What to Make of Miami Marlin Andrew Heaney So Far
Last night, June 19, 2014, starting pitcher Andrew Heaney made his major league debut with the Miami Marlins, pitching six innings, allowing four hits, one of which was a home run and the only run scored against Heaney and one walk. Heaney’s thunder was taken away by Zack Wheeler who pitched his first complete game shutout, in which he struck out eight. Make no mistake, Wheeler was the better pitcher last night, but I am not in the camp that he will be the better pitcher in the long-run.
Left-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney is the number one prospect for the Miami Marlins in a relatively deep farm system. Heaney, originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays out of high school, opted to attend college at Oklahoma State University, where he was drafted as the ninth overall pick by the Miami Marlins in 2012, after his junior season. He showed massive improvement during his junior season, in which he had a K/9 ratio of 10.65, up from 6.85, which he posted during his sophomore season. He also saw his BB/9 ratio drop from 3.09 to 1.67 from his sophomore to junior season at Oklahoma State University. He led the Big 12 in strikeouts in 2012, throwing 140 strikeouts. After being drafted, Heaney struggled slightly in Rookie/Low-A ball, posting a 4.95 ERA with Low-A ball team, the Greenville Grasshoppers. Prior to his first full minor league season in 2013, Heaney was ranked 43rd by Baseball America and 81st by MLB.com. He exceeded those and all expectations, posting a 0.88 ERA in 61.2 innings pitched in High-A ball, then a 2.94 ERA in 33.2 innings pitched for AA Jacksonville Suns.
Coming into the 2014 season, Heaney’s stock skyrocketed, being declared the 30th best prospect by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus and the 29th best prospect. He was widely agreed as the best Miami Marlins prospect after Jose Fernandez and Jake Marisnick were called up. Containing to pitch for the Jacksonville Suns, Heaney posted a 2.35 ERA in 53.2 innings pitched. Before his callup this past week, Heaney pitched 23 innings in AAA with an ERA of 2.74, with a 10.6 K/9. While numbers only tell part of the story when evaluating a prospect and how successful they will be in Major League Baseball, pitchers who struggle in the minors rarely work out in the majors. This is not relevant to Andrew Heaney as he played well in the minor leagues by any possible definition.
Heaney’s fastball, which were the majority of his pitches last night, sits at about 91-93, hitting 95 frequently, and topping out at 97. Although scouts describe his fastball as a plus due to the movement of the pitch, batters tend to make enough contact with it to be concerned at times. I am trying not to put too much judgment into the one game last night, where a considerable amount of contact was made off of Heaney’s fastball, but it is tempting to look at it at make a judgment. His slider/sinker is his best pitch (easy plus pitch), but only made up 17.6% of the 91 pitches Heaney threw. 64.4% of those slider/sinker pitches that he threw were called strikes. His curveball is about league average and could develop into above league average. Heaney showed a lack of confidence in the curveball, throwing it only 1.1% of the time in last night’s game. It is probably his weakest secondary pitch at this time, so slowly increasing the amount of times he throws it throughout the season is not a bad idea. Heaney has an above average changeup which induced some swing and misses by batters. His changeup maxed out at 83.5 and induced a good amount of groundballs. To paint a better picture of Andrew Heaney’s night against the New York Mets, let us take a look at the PitchF/X plot.
Where the ball was when it left his hand
Where the ball was when it reached the plate
Heaney is described as having plus control, which the first graphic affirms, but the second graphic shows issues with command. Like stated, a number of his pitches have movement, often appearing erratic at times. I would not worry about it yet, it is one start and this is the only PitchF/X data we have to go off of. It could be nerves, as it is his first major league start. If the erratic command is there for a full season, it is worth discussing, but it is just an interesting thing to point out for now.
For completeness, I wanted to post the speed of each pitch Andrew Heaney threw throughout the game and it is normal. You see the drop-offs for secondary pitches and a slightly decrease in fastball velocity after 90 pitches. About average stuff you would see in most pitchers.
Where does Andrew Heaney end up? Most sites like Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com predict him as a 2/3 starter on the Marlins, which seems likely to me. I am not reaching this conclusion from his first outing against the New York Mets, but rather the success he has shown at the minor league level. He did not dominate minor league ball like an ace would, but pitched very well at the lower league level and has two plus pitches and two pitches that are going to end up above average. That easily fits the profile of a 2/3 starter on a winning team. When Jose Fernandez returns, the Marlins may have one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball, with both Fernandez and Heaney.
Clips from Heaney's MLB Debut with the Miami Marlins
Clips from Heaney's MLB Debut with the Miami Marlins