Justin Nicolino Perfects New Pitch For New Team





FORT LAUDERDALE—Following their 12-player mega-deal with the Blue Jays in November, the Marlins invited newly-acquired lefthander Justin Nicolino to Miami for a brief visit.

The 21-year-old hails from Orlando, but because Miami is banking on Nicolino making his permanent home in South Florida, they wanted him to learn the city and the ballpark.

Nicolino and center fielder Jake Marisnick headlined the prospect haul in the deal that shipped all-stars Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson to Toronto.

Pitching for low Class A Lansing in 2012, Nicolino walked 21 and struck out 119 in 124 innings. His 2.46 ERA and 1.07 WHIP paced the Midwest League.

"I just compete," said Nicolino, the Blue Jays' 2010 second-round pick out of University High. "Every fifth day I was giving everything I had and I was attacking hitters.

"In this game you can't be afraid. You have to take chances and get after it. You let this game come to you and it's going to take over."

A 6-foot-3, 160-pound southpaw, Nicolino enters the season ranked as the organization's No. 3 pitching prospect, behind only righty Jose Fernandez and lefty Andrew Heaney, Miami's first-round selections in 2011-12. He has an outstanding changeup to complement a fastball he commands to both sides of the plate.

Midway through last season, Nicolino added a slider to pair with his more established curve.

"I wasn't really comfortable with it at the beginning," he said. "I went to (instructional league) and at first it was difficult. I went from never wanting to throw a slider to actually liking it.

"Our pitching rover came into town and said, 'Hey, try a slider.' I fooled around with it for a good month straight. I couldn't find a grip that I liked, (but) finally I found something that was good for me. That's what I've been working on all offseason."

Nicolino planned to begin the getting-to-know-you process in earnest at the Marlins' voluntary workouts in late January.

FISH BITES

• Managers for the Marlins' top three affiliates will reprise their roles in 2013. Ron Hassey returns to Triple-A New Orleans, Andy Barkett to Double-A Jacksonville and Andy Haines to high Class A Jupiter.

Jorge Hernandez graduates from manager of the Gulf Coast League squad to low Class A Greensboro, replacing Dave Berg, who now serves as infield coordinator.