One thing I strive to pay attention to as a fantasy player is youth. Like sand through an hour glass, nobody can outrun time. Time is the predominant reason why there are no constants in life save one. Change. Change is the only thing that you can rely on. Predicting change is where the money is made. It’s why so much time an effort is dedicated to predictive stats like Siera and xFIP. It’s why people lust over top prospects so feverishly.
Three years ago, in the summer of 2011, Justin Verlander won 24 games en route to the AL MVP award, making him the first pitcher to win the award in a quarter century. Three years ago, in the summer of 2011, Jose Fernandez was a HS pitcher, drafted 14th overall by the Miami Marlins after 7 other starting pitchers. Fast forward to 2014 and Verlander is mired in the worst stretch of his career, while Jose Fernandez was the first pitcher of his class and youngest since Dwight Gooden to start an opening day for a Major League ball club. Fernandez reached this honor ahead of Gerrit Cole (ok tied, but Fernandez was more impressive), Danny Hultzen (still in the minors), Trevor Bauer (still finding himself in the pros), Dylan Bundy (recovering from his own Tommy John), Archie Bradley (still a farm hand), and Taylor Jungmann (struggling through the minor leagues). Change is constant!
Funny thing about that reliable change, though. Things keep changing. On May 12th Jose Fernandez was place on the DL with a torn UCL, effectively ending his season, and inducing tears among Marlins fans and fantasy managers everywhere. This brings us to Andrew Heaney, Marlins top prospect and potential fantasy savior. On Thursday, June 19th, Andrew Heaney will make his major league debut vs the NY Mets. His debut is a must see event as Heaney may prove to be the most relevant rookie pitcher of the 2014 fantasy season. Heaney was drafted out of HS, 24th overall by Tampa Bay, but elected to postpone his professional career, and enrolled at Oklahoma State University. In Heaney’s final college season at OK State, he led all NCAA pitchers with 140 K’s in just one out over 118 innings pitched. The 20 year old, 3rd year collegiate carried a dynamite 1.60 ERA and a 8-2 win-loss record. The performance was enough for him to get drafted 9th overall in the 2012 MLB amateurs draft to the Miami Marlins organization. His professional career since, has been nothing short of dominant. In 2013 he put together a 34 inning scoreless streak between A-Ball and AA-ball, finishing with an eye popping 9-3 record, 1.60 ERA, and 89:26 K/BB Ratio in 95.1 innings. In 2014, he has picked up where he left off dominating AA and AAA hitters amassing a 2.47 ERA and 7-2 record in 12 starts. He has K’s 79 batters in just under 77 innings, while issuing only 15 free passes.
Heaney isn’t your typical top prospect. None of his offerings are of the jaw dropping variety. He isn’t a power pitcher with elite stuff like a Kevin Gausman. He isn’t going to draw comparisons to Justin Verlander. What he does have is a natural, easy, repeatable delivery, and three above average pitches to work with. He’s a control pitcher with a deceiving delivery, and he locates his pitches well in the zone. His fastball is his best pitch, topping out at 93 MPH, showing good movement downward from left to right. He works off the fastball with a nice change up (good arm speed, plus fade), and slider/curve (good tilt and angle) that sit in the high 70’s. He locates all three pitches extremely well, and he should be able to generate swinging strikes with all three at the pro level.
There is a lot to love about Heaney’s prospects for continued success. For starters, he’s a southpaw, which is always a crowd pleaser. He’ll pitch in an extreme pitchers park in Miami, which has a way of forgiving mistakes. He induces more ground outs than fly outs, but isn’t very extreme in that regard. His competition in the division includes the Braves, Phillies, Mets, and Nats who rank 28th, 24th, 23rd, and 19th respectively in runs scored and 22nd, 25th, 27th, and 21st in hits, and 28th, 20th, 22nd, and 19th in strike out percentage. Heaney has four of the friendliest opponents a pitcher could ask for in his division, and should have every opportunity to dominate them. Off the field Miami isn’t the pressure cooker of a New York or DC. Jose Fernandez was the number 5 prospect in baseball, and had the best rookie season since Dwight Gooden, and flew largely under the radar amongst the casual fan. It was a far cry from what Stephen Strasburg experienced in his debut season in Washington.
Heaney is coming into about as advantageous a situation as one could ask for, and should transition to the Majors well. With so much working in Andrew Heaney’s favor, he might prove to have the highest floor of any pitching call up this year. Add to that a significantly high ceiling that should command universal attention in fantasy leagues. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect results in line from what we saw out of a Gerrit Cole in 2013, with a little upside from there. Cole has a little better stuff, but Heaney has a great ball park, favorable competition, and stuff good enough to lean on when he needs to strand a runner. For keeper leagues, Heaney’s ceiling is in the Tim Hudson range with maybe a bit better K potential. He doesn’t have any overpowering pitches like a Kevin Gausman, but he’s a lefty that locates and knows how to pitch. He should be an immediate addition to your fantasy line up, and out of all the pitching prospects in baseball, he’s the one I have to most confidence in being a difference maker down the stretch in 2014.
Welcome to the world, Mr. Heaney! The stage is yours.