JACKSONVILLE - Left-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney enters the 2014 season as the Miami Marlins No. 1 prospect according to Baseball America, as well as the top left-handed pitching prospect in baseball according to MLB.com.
Heaney began 2013 in High-A Jupiter where he went 5-2 with a 0.88 ERA in 12 starts before finishing the season in Jacksonville, going 4-1 with a 2.94 ERA in six starts for the Suns. The southpaw also shined in the Arizona Fall League, with a 2-1 record and a 1.95 ERA in seven starts and 27 and two-thirds innings pitched.
Despite the lofty expectations going into his third year in the Marlins organization, the 2012 first round selection out of Oklahoma State is focused on improving in 2014, regardless where he begins the year.
As he prepares for spring training, Heaney spoke with Suns broadcaster Roger Hoover to review his 2013 campaign, his busy offseason, and his expectations for the year ahead.
Hoover: First of all how has the offseason gone for you and what have you been working on?
Heaney: Well I got home in the middle of November, took about three days off. Then I worked out, started doing baseball stuff again. Then I had Thanksgiving with the family and then really got going after that. I'm working on being in better cardio shape, really working on flexibility and trying to really stay healthy. Being healthy is a key for me this year, I was pretty disappointed that I started the season off hurt last year. So now I'm throwing bullpens and just getting ready to go.
Hoover: You got drafted in June 2012, then finished the season seeing some time with the GCL Marlins and Greensboro, was there an adjustment in 2013 going through a full season as a professional pitcher?
Heaney: I felt more comfortable. I knew faces in the organization, knew how things worked, just some of the do's and don'ts of Minor League Baseball. I think I did a good job of not screwing up too much in my first year, but it was nice to have some guys that I knew, some friendly faces. Playing-wise, I got a good introduction when I went to Greensboro my first year. I feel like from then on out I've had a good grasp on how to approach the game.
Hoover: You suffered a strain lat muscle during last year's spring training, how frustrating was it for you to start the regular season on the disabled list and then how did you get things going when you made it to the Hammerheads in May?
Heaney: It was really frustrating because I've never been hurt before. I've never had a pulled hamstring, sore bicep, I've never had to miss a game before. So it's a different deal to figure out how to deal with that and how to approach rehab with the same intensity that you approach pitching in a game. So that was frustrating to really want to have a good first season and set the bar for myself and then to get out of the gates and get hurt, it was like I'm already behind the 8-ball. I'm glad though with Gene Basham and all the guys in the rehab, they did a really good job of making sure I pace myself. Every day I was like 'hey I want to throw this far, I want to do this and this,' and they did a good job of telling me no. They told me I wasn't in a race with anybody. I think that really showed when I got back to Jupiter, I felt like it took me 2-3 weeks to really get adjusted to the game and pitching again. I really think that's a lot of credit to them and making sure I was 100 percent healthy and not running me out there too quick.
Hoover: What was the transition like going from the Hammerheads to the Suns and getting your first taste of Double-A baseball at the end of the season?
Heaney: It was awesome. Anthony DeSclafani had been moved up, and so had Justin Nicolino before me, so it was nice to get there and the first day I was there they helped me figure out where to go for things and they made it so much easier. I'm kind of a self-conscious guy so in transitions I don't want to be that guy that does something stupid or steps on toes or anything like that. So it was nice to have those guys to hang out with, bounce some ideas off of and stuff. And then with Andy Barkett and all the rest of the staff, I mean they're just cool as hell. They just accept you for who you are and they let you go play and they love you for it. I really enjoyed playing for them too.
Hoover: What did you like about your pitching coach John Duffy and what do you feel like he helped you with at the end of the year?
Heaney: I think with Duff, you can tell that guy wants to compete more than anything. If you want to do towel drills for two hours, he'll stand there and talk with you about doing a towel drill for two hours. Some guys hate it, some guys love it, but you can't question that the guy wants what's best for you and wants you to succeed. For me we worked on a lot of going out of the stretch, being a little quicker to the plate, working on my move to first. I still have a ways to go, I've been working on it this year but I really think we figured out how to do it. That's instead of a lot of coaches telling you to do it this way, and if that didn't work for me he really sat down and worked with me on figuring out what's the best way to do it that's comfortable for me that didn't affect how I pitch. I really appreciated that.
Hoover: Then once the Suns season was over, you got to go to Arizona to pitch in the Arizona Fall League. How do you feel you performed there, especially getting to go against some of the top hitting prospects in baseball?
Heaney: I felt really good. I wasn't nervous but I was anxious to get out there and see what the competition was like and see how it stacked up to some of the Double-A competition I've faced. There were some really good players out there, we had good players on our team. So it was really fun to go out there and really test yourself against the best in the minor leagues. I felt like I did well, I was really happy, I walked away with no regrets.
Hoover: Where there any other AFL prospects that stood out or guys that proved to be a tough out for you?
Heaney: There were a lot of good guys there. A guy on our team named Alex Meyer, pitcher for the Twins organization, I charted him pretty much every time he threw. And he was just unbelievable. He's out there throwing 97-100 miles per hour every single time with his fastball. A nasty curveball, he's a 6-8 righty, you can't ask for anything more out of a pitcher. So he was unbelievable. The other thing that struck me that I thought was pretty crazy was the amount of hitters in the Chicago Cubs organization. They had Kris Bryant who they just drafted, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, they had all of these guys on their team in Mesa. So every time we faced them I was just like, 'man this Cubs organization just runs out position players that are just really good hitters.'
Hoover: Also talking about your offseason we understand that you got married in January and had a lot of Suns and Marlins organization teammates there to celebrate the big day with you.
Heaney: It was awesome to have a lot of guys from the Suns come out. We had a great time and it really showed me how good of friends we were that those guys would be willing to come from Florida, New Jersey, Indiana or Texas, they just came from everywhere in the middle of winter to Oklahoma. The fact that they would come out and support myself and my wife like that it just made me really happy. So that was really awesome to have the feeling being so loved by those guys, it was great.
Hoover: How would you describe your pitching repertoire and what you're trying to do with each pitch?
Heaney: I throw a four-seam fastball, I get some good run and a little bit of sink on it. I throw pretty much four-seamers every time, never really throw two-seam fastballs. My second pitch I usually go to would be slider. I started throwing that in the summer between my sophomore and junior year at the Cape Cod League. And my junior year at Oklahoma State I really finally got a real good feel for it. So I'm confident getting that as a putout pitch. And then mixing in changeups when I'm behind in the count or in a hitters count I can be confident throwing that for strikes, getting some off-balance swings or ground balls early in the count. So I'm just really working on being able to throw everything for a strike and keeping sliders away from bats when I really need a strikeout or swing-and-a-miss.
Hoover: You're heading down to Jupiter soon to get going with Spring Training. What's your mindset going into spring and where do you hope to start the season?
Heaney: I'm going in there hoping that I can stand out and I can go out there and pitch well and make them consider putting me on the roster to start the season. Whether that happens or not, it's in my control in terms of how I play but that's not my decision to make. My goal is to just go out there and pitch as well as I can, obviously stay healthy and not be hurt. That's a minor goal for me. And then to be able to pitch in a big league spring training game would be really great. So I have some minor goals and some major goals but I just want to go out there and play the best I can.
For the latest Suns news this offseason, fans are encouraged to visit www.jaxsuns.com and can keep up with the Jacksonville Suns on the club's Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram social media platforms, as well as the "Tales from Bragan Field" blog: www.sunsradio.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.