In the event Miami Marlins fans had not heard of right-handed pitching prospect Nick Wittgren, the Arizona Fall League may have totally enhanced his name recognition and prospect standing.
I saw Wittgren pitch for the Glendale Desert Dogs in the Fall League this season. He was among the best pitchers in the league. Wittgren was dependable, focused and extremely effective and reliable at the back end of the bullpen.
Wittgren pitched in 13 games for the Desert Dogs, all in relief. He saved three and gave up only six hits in 13 2/3 innings. Most remarkably, Wittgren walked only two while striking out 19. It was a very impressive fall performance.
Wittgren came to the AFL following two tremendous Minor League seasons. He had been selected by the Marlins in the ninth round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. Wittgren is ranked No. 20 by MLB.com on Miami's Top 20 Prospects list.
Wittgren attended McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, Ind., where he played baseball, basketball and tennis, earning high praise in each sport. He spent a year at Parkland College, where he went 10-0 before transferring to Purdue University.
At Purdue, Wittgren became a reliable closer, finishing his career ranked among the all-time Boilermakers leaders in ERA, strikeouts per nine innings pitched, strikeouts-to-walk ratio, fewest walks per nine innings, fewest hits per nine innings and WHIP.
The 22-year-old Wittgren has a well-proportioned, strong frame at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. I don't see much more physical development on the horizon, but he should have little to no difficulty retaining good arm strength and overall health due to very solid pitching mechanics.
From his debut at two Marlins classifications in 2012, Wittgren showed an ability to throw strikes and dispatch the opposition with a mix of a 92-93 mph fastball, a crisp 79 mph curveball and an effective 83 mph changeup. His three-pitch repertoire works.
Wittgren began pitching professionally for Jamestown in the Class A Short-Season New York-Penn League and moved to Class A Greensboro in the South Atlantic League. He had a combined ERA of 1.17 in 30 2/3 innings. Wittgren yielded only 25 hits and threw to a WHIP of 0.97. He had 13 total saves.
Wittgren averaged 13.8 strikeouts as opposed to only 1.5 walks per nine innings. Outstanding.
This past season, Wittgren again pitched at two classifications as he quickly climbed the ladder in a Miami Minor League system that is loaded with outstanding pitching prospects. Combined at Class A Advanced Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville, he had a 0.77 ERA in 52 games covering 58 1/3 innings of relief work. Wittgren had a fantastic WHIP of 0.89 while saving 26 games.
Rarely have I found a pitcher with such consistently fine statistics and results in so many mechanical pitching components. Wittgren has shown deception, command, control, repertoire, an ability to strike out hitters, and most importantly, he can slam the door on the opposition at the end of the game.
Most of Wittgren's success is based upon repeating his delivery with little to no wasted effort. He is smooth and deliberate. Wittgren finds his rhythm quickly and remains in sync from the first batter he faces to the last. He is equally tough against right- or left-handed hitters.
Wittgren is good now, but he should continue to get even better.
When I think of the Marlins' pitching staff of the near future, one word consistently comes to mind. Dominating. Wittgren clearly projects as part of that domination.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.