The New Orleans Zephyrs are, as per usual, pitching quite well despite living in the Pacific Coast League. This season they are also scoring more runs, which has helped them to a 36-31 record.
In other words, they are probably the last team the struggling Albuquerque Isotopes (30-37) want to see right now. Albuquerque was just swept by Round Rock (31-36) and now New Orleans comes to town for four games starting Friday at 7:05 p.m.
The Zephyrs have four starting pitchers who are ranked among the Miami Marlins' top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America. The only saving grace for the Isotopes might be that lefty Andrew Heaney (No. 1) is taking a break right now, while lefty Adam Conley (No. 8) is on the disabled list.
That will not make life any easier for Albuquerque. New Orleans' starting pitching has been among the best in the PCL, with three of the four starters scheduled for this series having ERAs under 3.50.
Offensively, the Zephyrs have four players with nine or more home runs. They got a boost recently when Miami sent first baseman Justin Bour back to New Orleans.
The series will continue Saturday at 7:05 p.m., Sunday at 6:05 p.m., and Monday at 12:05 p.m. Scroll down for a more in-depth breakdown of the Zephyrs.
Rotation: Right-hander Elih Villanueva (7-2, 2.63 ERA) will start Friday's series opener. Though no longer ranked as a prospect, he is tied for the PCL lead in victories and ranks in the top 10 in ERA.
Alex Sanabia (2-2, 5.76) is back with the Marlins organization after taking a detour to the Diamondbacks, who assigned him to Reno after claiming him off waivers during the off-season. Sanabia struggled at Reno and was released, so he quickly re-signed with the Marlins and returned to New Orleans. He will start Saturday's game.
Right-hander Anthony DeSclafani (1-1, 3.38), pictured, has pitched well in four starts. He began the year at Double-A Jacksonville, made two starts for the Marlins (including one against the Dodgers), and was then sent to New Orleans. His fastball can run up to 96 mph and he also boasts a powerful slider as an out pitch. DeSclafani will start Sunday.
Monday's matinee series finale will feature lefty Brian Flynn (6-4, 3.14). The Marlins' No. 6 prospect led the PCL with a 2.80 ERA last season. He has a fastball that can hit 95 mph, a plus slider and curveball.
Bullpen: This is the area of the team where the Zephyrs have struggled this season. There has been significant turnover due to call-ups, injuries and even a few cuts here and there.
The newest face in the bullpen is veteran right-hander Kevin Gregg, pictured. A former Marlin, Gregg returned to the organization after going unsigned during the offseason despite saving over 30 games with the Chicago Cubs last year. So far Gregg is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in two games for New Orleans.
The de facto closer this year has been right-hander Chaz Roe (2-2, 3.48, 7 saves). He has struck out 40 and walked just nine batters in 33.1 innings this season.
Right-hander Arquimedes Caminero is listed as the Marlins' No. 12 prospect, but he has struggled (1-1, 7.15, 1 save) in 14 games with the Zephyrs. Lefty Edgar Olmos is ranked No. 23, but has also scuffled (0-1, 7.50) in six games since coming up from Double-A.
Lineup: As noted above, the Zephyrs got a boost from the return of their top hitter, first baseman Justin Bour (.330/.407/.562, 9 HR, 36 RBI), pictured. He will rejoin the team Friday after a 10-day stint with the Marlins.
Another recent addition to the club has been second baseman Derek Dietrich, who was sent down from Miami. In six games he has hit a robust .400/.444/.880 with four home runs and 10 games.
Catcher features the tandem of Rob Brantly (.269/.301/.353, HR, 17 RBI) and Kyle Skipworth (.210/.265/.410, 6 HR, 18 RBI). There are four other infielders who are all fairly versatile in Zack Cox (.305/.374/.525, 5 HR, 15 RBI), Juan Diaz (.272/.318/.401, 5 HR, 32 RBI), Josh Rodriguez (.290/.368/.461, 9 HR, 26 RBI) and former New York Met Jordany Valdespin (.271/.365/.391, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 10 stolen bases).
Mark Canha, the Marlins' No. 24 prospect, has alternated between the infield and outfield corners. He has hit well (.286/.357/.502, 10 HR, 38 RBI) no matter where he plays.
The other primary outfielders are slugger Kyle Jensen (.283/.350/.473, 9 HR, 44 RBI), the Marlins' No. 22 prospect, and center fielder Jake Marisnick, who gets his own segment below. Former Isotope Matt Angle (.206/.305/.237) is a backup outfielder.
Prospect to watch: With Andrew Heaney sitting this series out, the top-ranked prospect on the New Orleans roster who will play this series is center fielder Jake Marisnick, pictured. Tabbed as the Marlins' No. 3 prospect, Marisnick has a reputation as a great defender with a somewhat questionable bat.
Marisnick did little to dispel that with a terrible April (.182/.239/.273). He rebounded in May (.347/.389/.505) and now his overall numbers (.260/.303/.390, 5 HR, 26 RBI, 16 stolen bases) are more in line with his career averages.
The biggest problems for Marisnick is that he is impatient and his swing can often get long. He only has 10 walks in 65 games this season.
As noted, defense is Marisnick's biggest strength. He can cover a ton of ground in center field and has an above-average arm. If his bat can catch up, he could supplant Marcell Ozuna as the Marlins' center fielder in the very near future.
Series outlook: The Zephyrs have won seven of their last 10 games, while the Isotopes are coming off a series sweep at the hands of the Round Rock Express. New Orleans certainly has the starting pitching to make Albuquerque even more miserable.
A key for the Isotopes will be to work the count and drive up pitch counts, exposing the Zephyrs' vulnerable bullpen. Of course, neither Albuquerque's rotation or bullpen has been particularly effective of late, so New Orleans' hitters can slug away at both.
A former Isotope, Matt Angle, pictured, won't recognize much of the team he sees across the field. There are no position players left from Angle's two seasons (2012, 2013) with Albuquerque, while the pitching staff is currently minus his former teammates Stephen Fife (disabled list) and Red Patterson (pitched Thursday and will not appear this series).