With the recent reshuffling of the Marlins’ front office to accomodate a new-look player development and scouting staff, a lot of emphasis has been placed on the team’s player development process, from the draft to the minor league organization. One emphasis that a lot of fans are always interested in looking at is the pitching staff, particularly the set of starting pitchers. For some reason, fans can never get enough starting pitchers regardless of how well their team is doing in terms of the current rotation.
Unfortunately for the Marlins, their rotation has suffered a bit in recent times. Between the uncertainty of Josh Johnson‘s health and the equal uncertainty of Ricky Nolasco‘s yearly performance, the Marlins have flux at the top of their rotation. Anibal Sanchez has stepped up as a capable starter behind Johnson, but there is a concern regarding whether he will remain on the team past 2012. With Javier Vazquez likely on the way out sooner rather later, the team has no one that has proven capable of producing beyond these three pitchers.
This makes the development of starting pitchers for the Marlins in the near future important. If the team chooses not to retain one or two of the three guys listed above, they will need a few of their starting pitching prospects to step up and fill in the rotation, provided the Marlins do not replace rotation spots from outside the organization. So how have the future rotation pieces looked in 2011? Aside a from a name or two, the team’s best starter prospects have apparently taken steps back this season.
Former Marlin Maniac prospect maven John Herold labeled Hand the team’s best pitching prospect before the season began, in part because he was the most finished product the team had and could conceivably contribute in 2012. Unfortunately, everything that appeared to have improved in Hand’s stint in High-A went down the drain once again in 2011 while pitching for Double-A Jacksonville. After dropping his walk rate to 8.4 percent in High-A in 2010, that number went back up to 11.9 percent in Double-A. His strikeouts, which had always been his strong suit, also fell to just 15.9 percent before he was promoted to the majors. Facing major league hitters did not help either, as he looked lost and out of control in the majority of his starts; he walked as many guys as he struck out and was only bailed out from further damage to his 4.23 ERA because of a .225 BABIP.
Hand proved in 2011 that he was completely unprepared to face major league hitters, and a repeat stint in Double-A in 2012 would probably do him well. However, with the Marlins completely bereft of any major league options past Chris Volstad, Hand may be due for an undeserved promotion to Triple-A that might turn out poor given his 2011 performance.
James was the best performer in terms of starting pitching in the minors among legitimate prospects. He posted a significantly less conflicting 3.80 ERA to match a 3.65 FIP in High-A Jupiter, matching decent strikeout and walk rates with continued home run suppression. The decreased walk rate, in particular, was quite important to see given his problems with control in the Sally League in his professional season. The fact that he posted a 5-15 record is obviously just a mirage and should not taint his mark as a future pitching prospect.
Right now, the only concerns I have about James are in his chances of “filling out.” There are concerns about his delivery leading to command problems, and as we saw with Hand this season, a drop in walks does not necessarily mean a pitcher’s command issues are long gone. Beyond that, there is simply an issue with potential; Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus and Marc Hulet of FanGraphs both said of James prior to 2011 that he profiles best as a “third starter” more than an ace despite his youth and good stuff. The Marlins do not necessarily need an ace, but for a high school draftee lacking prime polish, you expect a higher ceiling than third starter.
Olmos had a disastrous season in High-A alongside James. His walks went up to 12.9 percent while his strikeouts went down to 16.1 percent, both bad trends for a left-handed starter whose best claim is “projectability.” Olmos will almost certainly be repeating High-A after his terrible 6.63 ERA performance, and the Marlins will need to see some real development from him in order to be able to count n him in the future.
Rasmussen is yet another left-handed Marlins pitching prospect in an apparently lengthy list of lefty prospects. His stint in High-A as a 22-year old actually went fairly well, as he posted a 3.70 ERA and a 4.10 FIP despite a poor 1.66 K/BB ratio. With the decent performance in Jupiter, he should move up to Double-A Jacksonville in 2012 and still maintain a role as a starter at the onset. He has four solid pitches apparently, though none of them are plus outside of an above-average curveball and some decent fastball velocity. His ceiling is low as well, which means despite his status as a college prospect, the team still will not be getting much more than a back-end starter out of their second-round investment.