Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Suns Well-Armed for Season; Four Starting Pitchers Ranked among Top Team Prospects; Opener Tonight

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Suns Well-Armed for Season; Four Starting Pitchers Ranked among Top Team Prospects; Opener Tonight

Article excerpt

Byline: Jeff Elliott

In the early part of the baseball season - whether it's the major or minor leagues - pitching will generally dominate hitting.

If that trend continues in the opening weeks of the Southern League season, the Jacksonville Suns should start fast in their pursuit to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 when they won their fourth league title in a decade.

The Suns open the 2014 season on Thursday night in the first of a five-game series against the Huntsville Stars at the Baseball Grounds.

Four of the Suns' starting pitchers are ranked among the top seven prospects in the Miami Marlins organization, according to Baseball America. Included in that group are Andrew Heaney (1st), Justin Nicolino (4th), Anthony DeSclafani (5th) and Jose Urena (7th). The fifth starter, Angel Sanchez was named the Marlins' No. 16 prospect by All of the players' rankings are as of the start of the season.

The quality of the starting five is reason for excitement for veteran Suns pitching coach John Duffy. The 30-year minor league coach said he's never been associated with a staff that has the collective potential of this group.

"Every one of these guys in the starting rotation are major leaguers at some point in their career," predicts Duffy. "And there are several guys in the bullpen that are major league material as well.

"But they have to start learning the process of what it takes from A-ball level to Double-A and be able to handle the failure early to make adjustments. If they all pitch to their capabilities, this could be a pretty special year. But that being said, they still have to go out there and do it."

DeSclafani, a former University of Florida standout, gets the first call and will be on the mound for the home opener. It's the first time he's drawn such an assignment in either college or the minor leagues.

"I think there will be a lot of extra butterflies just because it's opening day," said the 23-year-old right-hander. "But I love it. I'll have really good adrenaline going beforehand, but once I step on the mound, it will be back to normal."

The player who will have the best look at the talented arms and can offer the best assessment is Suns catcher J.T. Realmuto. A Southern League All-Star a year ago, Baseball America calls Realmuto the "Best Athlete" and the "Best Defensive Catcher" in the Marlins organization.

"I've been around some pretty special rotations, but this one, for sure, tops all of them by far," said Realmuto, 23, the Marlins' No. 10 top prospect.

"One through five, we're throwing guys out there that are going to be tough for anyone to hit. It takes a lot of the stress off our offense, a lot of the stress off our defense, to know these guys can go out there and dominate the game and we just have to be there to back them up."

DeSclafani will be followed by Heaney (22), Sanchez (24), Nicolino (22) and Urena (22). …

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