Jays' Marisnick Takes Flight In Florida State League

DUNEDIN, Fla.—During a weekend series in early May, high Class A Dunedin center fielder Jake Marisnick showcased why the Blue Jays value him as much for his defense and speed as they do his bat.

The 2009 third-round pick out of Poly High in Riverside, Calif., robbed a home run by making a leaping catch over the wall on Friday night and then thwarted a rally with a diving stab in the gap a day later.

"He is a pure athlete with natural instincts in the outfield," Blue Jays assistant general manager Tony LaCava said. "He can go back and forward on balls, track down anything in his vicinity, and he has a strong arm. We view him as someone who can stay in center field, and he is athletic enough to move to the corner spots as well."

The 21-year-old Marisnick had also contributed on offense during his first exposure to the rigors of the Florida State League, batting .258/.332/.426 with 21 extra-base hits in 45 games as primary leadoff hitter for Dunedin.

A two-sport standout in high school, Marisnick earned all-county honors as a wide receiver as a junior. He was even more heralded on the diamond and opted to sit out his senior season of football to focus solely on baseball. The decision paid off for Marisnick, who initially committed to play baseball at the University of Oregon (where he would have also been given a chance to make the football team as a walk-on) before he was drafted.

LaCava said the Blue Jays regarded Marisnick as one of the best pure athletes available in the 2009 draft, a potential five-tool center fielder. The righthanded hitter runs the 60-yard dash in 6.7 seconds and reaches first base in an above-average 4.24 seconds. He also features above-average range and a powerful arm that uncorks strong, accurate throws.

Speed For Center Field

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Marisnick has focused on an intensive offseason weight-training regimen and has added 30 pounds since signing with Tornoto, yet he has not lost his speed. LaCava said that Marisnick actually trimmed one-tenth of a second off his time from home to first this year.

As much talent as Jake Marisnick possesses, the high Class A Dunedin prospect still would have to leapfrog two other talented Blue Jays to one day roam center field in Rogers Centre. Colby Rasmus mans the position in Toronto, while the system's No. 2 prospect Anthony Gose is just a call away in Triple-A Las Vegas. Here's a quick view of how the trio stack up in terms of tools—grades on the 20-80 scouting scale—where Gose and Marisnick grades are projected into the future.
Tool Rasmus Gose Marisnick
Age 25 21 21
Level MLB AAA Hi A
Bats Left Left Right
Hit 50 50 50
Power 60 40 60
Run 50 60 60
Arm 60 50 50
Field 60 60 50
"Jake's speed and instincts help him in the outfield and on the basepaths," said Dunedin skipper Mike Redmond, the former major league catcher who also managed Marisnick with low Class A Lansing in 2011. "He makes outstanding catches, and he puts pressure on opposing defenses with his smart and aggressive base running.

"What I especially like is that he is fully involved in every moment of the game. He doesn't take a pitch off, which as a manager you appreciate."

Marisnick signed for $1 million on Aug. 17, 2009, too late to play anywhere but instructional league. He made such an impression in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2010, batting .287/.373/.459 and swiping 14 bags in 15 tries, that Toronto promoted him directly to Lansing in August. Just a year out of high school, Marisnick struggled to adjust to Midwest League pitching and went 28-for-127 (.220) while striking out more than a quarter of the time.

"It was tough for me because I had never struggled like that," Marisnick said. "I was being too aggressive and moving too much in the box. (Blue Jays coaches) worked with me on staying tall (at the plate) so I can drive the ball."

Marisnick spent the entire 2011 season at Lansing, where he batted .320/.392/.496 with 14 homers in 462 at-bats and a 37-for-45 showing on the basepaths. He ranked third in the MWL in average and fourth in on-base percentage.

Though Marisnick's natural position is center field, the Blue Jays already have Colby Rasmus in Toronto and Anthony Gose at Triple-A Las Vegas. Needless to say, his future in center is cloudy.

Shouldering Expectations

After hitting .281 with power in April, Marisnick's bat cooled in May, when he hit .234/.291/.300 in 94 at-bats and landed on the disabled list when he tweaked a muscle in his midsection. He learned years ago not to dwell on the negative, and from no less an authority than the Angels' Torii Hunter.

Since Rasmus, Gose and Marisnick all spent time in the Florida State League we can compare their production in the same offensive context. Note that Marisnick is two years older than the other two were when they played in the FSL.
Player Year Age PA AVG OBP SLG
Rasmus 2006 19 225 .254 .351 .404
Gose 2010 19 461 .263 .325 .385
Marisnick 2012 21 214 .258 .332 .426
Marisnick knows Hunter through his mother Jennifer's connections. She's the senior director of marketing for Reynolds Sports Management, for whom Hunter is one of the Los Angeles-based agency's clients.

"I remember when I was younger, maybe 11 or 12, and I would talk to (Hunter) and be dejected because I had a 0-fer in a game," Marisnick said, "and he told me there will be games like that, and to not worry about what I did the previous at-bat.

"That advice is especially useful now because pitchers in the Florida State League hit their spots and have a mix that can keep you off balance. It's important to relax in the box and put last night's game behind you."

Redmond believes that the expectations that accompany Marisnick's top prospect status will help him as he climbs the ladder.

"It's natural for any player to immediately prove himself when he is promoted, and sometimes it takes players time to relax and trust their abilities," Redmond said. "When you have a lot of pressure as a young player, it will only help you down the road in the majors.

"I feel good something positive will happen every time Jake is hitting, and when a ball is hit his way, I'm confident he will track it down."

Even when he is enduring a hitting slump, Marisnick believes he can help his team in some way.

"I think that versatility is my most valuable strength," Marisnick said. "If I'm not hitting balls hard, I can leg out infield singles, and regardless of how I am hitting, I can always make plays and throw runners out from center field."

Jeff Louderback is freelance writer based in Clearwater, Fla.