Neidert, Dugger dueling for Marlins' 5th spot

July 14th, 2020

MIAMI -- They were drafted a year apart and groomed early in their professional careers by the Mariners. Together they were traded to the Marlins in a high-profile deal after the 2017 season, and now both could be on the same pitching staff in the 60-game MLB regular season.

Pitching prospects Nick Neidert and Robert Dugger may be competing for the Marlins’ fifth-starter spot, or perhaps spots in the bullpen.

“I think both of those guys are trending in that direction, where there's a good chance you could see both of those guys here, either early or at some point during this year,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said during a Zoom call on Tuesday.

On Monday, Neidert and Dugger started against each other in an intrasquad scrimmage at Marlins Park. Neither disappointed in the game that finished scoreless after five innings.

Neidert and Dugger came to the Marlins in December 2017 as part of the trade that sent Dee Gordon to Seattle. According to MLB Pipeline, Neidert is Miami’s No. 10 prospect and Dugger is rated 30th.

“Nick is a guy you could see here quickly, because he throws strikes,” Mattingly said. “He locates. He's got more than two pitches. He's going to be able to pitch to a game plan. Those are the things that tell you a guy is trending in the right direction.”

Dugger got a taste of the big leagues in 2019, making seven starts, while posting a 5.77 ERA in 34 1/3 innings.

In Monday’s intrasquad game, Neidert and Dugger each threw four shutout innings. Neidert scattered three hits, with two walks and three strikeouts. Dugger allowed two hits and fanned two.

“It's exciting that we both have a chance to break with the team and play a little bit of a season, at least,” Dugger said. “The role? Obviously, I'm fighting for that fifth spot. I want that fifth spot. But if my role is to be in the 'pen and help the team that way, then that's what I'm going to do.”

While they both came up with the Mariners, they were never teammates at any level.

“We usually always missed each other, some way, somehow,” Neidert said of their time in Seattle’s system. “We were usually together in Spring Training, but when the season started, we never were on the same team ever.”

After the trade, Neidert and Dugger were teammates at Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A New Orleans.

“It's a great relationship,” Neidert said. “We always have fun competing against each other, it's always good.”

Miami’s Triple-A affiliate has moved to Wichita this year, although the Minor League season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Neidert and Dugger were projected to be part of Wichita's rotation at the start of 2020, but both are getting a second shot at making the big league Opening Day roster.

With teams allowed to carry 30 players, the Marlins will likely keep at least 16 or 17 pitchers.

Jordan Yamamoto and Elieser Hernandez are also in the mix for the fifth-starter spot. Long relief is also a possibility for either or both.

Dugger’s 2019 was mixed, even at two Minor League levels. At Double-A and Triple-A, he combined for a 8-10 record with a 5.15 ERA in 124 innings.

The Mariners selected Dugger in the 18th round out of Texas Tech University in 2016.

Neidert was the more high-profile prospect, and the 23-year-old was the headliner for Miami in the Gordon trade.

A 2015 second-round pick from Peachtree Ridge High in Suwanee, Ga., Neidert is considered the closest to being big league ready of Miami’s top 10 pitching prospects.

That list includes Sixto Sanchez -- Miami’s No. 1 prospect -- Edward Cabrera (No. 5), Braxton Garrett (No. 6) and Trevor Rogers (No. 8).

A right knee injury limited Neidert to 54 combined innings at three Minor League levels in 2019. He finished 3-5 with a 4.67 ERA, but he began to revert back to his Top 10 prospect ranking at the Arizona Fall League.

The ace of the Salt River Rafters, who won the AFL championship, Neidert had a 1.25 ERA in 21 2/3 innings.

“I definitely feel ready,” Neidert said. “Whenever they need me to contribute at the big league level, I'll be ready for it. I would say, every single start since last year, up until now, I would say I got better and better. Every single start, every single day. To the point where I believe, when I come up, I'll be confident that I can help the team win, in any capacity.”