Terrible news broke for the Marlins Monday, as it appears ace Jose Fernandez could be dealing with a significant elbow injury that could require season-ending surgery. While such an injury is never good for any pitcher, having the injury happen to the Marlins' best starter amidst a surprisingly great start to the season is twice as hard to swallow. If the Marlins have any hopes of remaining in the mix in the National League East, it may be time to promote another talented young prospect to the rotation.
Andrew Heaney has a bit more minor-league experience than Fernandez, but likely less upside as well. While Fernandez was brought to the majors before the 2013 season without having thrown a pitch above the high Class A level, Heaney has turned in 13 starts with Double-A Jacksonville, with seven coming this season. In those seven starts, Heaney is 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 37:10 K:BB ratio in 39 innings.
Heaney was rated the No. 1 prospect in the Marlins organization by Baseball America and plenty of other excellent sources this offseason for a reason. He has three quality pitches in his low-to-mid-90s fastball, a quality slider and a good changeup. He's not a finished product, but the Marlins showed with Fernandez last year a willingness to let their top players finish their development in the majors if they appear ready to handle major-league hitting on a regular basis.
Could Heaney be at that point? His numbers in Double-A this year suggest so, but that's up for the Marlins to decide. They could also decide to play the Super 2 game with six weeks already gone in the season, which could place Heaney in the rotation for the second half if not immediately.
Should Fantasy owner invest? Obviously, that answer varies by format. Leagues with no bench spots can't really afford to have owners carrying players like Heaney until a promotion is imminent, and that's not the case here. The Marlins could decide to go with Kevin Slowey, Brad Hand or another minor-leaguer in the short-term and keep from starting Heaney's service clock, or keep him from major-league hitters if they think he's not ready.
But if a team has a bench spot available and at least one player designated as roster fodder, adding Heaney ASAP is the action to take. He has the potential to be a Fantasy asset if he gets the chance to bring his early-season excellence to the majors. I'd certainly decide to drop a player from my roster who I deem similar to other players available on the waiver wire, with the intent to pick him back up (or someone just like him) if it appears Heaney will remain in the minors the entire season. He has the upside to exceed those guys in Fantasy value if he gets the call and pitches up to his ability.