This is a weekly column written for those who play in deeper dynasty formats, where I will be focusing on a player who is rostered in less than 20 percent of Fantrax leagues – as that is the most commonly used platform for dynasty leagues.
This season—perhaps more than any in recent memory—will be about pop-up prospects. Until about a week ago, it had been well over a year since we last saw minor league baseball, and many previously unheralded prospects have been quietly developing behind the scenes. Some have made changes to their swing, or to their pitch mix, while some have just simply gotten stronger or faster or better – which gives prospect hounds and deep league dynasty players a whole new slate of athletes to pay attention to and speculatively add in our fantasy leagues.
Additionally, players selected in the abbreviated 2020 MLB draft are just now making their professional debuts, giving us a new group of players to evaluate – many who have undergone significant changes from their high school or college days now that they have nearly a full year of time spent with their organizations.
After writing about Taylor Dollard, a 2020 fifth round pick by the Mariners last week, today’s article will be about another pitcher drafted in the “late rounds” of the 2020 MLB draft, Jake Eder, a fourth round pick by the Miami Marlins who has absolutely shoved to begin his first minor league campaign. Starting out at Double-A Pensacola, Eder has made three starts totaling 15 innings while giving up just seven hits and one earned run, with nine walks and 26 strikeouts.
While a 41.3% K rate is likely not sustainable, Eder looks like a big time steal for the Marlins – especially when considering Miami’s success in developing pitchers over the past few years. As such, Eder is a name I’d have on my radar in deeper dynasty formats, especially after seeing him cook in these first two starts.
How Did We Get Here?
Eder probably would have been selected within the first two rounds of the 2017 MLB draft out of high school had his commitment to Vanderbilt not been so strong, which dropped him all the way to the Mets in the 34th round where he (wisely) chose not to sign. He then spent the next two seasons as a part of the Commodores’ bullpen, flashing first round caliber stuff and capturing the attention of college baseball fans all over the world when he earned a magnificent three inning save in the championship game of the 2019 College Baseball World Series.
In fact, he finished his excellent sophomore campaign with a 2-0 record, four saves, a 2.97 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 39.1 innings of work. That earned him a rotation spot for the Orleans Firebirds in the Cape Cod League, where he threw 15 innings with a sparkly 1.20 ERA and a 15:4 K:BB ratio.
A spot opened up in Vanderbilt’s rotation ahead of the 2020 campaign, giving Eder a great opportunity to carry his momentum from 2019 and his summer in the Cape with him into an excellent junior season. He struggled in his first outing, a 3.1 inning appearance against Cal Poly where he gave up three runs (two earned) on four hits, with three walks and three strikeouts, but he bounced back with a 5.2 inning, 11 strikeout performance against Illinois-Chicago, and followed that up with a five inning, two run outing against Hawaii with a 5:1 K:BB ratio. His best outing of the year was a six inning performance against a stout USC team, where he surrendered just two runs on seven hits and three walks along with eight strikeouts.
It also ended up being his final outing, as the season was shut down shortly after because of the COVID-19 pandemic. All told, across his four starts, Eder posted a 3.60 ERA with 27 strikeouts (12.2 K/9) in 20 innings of work, but with nine walks (4.1 BB/9) and nine hits surrendered.
The gains he showed in the Cape didn’t quite translate in the shortened 2020 season, leaving many scouts concerned about his command heading into the 2020 MLB draft, especially after his velocity readings – which were often into the mid-90’s – dropped during those four starts.
In fact, Prospects Live didn’t even have Eder within their top 100 2020 draft prospects, while FanGraphs left him off their big board, a list that included 232 draft eligible players. MLB Pipeline still had him at No. 59 on their list, but it is fair to say his draft stock was not at its peak when the Marlins made him the 104th overall player selected in the fourth round, joining a Miami class that already included pitchers Max Meyer, Daxton Fulton, Kyle Nicolas, and Zach McCambley.
Miami clearly had a vision going into their draft, targeting big pitchers with live arms and strong breaking stuff – and the Marlins were surprised a player with his stuff was still available in the fourth round, even after his velocity had dipped in 2020, along with his questionable command.
“I liked him all the way back in high school,” D.J. Svihlik told Andrew Battifarano of MLB.com. “His whole career he’s battled inconsistencies for a number of different reasons. When I saw him on the Cape, that was the pitcher I thought we just got. He was fabulous on the Cape — 92 to 95 [mph] with an above-average breaking ball and above-average changeup from the left side.”
“Certain players need certain environments to achieve their maximum potential,” Svihlik continued. “And I think what we offer and how we develop our pitchers is going to be very, very advantageous and beneficial to Jake.”
Changing Things Up in Miami
There’s no doubt Miami is cooking something up with their pitching prospects. The team has had a lot of success turning homegrown pitching prospects into quality big league starters, boasting a rotation that, when healthy, consists of Pablo López (25), Sandy Alcantara (25), Trevor Rogers (23), Elieser Hernandez, (26) and Sixto Sánchez (22). They also have a healthy crop of young pitching that is just outside the rotation, many who have already debuted or are ready to potentially debut sometime this season, including Cody Poteet (26), Edward Cabrera (23), Nick Neidert (24), Braxton Garrett (23), and Daniel Castano (26).
While not all of these players began their professional careers in Miami, most of them have benefited primarily from the tutelage of the Marlins player development staff – and have blossomed into an impressive group of young, big league capable arms – so much so that the team felt comfortable dealing Zac Gallen straight up for shortstop prospect Jazz Chisholm. That’s not the kind of move you make unless you feel comfortable with the pitching you have, and considering the success of López, Alcantara, and now Rogers at the big league level, and the promise showed by Sánchez, Hernandez, and the other up-and-comers, notably Cabrera, you can see why Miami was willing to make the move.
They followed that up by using all of their 2020 draft capital on pitchers, including dynamic right-hander Max Meyer with the third overall pick, and of course Eder in the fourth.
While there is not as much info available about just exactly what Miami does with their pitching prospects, at least not that I could find, one area in which they are excelling is developing changeups. That would certainly jive with their draft strategy to find high-velocity arms with above-average breaking stuff, a la Meyer, Fulton, and Eder. If they believe in their ability to help these pitchers develop changeups that could become plus pitches in the show, they have just turned pitchers with volatile, high-variance profiles into guys who are much more likely to stick in the rotation.
Wyatt Kleinberg at Baseball Cloud wrote up a great article detailing a lot of what Miami is doing to help their pitchers work on changeups, which you can read here, but effectively the Marlins are focusing on changeups that are a little firmer than league average (only about 7.5 mph difference from fastballs in 2020, compared to 8.7 mph league average) as well as more vertical break and less overall spin.
This helps their pitches more closely mirror their individual fastballs. Taking Sánchez, Alcantara, and López, the average difference in RPM between their fastball and changeup is 251, compared to the league average of 528. That suggests high amounts of run on their changeups, which is plainly visible when looking at the tape:
Sixto Sanchez's 92 mph changeup to strikeout Eric Thames.
I'm making noises. pic.twitter.com/ROmKwQNQu0
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) August 23, 2020
Pablo Lopez's changeup is still so good pic.twitter.com/6xPAUTpEyY
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) October 7, 2020
Sandy Alcantara's NASTY changeup to strikeout Ozzie Albies pic.twitter.com/YAM5495MEu
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) October 6, 2020
Developing a changeup is a key piece for Eder as he embarks upon his first professional season. While there hasn’t been a big enough sample to see how that changeup is looking so far, we do have video evidence that his bread-and-butter, the fastball/curveball combo, are looking really dang good through his first three outings – thanks to the hard work of Pitcher List podcast manager and Prospects Live contributor Trevor Hooth:
High heat to sit down Shea Langliers pic.twitter.com/ZbIpQxiU3X
— Trevor Hooth (@HoothTrevor) May 6, 2021
More Jake Eder goodness. This breaking ball is the real deal. Fastball has been good and he's flashed a solid changeup too. BIG fan of what I'm seeing today pic.twitter.com/Iexwzi4fiI
— Trevor Hooth (@HoothTrevor) May 6, 2021
Velocity readings have been tough to come by, and camera angles are predictably rough, but Eder is allegedly working his fastball into the mid-90’s with some consistency, and he’s clearly bought into the BSB, working his fastballs at the top of the zone and his breaking stuff down below the zone.
If he can effectively add a 45 or 50 grade changeup into that mix, one that will likely sit in the high 80’s with vertical movement, his arsenal should not have any problems getting him up into the major leagues in short order.
Obviously, Eder’s ridiculously hot start to the campaign has turned some heads, and the fact he is doing it at Double-A in his first professional season says a lot about what Miami thinks about his polish and preparedness. Of course, because of the significant amount of pitching depth in this organization, Eder’s path to a rotation spot is not quite as easy to predict as one might think.
Barring the team choosing to trade some of their young pitching, which could absolutely happen (see Gallen, Zac) this squad is going to have a lot of guys to fill only five spots for the next few years. Some will no doubt develop into long relievers or even late-inning weapons – likely the ones that struggle to find that third pitch – but that won’t make the path to a rotation spot super easy.
That’s not to say Eder isn’t going to make it, just that it probably won’t happen within the next 12 months, and if his command doesn’t improve from where it is now (nine walks in 15 innings) he will run that reliever risk as well.
It’s pretty early to know conclusively if Eder has the stuff to be a big-league starting pitcher down the line, but he is clearly a key cog in Miami’s pitching development machine – and the results from that group so far have painted a picture of success that doesn’t look too tough for Eder to emulate.
As of this writing, Eder is rostered in 11% of Fantrax leagues. Deeper leagues, those with more than 10 MiLB slots or full minor league rosters, should absolutely be all over adding Eder if he remains available. The upside here is exceptionally strong, and frankly, the floor is probably still a fantasy-relevant late-inning reliever if your league counts holds and/or K/9.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)