The MLB Draft. Usually a 40-round marathon in which countless hours of scouting, interviewing and program research done simultaneously by each team all over the country come to fruition when 1200+ young men have their baseball dreams come true. This year, circumstances beyond control turned that marathon into a short sprint: five rounds and 160 picks, six of which belonged to the Marlins. So who are the lucky few? Who are they, how did they get to this point and why Miami? Herein, we examine.
1/3: RHP Max Meyer, Minnesota
With what was one of of not the most crucial draft picks of the Marlins’ rebuild, Michael Hill took the vow that the club would not gamble.
#Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill in pre-draft interview w/ @Kyle_Sielaff and @GlennGeffner: “We’ve always drafted best player available, and that’s something that we won’t change here.”
— Jordan McPherson (@J_McPherson1126) June 10, 2020
After the Orioles surprised by selecting Heston Kjerstad second overall and opened up the board, it appeared as though the Marlins had a decision to make between two guys: righty Asa Lacy and third baseman Austin Martin? But before the Orioles picked and likely even before the draft began, DJ Svihlik, Michael Hill and the Marlins had already agreed with their guy: Minnesota righty Max Meyer.
— Joe Frisaro (@JoeFrisaro) June 11, 2020
Meyer is a 6’, 200 pound righty who had the consensus best pitch in the entire draft: his high 80s power wipe out slider that is just absolutely deadly. He can plane it anywhere inside the strike zone, place it on the back foot or bury it in the dirt for whiffs. But that’s far from all there is to the kid. Despite the limited size, Meyer throws absolutely blistering heat which sits at 97 and he can ramp it all the way up to triple digits. Both of Meyer’s primaries are already 70 grade offerings. But wait, there’s even more. He also mixes in a changeup that holds a current 55-grade value and with a bit more feel, has the ability to become another plus plus pitch in the future. He pounds the entire strike zone with all three pitches, comes right after hitters with a bulldog mentality, works ahead in the count regularly and can get swings and misses both in and out of the zone with 55-grade command.
Meyer has unquestioned ace potential. The only caveats to him reaching that potential lay in his unfavorable size for a starting pitcher and the fact that he only started 15 games in college. 2020 was going to be a tell-tale junior season for him, but he was only able to get four games under his belt before the entire world, including the sports world, shut down due to COVID-19. A physically limited high stress, max effort hurler, the biggest question surrounding Max will be can his arm hold up through the toil of a full slate of rotational innings? If it can, he is drawing favorable comparisons to Tim Lincecum and Sonny Gray with stuff resembling Noah Syndergaard’s.
2/40 – LHP Daxton Fulton, Mustang High School (OK
Where Lacy would’ve made and probably will still make over slot value, the Marlins will ink Meyer for well under the $7,221,200 price tag assigned to the third overall pick. Michael Hill and Co. will use the money saved to sign this pick away from his college commitment. Clearly, Svihlik and the scouting department had a target on Daxton and a plan to get him signed, conceding Lacy. They really wanted this kid and it’s easy to see why.
Daxton Fulton three pitch K sequence featuring all three of his pitches. He was the consensus top ranked high school lefty in #MLBDraft and here’s why.
— Fish On The Farm (@marlinsminors) June 12, 2020
At age 18, Fulton, the consensus best lefty prep in the draft, is 6’6”, 225. He already shows good knowledge for his body, featuring a smooth wind and release and a very pronounced downhill stride. But the size isn’t the only thing that’s way beyond his teenage years. His arsenal features four useable pitches and two plus offerings, low 90s heat with slight arm side run and his best pitch, a high 70s 12-6 curve with tight arc late bend to his spot. The pitch moves on both axes and he can fool with the grip and release a bit to shape it in different ways, giving him a few different looks with the same pitch. Fulton will show a bit more effort in his delivery when throwing the fastball which is something he will need to rectify against pro hitters to keep from tipping it, but that should be a fairly quick fix under the tutelage of pro coaches. The curve, which has an MLB-grade spin rate of 2,600, already ranks as 60-plus offering and the fastball is grading at 55-plus. Those two pitches create a future lights out combo at the next level. He also has a changeup that sits 82-84. Fulton lacks a consistent release point and overall feel for the pitch, but at its best, it has good late fading action and two-plane break. Scouts say it plays up to a future 50-grade ceiling.
Just 19 with already two plus pitches with a third in the making and a plus command tool and a great starter’s build with the ability to even more velo, there is a very high ceiling here. The next time he takes the mound will likely be in 2021 (COVID aside), so this is a slow-pace project who, as a second round pick coming off the surgery, the Marlins will take it extremely easy with as he builds back his arm strength. He enters the system as a top 20 prospect (no easy task considering all the Marlins have starting pitching wise) who will be a guy to follow closely leading up to his projected MLB debut in 2023. Jumping Evan Fitterer from last season’s draft, he is the new head of the Marlins’ high school class.
CBB2/61 – Kyle Nicolas, Ball State
Nicolas is a 6’4”, 225 righty out of Ball State University. A two-time letterman as a high schooler, he had a decorated senior season. 8-0 with a 0.50 ERA and 78 Ks in 46 IP, he won his league’s player of the year award and was a first team all-state selection. His tenure at Ball State was a lot less statistically impressive: serving in a swing man capacity, he has a 5.12 ERA, a 1.53 WHIP and a 174/102 K/BB. So how did he earn this draft slot? After showing improved stuff in the Cape Cod League including added velo on the fastball (sitting 94-96 and up to triple digits), according to scouts, Nicolas did a ton of work in the offseason. He worked tirelessly with coaches to simplify his delivery, leading to much more fluidity, much easier repetition and added deception. That was on display during Kyle’s first four starts of 2020 during which he held down a 2.74 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 23 IP. The most paramount and encouraging product of Nicolas’ offseason work was his huge improvement in command. His 8.3% walk rate fell to just under 3%. One of Kyle’s final starts at the collegiate level was a 17 strikeout performance in which he only allowed two hits.
A comparison of #Marlins CBA2 pick Kyle Nicolas’ delivery circa 2019 next to his improved delivery from last year.
— Fish On The Farm (@marlinsminors) June 16, 2020
Nicolas’ crutch pitch is his aforementioned 70-grade fastball which has natural downward plane and good run. When at his best, he will pound the zone with it and outmatched collegiate hitters. Nicolas’ best secondary is an 86-88 power slide piece which he has really begun to tunnel, again due to the improvement in his mechanics and command. The pitch holds good late bite and from his higher release point and much shorter stride, is masked well against the heat. Because of his recent adjustments, the pitch takes the jump from 50-grade to 60-grade.
Kyle’s work ethic and his ability to vastly improve over the course of just one offseason is very impressive. However, if he is to reach his ceiling as a back-end rotational piece he will need to continue to grow into his newly refined delivery while further developing his distant third pitch, the changeup. Currently, the Nicolas changeup is just average and he’s in the nascent stages when it comes to the release and overall feel for it but at its best, it shows good shape and flashes of becoming a plus pitch.
If he continues to put polish on his newly refined mechanics and continues to advantageously develop the changeup. Not set to turn 22 until a month before next spring training, there is a lot to like about a guy with extremely projectable size and two plus-plus pitches who shows the ability and willingness to make positive adjustments joining a developmental system like the Marlins’.
3/76 – RHP Zach McCambley, Coastal Carolina
McCambley is a 6’1”, 215 pound righty who was recruited to Costal Carolina after being named his high school conference’s MVP and an All-American honorable mention and being rated the 108th best RHP in that year’s Draft. As a Chanticleer, McCambley had a 3.89 ERA and 1.40 WHIP with a 158/59 K/BB in 141 IP. He was primed for a tell-tale junior year and began it advantageously holding down a 1.80 ERA by way of a 1.08 WHIP and 32/7 K/BB in four starts and 25 IP before the COVID shutdown. Had the season played out and had those brand of results stagnated, McCambley could’ve gone much higher. Instead, he entered the Draft as the 80th ranked RHP. The Marlins pulled the trigger on him at number 75. Clearly, Svihlik and Co. had their chips in on McCambley’s last season rather than his subpar 2019 regular season campaign. It’s easy to see why the Marlins bought in and took him over his predraft ranking: on top
of being a great student, Zach had a a very impressive showing against wood bats in the Cape Cod League last summer, holding down a 1.74 ERA with a 1.06 WHIP and 24/7 K/BB in 20.2 IP. Based off his overall collegiate numbers, McCambley wasn’t a sure thing. However, he’s another guy exactly like Nicolas: despite a limited showing of just 40 IP, he showed a ton of improvement from his 2019 regular season up to the present, especially in showing more consistent command. That’s what the Marlins are buying in to.
— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) June 12, 2020
McCambley owns two plus pitches, a 92-95 MPH fastball with good riding action and sink to the lower half and his best pitch, a curveball which he developed as a child and which usually sits 79-81 (making it more of a slurve). However, he can take more off of it by slowing down his arm speed, creating a higher arcing 12-6 offering.
A plus to-contact fastball and wipe-out primary breaker thrown multiple ways are a great start, but if he is to succeed as a rotational piece, McCambley will need to develop his changeup (again, like Nicolas). Presently, the McCambley change sits 86-88. He lacks a current overall feel for the pitch causing it to blend into the fastball, but he does show flashes of it becoming a plus pitch with good fade. Along with the improved command he showed this canceled season, that’s the potential that will need to pronounce itself for Zach to succeed as a starter. Currently a two-pitch guy with limited size, we place McCambley as a higher-floor, lower-ceiling guy at the next level.
4/104 LHP Jake Eder, Vanderbilt
Eder is a local guy, born October 9th, 1998 in Fort Lauderdale and an attendee of both Delray Beach Atlantic and Calvary Christian Academy. A letterman in all four of of high school seasons, Eder was the earner of a an All-American selection in his junior year and he was a key cog in his team earning a state semi-finals berth as a senior. He was drafted by the Mets in round 34 of the 2017 Draft but chose to continue his education both mentally and athletically at Vanderbilt. As a Commodore who played on two of the same teams as JJ Bleday, Eder served in a swing-man capacity and held down an overall 4.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 105/57 K/BB in 92.1 IP. He did much better in limited showings as an exclusive pen piece in 2018-19. Eder began 2020 in the Vandy rotation posting a 3.60 ERA via a 1.45 WHIP prior to the shutdown.
6’4”, 210, Eder has a solid pitcher’s frame but he is consistently inconsistent. His windup is quirky and has a lot of moving parts which he struggles to control. Eder’s initial motion is a front foot step back to the third base side leading into a cross-body leg kick without much weight on the back leg before a whip-through half arm circle delivery from a mid-3/4 slot. The length of his stride will differ and, considering the effort he puts into his release, it will lead to an-off balance finish in which he winds up on his front heel. He is much, much better from the stretch, leading to the belief that he will be a future pen piece. Stuff wise, he Hs the same issue: inconsistency. he is capable of a plus two pitch mix including a 94-96 MPH fastball and a shapely curveball but it doesn’t always show up. Even on a start to start basis, both Eder’s velo and control can completely disappear. He is also yet another guy who lacks a third pitch. He’s another step down the ladder from McCambley because of the dodgy mechanics and unreliability, further limiting the ceiling. The Marlins believe they can iron him out, make the raw stuff come out advantageously and turn him into a back end starter, but he currently profiles much better as a future bullpen piece.
5/134 Kyle Hurt, USC
Hurt is a 22-year old junior out of USC where he had a very unstable career. After a knee injury lowered his draft stock in 2017, he chose to go back to school rather than signing with the Phillies who selected him in the 34th round. His numbers as a Trojan read 172.2 IP, 5.06 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 170/107 K/BB. He has two plus pitches and two more behind it. The former combination includes a fastball that has good action and sits 94-95 topping at 97 and a depthy changeup at 85-88. Both pitches grade at 55+. Hurt backs those offerings up with a maturing slide piece grades at 50 and a less advanced curve. The two pitches can blend into one another at times. He may drop the curve at the next level.
The reason for the inflated stats in college could be attributed to one big thing: incredibly spotty command. What convinced Svihlik and the Marlins was the lineage of athleticism JM his family (his father played football at Ole Miss and his grandfather played football at the University of Tampa and one season for the Miami Dolphins), his high school pedigree, his extremely projectable size — already 6’3”, 215 — and his fantastic limited showing under a new regime at USC this canceled season. According to Svihlik, Hurt is a low-risk, high-reward type signing who he is counting on the Marlins’ fantastic development team to help continue recent positive progression.
“He was a multi-million dollar player out of high school that had an up-and-down career at USC,” Svihlik said. “We really thought that we had an opportunity to take a player that has under-performed expectations, put him with a great group of player development guys and really extract the most out of his talent. Kyle Hurt was outstanding this year. He really turned the corner with a new pitching style, with a new coaching staff at USC.”
Hurt, who turned 22 on May 30th, projects to start his big league career in low A.