With the midway point of the season getting closer, the Marlins made several moves in order to keep pace in the NL East. Most notably they tried to bolster their starting rotation, as they believe can seriously compete this season.
Prized pitching prospect, lefty Andrew Heaney, was called up from AAA after tearing it up in the minors. Heaney was the first-round pick of the Marlins in 2012, going ninth overall. Along with Heaney, the Marlins also recalled pitcher Anthony DeSclafani, who made two starts in May for the Marlins before being sent back down to AAA. In order to make room for both Heaney and DeSclafani, veterans Randy Wolf and Kevin Slowey were designated for assignment, and Jacob Turner was moved to the bullpen. DeSclafani has decent numbers this season in the minors, but the guy we really want to talk about is Heaney.
Heaney started the season in AA and pitched well enough to earn a promotion to AAA in late May. There, he thrived in 23 innings pitched, leading to a call up to the big leagues. In 76.2 innings pitched between AA and AAA, Heaney had a 2.48 ERA with 79 strikeouts to just 15 walks, good for a ratio of 5.3 K/BB. His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) in AA was 2.48, and he improved it to an even more impressive 2.08 at AAA.
Although it’s a sample of just four starts at AAA, Heaney’s numbers really jump off the page. His strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) was 10.57 and his K/BB was an incredible 13.50 (27 strikeouts to just two walks). This happened despite opponents having a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .365 against him, meaning that his numbers could be much better had luck been on his side. Heaney also did a great job of keeping hitters off the bases, posting a combined WHIP (walks plus hits) of just under 1.1 in his 76.2 innings pitched.
In the bigs, Heaney has the luxury of pitching not just in the National League, but specifically in the NL East, which this season has struggled to score runs. In terms of runs scored, the Nationals rank 19th, the Mets are 23rd, the Phillies are listed in 24th, and the Braves are 28th. With every NL East opponent essentially in the bottom third of all of baseball for runs scored, Heaney won’t be facing many potent offenses, meaning he should be able to squeeze out some extra wins even when his stuff isn’t on that night.
To further this point, the Marlins currently have the sixth-most runs scored in baseball, so Heaney won’t be forced to get into many pitcher’s duels in order to keep his team in the game. Heaney is scheduled to make his MLB debut on Thursday against the Mets and could offer instant success considering their inept offense. If the rotation for the Marlins stays on track until the All-Star break, Heaney is lined up to face the Phillies, the A’s, the Cardinals, and the Mets again. You already know the run-scoring difficulties that the Phillies and Mets have had this season, and the Cardinals are actually worse, currently 25th in runs scored. The A’s offense is scary (first in runs scored), but facing one good offense out of his first five starts means Heaney could impress immediately. Between his great numbers in the minors, pitching in a weak NL division, and being supported by a strong offensive team, everything looks good (on paper) for Heaney in the Marlins push to take control of the division.
It's a big deal, as the Marlins have had inconsistent starting pitching all season (their team ERA of 4.01 is good for 18th best), yet are still just a half game back of the division lead. Heaney (and DeSclafani) won’t have to pitch very well in order to be an improvement over the players they are replacing. Wolf has an ERA of 5.26 this season, while Slowey has an ERA of 5.30. Between Henderson Alvarez (2.56 ERA), Nathan Eovaldi (3.57 ERA), and Tom Koehler (3.84 ERA), the Marlins could suddenly have a solid starting rotation even if Heaney only pitches moderately this season.
But unfortunately for the Marlins, they are chasing two teams, the Nationals and the Braves, and our power rankings have both of them ahead of Miami. However, with a potent offense and potential consistent pitching on its way, the rest of the NL East may soon be looking up at the surging Marlins.