit just .231/.307/.333 this year at Low-A Greensboro, but it's far too early to give up on toolsy outfielder Greg Burns. Still just 20, Burns has plus-speed and his long, lanky frame lends for some power projection. The Marlins made some in-season adjustments to both his swing and his approach, and the changes paid some immediate dividends as Burns hit .299/.379/.468 in August. Just 17 when drafted, Burns can afford a repeat performance at Low A, but there are some ingredients for a breakout here.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies 25 Years Old Or Younger (as Of Opening Day 2007)

1. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
2. Dontrelle Willis, LHP
3. Hanley Ramirez, SS
4. Jeremy Hermida, OF
5. Scott Olsen, LHP
6. Anibal Sanchez, RHP
7. Josh Johnson, RHP

8. Sean West, LHP
9. Taylor Tankersley, LHP
10. Ryan Tucker, RHP

Wow. After seeing the Rockies list go unchanged, the Marlins' list changes more than any other, and it would be hard to find any list in baseball history that would alter this much. Technically, the Marlins minor league organization is extremely weak, but the team boasts one of the most impressive collections of young talent in the game. The reason I even decided to do these Big Picture rankings was the disparity within the Marlins organization.

It's nearly impossible to come up with players who have done anything close to what Cabrera has done at his age without naming a Hall of Fame player, and the only concern when it comes to Willis is the nearly 460 innings that have been thrown over the last two seasons by what is still a very young arm. Ramirez finally lived up to his potential in his new organization, and nothing about his rookie campaign, in which he ranked fifth among all shortstops in VORP, screams fluke. However, Hermida's injury-plagued campaign was a fluke, and in a bad way. He can still hit, and chances are he will start doing so next year. As for the young starters after Willis, I give Olsen the edge despite the fact that he was out-pitched by Sanchez and Johnson last season. In the end, Olsen's combination of stuff, size and left-handedness makes for the far more rare commodity. Tankersley was outstanding in his big league debut, but he might top out as a setup man, as opposed to a closer.

The fact that the Marlins have all this young talent is a good thing, because upper-level talent in the minors is virtually nonexistent, especially when it comes to position players. The future value of this Top 10 is based almost completely on how the cornucopia of young arms develop. If even two of the top six reach their potential, it's an unqualified success. If three get there, it's an absolute coup.

Next: The Houston Astros

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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