Jupiter Hammerheads 2016 Season Preview

2015 Team Stats

41 HR/222 XBH
1228.1 IP, 3.08 ERA, 1.30 WHIP

Projected Lineup

CF Yefri Perez
2B/DH Avery Romero
1B K.J. Woods
C Arturo Rodriguez
3B Brian Anderson
RF Dexter Kjerstad
DH/2B James Roberts
SS Justin Bohn
LF Cameron Flynn

Three varieties of tacos, three varieties of nachos, empanadas, Corona — judging by the fare being offered up at Roger Dean Stadium this spring, the Hammerheads are excitedly awaiting the arrival of Arturo Rodriguez. Either that or its just an amazing coincidence. In any event, the Mexican export will come to Jupiter this summer.

Somewhat suprisingly thanks to the price tags the Mexican League places on their players, Rodriguez came to the American majors after a .313/.366/.493 career south of the border. Even more surprising was the fact that he was signed by the usually thrifty Marlins. He rewarded that surely hefty, although still not (and probably never will be) certain cost by having a fantastic first half of the season with the Grasshoppers. Over his first 63 games and 237 ABs in the US minors, Rodriguez slashed a team leading .300/.350 /.422 with 6 HR, 32 RBI, and a 28/19 K/BB. In the second half, although the power numbers persisted and he hit 13 HR over Greensboro’s last 62 games, the rest of his stats would suggest that the quicker pace of play and level of competition (the Mexican league is officially classified as AAA but is more like single A and strongly favors offense) as well as the amount of technology and information available to American teams hurt A-Rod a bit as, after the break, his BA fell 50 points to .250 and his K/BB% went from 1.47 to 2.64. Rodriguez by trade is a dead pull hitter, something opposing pitchers started taking advantage of in the second half with catchers most often setting up on the outer half inducing plenty of swings and misses from Rodriguez who doesn’t advantageously step into contact on balls away resulting in either whiffs or weak contact, making him an easy matchup for righties who get ahead early in the count. It is a primary reason he only slashed .246/.304/.375 last year. This area of Rodriguez’s game will be in even more prominent need of improvement as he makes the jump to not only a higher level of opposing talent but also a gargantuan pitcher friendly ballpark this year. If Hammerheads hitting coach Frank Moore can work successfully with A-Rod on slightly tweaking his approach as well as recognizing pitches on the outer half and getting ahead in the count, something he only did at almost exactly a 50% rate last year, Rodriguez at 24, has the rest of the tools necessary to fly through the American minors and still make an impact as a starter at the major league level.

On defense, Rodriguez used a canon-like arm to throw out 40% of his runners in 2014. That figure took a wicked dive upon his transition to the majors. However, the fact that Rodriguez only committed three errors in 385 innings as the Hoppers backstop suggests the lower CS% shouldn’t be a discredit to him but more of a credit to opposing runners getting good jumps on Hoppers’ pitching. Furthermore, it should be noted that, save Tyler Kolek, the 2015 Greensboro rotation was made up Michael Mader, Jorgan Cavanerio, and Ben Holmes all of whom are to contact pitchers who rarely top 90 on the radar gun. That being said, as Rodriguez climbs the minor league ladder, his CS% should normalize. After all, at 6’0″, 235, he has the perfect athletic catchers’ build which he used to hold his passed ball total to a minuscule two last year and, in nearly 100 less innings than he played behind the plate in 2014, contributed three more assists. With good reflexes, a quick pop time and quick hands, Rodriguez, although he has also enjoyed some success at first (just three errors, a 9.27 range factor and 39 assists last year), he projects best as a catcher.

K.J. Woods Speaking of first base, the Hammerheads will also welcome a huge power threat at that position who also played for last year’s Hoppers. 20-year-old KJ Woods is a 6’3″ 230 pound corner man who is currently on the fast track to the majors, having made a jump in level in each of his first three minor league seasons. In his first full professional season last year, Woods dazzled by way of a .277/.364/.496 slash line. His OBP ranked 15th in the Sally League and his SLG and OPS (.861) were second only to Shane Hoelscher, four years his senior. Not only does Woods’ build personify first baseman, his prodigal power which he is still just beginning to live up to and which Baseball America scouts once ranked at a 70, does as well. Even more advantageous for Woods is the fact that he is a lefty. Standing tall in the box with only a slight bend in the knees, Woods pivots beautifully into a prototypical uppercut power swing. His lower half mechanics are a thing of beauty, even at such a young age of development. He uses a slight front foot trigger and an even more pronounced front foot pivot which he uses to point towards the ball which he picks up very quickly out of the pitcher’s hand before using active hips and a back foot finish, giving his mechanics near-perfect balance. As you may have guessed, Woods heavily favors pull hitting and fouls tons of pitches off trying to inside-out them in ABs often ending in strikeouts which heavily lent themselves to his 30.3 K% last season. That said, looking at his hit charts, he has also flashed a premature ability to step into pitches go opposite field. If that ability can be further nurtured, Woods, who is still very young, has the potential to become a complete power hitter. Even if he doesn’t fully learn the art of oppo, the average cycle of maturation suggests a hitter like Woods will develop a better ability to not attempt to do too much and instead wait out opposing pitchers or induce a mistake. Having already great mechanics and being a great raw athlete, Woods is a lefty power hitter worth getting excited about as he fills out.

Yefri PerezIn 2016, the Hammerheads will likely welcome back the fastest man the Marlins’ organization has ever seen: Yefri Perez. The Dominican export is set to begin his second full season with the Hammerheads. Last season, he set a Hammerheads’ franchise record by swiping 71 bases. It was the highest total the FSL has seen since 2007. Delving a bit further into his stats, Perez stole a base 45% of the time he reached base. While that fact looks pleasantly impressive on the surface and remains so even as you look at the rest of his season, the smile drifts away from your face when you look at his slash line and realize he was only on base 169 times in 563 PAs (.286 OBP). However, when you think of what Perez could potentially accomplish if his ability to reach base should improve, overwhelming pleasant and frightening thoughts prevail, you beam a Mr. Burns-esque grin and rub your palms together in the same devilish manner. In simpler terms, if Perez was the base thief he was in 2015 with such a minimal slash line, it is insanely congenial to think about the prospect of what he could do should he make improvements to his offensive game at the plate. Perez has never been and never will be a power threat or even much of an off the bat XBH threat but thanks to his jets, he doesn’t have to be. What he does have to do is reduce his strikeout total from last year (95) which ranked as 18th most in the FSL. This can be done by way of both shortening his swing and not committing to pull the trigger on it nearly as often as he did last season. At 5’11”, pitchers who got ahead early and changed Perez’s eye level by climbing the ladder on him and who took the bunt out of order which is where Yefri found over half of his success when it came to hits, found him to be easy pickings by way of getting him to fish for pitches out of the zone. So many Ks was a bit of a new experience for Yefri who has always been a bit of a free swinger but never to this extent. Hopefully it is just a bump in the road for him but at 25 and still just at single A advanced, he can’t have too many more of these if he hopes to make an impact at the major league level. Perez seems to be aware of this fact as he spent his entire offseason playing in full speed games. He played in the Dominican Winter League before spending most of spring camp with the Marlins, getting in some valuable elbow rubs and tutelage from the likes of Barry Bonds, Don Mattingly and the big league roster. Hope is that Perez can put those experiences to good use and further his game. His prowess for speed aside, Perez is likely never going to be major league starting material at any position (he can play virtually anywhere) but if he hasn’t peaked as a sub-AA player, can make some improvements to his offensive game, cut down on strikeouts, and get his OBP back around average parameters, he can still make an impact as a late inning replacement. Watch Perez closely this season as, at his age, his future may very well depend on it.

As for the DH spot, I pencil in James Roberts, playing in his first full season in the Marlins’ organization and who’s recent past is a bit of an anomaly. Roberts is a 24-year-old 2013 Indians draftee out of USC where he had a .295/.373/.364 career which included a .320/.379/.429 junior year and earned him the right to skip straight to A+. In his first full professional season in Carolina, Roberts played in a team high 117 games and recorded a team high 407 ABs, holding down a respectable .268 BA and .339 OBP with a 75/34 K/BB. Upon the 2014 Mudcats’ move to Lynchburg, Roberts’ 2015 got off to a pretty rocky start. In his first 43 games, he hit just .228/.259/.302 spurring his release from the Indians’ organization. The Marlins signed Roberts on July 10th just after the All-Star break and after 2 games in the Gulf Coast League, sent him to Jupiter. In almost as many games as he played for the Hillcats and the Indians, Roberts was one of the Marlins’ and Hammerheads’ best second half minor league players at the plate, all while hitting in an extreme pitchers park as opposed to a much more neutral environment in which he struggled with Lynchburg. In his 35 games and 108 ABs with the Hammerheads, Roberts slashed .324/.368/.435. Looking at the rest of his pro career thus far, Roberts has been the same extreme on-again-off-again type offensive player and, at 24, the Indians evidently weren’t willing to wait for consistency. While it remains to be seen whether Roberts can be more than just a slighty-over-mendoza-line type weapon over the course of a full season, he earns top marks on the 40-80 scale when it comes to making contact thanks to a very mechanically sound short swing based off a great approach. Initially standing from a split stance in the box, Roberts transitions to a straight stance as he watches the pitcher’s motion and he adjusts to location well. Although he favors the pull variety of hitting and has a tendency to try to inside-out pitches, he has shown the ability to go with pitches and appears to have a great working knowledge of situationalism. Though he is a bit old to begin a second season at this level, it cannot be ignored that he barely spent any time at all at any other professional level after coming out of college and that, once reports got out on him in Carolina and followed him to Lynchburg (.283/.372/.319 in the first half of 2014 compared to .255/.308/.319 in the second half) are a very probable explanation for his struggles. Roberts is a smart hitter with a knack to find gaps and, if his start with the Hammerheads is any indication, is out to prove something after his release from the Indians organization. Roberts’ focus this year should be on better plate vision and less pressing when behind in the count, a better approach versus lefties whom he historically tries to do too much against, and keeping the fine pace he historically starts out with over the course of a full season. If he plans to make any impact at all in the National League, Roberts needs to make vast improvements to his defensive game. He has played most of his games at 3B but with 21 errors there over the course of 77 games thanks to an inaccurate throwing arm, his future is probably at 2B. He will likely get starts there versus righties this year, with Avery Romero starting in the field against lefties.

As for Romero himself, he also begins a second season with Jupiter. He joins Perez as the second of seven Hammerheads All-Stars from last season to at least begin a second season with the team. Romero is a third round draft pick from 2012 who, thanks to years of .276/.341/.391 in 2013 and .320/.367/.423 each of which has been rewarded with a jump in minor league level. In ’13, Romero ended the year in Greensboro after beginning it in Batavia and in 2014, he ended the season in Jupiter after becoming one of the Grasshoppers’ best hitters. That didn’t happen for Romero this year. The reason? A .259/.315/.314 slash line, his worst yet as a pro. After hitting a combined 295/358/400 to begin his career and jump at least one level with each passing season, the horseshoe was thrown in Romero’s wheels this season. While some of the reason for the decline can be blamed on the huge dimensions of Roger Dean Stadium, Romero also struck out a career high 71 times, part of a 1.87 K/BB% year. Romero’s crux seems to be in his timing. Last year, he was often out in front of the first half and behind the second half of the fastball/changeup combo and found himself behind in the count early in his ABs and often allowing pitchers to have a much easier time with him. The battler he is, Romero was still able to tough out 38 walks to keep his K/BB% under 2 but if he is going to succeed as the type of bat that he is, decent power but not enough to rely on it solely as a pure XBH threat, Romero needs to improve his plate vision. This is further proven by the fact that for his career, he owns just a .257 BA and a 13.7 K% against top 20 prospects. When Romero’s swing is on time, it’s a thing of beauty. He maintains softness in his hands well and strides through the plate with a solidly-built active lower half and a quick short stroke. If his aggressiveness can be turned down a notch (but not too much), Romero will be a bat worthy of top-100 prospect recognition in the coming years. Defensively, Romero came up as a middle infielder. However, in high school, he his best position was behind the plate, as proven by the sub-2 second pop and strong accurate on line arm he showed during multiple showcases. At 5’11”, 200 pounds with the aforementioned thick lower half, Romero has the perfect build for a modern era catcher and most scouts had him lined up to be transitioned to that spot as most recently as last year. But the Marlins don’t appear to be going that route with Romero. Since beginning his minor league career, he has played 279 games at 2B, 26 at third and zero at catcher. While some may consider that to be a waste of some great raw tools, Romero still plays a solid infield. At second, he goes gap to gap very well and reads balls off the bat like a pro. Like his antics at the plate, he could use to be a little bit less anxious when transferring from glove to hand but that should come with age and good coaching. Romero’s strong lower half allows him to maintain his stance well and stand up to some pretty tough slides on double play turns as we saw him turn some doozies last year. Long story short on this 22-year-old, is, while he is going to begin a repeat season at any level for the first time in his pro career and while he does require some tempering when it comes to his competitive attitude and make-up which often tempts him in to making bad decisions, he has arguably the most all-around skill of anyone in the system and still has a very good chance of making an impact with the Marlins by 2020, if not earlier. With a good start at Jupiter this year, Romero could and should find himself in a Suns uniform by the time the year is through.

The number nine spot on the field will belong to one of the funnest names to say that the Marlins have ever possessed: Dexter X Kjerstad. Kjerstad is a 6’1″ 210 2010 draftee out of high school who instead elected to attend college. Kjerstad was a spectacular NCAA power bat, boasting a .374/.426/.621 slash line. He hit a homer once every twenty ABs while also managing to rarely ever strike out. 1.07 K/BB. Kjerstad also flashed plus speed in his undergraduate days, going 20/27 in stolen base attempts and scoring 90 runs. His .388/.431/.608 season in 2013 made him the Rajin Cajuns’ best hitter and lead them to a Super Regionals berth. Following that season, Kjerstad was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Royals. As a 22-year-old in single A in his first year in pro ball, Kjerstad had quite the respectable season slashing .275/.336/.428 with 25 XBH including 6 HR and 33 RBI. Like any pure power threat, Kjerstad also K’d 59 times to just 18 walks but the good far outweighed the bad. By season’s end it would seem that he had placed himself on the fast track to the majors. That was backed up by the fact that during the offseason, he was promoted to A+. However, in Wilmington in 2015, Kjerstad was clearly overmatched. In 51 games and 158 ABs, he slashed just .247/.288/.316 with 6 XBH. While he struck out at a rate of 30%, he walked just seven times. Though his season wasn’t going great or even good, the Royals made quite the knee-jerk decision after Kjerstad got just 158 ABs above the single A level: rather than sending him back down, they released the 23-year-old. But Kjerstad wasn’t going to let the dream die there. He returned home to Texas and went back to the drawing board, working on perfecting his craft in a semi-pro league in his hometown of Amarillo. In 45 games with the American Association’s Amarillo Thunderbolts, Kjerstad was a man possessed. He slashed a ridiculous .300/.338/.584 with 11 HR (one in every 17 ABs), 26 XBH and 31 RBI in just 190 ABs. Again, the K/BB% was gargantuan but very easy to look past. Kjerstad was probably surprised when his phone rang at the end of that season and a major league club was on the other end but he shouldn’t have been surprised at which club it was — the Marlins — who have historically dug up some diamonds in the rough in similar situations as he found himself in. With the Hammerheads, Kjerstad will get a chance to start back over from where he left off after his solid 2014 season and make his tough 2015 seem like a bad dream. It will be an uphill battle for Kjerstad who goes from an independent league to playing in one of the most pitcher friendly associated leagues in the minors but it would seem as though he has got a lot to prove. As described, he is a pure power threat who favors pull but has the ability to go to all fields. After breaking into the pros, scouts rated Kjerstad’s speed, power, XBH-ability and durability all at or around 70 on the 30-80 scale. However, they also ranked his contact at a minuscule 38. And they were exactly right. Even though his accomplishments in 2014 shouldn’t be discounted, it cannot be ignored that his best and only good season as a pro came at the expense of a .332 BABIP. In fact, each season he has played whether it be collegiate or pro, save one, that metric has not been anywhere close to neutral, not even during his sub-mendoza line 2015 half season at this same level. It isn’t in doubt that there is plenty of strength, athleticism and talent packed in to Kjerstad’s 6’1″ 210 pound frame but if he is to fully realize it, he will need to time his swings a lot better. He tries to swing for the fences entirely too often and though he can spray it to all fields, he is an extreme straight line hitter who has trouble finding the gaps. Though he possesses good lower half mechanics, he tends to fly open on his swings causing it to get a bit long. All of those factors will need to be addressed. It will undoubtedly be a challenge for Kjerstad to re-tool himself as much as he needs to but he is without question thankful for the chance to play at this level again. Should he be willing to learn and perfect his craft, he has the ability to become quite the dangerous bat off the bench. A very low risk, high reward find by the Marlins, these are the kind of signings that can potentially make scout’s careers.

Projected Rotation

1. Jorgan Cavanerio
2. Jeff Brigham
3. Chris Sadberry
4. Jose Adames
5. Sean Townsley

My projected ace for the Hammerheads this year is sixth year pro, Jorgan Cavanerio. Since beginning his career at 16 years old and spending a few seasons in the Dominican and Gulf Coast Leagues, Jorgan has grown into an under-the-radar prospect who translates well as a 3-5 big league starter. At 6’1″, 155, he isn’t much of a physical specimen. As for his mechanics, again, they don’t appear to be anything to write home about. He throws straight ahead, not downhill and from a common 3/4 arm slot and doesn’t have a ton of power behind any of his offerings, topping out at right around 90 MPH. However, when Cavanerio releases the ball, you understand why he is an up and coming product worthy of top 20 organizational recognition. Cavanerio possesses four pitches all of which move and all of which he has either great or good and developing control over, allowing him to keep them low in the zone, making him a viable candidate to grow into a soft tossing finesse ground ball pitcher. His four seamer tops out at 92 but usually sits in the 90 MPH range. He has a good handle on it and rarely puts it out over the heart of the plate. He uses it to set up his best pitch, an 84 mile an hour changeup that has made leaps and bounds over the course of the last two seasons. Once a less-than-average pitch, it is now a pitch he can throw in any count with consistent control. When he spots it on the outside black after it starts out well out of the zone and stays there until the hitter starts to look it into the catcher’s glove, the pitch is nearly untouchable. The rest of Cavanerio’s arsenal consists of a sinking two-seamer and a slow arcing curve with rainbow-like 12-6 action. Both pitches are still works in progress but both have flashed plus movement. The curve bottoms out at 74, giving him a mix of speeds interval of 18 MPH. On the downside, Cavanerio does have a tendency to lose consistency on his release point from inning to inning which has led him to some pretty ugly lines but that is nothing that cannot be worked out with more innings and higher level coaching. Right now, Cavanerio reminds me a lot of a younger underdeveloped version of Adam Conley who just won the fifth starter spot on this year’s MLB team. Still just 20, Cavanerio still undoubtedly has the ability to bulk up and gain a few more miles per hour worth of velo. If he does that and his release becomes more constant and if he can learn to toss from more of a downward plane, there’s nothing against Cavanerio one day becoming a big league rotation fixture. He will be worth keeping an eye on as he progresses through the minors.

Jeff BrighamJeff Brigham is a fourth round 2014 Dodgers draftee who came over to the Marlins in the Mat Latos/Michael Morse trade last season. Ranked the Dodgers 17th best organizational prospect headed into last year, Brigham skipped low A, going straight from rookie ball to single A advanced. Hope was that at 23, Brigham could prove he could handle a starter’s load of innings in high A quickly, placing him on track to perhaps break the big league club by 2017. A wrench was thrown in that plan however, as Brigham struggled mightily in 2015, compiling a 1.68 WHIP and a 5.96 ERA over 14 starts and 68 IP. Then in late July, Brigham’s change of scenery came when he swapped coasts going from Rancho Cucamonga to Jupiter. Brigham fared much better in the friendlier Florida State League and, although he gave up hits at a similar .276 clip over his last six games of the season (that figure was .286 out west), his walk rate fell considerably and he limited damage much more consistently, stranding an 77% of his runners as opposed to 63% earlier in the year. Throwing from a low 3/4 arm slot, Brigham works quickly and has an easy fluid repeatable delivery. Stuff wise, he is a three pitch pitcher but everything else he throws revolves around his fastball, the pitch that makes Brigham the prospect he is and his meal ticket to the majors. The Brigham heater is a two-headed monster in the way that he has the ability to make it explode out of his hand with 97 MPH velo and blow it by hitters or he can take something off of it and let the pitches’ fabulous running movement be the catalyst. Though he can throw the pitch virtually anywhere and generate swings and misses, he favors jamming hitters in on the hands and getting them to saw the pitch off. Brigham’s favorited placement on his slider balances the heater out nicely. Sitting at a slurvy 75 with late 11-5 break, it’s a pitch he can either throw to set up the fastball or toss at the end of an AB to get a hitter out in front. On common occasion when the pitch has been under his control, he has made many a righty hitter look silly going fishing out of the zone. When it comes to areas of improvement, because of the amount of movement each of his pitches owns, Brigham needs to get a more consistent handle on his tipping points and placing pitches more consistently at their targets. Should that happen, Brigham, with a nearly fully developed arsenal of pitches that all flash plus, should have no problem continuing on the fast track by making it to AA by the middle of the year.

Projected 2016 Team Stats

60 HR/325 XBH
1160 IP, 4.51 ERA, 1.42 WHIP