The Miami Marlins starting rotation so far in 2019 hasn’t been good. While they rank in the middle in a lot of categories, that is mostly due to the stud like early-season dominance of Caleb Smith. Smith has a 3-0 record, to go with a 2.11 ERA and a .89 WHIP. If you remove Smith’s numbers, the Marlins starters have a 4-16 record, rank 21st in ERA and 27th in WHIP. The Fish, being in full rebuild mode, have shown that they want to highlight their young starters and their potential. During spring training it seemed like there were seven men competing for five spots in the rotation. Ultimately, the decision was to release Dan Straily and move Wei Yen Chen to the bullpen, and further develop Jose Urena, Trevor Richards, Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara, and Caleb Smith in the majors. This, at least to me, seems like the safest and smartest move for the Marlins. However, there is currently a talented young arm in AAA lurking for the Marlins, and with the rebuild still going on, now is the time to give him a chance.
Zac Gallen isn’t a well known prospect in any way. He was the number three prospect in the Marcell Ozuna trade, and the two main pieces of that deal have already hit the majors. You won’t find Gallen’s name on any list of top prospects, as he is currently only the eighteenth best prospect on the Marlins according to MLB Pipeline. He was a third round draft pick for St. Louis, but has received only a 45 out of 80 overall scouting grade. Gallen has just started turning heads, as he won the PCL pitcher of the week after an outing in which he struck out eleven and didn’t allow a hit over seven innings. It is not just that the Marlins rotation is struggling that Gallen deserves a look. Gallen has been outstanding this year, and can truly make an impact for the Fish.
Gallen spent all of 2018 pitching for the Marlins AAA affiliate, the New Orleans Baby Cakes. He had a very strong season, pitching to a 3.65 ERA despite a ridiculously high 1.47 WHIP. This led to a 4.48 xFIP, which could be part of the reason he stayed down all season. He got shelled in spring training as well, giving up 18 runs in 4.1 innings, which could be why he is still down. This season, however, his WHIP is down significantly, currently sitting at .57. This has led to a 5-0 record, a 1.14 ERA and a 3.38 xFIP. He is truly lighting up Triple A.
The main change for Gallen has seemingly been better control. His walk rate is currently sitting at 1.52 walks per nine innings, whereas last season he walked 3.24 batters per nine innings. Additionally, he has raised his strikeout rate and is now striking out 10.46 batters for every nine innings, resulting in a K% of 33.1% (up from 23.1% last season). As mentioned above, Gallen only received a 45 overall scouting grade, but his control was given a grade of 50. The added control has also meant better batted ball stats. His line drive and fly ball rates are low, at 16.2% and 34.3% respectively. His groundball rate sits at a robust 49.5%. He is walking less batters and limiting hard contact, giving Gallen the better numbers he has put up so far for the Baby Cakes.
While AAA is lesser competition than the majors, the numbers Gallen is putting up is definitely deserving of a chance. Barring an injury, there are two main candidates for Gallen to replace in the rotation. He wouldn’t replace Smith considering his early-season prowess. Despite the fact that Urena has actually been the worst starter so far, he has put together solid seasons in the past and is the veteran of the pitching staff. Pablo Lopez has actually been better than the numbers suggest, as he has a 2.80 FIP and a 1.07 WHIP, despite the 4.03 ERA. That leaves Alcantara and Richards, who have been struggling mightily so far.
Sandy Alcantara- Gallen’s counterpart in the Ozuna trade, Alcantara made his debut in the end of 2018. In his first stint in the majors, he put up a strong 3.44 ERA over 34 innings pitched. This was despite the fact he walked over six batters every nine innings, resulting in a 5.16 xFIP. So far in 2019, Alcantara has been slightly worse than last year, with a 5.32 xFIP and 4.93 ERA. Additionally, Alcantara’s strikeout rate has decreased from 20.6% to 15.7%. Even more concerning is that once runners get on, Alcantara has trouble getting out of innings, stranding only 67% of base runners. Alcantara does have some redeeming qualities that can keep him around, like the fact he has lowered his walk and hard hit rate and raised his soft hit rate. Him and Gallen are similar players across the board, even receiving similar grades, and if Alcantara continues to struggle, the Fish should call up his counterpart.
Trevor Richards- Richards has put up a respectable 4.10 ERA so far in 2019. However, he has been atrocious otherwise. His strikeout rate is down after a rookie campaign in which he struck out more than a batter an inning. He is walking over five batters per inning. Richards’ skill interactive ERA is 5.30 and his xFIP is 5.79. His hard hit rate is up, his fly ball rate is up, and his soft hit rate is down. All of this has led to a 0-4 record. To put it simply, Richards is struggling mightily this season, but can regain what led him to have a solid rookie campaign. Since there is more to gain from Richards correcting the ship, he is the better candidate to be sent down right now for Gallen. Richards can easily return to the pitcher that struck out more than a batter an inning and had a respectable 4.30 xFIP, and would benefit from being sent down.
Zac Gallen is deserving of being called up. He has dominated early, and now is the time for the Marlins to give him a chance. Gallen has looked a lot better than his 45 grade and low prospect rating suggests. He is a talented young pitcher, and can be a bright spot for the Fish in a very gloomy season. As an added bonus, a call up and success could help the Marlins say they won the Ozuna trade.
“Featured Photo: Fish Stripes”