Down Under, Stone Garrett Turns Around Rough Season

Like many of us after a rough time at work, Marlins outfielder Stone Garrett looked to get away. Far away.

Unlike many of us, however, Garrett set out to keep working. And so far, it has worked out beautifully.

After a rough 2016 that included a thumb injury sustained in a much-publicized incident involving a knife and former teammate Josh Naylor, Garrett, 21, is playing for Sydney in the Australian Baseball League and excelling.

Through Jan. 12, Miami’s No. 9 prospect was hitting .287/.325/.496 and his six homers are tied for the ABL lead.

Most importantly—especially after he missed two months following the knife incident—Garrett is healthy, Marlins farm director Marc DelPiano said.

“He’s healthy and his true abilities are surfacing due to health,” DelPiano said. “He started 2016 off behind the eight-ball because of his (right wrist) injury, but now we’re seeing him perform the way we believe he can.”

That wasn’t the case for most of 2016. Garrett hurt his wrist late in 2015, although he was able to take part in instructional league activities. Still, the injury lingered into 2016 and he hit just .167 in April. After an improved May (.255/.324/.490), Garrett’s season was interrupted by a bizarre incident involving low Class A Greensboro teammate Naylor.

Described by Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill as horseplay gone awry, Garrett sustained a knife wound to his right hand that resulted in nerve damage to his thumb. The damage was more severe than originally thought and Garrett ended up missing more than two months.

Adding angst to injury was the reaction of Garrett’s agent, Larry Reynolds, who in a statement lambasted the characterization of the incident.

“Stone sustained this injury when a teammate initiated a prank in which Stone was not a willing participant,” Reynolds wrote in the statement. “The injury was not a result of horseplay of any kind . . . It is our hope and expectation that Stone will have a successful surgery and recovery so that he can resume playing baseball in the very near future.”

Garrett had surgery and did not return until August, and his play suffered. He hit just .152/.188/.212 post-injury.

That wasn’t the only fallout from the incident. Naylor, the Marlins’ No. 1 pick just a year earlier, was traded in July to the Padres.

Both the Marlins and Garrett are anxious to move on.

“What happened was very unfortunate,” Garrett said in an email from Australia. “The nerve in my finger was sliced. Thankfully I had one of the best doctors operate on it to connect the nerve back with the goal of getting the feeling back in my thumb.”

Garrett’s sanguine approach to the incident—and his injury—did not surprise Ryan Wardinsky, the Marlins area scout who signed him as a Texas prep player.

“I think Stone from an early point in his pro career, understood what it meant to be a pro,” said Wardinsky, who keeps in touch with the 2014 eighth-round pick. “He is motivated and focused. Stone is good at trying to only control things that he can control. (He) is good at staying focused on the now and staying in the moment.”

It took a few months, but the feeling in Garrett’s thumb returned, and he was anxious to wash away the bad taste of 2016.

Down Under

Winter ball was the perfect remedy. Both the Marlins and Garrett wanted him to get more repetitions, but picking where to go was the question. For DelPiano, it was an easy choice.

“We target guys and hunt for jobs that are going to give them playing time,” he said. “To get a guy into a Dominican or Venezuelan league, you have to have a guy that performed in Double-A or Triple-A. For Stone, we just tried to find a place that was going to give him everyday at-bats. That’s a necessary move for his career.

“Australia is probably on the border between high Class A and Double-A. There’s no formula for that. It depends on talent. It’s probably more toward the Florida State League (in terms of competition equivalents).”

And Australia fit Garrett’s vision as well.

“Just the chance to go to Australia as well as the relaxed schedule,” he said when asked why he went along with the plan. “You’re not playing everyday so it allows you to explore the country as well as get more heavy lifts in without wearing your body out before spring training.”

The Australian Baseball League plays just four days a week, but Garrett is maximizing his time. He’s gotten 115 at-bats in that time, has 11 extra-base hits and has made other hard contact.

DelPiano said the reports the Marlins have received are encouraging, and Garrett said he’s made necessary adjustments.

“Staying in my legs in my swing is the biggest thing, that’s always been key for me,” he said when asked about the biggest factor in his success. “Being healthy as well has played a big part.”

Work To Be Done

Despite his success, Garrett understands he has a long way to go to reach his ceiling.

Scouts have called his game raw, and Garrett agrees.

“I think that’s a fair assessment,” he said. “I just try and get better day by day in all aspects of my game.”

While Wardinsky acknowledges Garrett is still a nascent ballplayer, he believes all the tools are in place.

“His bat speed and strength and aggressiveness at the plate separated from other guys,” Wardinsky said. “He was raw, but the physicality and athleticism was there. He also has great aptitude.”

The ABL season runs through January, and Garrett—whose given name is Gregory but who got the nickname Stone because his dad was known as Rock—would like to continue to pile up at-bats.

He said the time away has allowed him to focus on his game and himself.

“I’ve learned a few things about myself that’ll be carried over into the new year, which should have a positive impact on my year,” he said.

Wardinsky, who has known Garrett since his days in high school in Richmond, Texas, said the Australia adventure can only help.

“I just think experience will help him, and more at-bats,” said Wardinsky, who also signed 2014 No. 2 overall pick Tyler Kolek. “With his work ethic and attitude . . . his intangibles are off the charts. I don’t see any reason why he won’t get where he has to go.”

Wardinsky said Garrett has shown the athleticism to play center field, but that he will develop the power to allow him to profile at a corner spot.

Garrett will likely begin 2017 back at low Class A Greensboro, but he’s not concerned about that.

“I’m not worried about where I’ll be in 2017, I just have to be ready to compete,” he said.” Wherever helps me become a better player is fine with me.”

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