Sorry for the hiatus last week, but we're going to get back on track now with our Monday morning look at the minors. Hope that everyone had a good Thanksgiving as we await the juicy part of the 2010-2011 offseason.
Who Does Javy Vazquez Block in the Marlins' Rotation?
With yesterday's announcement that righty Javier Vazquez agreed to a one-year deal with the Marlins, the Florida Fish basically have their Opening Day rotation set with Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Vazquez, Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad. Not bad, would presumably be your first reaction. Johnson is the undeniable ace, and they could potentially have five strong starters and a greatly improved bullpen to help to offset the offensive decline from removing Dan Uggla and Cody Ross from the lineup. With the Vazquez signing and the Uggla trade, the Marlins have made it clear that they're building this team around good pitching- it looks like they took a cue from San Francisco.
But there are probably some people in the Marlins organization that aren't nearly as happy about the Vazquez signing. If you're Sean West or Alex Sanabia, the two young pitchers who were in line to compete for the No. 5 spot in the rotation come spring, you're probably banking on an injury now to get some turns in the rotation. But they shouldn't expect to take those turns from Javy- 2010 was his first season with less than 198 IP in 10 years, he's pitched at least 154 innings in every season of his 13-year career, and in those 13 years he's averaged 204 innings per seasaon.
So while West and Sanabia toil in pitching purgatory on a team that can't fit them onto the roster, let's take a look at exactly who these two young pitchers are.
West, a 24-year-old lefty, has generally been considered the better prospect of the two. He was drafted with the 44th overall pick in the 2005 draft out of high school, and it's not surprising that he stood out to scouts- he's a 6-foot-8 lefty with a exceptional raw stuff. He's been ranked No. 96 on Baseball America's top 100 list twice, pre-2007 and pre-2009, but continued concerns about his command and durability have left many to wonder whether he's destined for the bullpen. 2009 was split between Double-A Jacksonville and Florida, but the lefty didn't put up great numbers at either level and made just two MLB starts in 2010 as he battled injuries and spent the rest of his time in Triple-A. He was a favorite to land a spot in the team's 2011 rotation, but he's not likely to beat out Sanchez or Volstad for a spot and he'll presumably start next season in Triple-A. Don't be surprised if they shift him to the bullpen, though, if the team has some success next season and could use another lefty.
Sanabia's rise to prominence wasn't nearly as expected as West's. He didn't turn 22 until September 2010, but at that point he had already established himself as one of the team's more intriguing young pitchers. By the end of the 2008 season, Sanabia was pretty much bordering on non-prospect status. He was a 32nd-round pick in 2006 out of high school flashing a 4.85 ERA in 180 innings, all at Single-A or lower. But the Marlins presumably saw the solid peripheral numbers over that period (160/49 K/BB) and continued to push Sanabia up the organizational ladder. While his ERA took a turn for the better at High Single-A Jupiter in 2009, the sharp dip in his strikeout rate had to leave some wondering whether he had the stuff to miss bats against MLB lineups. Then 2010 happened. He showed up with Double-A Jacksonville looking totally rejuvenated, and moved up to Triple-A after 14 dominant starts (2.03 ERA, 65/16 K/BB). With the Marlins looking for pitching and Sanabia putting up an ERA near 2 in the upper minors, Florida unsurprisingly turned to the then-21-year-old for some help, and got it. After 72 strong innings with the Marlins, there were people in the organization talking about handing him a full-time rotation spot in 2011.
In many organizations with less pitching depth, you'd see guys like West and Sanabia getting extended looks at the MLB level. And that was expected to be the plan in Florida next season. But when a pitcher that's one year removed from being a Cy Young contender comes to you and says he'll sign for one year and $7 million, you generally have to sort some things around. Signing Vazquez has absolutely made the Marlins a better team in 2011. The only really disappointing thing is that we might not get to see what West and Sanabia can do next season.