The greatest trick that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria ever pulled was convincing the world that the fire sale was over.
Headed north of the border is a trio of perennial All-Stars in RHP Josh Johnson, SS Jose Reyes and LHP Mark Buerhle, as well as C John Buck and OF Emilio Bonifacio. Basically, the now-belly-up Marlins traded a majority of their high-priced players and will now further exploit the greatness of Giancarlo Stanton.
In return for stacking their team, the Blue Jays tickled Loria’s fancy with a six-player, prospect-rich package that unfortunately includes the troubled Yunel Escobar.
In addition to Escobar, the Marlins will also acquire SS Adeiny Hechavarria, RHP Henderson Alvarez, C Jeff Mathis, LHP Justin Nicolino and OF Jake Marisnick. They will also send $8 million to the Blue Jays, which I assume will be stuffed in a sack with a “$” logo and delivered, in-person, by Loria (I’m kidding, but not really).
While both Escobar and Mathis are veterans at their respective positions, Alvarez is a 22-year-old who won’t be arbitration eligible until after the 2015 season. After posting a 3.53 ERA and 5.00 K/BB rate in 10 starts over the final two months of the 2011 regular season, the right-hander was a disappointment in what was an overall frustrating season for the Blue Jays.
Alvarez’s biggest problem was that he couldn’t miss any bats, as he posted a 4.85 ERA, 10.4 H/9, 1.4 HR/9 and 3.8 K/9 in 187.1 innings spanning 31 starts. However, it’s important to remember that he pitched in the American League East all year and will be relocated to one of the more spacious (and hideous) parks in baseball.
Now let’s talk about all those prospects.
SS Adeiny Hechavarria
After defecting from Cuba in July of 2009, Hechavarria and the Blue Jays came to terms on a four-year contract in April of 2010 worth a total of $10 million, including a $4 million signing bonus.
The 21-year-old made his professional debut the following season and batted a paltry .242/.272/.333 with 26 extra-base hits and 65/17 K/BB in 102 games between High-A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire.
He spent a majority of the 2011 season back at Double-A, where he posted a .622 OPS in 11 games, but was challenged by the organization once again with a promotion to Triple-A Las Vegas in August.
Hechavarria took an immediate liking to the hitter-friendly environments of the Pacific Coast League, as he batted .389/.431/.537 with 10 extra-base hits in 25 games.
Headed into the 2012 season, the 23-year-old was regarded as a prospect who, despite possessing exploitable flaws, was nearing a big-league promotion. Once again the right-handed hitter raked in the Pacific Coast League, posting a career-best .788 OPS with 86/38 K/BB in 102 games.
After injuries to both Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie disfigured the team’s starting lineup with two months remaining in the regular season, Hechavarria made his long-awaited big-league debut on August 4. Appearing in 41 games while seeing playing time at shortstop, second and third base, he ultimately batted .254/.280/.365 with two home runs and 32/4 K/BB.
Since signing with the Blue Jays in 2010, the 5’11”, 185-pounder’s calling card has been his excellent defense. Given his above-average speed, Hechavarria has plenty of range at shortstop thanks to his athleticism, good instincts and quick feet. There’s no question he has the arm to remain at the position, as it’s more than enough for either shortstop or third base.
Even though he has good bat speed and keeps the bat head in the zone for an extended amount of time, the right-handed hitter still chases obvious balls out of the zone and lacks a consistent approach overall. There may always be a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, but in that case, he’ll have to vastly improve his on-base skills.
Despite his wiry strength, Hechavarria doesn’t have the loft or approach to hit for significant power. Therefore, it’s hard to see him as anything more than a defense-oriented, bottom-of-the-order shortstop.
And I’m sure he’s delighted to play for a brand new team but still rank behind Yunel Escobar on the depth chart. What luck!
RHP Anthony DeSclafani
Believe it or not, DeSclafani is more than just a random name in this trade. Selected by the Blue Jays in the sixth round of the 2011 draft out of the University of Florida, the 6’2”, 195-pounder was primarily a bullpen arm for the Gators. However, the Blue Jays saw something in the right-hander and opted to develop him as a starting pitcher upon entering pro ball.
DeSclafani’s only plus pitch is his fastball, which sits in the low- to mid-90s with some sink. His slider serves as his go-to secondary offering and flashes above-average potential, but his command of the pitch, as well as his heater, varies from start to start. He does feature a third pitch, a changeup, but it lags behind his fastball-slider combination.
With a plus fastball and relatively more experience at his disposal, DeSclafani enjoyed a quietly good season for Low-A Lansing, as he posted an 11-3 record with a 3.37 ERA, 1.83 BB/9 and 6.73 K/9 in 123 innings. Considering that he allowed 145 hits in that same span, expect the 22-year-old’s development as a starter to be challenged at higher levels.
LHP Justin Nicolino
Let me be the first to say that I’m somewhat heartbroken that the Blue Jays decided to break up their three-headed monster in RHP Aaron Sanchez, RHP Noah Syndergaard and Nicolino. Over the last two seasons, the Blue Jays front office was insistent that all three players were off-limits in trade negotiations, as they seemingly represented the future of the organization.
Well, I believed them. Who wouldn’t?
Given their individual and collective upside, opting to break up the “Big Three” defied all logic (I don’t know if people actually have called them that, but I do/did). However, with the potential to exponentially improve the big-league club, one can’t blame the Blue Jays for their final decision.
Drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft out of a Florida high school, Nicolino has a projectable 6’3”, 160-pound frame and offers pitchability. Unlike so many pitchers his age, the left-hander is exceptional at repeating his mechanics, and his minor cross-body delivery lends to his overall deception.
While his fastball typically sits between 88 and 92 mph, he’s adept at painting both sides of the plate and uses it to challenge both right- and left-handed hitters. His 70-grade changeup is without a doubt his best pitch, as it’s thrown with convincing arm action and features late fade out of the zone. Nicolino will also mix in a curveball that has improved over the last year but can still get too loopy at times.
Kept on a tight leash by the Blue Jays during his professional debut in 2011, the 19-year-old dazzled with a 6-2 record, 1.33 ERA, 5.8 H/9, 1.9 BB/9 and 10.8 K/9 over 61 innings, and even turned in three highly impressive starts for Low-A Lansing at the end of the season.
The Blue Jays scaled back their concern in 2012—with Sanchez and Syndergaard, too—which allowed Nicolino to emerge as one of the game’s more promising left-handed pitching prospects. Even though he never received the hype and fanfare of his right-handed teammates, Nicolino led the Midwest League (Low-A) with a 2.46 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, and he registered a 1.5 BB/9 and 8.6 K/BB over 124.1 innings.
As a key prospect in the Marlins' steadily improving farm system, the left-hander has the potential to reach the major leagues earlier than he would have with the Blue Jays, presumably.
OF Jake Marisnick
Those who have read my work with any sort of consistency already know that I have been a Marisnick fanboy now for some time. In fact, I ranked him as the No. 33 prospect in the game in Prospect Pipeline's End-of-Season Top 50 Prospects.
Despite the slow development of his hit tool, which is slightly concerning, the 21-year-old’s overall ceiling is ridiculously high considering his potential as a five-tool talent.
After splitting time between the Blue Jays' rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate and Low-A Lansing in 2010, Marisnick returned to Lansing the following season and turned in a promising full-season debut. Overall, he batted .320/.392/.496 with 47 extra-base hits (14 home runs), 37 stolen bases and 91/43 K/BB in 118 games.
Because he conquered the level in his second tour, the Blue Jays handed Marisnick an overdue promotion to High-A Dunedin for the 2012 season. While I acknowledge that it’s difficult to rake in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, the 21-year-old’s .263/.349/.451 slash line with 31 extra-base hits, 10 stolen bases and 55/26 K/BB was a bit disappointing.
However, the Blue Jays were clearly satisfied with his early return at the new level, as they promoted him to Double-A New Hampshire in early July. At the time, I speculated that they were preparing to move him at the trade deadline.
Well, I had the right idea but the wrong timing.
As expected, Marisnick’s offensive struggles were exploited at the higher level, as he ultimately batted .233/.286/.336 with 16 extra-base hits, 14 stolen bases and 45/11 K/BB.
Drafted by the Blue Jays in the third round of the 2009 draft, the 6’4”, 200-pound outfielder is one of the more athletic baseball players I’ve seen on a field in recent years. His above-average speed plays up a grade in center field and caters to his plus range at the position, and his plus arm will be more than enough to handle either corner outfield spot. Provided that he’s getting on base with regularity, Marisnick has also proven to be a wise and instinctual base-stealer.
A streaky right-handed hitter, Marisnick’s bat has impeded a potentially rapid ascent to the major leagues. Given his size, raw strength and quick-twitch muscles, there are essentially too many working parts to his swing.
In my look last weekend out in Arizona, I saw the same damn swing every time: He would load late and suddenly, which restricted use of wrists and hands; struggled to get his front foot down early and get a feel for timing; collapsed his back side before contact on each swing rather than utilizing height in a leveraged swing, and forced the point of contact.
Furthermore, Marisnick’s pitch-recognition skills leave something to be desired, as he’s still prone to chasing breaking balls in the dirt, even in a hitter’s count. Considering that 2013 will represent his age-22 season, he still has plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments at the plate.
And if he can implement more fluidity in his swing and improve his plate discipline, Marisnick could be patrolling Miami’s spacious center field by 2014.