Zephyrs beef up infield, make other offseason moves _lowres

Advocate Photo by VERONICA DOMINACH-- Host Tim Grubbs, left, talks with newly signed Marlins infielder Reid Brignac during the "Evening with the Zephyrs" at The Cannery on Wednesday in New Orleans.

With the Miami Marlins having been in the hunt for a postseason berth during much of the 2014 season, General Manager Dan Jennings spent the offseason working to stabilize the team’s infield in an effort to continue improving.

In doing so, the Marlins traded pitcher Andrew Heaney, the top left-handed minor-league prospect in baseball, to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and got second baseman and leadoff hitter Dee Gordon. And, right-hander Anthony DeSclafani, another good, young prospect, was sent to the Cincinnati Reds in a trade that brought Mat Latos to Miami.

“In taking the next step, often you lose some good young players,” Jennings said at the “Evening with the Zephyrs” fan event Wednesday. “And, we felt we had some inventory (at pitcher) that allowed us to get some players we needed to get better.

“The big thing is that (ace pitcher) Jose Fernandez will return in June” from Tommy John surgery last season.

The Zephyrs will be much different on opening day, April 9, with only a handful of players returning from last season’s 70-74 team. Replacing Heaney and DeSclafani will be two pitchers from the Double-A Jacksonville Suns — Justin Nicolino and Jose Urena. Nicolino was the Southern League Pitcher of the Year.

Jacksonville won the League championship, and catcher J.T. Realmuto, who played about a month with Miami when starter Jarrod Saltamacchia was injured. Realmuto, one of the organization’s top prospects, likely will end up with the Zephyrs.

“Nicolino is very crafty,” Jennings said. “He can really add and subtract from the strike zone. Urena pitches with a lot of power. Both are in that 23-year-old range and are exciting young pitchers.”

Miami also signed free-agent first baseman Michael Morse to a two-year contract and obtained third baseman Martin Prado in a trade. The Marlins traded as many as 13 players, with many being minor leaguers.

Jennings said there’s no question they are a better team, and that in turn will make the Zephyrs a better minor league team.

“We are a much deeper team, our top 60,” he said. “We don’t know who all of the players who will come out of spring training as members of our 25-man roster, but the fans will like the players the Zephyrs have this season.”

One of the players who will be vying for a spot on the Marlins is former St. Amant player Reid Brignac, who is looking to make Miami’s roster as a utility infielder.

Brignac played on St. Amant’s 2004 Class 5A state championship team.

Right now, second baseman Zack Cox and versatile Jordany Valdespin likely will be the only returning every day players back, with Derek Dietrich expected to join the Z’s from Miami.

Hard-throwing Arquimedes Caminero likely will be back, along with Carter Capps and Sam Dyson.

Manager Andy Haines returns for his second year after his first in Triple-A last season with the Zephyrs. The only change in his staff will be at pitching coach. Charlie Corbell was hired as the Marlins’ pitching coordinator, and John Duffy, who was with Jacksonville, replaced him.

Haines guided the Salt River Rafters to the Arizona Fall League championship.

C.J. Nitkowski was the first Class of 2015 inductee into the New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame. Nitkowski won the first game at Zephyr Field in 1997. He played parts of 10 years in the Major Leagues and is now a writer and analyst with Fox Sports 1, CBS Radio and MLB Network Radio.