The unfortunate consequences of Jose Fernandez’ torn ulnar collateral ligament are numerous, but perhaps the greatest one is that it likely robbed the Marlins of dark horse status for the playoffs. At 39-39, they’re still on the periphery of the Wild Card race, but they don’t appear to have the horses in the rotation or everyday lineup to stick into August. The Marlins’ future may be bright, but it remains the team’s future and not its present.
One of the key pieces of that future recently arrived and, if all goes according to plan, he’ll be backing up Fernandez in the rotation deep into the next decade. Andrew Heaney had an excellent showing in the minors this year, first with Double-A Jacksonville, then with Triple-A New Orleans. He made eight starts and nine total appearances at Jacksonville, racking up a 2.35 ERA, 2.51 FIP, and nearly a strikeout per inning in 53 2/3 frames. That was good enough to get him a promotion to New Orleans, where he was even better, albeit in half as many starts. He tossed 23 innings, posting a 2.74 ERA, 2.07 FIP and 27 strikeouts, forcing his way to the majors.
Heaney has made two starts with the Marlins and the early returns are a bit mixed. He dominated the Mets in his debut, allowing one run on four hits in six innings while fanning three. His second start wasn’t quite as good, as the Phillies got to him for three runs in the first inning, He got things under control after that, getting through five innings while giving up a total of five runs and four hits, striking out five. Clearly, it’s far too early to draw any conclusions about Heaney’s potential impact on fantasy leagues for the remainder of the 2014 season. What we can do, though, is take a look at each pitch in his repertoire, and how he has used them in his first 11 innings in the bigs.
The 23-year-old lefty features a fastball that sits at about 91 mph, a changeup that typically clocks in about 10 mph slower, and a slider that registers in the high-70s. Brooks Baseball classifies his fastball as a sinker, and it definitely has some sink to it. For our purposes here, however, we’ll just refer to it as a fastball. We can’t yet take his pitch profile as gospel, but Heaney’s likely going to throw his heater about 60 percent of the time. It isn’t his best out pitch, but the curve and changeup work off it, and his ability to command it to both sides of the plate will go a long way toward determining how much success he has as a rookie.
The video above is from Heaney’s first start against the Mets. The first three pitches in the clip are all fastballs, and help communicate how Heaney wants to use the pitch. First, he runs it in on Daniel Murphy’s hands, inducing an easy 4-6-3 double play. Heaney will typically challenge lefties with the fastball inside, looking for exactly this result. Jarrod Saltalamacchia sets up inside here, and, even though the pitch is a little higher than he wanted, Heaney gets the desired outcome.
The second clip is a strikeout of Chris Young, but this is not too instructive. On an 0-2 count, Heaney misses his spot badly. He’s trying to run a fastball up and out of the zone, but it ends up being belt high on the middle third. Young just happens to swing through it. The next one, however, shows how Heaney’s fastball can be a real strikeout weapon. On a 3-2 count, he hits his spot at the top of the zone, and Ruben Tejada can’t catch up to it. Heaney’s fastball is not of the overpowering variety, but when he spots it appropriately, he can use it to get strike three.
At the 35-second mark, Heaney breaks out the changeup. Unsurprisingly, he’s really only going to use this against righties. The pitch is a 1-1 change to David Wright. Heaney misses his spot by nearly the entire width of the plate, but he locates it down, and that’s really what matters here. So long as he can keep his changeup at the bottom or beneath the strike zone, hitters are going to have a lot of trouble elevating it. Wright rolls over it for a routine groundout to Casey McGehee.
Finally, let’s take a look at Heaney’s breaking ball. There’s a little debate over Heaney’s pitch. Fangraphs labels it a slider, while Brooks Baseball says it’s a curve. Given the break of the pitch, we’re going to side with former. Heaney shows the pitch at the 50-second mark with Taylor Teagarden in the batter’s box. The pitch certainly has the break and depth of a slider, starting out off the plate away and diving down at Teagarden’s feet. Heaney buries it in the dirt, exactly where he wants it in a 1-2 count. Teagarden is overmatched, swinging over the top of the pitch for strike three.
Heaney has never thrown more than 123 innings in a season, and he’s already up to 87 2/3 this year. The Marlins will likely shut him down at some point in September, especially in the extreme likelihood that they are not in playoff contention. Still, he definitely has the ability to be an asset in fantasy leagues so long as he remains active and should be scooped up in leagues where he’s available.