Marlins' system teeming with southpaw talent
MLB Pipeline checks in from spring camp, unveils Miami's Top 20 Prospects
JUPITER, Fla. -- It's typically seen as a farm-system triumph when an organization's top two prospects graduate to the big leagues and make positive contributions. When one of them wins the National League Rookie of the Year Award, goes to the All-Star Game and finishes third in the NL Cy Young Award voting, it's a cause for celebration.
It also can leave a thin system bare. Christian Yelich was one of the few potential impact bats coming through the Marlins' pipeline. And while there is certainly a Jose Fernandez-sized hole down on the farm, there are many more arms on the way to Miami.
Most of them are left-handed, almost an embarrassment of southpaw riches. In the new Marlins' Top 20 Prospects list, four of the top 10 -- and three of the top five -- are lefties. All of them -- top prospect Andrew Heaney, who's also ranked as the No. 1 left-handed pitching prospect in the game; No. 4 Justin Nicolino; No. 5 Adam Conley; and No. 7 Brian Flynn -- are in the upper levels of the system and could potentially be ready to contribute in 2014.
"Our depth at present is upper-level pitching," Marlins farm director Brian Chattin said. "Fortunately, we have some starting-pitching depth that's not far away from impacting our Major League club. If you want to be strong somewhere, I think that's where you want to be.
"We have more left-handed starting-pitching depth at the upper levels than we're accustomed to. And we have some down-the-way guys who are left-handed, as well, who we project to have in rotations who we have high hopes for. It's a good thing."
While 12 of the Top 20 are pitchers -- and seven of the Top 10 -- there are some bats worth keeping an eye on. The big one, of couse, belongs to No. 2 prospect Colin Moran. Ranked No. 51 on the overall Top 100, Moran was targeted by the Marlins with their first-round pick, No. 6 overall, as the top college bat in the 2013 class. He and Jake Marisnick are the top bats among the sea of arms in the system, but the Marlins have gone out of their way to make sure Moran understands that he doesn't have to single-handedly be the offensive savior while the pitching continues to ascend.
"We've been clear with Colin from the beginning that we don't want to put any extra pressure on him," said Chattin, who thinks Moran is likely to start the year with Class A Advanced Jupiter, with the hope of reaching Double-A at some point in 2014. "He'll get there when he's ready. We don't want to put undue stress on him to get there quickly. We've been very pleased with him since he arrived on the scene, impressed with his approach. You see why he was drafted No. 6 overall. He knows who he is. He wants to succeed. He appreciates the challenge ahead. Working with him, watching his development so far, I don't see him as a guy who's going to put too much pressure on himself to get there quickly. He understands the process."
Three questions with Moran
MLBPipeline.com: You had such a long year in 2013, with the college season, the Draft, your pro debut, even playing in the Arizona Fall League. What did you do after that to catch your breath?
Moran: I took a week or two to do nothing. I just relaxed. I tried to get my mind off of it. After that, I tried to get back into the weight room and worked hard during the offseason to get this year going.
MLBPipeline.com: When people look at this system, the first thing that jumps out are the arms. You've been seen as "the bat." Is it hard not to put any extra pressure on yourself as that guy who's expected to be that guy?
Moran: I don't think about anything like that. I just try to get in here and do my job, try to get better every day. There is a lot of pitching. I've faced a bunch of them. We have a lot of arms, we're really deep. It's fun to watch.
MLBPipeline.com: How often do you talk to your uncle, B.J. Surhoff, especially heading into this first full year of pro ball for you? And how does it help in terms of monitoring your expectations? And what you think you can get out of this year?
Moran: Every once in a while, I shoot him a text, try to pick his brain, too. I worked a little bit with him during the offseason. That was a lot of fun, and I think I learned a lot from him. I try to ask him questions every once in a while to get his thoughts on things.
Camp standout: Conley
Heaney and Nicolino might be the southpaws on the Top 100, but Conley has been as impressive as anyone during the early phases of big league camp.
The 2011 second-round pick was a reliever and a starter at Washington State, but the Marlins believed in Conley's ability to stick in a rotation. They appear to be right. Conley spent the 2013 season in the Double-A Southern League and led the organization in wins while finishing second in strikeouts.
Conley has always had plenty on his fastball, an above-average heater with excellent life. His changeup has been solid as well, but his long-term role was always tied to just how much his slider could develop. That, and the way he's locating his fastball this spring, could make the discussions about Conley heading to the bullpen vanish entirely.
"From what he's done on the mound so far, what we've seen in his bullpens, the inning he threw [against University of Miami], we've seen much better command of the fastball to both sides of the plate," said Chattin. "His slider, the main pitch we're working on with him, is showing signs of being a very usable third pitch for him. He's always been such a good worker in the offseason. He came into camp in great shape like we knew he would. What he's been doing on the mound so far is very encouraging."
Breakout candidate: Jarlin Garcia
That's right, another left-handed pitcher with the chance to be a starting pitcher. Garcia, however, is a ways off, part of that next wave of arms just getting started.
Signed in August 2010 out of the Dominican Republic, Garcia spent last summer with Batavia in the short-season New York-Penn League, where he finished fifth in strikeouts. He's ready for a full-season assignment at age 21.
"I think he's poised to put himself on the map, as far as a guy in the next wave," Chattin said. "It's a great arm, it's left-handed, he throws strikes. He's a mature young man from Latin America. He has a pretty good breaking ball and a feel for a change. You have the makings of usable weapons from a rotation, and the intangibles are there you would look for in order for a guy to have success."