Justin Nicolino Rumors

East Notes: Melky, Heaney, Eovaldi, Murphy, Victorino

Though there’s been mutual interest between Melky Cabrera and the Blue Jays for months, ESPN’s Buster Olney hears that, all things being equal, Cabrera’s preference would be to sign somewhere other than Toronto so that half of his games aren’t played on artificial turf (Twitter links). However, the turf won’t prevent Cabrera from remaining in Toronto if the club’s offer is clearly the best that he receives.

Some more links pertaining to baseball’s Eastern divisions…

  • The Marlins are willing to listen to offers on top prospect Andrew Heaney, reports MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro. While parting with the player that entered last season as a Top 30 prospect according to Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com (and 34th per ESPN’s Keith Law) would of course be difficult, the club very much wants a left-handed bat to pair with Giancarlo Stanton in the middle of the order. One key reason for their willingness to part with Heaney, Frisaro notes, is the emergence of fellow lefty Justin Nicolino. Miami acquired Nicolino — who has ranked as a Top 100 prospect himself — from Toronto in the Jose Reyes blockbuster. He posted a 2.85 ERA in 170 1/3 innings at Double-A this season, walking just 1.1 hitters per nine. However, he also saw his strikeout rate dip to a somewhat troubling rate of just 4.3 per nine.
  • Frisaro also notes that right-hander Nathan Eovaldi and southpaw Brad Hand are also available for the right offer. Eovaldi, in particular, is intriguing given the blistering 96 mph he’s averaged as a starter over the past two seasons. Though he struggled a bit with a 4.34 ERA in 2014, FIP (3.37), xFIP (3.76) and SIERA (3.91) all feel he was better than that ERA would suggest. The 24-year-old Hand, meanwhile, has a 4.42 ERA in 195 1/3 big league innings and started 16 games for last year’s club.
  • Daniel Murphy‘s name can frequently be found on the pages of MLBTR, but Mets GM Sandy Alderson said earlier this week on SNY TV in New York (via Metsblog’s Matthew Cerrone) that the second baseman  “should be an important part of our team next year,” further suggesting that it’s a long shot that Murphy will be moved.
  • Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino will swing a bat for the first time since undergoing back surgery on Monday and tells WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford that he’s on pace to be 100 percent by Spring Training. While Boston has quite the outfield logjam, Victorino plainly explains to Bradford that he feels he should be the starting right fielder next season. “…[I]f I’m healthy if there’s a better outfielder in right field then show me and go out there and do it,” says Victorino. “I’m not saying that in a cocky or arrogant way. It’s just how confident I am to know I should be the starting right fielder.” The “Flyin’ Hawaiian” is set to earn $13MM in the final season of a three-year, $39MM pact. While injuries limited him to 30 games last year, the former Phillie was one of the best players on Boston’s 2013 World Series winner, hitting .294/.351/.451 with elite outfield defense leading to more than 5.5 WAR.

Prospect Rumor Roundup: Fishy Pitching

It's been a tough rebuilding season for the Miami Marlins, but help is on the way.

The club is currently in last place in the National League East and has the worst record in the NL. The Houston Astros are the only team in Major League Baseball with a lower winning percentage.

Miami is one of three teams to have used 19 rookies in 2013. The club has trotted out 11 freshman hitters and eight first-year pitchers. Of those 19 players, 10 have received significant playing time. Despite their inexperience, the Marlins front office is building a club with a strong core of young, high-ceiling players. And, even with the significant wave of talent that's already reached the Majors, Miami has more on the way.

The pitching staff stands to be the most significant beneficiary of the talent infusion. The club already has a number of young hurlers that could settle into the starting rotation in 2014, including Jose Fernandez, Tom Koehler, Henderson Alvarez, Jacob Turner and Nate Eovaldi. Four more names could settle into the big league club's starting rotation next season, and the organization has the Toronto Blue Jays to thank for three of the prospects.

None of the names can match the ace-in-the-making ceiling that Fernandez has, but they certainly have the talent necessary to be impact performers in the coming seasons.

Anthony DeSclafani, RHP, Double-A: DeSclafani has a big-time fastball, but an inconsistent college career caused him to slide to the Blue Jays in the sixth round of the 2011 amateur draft. Despite being stuck in the bullpen for much of his collegiate career, the right-hander has thrived as a starter in pro ball.

DeSclafani, 23, was one of the lesser-known names in last year's 12-player trade between the Marlins and the Jays. He's pitched extremely well since joining his new organization, playing at two levels in 2013 — High-A and Double-A. The million dollar question, though, is whether or not he can maintain his success as a starter in the upper levels of the minors and into the Majors.

The Marlins' Director of Player Development, Brian Chattin, said he's not surprised by the young hurler's pro success and added that the organization followed his amateur career closely at the University of Florida: "His slider is an above-average pitch at times and should be a consistent weapon for him as he continues to develop," Chattin said. "His changeup is a work in progress but is showing signs of being a usable third pitch. I am confident he can stick as a starter."

Sam Dyson, RHP, Triple-A: The Marlins more or less stole this talented pitcher from the Jays. Toronto added Dyson to the 40-man roster when he was called up to the Majors last season, but he appeared in just two big league games (both out of the bullpen) before being returned to the minor leagues. In the offseason, the club faced a roster crunch and the former fourth round draft pick was claimed off waivers by the Fish.

With his new club, the 25-year-old Dyson was converted back to a starter after spending much of 2012 in the bullpen. Like DeSclafani, he's had a lot of success in his new role. He's spent the majority of the 2013 season in Double-A but has also pitched well in four starts since being promoted to Triple-A.

According to Chattin, Dyson's ultimate role is still open for discussion: "We are encouraged by his overall development and will consider him for both a rotation and bullpen role if his progress continues," said Chattin. "Our primary focus with Sam this year has been to get him consistent work and establish a usable breaking ball… We like the sinker, as well as the changeup, but want a consistent breaking ball that he will throw with confidence. He used a curveball early but has gone to a slider recently." 

Andrew Heaney, LHP, Double-A: The club's first round draft pick in 2012, Heaney has been a fast mover. Despite making just six appearances last season, the southpaw has played at two levels this year: High-A and Double-A. His ERA sits at just 1.41 for the year between the two levels.

Chattin said Heaney's success has come from his ability to throw three average to above-average pitches for strikes. He also has a reliable out-pitch in his slider, and simply needs to add polish. "He needs to log some innings so he can learn the lessons this game naturally teaches through experience," he said. "He also needs to control the running game more effectively."  

Justin Nicolino, LHP, Double-A: The third and final former Blue Jays farmhand on this list, Nicolino came over to the organization in last offseason's blockbuster deal involving Jose Reyes. In the Jays organization, he was a member of impressive trio of high-ceiling arms that were all drafted out of high school in 2010: Nicolino, Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard (who was traded to the Mets in the R.A. Dickey deal). The Jays had a plethora of picks that season, and Nicolino was actually the seventh player selected by Toronto despite being nabbed in the second round (80th overall).

Nicolino's success and rise through the system has mirrored Heaney's in 2013. Chattin said the young lefty will see his success continue into the Majors if he trusts his stuff and continues to attack the strike zone. "He is intelligent, pitches with a plan and purpose, throws three pitches for strikes and changes speeds effectively," Chattin explained.