Nicolino, Marlins' top prospects getting time to develop

Lefty continues to impress as he moves up ladder, but Miami won't rush him to big leagues

Nicolino, Marlins' top prospects getting time to develop

JUPITER, Fla. -- Patience is indeed becoming a virtue for the Marlins when it comes to one of their top prospects. Justin Nicolino, the 2014 Southern League Pitcher of the Year, is a promising 23-year-old left-hander with pinpoint control and a winning track record.

The organization is getting a long look at Nicolino in Spring Training, but the team is refraining from rushing him to the big leagues. It's not just a strategy for Nicolino, but with a number of the club's young pitchers.

"It goes back to the theory of the apple on the tree," general manager Dan Jennings said. "You try not to pick them until they are fully ripe and ready. It's what we're going to try to do as we go forward with our young players, to let them get that time so that they can truly develop and not have to get under the spotlight and learn."

Of course, there are exceptions. Jose Fernandez made the leap from Class A ball to the big leagues at age 20 in 2013, and he went on to become the National League Rookie of the Year.

It wasn't an ideal situation at the time, but Fernandez was pushed due to injuries to starters Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez late in Spring Training.

But last year, the club showed more restraint. The Marlins moved then-top prospect Andrew Heaney from Double-A to Triple-A before he reached the big leagues in June.

Nicolino, meanwhile, spent all of 2014 at Jacksonville, where he won a championship and posted a 14-4 record with a 2.85 ERA in 170 1/3 innings.

According to MLB.com, Nicolino is Miami's No. 2 ranked prospect. The lefty is expected to open at Triple-A New Orleans.

"Whatever they have planned for me, that's what I'll do," Nicolino said. "When I was with Toronto, that's how it was. I'd rather get to the big leagues and be fully ready. I wouldn't want to have all this up and down, and just not know what is going on."

Nicolino has learned to go with the flow since he was a second-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2010. Miami acquired the lefty after the 2012 season, and he is being moved along slowly.

The knock on Nicolino is he doesn't have power stuff. He's a command, location pitcher, who struck out 81 and walked just 20 last year.

"I'd love to go out there and strike out 15 if I could, but that's not my game," Nicolino said. "My game is going deep into the ballgame, saving the bullpen and throwing the least amount of pitches as I possibly can."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.