Rotation Depth: Marlins Minor League Starters at a GlanceBy
It’s my pleasure to introduce to you Gregory Burie, who will be contributing about 2-3 posts per week. His primary focus will be on the Minor Leagues, which is important because at least in my opinion, there are some hidden gems down there. With his first post, Gregory took a look at the pitching depth surrounding the Marlins system. It’s real good stuff, so have a read and give him the warmest of welcomes! -DG
It was not so long ago when the starting rotation was considered the strength of this ball club. Josh Johnson was a cyborg mowing down hitters with impunity, Anibal Sanchez flirted with a no-hitter nearly every time on the mound, and we had the Dr. Jekyll version of Ricky Nolasco back. Brimming with confidence from the team’s hot start, I was proclaiming to everyone within earshot that JJ was a lock for the NL Cy Young.
Oh how the tables have turned. Now I find myself in the fetal position in my #55 jersey, watching Andrew Miller put up quality starts for the Red Sox and wondering if Scott Olsen is available. Clearly starting pitching depth has been an issue this year. Despite my daily pleadings to every deity ever conjured up, Josh Johnson’s durability is questionable. Javier Vazquez will probably not be back, Brad Hand is a work in progress, and Clay Hensley is a converted reliever. There will be at least one spot open in the rotation next year (barring a free agent signing, but we are talking about the Marlins here). Who do we have in the system who will step up?
Below is a general survey of the starting pitching landscape in the Marlins’ farm system. There are no top tier prospects ready to make the jump just yet, but there are useful arms for the short term, and some talent is moving up through the pipeline.
Friends in Low Places: Familiar faces, the somewhat known commodities; guys who have logged major league innings
Chris Volstad – At the tender age of 24, Volstad already has 94 major league starts under his belt. He has actually improved his walk rate over each of the last 4 years, however this has been offset by a similarly steady increase in BABIP allowed and far too many fly balls leaving the park. Currently down in AAA to try to work out the kinks, he will definitely be back in the rotation by opening day in the new ballpark.
Elih Villanueva – A 27th round pick in 2008, he cruised through the system and put up solid numbers in a full season at AA Jacksonville in 2010. The wheels fell off this year at AAA New Orleans, thanks to doubling his walk rate. He made a spot start in June and fared no better in the show, giving up 8 runs in 3 innings to the Phillies. He will have to show he can throw strikes to AAA hitters before he will get another shot in the bigs.
Alex Sanabia – He got the call-up in the second half last year and pitched well, posting a 3.65 FIP in 72 and a third innings for the Marlins. He began this year injured with soreness in his pitching elbow and just began pitching this year in the minors, an unfortunate setback for a guy who was establishing a role as a possible back of the rotation starter.
Sean West – Do you remember when West started 20 games in 2009? Well, he is off the map now and should no longer be considered a starting pitching prospect. He will languish down in AAA until he can cut the walks and improve that 1.35 KK/BB ratio.
Graham Taylor – He made 3 starts in 2009 and walked 12 batters in 11 innings; he then missed all of 2010 due to injury. A 27-year-old in AA, I should not have wasted two lines mentioning him.
Chris Sampson – The Marlins signed the 33-year-old right hander to a minor league deal in April. Sampson appeared in 174 games for the Astros from 2006-10. In 14 starts for AAA New Orleans this year he has a 4.69 FIP. At this point he is just providing organizational depth, however I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make a start or two in September. Desperation is a stinky cologne.
We Got Next: These are the starters in AAA and AA who may or may not turn out to be more relevant than the WNBA.
Tom Koehler – He and Villanueva were a strong 1-2 punch atop the rotation for AA Jacksonville last year, where he struck out an impressive 8.22 per nine. Unfortunately, just like Villanueva he has struggled mightily at AAA this year. He will have to cut his 4.89 BB/9 in half if he wants a shot next year.
Omar Poveda – One the players received from Texas in the Jorge Cantu trade, he has recovered from last year’s Tommy John surgery last to put up a 4.28 ERA in 23 starts at AA Jacksonville. Considering he was traded for Jorge Cantu, anything we get out of him is gravy.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel: A tier of his own for the Marlins top pitching prospect
Chad James – The top arm in the Marlins minor league system, James was the 18th overall pick in the 2009 draft. The 6’3” 20-year-old lefty has put up a 3.43 ERA (in line with his 3.55 FIP) in 23 starts at high-A Jupiter, despite losing his first 13 straight decisions. He missed time 2010 due to a sore shoulder but seems on track to open up at AA next year. I would expect for him to see some big league action next year, if only a cup of coffee. He projects to be a #2-3 starter by 2014.
Going Deeper: Players to keep your eye on for the long term
Rob Rasmussen – This 5’10” lefty, a 2nd round pick in the 2010 draft, is probably the second best arm in the system.
Edgar Olmos – A third lefty making starts at high-A Jupiter (behind James and Rasmussen); 2009 3rd round pick.
Matthew Montgomery – The 6’4” righty has looked strong at all 3 levels of A ball; 2009 10th round pick.
Josh Hodges – The 6’7” righty made Keith Law’s top 10 Marlins prospects; 2009 7th round pick.
Big Bucket of Fail: Blowing its first round picks can set back a franchise for years. The Marlins selected pitchers with their first round pick each year from 2002 to 2005. Here are the results (WARNING: not for the squeamish):
2002: Jeff Allison – Tragically struggled for years with substance abuse and was out of baseball for two years; he has never pitched a major league inning and is currently at AA Jacksonville
2003: Taylor M Tankersley – Made 168 major league relief appearances from 2006 – 2010; walked 70 batters in 118 innings; signed a minor league deal with the Mets this year
2004: Jacob L Marceaux – Never pitched a major league inning; currently out of baseball (bonus point: I’ve never even heard of this guy)
2005: Brett A Sinkbeil – Made three major league relief appearances in 2010 and walked 5 batters in 2 innings; he signed a minor league deal with the Pirates after being released by the Marlins this year
Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco are under contract through 2013. Anibal Sanchez has one more year of team control. I still believe Chris Volstad will figure it out and be a decent major leaguer. Brad Hand has had his timetable accelerated due to the Marlins’ immediate needs, and while we will see growing pains I think he can be a viable back-end starter. If just one of Elih Villanueva, Alex Sanabia, Tom Koehler, or Omar Poveda pans out, and Chad James becomes what we will all hope he will, then the Marlins will have a solid starting rotation for the next couple years. Now everyone go make an offering to Jobu and pray for JJ’s shoulder.