Fish Bytes

High hopes remain for Marlins pitching prospect Tyler Kolek

Tyler Kolek pitching in a 2014 game for the GCL Marlins, a rookie-league team.
Tyler Kolek pitching in a 2014 game for the GCL Marlins, a rookie-league team. AP

From the time he was drafted, it took Josh Beckett just 826 days to throw his first pitch for the Marlins. For Jose Fernandez, the interval from draft to Marlins debut was 672 days.

But the process for Tyler Kolek is taking longer. Much longer.

When the Marlins selected Kolek with the second overall pick in the 2014 amateur draft, the expectations were that the hard-throwing Texan might soon be the next great thing.

Here it is three years later, though, and Kolek remains a work in progress. He has yet to advance past the low minors and is coming off Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss all of 2016.

Nobody knows when — or even if — Kolek will reach the majors. But the Marlins remain confident, despite the setbacks and initial struggles, that he will in due time.

“He’s no less a prospect than the day that we drafted him,” president of baseball operations Michael Hill said.

Marc Delpiano, the Marlins vice president of player development, still sees Kolek as a “top-of-the-rotation” starter.

It’s just that Kolek’s development has taken longer than it did for either Beckett or Fernandez, two high school phenoms who shot through the minors in short order and lived up to their draft-day billing.

“Those players were just so talented that they got to the big leagues at a fairly young age,” Hill said of Beckett and Fernandez, while adding that it would be unfair to expect the same timetable out of Kolek or any other high-draft pick. “We try not to put unrealistic expectations on any of our young players.”

With the second overall pick in ’14, the Marlins had their choice of two heralded pitchers: Kolek and Carlos Rodon, an older and more advanced college pitcher who projected to reach the majors much sooner.

Indeed, Rodon was pitching for the Chicago White Sox in 2015 and in two seasons with them has become a rotation fixture, making 51 starts and going 18-16 with a 3.90 ERA.

But the Marlins viewed Kolek as having more future upside. And they loved his high-90s fastball.

So Kolek it was.

It has been a struggle. Kolek went 4-13 with a 4.99 ERA in his only two minor-league seasons. Perhaps more troubling: he averaged 6.8 strikeouts and 5.1 walks per nine innings.

“Anybody that struggles, it’s not fun,” Kolek said.

Kolek said that in trying to prove he was more than just a fastball pitcher he probably threw too many off-speed pitches.

“I was a little more content with my fastball than I should have been,” Kolek said. “I liked where it was, and I shouldn’t have. I was really working more on off-speed. Instead of picking my best pitch and making it even better, and then going on to another pitch, I was just kind of messing around a little bit with everything.”

Kolek never got on track.

Then, during spring training last year, Kolek blew out his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery. He is working his way back to the mound this spring and hopes to be pitching again in May. He will start out in the low minors.

He’s still 21, just a kid. But a big one. At 6-5-inches and 260 pounds, he is an imposing presence on the mound.

The Marlins still feel he has a bright future, and so does he.

Asked if he wanted to prove to the Marlins that they made the right decision when they drafted him, Kolek gave it brief thought.

“I don’t feel like I have to,” he said. “But I am.”

STANTON HOMERS

Giancarlo Stanton hit his first home run of spring training on Monday. It will be awhile before he hits another for the Marlins.

Stanton connected in his final at-bat on Monday before heading off to join Team USA for the World Baseball Classic.

“I feel pretty good,” Stanton said after going 2 for 3. “I wouldn’t say I’m locked in, locked in. But I feel good to progress into [the WBC].”

The Marlins will be without four players during the WBC. In addition to Stanton, Christian Yelich (Team USA), Martin Prado (Venezuela) and Edinson Volquez (Dominican Republic) will also be taking part.

Volquez started Monday, allowing a run over 3 1/3 innings.

COMING UP

▪ Tuesday: Marlins RHP Tom Koehler at St. Louis Cardinals RHP Adam Wainwright, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.

▪ Wednesday: Off day.

  Comments