It's odd to say the rich get richer when it involves the Miami Marlins, but their starting rotation could easily get better with the eventual promotion of perhaps the best left-handed starter in the minor leagues.
There have been discussions since spring training that Andrew Heaney could reach the majors soon in 2014, especially after the aggressive promotion of Jose Fernandez last year that turned out better than could be expected. Along with Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, the Marlins could soon have a very strong rotation that will be around for years.
Heaney is shutting down the Double-A Southern League through six starts, recording a 2.45 ERA with 33 strikeouts to eight walks in 33 innings for Jacksonville. After doing something similar to end 2013, Heaney has proven he should at least be in Triple-A by now.
When reading reports prior to Thursday's game against Mississippi, the overwhelming theme was a fastball that jumps on hitters despite an easy motion. I took one look at Heaney's frame on video and wondered how he could possibly reach mid-90s with life. I was then blown away when he reached back on a two-strike count in the first inning and blew it by a Braves hitter. The fastball has deception from a smooth and fluid delivery, and it jumps on batters with late life commanded to either side of the plate. Heaney's fastball is a true weapon in plus territory.
Heaney's slider is also a plus pitch with late bite. His feel for the pitch was inconsistent in this start, but he flashed a plus offering on multiple occasions. It's death to both sides of the plate when thrown well, because he also shows confidence in throwing the pitch on shoe tops to right-handed batters. The spin rides hard and late, and it's deceptive off the hard fastball.
Heaney's changeup is average, but it shows above-average potential. He telegraphed a few, and some were too firm, but he also flashed some that had excellent vertical drop. He commanded the changeup pretty well to the arm side, which is something he needs to overcome the overall lack of plus deception.
If Heaney's changeup was even the slightest tick better, he would easily be a frontline arm. I think he still has a 2 ceiling, but a good 3 is probably more likely. He has the fastball and slider combination to dominate left-handers, and he could use that combination to his benefit against righties, too. But he needs the third pitch, and Heaney's changeup is just average at this point. Right-handed batters might give him some fits when he doesn't have a feel for his changeup on some days.
Heaney could also stand to gain more muscle. I was surprised he managed to carry very good life on the fastball deep into the outing despite his thin frame and easy delivery. But it's a matter of durability and maintaining that life over the course of 180-200 innings. Heaney has gained some muscle, but his arms and legs remain thin.
The Marlins were fortunate to grab Heaney at ninth overall in 2012 out of Oklahoma State. They took him to the signing deadline before agreeing on a number, but I don't think there was any way they could have let this talent go. He should be a reliable force in the middle of Miami's rotation for years. Combined with Fernandez, Eovaldi and Alvarez, that's a scary proposition for the rest of the NL East.