Florida's Rookie Hurlers: Can They Avoid the Sophomore Curse?
The Florida Marlins had the lowest payroll in baseball in 2006 and knew they would have to rely heavily on rookies. Expectations were low once the season began and no one in baseball expected the Marlins would actually sniff the Wild Card (on Sept. 12 they were two games out of the lead), let alone avoid a 100-loss season.
Rotation ace Dontrelle Willis and young slugger Miguel Cabrera played pivotal roles as the team's foundation but, as everyone knows, it takes a team - and depth - to field a winning ball club.
Poor pitching is usually the No. 1 symptom of a bad season ahead. Florida entered the season with a lot of unknowns in the rotation, but by the end of the year the team had a rotation that was second-to-none (or very few) in the National League: Willis, Josh Johnson, Scott Olsen, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco. All the starters were under the age of 24 and all are loaded with potential.
But the big question is: How good will Johnson, Olsen, Sanchez and Nolasco be in the future? Will the ugly sophomore slump rear its ugly head? How many of these players will end up back in the minors by June? Some of the answers came swiftly and before any spring games officially got underway.
GB% K/9 BB/9 IP H WHIP ERA AVG
Scott Olsen 44.8 8.27 3.74 180.2 160 1.30 4.04 .239
Josh Johnson 35.7 7.62 3.90 157.0 136 1.30 3.10 .235
Anibal Sanchez 44.6 5.67 3.62 114.1 90 1.19 2.83 .218
Ricky Nolasco 38.8 6.36 2.64 140.0 157 1.41 4.82 .285
Yusmeiro Petit 29.3 6.84 3.08 26.1 46 2.09 9.57 .383
Sergio Mitre 51.9 6.80 4.39 41.0 44 1.56 5.71 .276
Renyel Pinto 44.9 10.92 8.19 29.2 20 1.58 3.03 .193
Taylor Tankersley 44.0 10.10 5.71 41.0 33 1.44 2.85 .222
Randy Messenger 38.4 6.71 3.58 60.1 72 1.59 5.67 .297
RHP | 6'7'' 240lbs | Born: 1/84 | Drafted: 4th - 2002 - high school
Johnson showed all the makings of a rotation workhorse in 2006 with his 6'7'' 240lbs frame but he entered spring training in 2007 with elbow pain. Unable to work through 'the usual aches and pains of spring training,' Johnson had his elbow examined and the latest suspicion is nerve damage. If he has nerve transposition surgery, the young righty would likely miss a good portion of the upcoming season, which could deal a huge blow to the Marlins' staff. As a result of the injury, Johnson's future prospects are cloudy. However, Seattle's Chris Reitsma, Atlanta's Oscar Villarreal, Arizona's Brandon Lyon, and San Francisco's Jack Taschner are among those who have successfully returned from the surgery. Johnson was also shutdown late last year with a forearm strain.
2007 Season Forecast: 55 innings
Career Comp: Matt Morris
RHP | 6'0'' 180lbs | Born: 2/84 | Drafted: NDF - 2001 - NA
Sanchez also began spring training with bells and whistles going off as he complained of discomfort in his shoulder. The news on Sanchez appears more promising than with Johnson as the team diagnosed tendinitis and inflammation. Sanchez is currently reported to be about five days behind schedule. Interestingly enough, in 2003, Sanchez had the same surgery Johnson is facing. In total, Sanchez pitched 200 innings, so he was a little overworked in 2006. His previous high for innings pitched was 146 in 2005. Unfortunately, the recent history of rookie pitchers throwing 200 innings is not good. Sanchez has good stuff - as witnessed by his no-hitter against Arizona this past season - but you have to be worried about that shoulder. As well, he had the lowest K/9 of the four rookie hurlers but batters managed only a .218 average against. If batters start taking better swings against him, he could be in trouble. Regardless, he was a nice consolation prize after the Marlins were rebuffed in their efforts to get Jon Lester in the Josh Beckett trade.
2007 Season Forecast: 140 innings
Career Comp: Ben McDonald
LHP | 6'4'' 200lbs | Born: 1/84 | Drafted: 6th - 2002 - high school
Knock on wood, Olsen appears to be the healthiest out of these first three pitchers. The promising lefty won 12 games in 2006 and solidified himself as one of the best young left-handed pitchers in the game. The team was able to keep Olsen's innings pitched under 200 (187). There is some bad news in his history, though, as Olsen missed a chunk of time in 2005 with elbow irritation. A bone spur was found, but he elected to forgo surgery and work through the problem. Regardless, that pointy projectile is still in there. The Marlins are no doubt happy they did not trade Olsen for Joey Gathright last spring. Armed with a mid-90s fastball, a solid slider and a bulldog mentality, Olsen could be a star.
2007 Season Forecast: 195 innings
Career Comp: Melido Perez
RHP | 6'2'' 220lbs | Born: 12/82 | Drafted: 4th - 2001 - high school
Obtained from the Cubs in the Juan Pierre deal prior to the 2006 season, Nolasco had a solid, albeit inconsistent rookie season. This past winter he was tabbed him as the favorite to fill the Marlins' vacated closer's role (Joe Borowski signed with Cleveland as a free agent). However, the injury to Johnson means that Nolasco's services may be needed in the rotation. Nolasco allowed more than 10 hits per nine innings, but he kept his walks at 2.64/9. He survives more on guile than with overpowering stuff and is probably at his best as a No. 4 pitcher. Nolasco may be a little overexposed if he is asked to jump up to the No. 3 slot.
2007 Season Forecast: 160 innings
Career Comp: Danny Haren
With the injury to Johnson - and the inconsistency of young pitchers - Sergio Mitre, Renyel Pinto and Yusmeiro Petit figure to play prominent roles in 2007, whether in the rotation of in the bullpen. Aside from Willis, none of Florida's starting pitchers project to throw 200-plus innings.
RHP | 6'4'' 210lbs | Born: 2/81 | Drafted: 7th - 2001 - college
Mitre has OK stuff, especially if he can keep the ball on the ground. His biggest issue in 2006 was his control as he walked far too many batters. When he gets into trouble, Mitre lacks the ability to strike batters out on a consistent basis. He could potentially succeed in the No. 4 spot in the rotation with better control, although he is probably best-suited for the bullpen.
2007 Season Forecast: 112 innings
LHP | 6'4'' 195lbs | Born: 7/82 | Drafted: NDF - 1999 - NA
Of the three "replacement pitchers," Pinto has the best pure stuff. However, he does not always know where his pitches are going, as witnessed by his BB/9 ratio of 8.19 in the majors in 2006. Until Pinto can harness his control, he should be left in the bullpen. Pinto does well against left-handers, having limited them to a .171 average in 2006. That said, he walked 9.9 lefties per nine innings despite allowing only 5.4 H/9.
2007 Season Forecast: 57 innings
RHP | 6'0'' 180lbs | Born: 11/84 | Drafted: NDF - 2001 - NA
Petit is one of those pitchers that puts up excellent numbers despite average stuff. And that average stuff inevitably catches up with pitchers once they hit the major leagues, which is exactly what happened to Petit in 2006. His ceiling is probably that of a No. 5 starter and middle reliever and should see swing duty in the Marlins' bullpen in 2007.
2007 Season Forecast: 87 innings
The Marlins also received some solid pitching from a pair of young relievers: Randy Messenger and Taylor Tankersley. Tankersley came to the majors with a little more fanfare as a former No. 1 draft pick of the Marlins in 2004 out of the University of Alabama. Messenger was a lesser known 11th round pick out of high school and it took him seven years to navigate through the minor leagues.
LHP | 6'1'' 220lbs | Born: 3/83 | Drafted: 1st - 2004 - college
Tankersley had a solid rookie season and became one of the Marlins' most dependable relievers. One number that stands out is that he walked 7.66 right-handed batters per nine innings pitched, but that also included four intentional walks. Although his delivery is said to be tough on lefties, his 2006 splits do not display any major differences.
AVG/OBA/SLG GO/AO BB/9 K/9 BB/9
Right .222/.368/.300 1.10 7.66 11.31 7.30
Left .236/.295/.400 1.83 2.76 8.27 7.16
2007 Season Forecast: 67.1 innings
RHP | 6'6'' 245lbs | Born: 8/81 | Drafted: 11th - 1999 - high school
Messenger has a big, strong pitcher's body. But the usual rookie inconsistencies were present in 2006 and he walks far too many batters (4.99 BB/9 in his career). Add in the fact he allows about 10 hits per nine innings and Messenger allows far too many batters on base, especially if he hopes to pitch in the eight or ninth innings. His ERA is a little misleading considering Messenger allowed three or more runs in an outing six times. If you take out those six games, he had a pretty good season.
IP H K/BB ER ERA
Six Games 4.0 21 04/06 22 49.50
Altered Season 56.1 51 41/18 16 2.56
2007 Season Forecast: 68.0 innings
Next week I'll take a look at the Marlins' crop of second year hitters.
*Career comps courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.