The Miami Marlins drafted flame-throwing right-hander Tyler Kolek in the first round in 2014. He’s yet to make an impact, and is in need of a breakout season.
The Miami Marlins thought they were drafting a legitimate top-of-the-rotation ace in 2014. Tyler Kolek was popping triple-digits with regularity coming out of high school. He was a can’t miss prospect, and the Marlins took him second overall in the draft.
In his first year of professional baseball, Kolek stumbled against the elevated level competition. Despite this, the organization promoted him to single-A baseball. He posted similarly underwhelming numbers.
Kolek needed to undergo Tommy John surgery after making 25 starts in 2015, and missed the entire 2016 season. He looked like a shell of himself in limited return action in 2017. He’ll need to take a big step forward in 2018.
Part of the give-and-take of drafting a high velocity pitcher is that their control is poor. That holds true with Koek. Throughout his young career, the base-on-balls bugaboo has plagued the flamethrower.
He’s averaged over five walks per nine innings in both full seasons of professional baseball.
His K-rate has also been surprising low for a pitcher with such high velocity. Even lower-level hitters are seeing the ball out of his hand well. He averaged a 1.591 WHIP in rookie ball, and a 1.555 WHIP in A-ball.
Kolek now has an entire offseason to strengthen his arm and get himself into baseball shape. He figures to open the 2018 season in Greensboro again. The team will be willing to trade a dip in velocity for an improvement in control.
Even if Kolek were to take several miles-per-hour off of his fastball, he’d still be operating in the high-90’s.
Further development and Father Time
The good news is that Kolek is still only 22-years old. He hasn’t had much time to develop against professional competition, and his first full season since Tommy John will be very telling. He once figured to slot behind Jose Fernandez at the big league level, forming a devastating 1-2 punch.
The potential to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher still exists. Uncertainty has caused his stock to fall in the Miami Marlins organization, though. He was once their top overall prospect, according to MLB’s top 30, he’s now their ninth.
Kolek needs to develop his secondary pitches before he’s ready to advance through the minor leagues. Scouts once believed his slider had the potential to be a plus pitch against big league hitters. That has yet to materialize.
He also has a changeup that needs to be developed further. With his searing velocity, a league-average changeup will be difficult enough to induced swing-and-miss, and ground ball outs
If he can muster some effectiveness out of these two pitches, he’ll rise quickly. Best case scenario: Kolek regains his form, lives up to his high ceiling, and is MLB ready around 2020, just as the Marlins are poised to compete for a championship.