Marlins’ Josh Hodges Making Noise Early in Season

The Miami Marlins have a bevy of elite prospects within their system thanks, in large part, to the overhaul of their major league roster this past off-season. But along with names like Fernandez, Yelich, and Marisnick, there are some within the depths of the farm system vying to make a name for themselves as well.

One such young man is right hander Josh Hodges, who has begun the season with two strong performances for High-A Jupiter.

Hodges, who will turn 22 in late July, is an imposing figure, standing 6’7″ and weighing in at 235 lbs. When the Marlins used their ninth round pick on him coming from a Mississippi high school in 2009, Hodges could have just as easily been considered as a position player. Drawn to his large frame and mid-90s fastball, however, the Fish made it clear that as a professional, Hodges would work to prevent runs rather than create them.

Though his strikeout numbers were very good in his initial taste of pro ball, a pair of stops after signing in 2009 that totaled 19 innings between Rookie League and Low-A, Hodges saw those numbers drop significantly in 2010 when he spent the season at Low-A Jamestown. Hodges missed three weeks that season due to shoulder inflammation and wound up posting a ghastly 6.04 ERA in 12 starts over 53.2 innings. Hodges walked nearly four batters per nine innings that season and fanned just 6.4 per nine. The Marlins certainly were being cautious with the young man, but his utter lack of success on the mound also contributed to a repeat of Low-A the following season.

2011 was a healthy campaign and one that saw Hodges record a much higher success rate in terms of getting outs. He made 15 starts and worked 87.2 innings while posting a 8-1 record and 3.39 ERA on the season while cutting his walk rate in half. All was not rosy, however, as Hodges managed just 50 strikeouts on the season. Though he handled a promotion to Greensboro of the South Atlantic League well in 2012, the peripherals remained pedestrian at best. He’s getting outs, but doing so without strikeout numbers his stuff suggests should be there.

All of the above has contributed to the feeling that Hodges has under-performed and that he has some serious ground to make up in order to get his career on track to the big leagues. I was in attendance as Jupiter visited Ft. Myers this past Thursday and saw Hodges make the start versus a Miracle squad that still has yet to lose a game. Hodges faced a lineup stacked with talent and displayed both pure stuff and great poise on the mound. I hadn’t given him much thought going into the outing, but what I saw made me take notice.

As the game began, Hodges displayed a smooth, easy delivery and produced a series of fastballs clocked on the stadium gun at either 90 or 91 mph; certainly nothing to wow anyone, especially given his large frame. His effortless windup made me think there was some more velocity hiding in there somewhere.

Ft. Myers’ first two batters reached base to bring uber-prospect Miguel Sano (the reason I was there) to the dish. It was as if Hodges simply flipped a switch once runners reached scoring position. He dispatched of Sano on three consecutive sliders; the first off-speed offerings of his outing. Sano swung and missed at all three. Hodges then got cleanup man Michael Gonzales on a soft liner while routinely reaching 94 on his fastball from the stretch before inducing a grounder off the bat of Kennys Vargas that should have ended the inning. Instead, two runs came home on an errors by the second baseman.

Hodges wound up working four-plus innings and allowing six hit and four runs (two earned) while striking out three (he got Sano on sliders again in the second). He did not walk a batter. When he left the game, his Hammerheads were leading 5-3. On the season, Hodges has worked nine innings (admittedly small sample size), but has yet to issue a walk and has recorded eight strikeouts.

Hodges displayed good command of a solid repertoire of pitches in his outing versus the Miracle last week. He worked at 90-91 with his fastball from the windup, only to consistently ramp up to 93-94 from the stretch. His slider had good downward bite and he kept it away from right handed hitters. Hodges did have trouble with some of the left handed bats in Ft. Myers’ lineup, notably second baseman Eddie Rosario, who smoked a pair of doubles off the Jupiter starter. Hodges needs to further develop his changeup in order to keep those left handed bats off-balance.

It’s certainly too early to tell if Hodges is finally making a significant step forward in his development, but I saw a pitcher with a good idea of how to work through a lineup and with enough raw stuff to compete well against good hitters. I saw a pitcher who should be putting up better strikeouts-to-walk rates than he’s posted in the past and one with a repeatable delivery that doesn’t lend itself to injury risk. I also saw a guy who probably has an extra few miles per hour hidden in that delivery.

The Marlins have moved him along slowly thus far, but if Hodges continues his success this season, he could begin to move much quickly through the Miami system. He might not turn out to be the Josh Johnson type hurler the Fish envisioned when they drafted him, but it’s too early to write him off at this point. There is potential there.