JUPITER, Fla.—Early last season, high Class A Florida State League hitters probably got what they expected from lefthander Raudel Lazo.
He spotted a fastball that touched 91 mph with a solid slider and changeup. That began to change in the summer months.
By the end of Lazo's first pro season, he was consistently hitting 94. That kind of jump isn't unprecedented, but it was unexpected in Lazo's case if for no other reason than his stature.
Generously listed at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, Lazo surprised even himself with his new power arm.
"I never thought about throwing at that speed," said Lazo, a Cuban defector whom the Marlins signed for $60,000 in November 2011. "It's a product of the work and the effort I put in."
Lazo logged 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings while walking 2.5 per nine in the first half of last season with high Class A Jupiter. He lowered the walk rate a tick (2.4) in the second half while boosting his strikeout rate to 10.1. For the season, Lazo struck out 61 and walked 16 in 59 innings.
J.T. Realmuto, the Hammerheads' catcher in 2012, said those numbers weren't solely a product of increased fastball velocity.
"It was actually kind of gradual," Realmuto said. "When he first came to us he was throwing pretty good, getting guys out. By midway through the season he was blowing guys away.
"It wasn't just his fastball. His slider got better. His changeup was better. He just really progressed as a pitcher last year from start to finish."
Added Lazo: "I stayed with the same consistency. I didn't change anything. I kept working normally and with that I added a little velocity. I improved my movement with some adjustments, but I really didn't change anything."
Lazo, 24, arrived in pro ball with impressive credentials. Before defecting, he played two seasons for Pinar Del Rio in the Cuban major league. Among his teammates was cousin Pedro Luis Lazo, the winningest pitcher in the circuit's history with 257 victories.
"For me, it was a dream," Raudel said of joining his cousin as a 19-year-old in the 2008 Serie Nacional. "As a rookie, I felt proud. I focused a lot on the way he pitched and worked on command, which is fundamental. I would also look at his mechanics."
• Third baseman Avery Romero sprained—but did not break—his right ankle during offseason workouts before arriving for minor league camp. The 2012 third-round pick expects to begin the season on time.
• Ex-Marlin and all-time pinch-hit leader Lenny Harris will reprise his role this season as a Rookie-level Gulf Coast League instructor.