Marlins' 2020 picks fueled by competition 

June 17th, 2021

Marlins prospect doesn't need added motivation, but he seizes it by keeping track of how his fellow 2020 MLB Draftees are doing in their first professional season.

"It fires you up," Meyer said. "We all really love when each other does well, and it's fun to try to go up and one up each other. But we're on the same team, so it's awesome to root for them and check in on them every time."

In the midst of an unprecedented year, Miami selected pitchers with all six of their picks. Since then, college arms Meyer, Kyle Nicolas, Zach McCambley and Jake Eder have bonded as part of the latest wave of talent making its way through the Marlins organization.

Meyer trained at the alternate training site to kickstart his professional career last July. In the fall, the others joined him at the instructional league for crucial development time. This spring, all four participated in Major League Spring Training, though they didn't pitch in a Grapefruit League game. Still, they learned from the veterans and went through a slow buildup in preparation for their Minor League season.

"As far as what I've seen, pitching in scrimmages and sim games and stuff like that, and watching other guys pitch, it's really competitive," Eder said. "Got a lot of quality guys that know how to win, and know how to play the game. I think that is a big part, too, of what makes it such a competitive atmosphere. I can't speak for other organizations, but as far as what I've seen, it's a lot of fun, really competitive."

Competition breeds greatness. There is no room for complacency. It's relatively easy for them to keep tabs of one another. Meyer and Eder room together on the road, and they also share a house in Pensacola, Fla. They are among the Double-A South pitching leaders in several categories. While Nicolas and McCambley don't live together, they are part of the High-A Beloit rotation.

DJ Svihlik, the Marlins' director of amateur scouting, is one of the organization's decision-makers when it comes to the MLB Draft. He stays in touch with the quartet, and said it is "showing up as advertised."

"I think about that when we pull guys off the board," Svihlik said. "They know they're competitive. When you bring in certain groups of players -- whether it's a bunch of high school players or a bunch of college players, a bunch of pitchers -- they grow together, and that competition allows them to grow as players. Then as they grow into the Major Leagues, they've gotten there together. That creates a unique bond on that pitching staff, and they learn from each other, they learn from the coaches. It's a really good thing to watch those guys go out and compete against each other."

Below is how those guys are faring so far in the Minors.

RHP Max Meyer
1 (third overall)
Prospect ranking: MLB Pipeline's No. 22 overall
Team: Double-A Pensacola

2021 stats entering Thursday
3-1, 1.59 ERA (3rd in Double-A South), 1.06 WHIP in 7 starts; 34 IP, 33 strikeouts, 13 walks

5 2/3 scoreless innings with 9 strikeouts on May 18

What he's working on
During his junior year at the University of Minnesota, Meyer didn't need a third pitch. He was able to dominate with a plus fastball-slider combination. When he arrived at the alternate training site last summer, the changeup had good movement but wouldn't land for a strike. Nearly a year later, Meyer can get it to start at a left-handed batter's hands and drop in the zone. The 22-year-old also has been tinkering with his fastball grip so it has more life.

"Before, I felt like I had a little bit more side spinning, so it wasn't like a true good fastball," Meyer said. "The velocity is still there, but I kind of tinkered with it. Now I'm getting more straight up spin, so it just has more life in the top of the zone. I feel like if I can throw maybe some get-me-over fastballs, they're not going to get hit as easy as they used to."

RHP Kyle Nicolas
Round: Competitive Balance Round B (61st overall)
Prospect ranking: Miami's No. 17
Team: High-A Beloit

2021 stats entering Thursday
2-1, 5.72 ERA, 1.59 WHIP in 7 starts; 28 1/3 innings, 42 strikeouts (10th in High-A Central), 16 walks

11 strikeouts over 4 1/3 IP on May 28

What he's working on
In that 11-strikeout performance, Nicolas estimated he threw eight changeups in an 82-pitch outing. Nicolas believes his changeup usage will prevent hitters from sitting on the fastball, so he can turn to his putaway pitches and execute them. The 22-year-old spoke to teammate Tyler Mitzel, who has since been promoted to Double-A Pensacola, about how he throws his in order to keep batters off-balance.

"It's a new pitch for me, and it's something that's very important for my development as I try to climb the ranks in this organization," Nicolas said. "That's basically my main focus, just working on that day in and day out and catch, and then take it into the game. I probably haven't thrown too many in the game, which is kind of the plan going forward is to throw more of those. It helps keep the pitch count down, which I've been struggling with a little bit so far. But kind of got a plan going forward to help that out."

RHP Zach McCambley
Round: 3 (75th overall)
Prospect ranking: Miami's No. 23
Team: High-A Beloit

2021 stats entering Thursday
1-2, 3.16 ERA, 0.87 WHIP in 7 starts; 37 IP, 49 strikeouts (2nd in High-A Central), 4 walks

7 perfect innings on May 11

What he's working on
In his professional debut, McCambley threw 16 changeups -- a single-game high for him -- in an 87-pitch start. The 22-year-old is working on changing grips and making sure he maintains the same arm speed as his fastball.

"Trying to remain a starter, because I truly believe that I am one," McCambley said. "Just working on that third pitch and making sure that I'm just staying competitive out there. My goal was to keep the walk rate down, which I'd say was probably the biggest question mark for me. I started off not too great with it. But I feel like kind of tuning in my mechanics a little more, feeling more in control on the mound, more comfortable on the mound each time I go out, and it's kind of a little better."

LHP Jake Eder
Round: 4 (104th overall)
Prospect ranking: Miami's No. 24
Team: Double-A Pensacola

2021 stats entering Thursday
1-2, 1.26 ERA (2nd in Double-A South), 0.93 WHIP in 7 starts; 35 2/3 innings, 55 strikeouts, 14 walks

5 perfect innings on June 6; 12 strikeouts in pro debut on May 6

What he's working on
According to Eder, his fastball has been playing well up in the zone and his breaking pitch is not only getting a lot of swings and misses but also landing for a strike when he wants it to. The 22-year-old hopes to incorporate his changeup as early as possible.

"It's going to be a huge pitch," said Eder, who ranks third in strikeouts in the Double-A South division. "Get down in a count to be able to throw that around, just to use it to get back into the count. But for me, it's not a third pitch. For me, it's as good as any of my other pitches, and it's just continuing to hone that."