JUPITER, Fla.â€”The Marlinsâ€™ top young arms spent all last season at low Class A Greensboro, and the group of pitchers that includes righthanders Chris Volstad, Ryan Tucker and lefty Aaron Thompson wonâ€™t be traveling very far when camp breaks.
All three will begin the season here at high Class A Jupiter.
The scary part is the staff originally had a chance to be much more lethal before lefthander Sean West needed labrum surgery this spring and will essentially miss the entire season.
Right now, however, righthander Brett Sinkbeil could also debut for the Hammerheads, giving Jupiter arguably the most formidable starting rotation in the Florida State League.
Sinkbeil, the clubâ€™s first-rounder last June, is currently on the bubble between the Jupiter and Greensboro rosters, but high Class A sounds like a more likely destination.
â€œHis fastball and slider are extremely effective pitchesâ€”thereâ€™s not a lot to do here,â€ Marlins vice president of scouting and player development Jim Fleming said. â€œWeâ€™re trying to improve the changeup. He threw it a little hard and to soften it, he just showed it a little bit last year. Weâ€™re trying to get him to just throw it more often. Heâ€™s got great arm speed (on the changeup). Weâ€™re trying to get him to soften it with the grip rather than alter the arm speed.
â€œHe needs better consistency down as a sinker/slider guyâ€”he just needs to pitch down. Thatâ€™s been our big emphasisâ€”pitch to the bottom of the strike zone. When he does that, heâ€™s very, very hard to hit.â€
The Hammerheads staff will be led by No. 1 prospect Chris Volstad. A 2005 first-round pick, the 6-foot-7 righthander went 11-8, 3.08 for the Grasshoppers in his first full season last year, but was very hittableâ€”allowing 161 hits over 152 innings in the South Atlantic League.
The Marlins have tried to get Volstad to use his four-seamer more often to compliment his hard sinker. Theyâ€™ve also tried to impress the value of having the ability to throw his breaking ball for strikes.
â€œAs a high school kid, heâ€™d just throw that sinker down there and they couldnâ€™t touch it,â€ Fleming said. â€œItâ€™s been a matter of learning to keep guys off of him and learning his four-seamer someâ€”pitch inside with his four-seamerâ€”and thatâ€™s something heâ€™s never had to do.
â€œHeâ€™s got an exceptional breaking ballâ€”but sometimes he would climb a little bit to throw it. Weâ€™re trying to get him to stay in the same slotâ€”itâ€™s really just little things with him. Heâ€™s going to make money throwing sinkers, but a sinkerball pitcher also has to use his four-seamer to change the eye level because of how much guys are looking for it to dive and run away from them. He needs a little something different to alter the pattern.â€
The Marlins have taken a slightly different approach with Thompson, though there are similarities between the two high school drafts. Also a 2005 first-rounder, Thompson had four pitches in his arsenal when he came to the club. It hasnâ€™t been a matter of slimming down his repertoire to three pitches, but more using his fastball and changeup more often.
â€œWeâ€™re trying to get him to use them in priorityâ€”his slider is better than his curveball, so when to use which pitch has been a big thing with him,â€ Fleming said. â€œDonâ€™t forget the changeup and donâ€™t forget to pitch with your fastball. In his case, where Volstad would come at you with his fastball, Aaron was more of a mix guy and heâ€™s got a good fastball. We have to make sure he uses it.â€
And then there is Tucker, who is probably the most aggressive of the bunch. A 2005 supplemental round pick (and also a high school draft), the 21-year-old righthander has power stuff, though of the four arms, he had the least amount of success in the South Atlantic League last season.
Tucker went 7-13, 5.00â€”and allowed an alarming 14 homers in 131 innings for Greensboro.
â€œHeâ€™s a pure power arm with a power arm mentalityâ€”he just comes and gets you,â€ Fleming said. â€œThereâ€™s not really sink to his fastball, itâ€™s more ride and jumps at you. His slider was more of a slurvy breaking ball, so weâ€™ve tried to tighten that up. He never really threw much of a changeup, so weâ€™re trying to get him to establish that. And thatâ€™s hard with power guys, because the mentality is so â€˜come at you,â€™ but heâ€™s getting it.
â€œBoth pitches have made a lot of progress. His mentality is â€˜blow you away with the fastball,â€™ so we have to also get him to understand that he just canâ€™t get by with just that. Those pitches are important . . . we want him to be a fastball pitcher, but he needs something to keep people honest.â€
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