Miami Marlins

‘You have to have your routine.’ How Marlins draft picks adjusted to Year 1 of pro ball.

Nasim Nunez, the Miami Marlins’ second-round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, quickly learned the importance of settling into a routine during his first season of professional baseball.

Games in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League typically started at noon. Nunez’s day during those two months in Jupiter, however, usually started more than six hours earlier.

5:30 a.m. wake-up call.

6 a.m. workout.

7:15 a.m. early work on the field followed by a meal.

Spanish class, batting practice, defense and another quick meal followed over the next four hours.

And then, weather permitting (which is far from guaranteed in a the South Florida summer), first pitch at noon on either the back fields of the Roger Dean Stadium complex or at South Florida’s other spring training complexes in West Palm Beach or Port St. Lucie.

The schedule repeated for eight weeks.

Nunez, 19, quickly realized he wasn’t in high school anymore.

“Before this season, I never really played with fatigue,” Nunez said. “I had to figure out ways to play around that and fight off that fatigue. ... It was a humbling experience and a learning experience. That’s how I take away from this season. I want to take all of this information I got and add it to my game for next year.”

Nunez wasn’t alone.

The defensive-minded shortstop was part of a 31-player draft class to go through its first season of professional baseball.

Six of those prospects are among the organization’s top 30 prospects: first-round pick JJ Bleday (No. 2), Kameron Misner (No. 9), Nunez (No. 15), Evan Fitterer (No. 21), Peyton Burdick (No. 28) and Chris Mokma (No. 30).

And while they all took different paths to get here — some fresh out of high school, others from big-name colleges, more from the junior college avenue — they all faced the same adjustments as they navigated through their first two months in the Marlins’ organization.

Take Bleday, the Marlins’ first-round pick who came to the organization fresh off a College World Series run with Vanderbilt. The 21-year-old outfielder had been involved in baseball-related activities for essentially 12 consecutive months from starting fall ball workouts with the Commodores in October 2018 through the Marlins’ month-long instructional camp in September after the minor-league season ended.

Bleday had a solid introduction to professional baseball, hitting .257 with three home runs, 19 RBI and 13 runs with the Class A Advanced Jupiter Hammerheads.

He had to make physical adjustments to his workout regiments, a result of playing 103 games in six-and-a-half months (65 with Vanderbilt; 38 with the Hammerheads).

But the mental adjustment after he made his pro debut — learning what to do in the seven-hour window between getting to the ballpark and first pitch, staying loose during weather delays and postponements (again, a common fate in the South Florida summer) and the grind of doing it on a daily basis — took time to process.

“You have to have your routine. Otherwise, you’ll totally be unorganized,” Bleday said. “It’s mentally getting yourself prepared for when there’s rain delays, rainouts, doubleheaders. Getting yourself on queue, I think that was the toughest part for the first couple weeks.

“It’s still a lot of time. I’ve got to pick up a hobby, like knitting or something.”

Bleday closed his abbreviated first pro season with an impressive final month, hitting .310 with 11 RBI over his final 23 games that featured an 11-game hit streak.

“Just staying consistent,” Bleday said. “Not getting complacent with anything. No matter how well you play on the field or if you have a rough game, you have to make sure you’re putting in work to keep your body healthy and keep yourself ready to go to play more games.”

Playing every day also presented new challenges for the new professional players. At the high school and college level, teams typically play either three to four times a week. Light practices and the occasional off day fill in the gaps and give players time to make adjustments or practice

Marlins draftees soon learned about the quick turnaround at the professional level.

“There’s not really a relaxing moment when you’re playing [every day],” said Misner, the Marlins’ Competitive Balance A selection out of Missouri who spent the bulk of his shortened first season with the Class A Clinton (Iowa) Lumberkings. “You have to stay focused.”

Misner hit .276 in 34 games with Clinton, logging seven doubles, two home runs, 20 RBI and 25 runs in the process.

“If you do bad or you do good, you’re playing again the next day” Misner said. “You’ll have your highs and lows, but you just have to deal with them and be ready to play.”

How the Marlins’ other top draft prospects fared

Pitcher Evan Fitterer (fifth-round pick): Posted a 2.38 ERA, giving up just six earned runs over 22 2/3 innings in nine games (eight starts) for the GCL Marlins. He struck out 19 batters and walked 12.

Outfielder Peyton Burdick (third-round pick): The Wright State alumnus played six games with short-season Batavia before being promoted to Clinton where he hit .307 with 20 doubles, three triples, 10 home runs, 59 RBI and 57 runs scored in 63 games.

Pitcher Chris Mokma (12th-round pick): Posted a 2.19 ERA, giving up three earned runs in 12 1/3 innings over five GCL starts. The 18-year-old struck out 12 while giving up just two walks. All three earned runs he surrendered came in one game.

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.
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