JUPITER, Fla. -- It's a bit soon to be looking for the next Jose Fernandez.
The original is all of 21 and preparing an encore for his dazzling Rookie of the Year season.
That the Marlins gave Fernandez an opportunity to jump from Class A directly to the major leagues is not only encouraging to a handful of close-to-ready young pitchers in the organization, it has fueled speculation that Andrew Heaney could be the next to make the leap, perhaps as soon as this season.
That is based on Heaney being ranked as the No. 1 left-handed pitching prospect in baseball by MLB.com following a superlative 2013 of his own in the minor leagues and in the Arizona Fall League.
"Jose is a freak, so it is hard to compare anybody to him," said Heaney, 22. "But just being able to feel like there's a chance, not coming into camp saying I'm just going to hang around for a little bit until I get cut. I feel like everybody here has a chance to compete for a spot. So that's got to make everybody feel comfortable, not just me."
Heaney, selected ninth overall out of Oklahoma State in the 2012 draft, the year after the Marlins took Fernandez with their No. 1 pick out of high school, is the organization's most promising lefty prospect since Dontrelle Willis came up in 2003 and helped fuel the World Series championship run. Scott Olsen was 22 when he had a solid debut in 2006, but he fizzled fast.
All the more reason not to rush Heaney with only one full professional season behind him.
As Marlins manager Mike Redmond points out, the situation that paved the way for Fernandez was unusual. They needed him immediately after Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez developed sore shoulders just before the 2013 season opened and Jacob Turner had a poor spring and was sent to the minors.
"It sort of became a no-brainer that we had to bring this guy," Redmond said of Fernandez. "I think it's probably more of an individual case where you look at guys and you try to figure out, can this guy make the jump? You never really know unless they get the opportunity.
That is what this spring is about for Heaney and other close-to-ready pitching prospects, including Justin Nicolino, Anthony DeSclafani and Adam Conley.
This is Heaney's second tour of big-league camp. The first did not go well. He strained a lat muscle on the final pitch of his last scheduled simulated game and was out until May.
Once he got going, Heaney put up numbers comparable to Fernandez's last minor league season, going a combined 9-3 with a 1.60 ERA for High-A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville.
"Jose is a little bit different than probably anybody that you see. Jose can overpower some people at times. Andrew isn't quite at that level," said Joe Coleman, who tutored both as pitching coach at Jupiter of the Florida State League. "He doesn't have to be a finesse guy, but he's not the overpowering type that Jose has the tendency to be."
Heaney's fastball sits in the low 90s, and his breaking ball and sinking changeup get favorable reviews. The 89 strikeouts against 26 walks in 95 1/3 innings suggest more polish than many young left-handers exhibit.
Coleman said the ledger is somewhat misleading as Heaney struggled with his pitch counts early in the season.
"We'd have him scheduled for maybe five or six innings. He'd reach his pitch count in three or four-and-a-third, and we had to get him out of there. But he didn't give up anything," Coleman said.
Heaney started getting more groundballs with off-speed pitches early in the count, which helped him go later in games. Steady progress and a 0.88 ERA with the Hammerheads led to the promotion to Jacksonville, where he transitioned quickly and continued to progress through six starts.
What really elevated Heaney's status outside the Marlins organization and led to his ranking as the top lefty prospect was his work in the Arizona Fall League, comprised of elite talent from throughout the minors. In 27 2/3 innings, Heaney had a 1.95 ERA, allowing 19 hits while striking out 24 and walking nine.
That success at three levels in 2013, building on his college experience, suggested that Heaney might be ready for the big jump.
"There are a lot of little things we still have to fine tune, but the pitches are in place. The fastball is in place. The slider is in place. The changeup is in place. He needs experience, experience and then more experience, and other little tidbits like holding runners," said Wayne Rosenthal, Marlins pitching coordinator.
"Those little things can get exploited, but from the time he went to A ball to Double-A, vast improvement."
The Marlins would prefer Heaney make those refinements in the minors. Barring another spate of sore arms this spring, they likely won't need to hasten Heaney's arrival in Miami like they did with Fernandez.
But it was during spring training that Fernandez convinced them that he could handle it. Heaney is well aware of the opportunity to make a similar impression over the next month.
The Marlins rotation could use a left-hander, and there is every indication Heaney has the aptitude to form a 1-2 punch with Fernandez soon.
"I'm pretty close. For now I feel good, I feel healthy," said Heaney, adding that he wouldn't be disheartened by starting the season in the minors. "As long as I feel like I gave it 100 percent here and just didn't make the cut, I can live with that. They always call people up. It's not like you're stuck there for all year. You can do something about it."
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