The Miami Marlins bucked conventional wisdom with the promotion of stud prospect Jose Fernandez to the big leagues. Just 20, Fernandez had never pitched above High-A before making his MLB debut Sunday against the Mets. The Marlins are not going anywhere this season, and they could accelerate his arbitration clock significantly if he stays with the big club. They also risked possibly damaging the psyche of a young star if he was promoted before he was ready to compete at the major league level.
Fernandez, however, looked poised and ready for the majors in his first start, a dynamic performance in Flushing. Fernandez hit 96 mph on the radar gun with his fastball, while showing excellent movement on his offspeed pitches. He threw 53 of his 80 pitches for strikes. Overall, the righty allowed one run on three hits in five innings, issuing just one walk while fanning eight. He may still get sent back down to the minors at some point soon, but suffice to say Fernandez has the potential to be a frontline starter, and perhaps sooner than many even expected.
Let's look at who's next in this week's Minor League Barometer.
Tony Cingrani, P, CIN - Despite dominating at every level through the minors, Cingrani has consistently been doubted due to his lack of a plus-third pitch. Most scouts saw him as a reliever instead of a starter. He cruised through High-A and Double-A last season, posting a combined 1.73 ERA and 172:52 K:BB ratio in 146 innings. He even parlayed that success into a cup of coffee with the big club in September. Fast forward to last Thursday in his Triple-A debut. Cingrani tossed six no-hit innings, walking just one batter while striking out 14. Take a look at that statistic for one second; of the 18 outs he recorded, 14 came via the punch-out. Maybe it's time to jump on the bandwagon and give Cingrani the props he deserves.
Oswaldo Arcia, OF, MIN - Arcia is off to a sizzling start for Triple-A Rochester, collecting six hits in 15 at-bats (.400), including two home runs. His lightning-quick bat speed allowed him to hit .320 last season with 17 home runs and 98 RBI between Low-A and High-A. Perhaps the biggest improvement in Arcia's game was his plate discipline. After walking just 18 times in 81 games in 2011, Arcia drew 51 walks in 124 contests in 2012. If he can continue to improve his patience at the dish, Arcia has the makings of a standout hitter.
Jesse Biddle, P, PHI - Biddle's first start of the 2013 season was a success, as the 21-year-old lefty allowed one run on just two hits in six innings for Double-A Reading. The 6-foot-4 lefty walked one batter and struck out six. Biddle enters 2013 as the best prospect in the Philadelphia system after posting a 3.22 ERA and 151:54 K:BB ratio in 142.2 innings at High-A. He has a big, strong frame with a plus-curveball and improving command. Should his control remain solid, Biddle could emerge as a candidate for the Phils rotation in 2014.
Mike Zunino, C, SEA - Zunino has picked up right where he left off last season. The No. 3 overall selection in the 2012 MLB draft moved quickly to Double-A after destroying the ball in the Northwest League. In total, he slashed .360/.447/.689 with 13 home runs and 43 RBI in 44 games. In 2013, he is 5-for-12 (.417) with two home runs and eight RBI in three games. The sample size is still small, but Zunino is projected to be a future star and could be up in the big leagues by June. Jesus Montero likely would spend more time at designated hitter; he is not considered much of a defensive backstop anyway.
Rafael Montero, P, NYM - It's not so often a New York pitcher flies under the radar, but that's exactly what's happened to Montero thus far. He was named the Mets' minor league pitcher of the year in 2012, notching a 2.36 ERA and 110:19 K:BB ratio in 122 innings between Low-A and High-A. Control is clearly Montero's calling card, though he also missed quite a few bats last season as well. Opposing batters hit just .212 against him in 2012. Montero's first start of the 2013 campaign was a gem, as he allowed one run on just two hits in five innings for Double-A Binghamton. The 22-year-old righty did not walk a batter while striking out eight. If Montero keeps this up, he'll certainly start to get noticed.
Cody Buckel, P, TEX - Buckel got rocked in his first start for Double-A Frisco. The 20-year-old righty allowed seven earned runs in just 2.2 innings Friday, surrendering five hits in the process. Buckel was uncharacteristically wild, walking five batters while fanning two. It's just one outing, so no need to panic yet. Likewise, Buckel is one of the youngest pitchers in Double-A. However, this is certainly not the way he wanted to start his 2013 campaign.
Brad Miller, SS, SEA - Miller's inclusion here is only because of his appeal from a fantasy perspective. In other words, in this writer's opinion, Miller may be a better actual baseball player than fantasy player. In 2012, Miller combined to slash .334/.410/.512 with 15 home runs, 68 RBI and 23 steals in 137 games between High-A and Double-A. He's off to a terrific start in Double-A, too, with seven hits in his first 20 at-bats (.350), including one home run. However, his best attribute is his plate discipline. Although he could hit for a high average, his power and speed are slightly above-average at best. Being a middle infielder will help his cause, but I'm curious to see what his production in will be at the higher levels, particularly in home runs and steals.
Brandon Workman, P, BOS - Workman was the minor league pitcher of the year for the BoSox last season but doesn't project as a future ace. Still, Workman posted a 3.50 ERA and 130:25 K:BB ratio in 138.2 innings between High-A and Double-A. In his first start of the year, Workman struck out nine batters, walking just one. However, he allowed four runs in five innings for Double-A Reading. The real test for Workman will be how he fares against opposing hitters at the upper levels. As such, this will be a crucial season in his development.
Slade Heathcott, OF, NYY - Heathcott is a real wild card for the Yankees, and this season could go a long way in determining if he'll live up to lofty expectations. A first-round selection out of high school in 2009, Heathcott has battled injuries and off-field issues since that time. Last season he finally found his stride, though, slashing .302/.380/.461 with five home runs, 29 RBI and 19 steals in 65 games down the stretch for High-A Tampa. However, he's never played more than 76 games in a season and does not project to hit for much power. Add in that he's already off to a slow start in Double-A with three hits in his first 16 at-bats (seven strikeouts to zero walks), and it may be best to take a wait-and-see approach with Heathcott.
Mikie Mahtook, OF, TB - Mahtook fits the mold of a Tampa Bay Rays outfielder; scrappy, aggressive, power to the gaps and decent speed. However, he does not do any one thing supremely well, and as such his production may not translate to fantasy numbers. In his first full season in 2012, Mahtook batted .277/.342/.415 with nine home runs, 62 RBI and 23 steals in 131 games between High-A and Double-A. Certainly not terrible numbers, but not superior statistics from a first-round selection. Mahtook is hitting just .188 to begin his 2013 campaign in Double-A as well. Mahtook may be a solid player, but simply doesn't project to be a fantasy star.
Kaleb Cowart, 3B, LAA - Cowart started just 1-for-12 this season with six Ks for Double-A Arkansas. The sample size is small, of course, but Cowart did fan 111 times in 135 games last season, despite only hitting 16 home runs. He did knock in 103 runs, but the strikeouts are less acceptable when a player isn't a true power hitter. Cowart is just 20 with loads of potential, and he still projects to be a future stud at the hot corner. He even stole 14 bases last season. However, there could be some growing pains as he adjusts to the higher levels initially.
Trevor Story, SS, COL - Story is off to a sluggish start for High-A Modesto. The shortstop phenom has just one hit in 15 at-bats, striking out nine times over his first four games. Story turned just 20 in the offseason after a standout 2012 campaign. At Low-A, he slashed .277/.367/.505 with 18 home runs, 63 RBI and 15 steals in 122 games. Although he showed the ability to take a walk, Story still fanned 121 times last season. Despite the poor start, don't downgrade Story too much due to the small sample size, as he still has an intriguing combination of power, speed and plate discipline from a shortstop and at such a young age.