Breakout candidate: Marlins lefty Fulton
MiLB.com's Breakout Candidate series spotlights players who could garner some serious attention in 2022. Here's a look at Marlins’ No. 9 prospect Dax Fulton. Dax Fulton could be an integral piece to a mostly homegrown stable of talented starting pitching prospects for Miami. The Marlins played it safe with their
MiLB.com's Breakout Candidate series spotlights players who could garner some serious attention in 2022. Here's a look at Marlins’ No. 9 prospect Dax Fulton.
Dax Fulton could be an integral piece to a mostly homegrown stable of talented starting pitching prospects for Miami.
The Marlins played it safe with their ninth-ranked prospect in his first professional season with Low-A Jupiter and High-A Beloit. Fulton had Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss his senior year at Mustang High School in Oklahoma. But he still entered the 2020 Draft as the consensus top prep left-hander in the country.
After falling to the second round, the Marlins nabbed Fulton with the No. 40 overall selection and got him to forgo his commitment to the University of Oklahoma by offering an above-slot bonus of $2.4 million.
On the surface, Fulton’s final numbers weren’t a great display of his actual talent. He compiled a 4.60 overall ERA with 84 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings over 20 appearances and 19 starts. Fulton also walked 4.37 batters per nine innings and opposing hitters had a .240 batting average and .317 BABIP against him.
Given his surgery, reaching that many innings and going a full season without incident was its own accomplishment.
“I think the Marlins have done a very good job of monitoring my innings and making sure that I'm healthy every time I go out there, making sure I feel 100 percent when I go out there, and they're doing a good job of limiting my innings,” Fulton told MLB.com in August. “I haven't thrown the greatest or haven't thrown as well as I've wanted to this entire year, but I said before that my main goal this year is to get through the season healthy and get all the innings in that I needed to, and so far I've been able to achieve that.”
Although he was kept to a shorter workload, Fulton also allowed two runs or fewer in 13 of his 20 outings this season. He also reduced his walk rate by nearly three percent (9.3) after his promotion to Beloit in August, which was preceded by a string of dominance in the Low-A Southeast.
Fulton completed five innings in five different starts this season, including back-to-back one-hit efforts at the start of August. He recorded his personal best of 10 strikeouts in the first of those outings against Tampa and then came back to fan eight the following week in Daytona.
"My arm's actually been doing really well," Fulton said after that start against the Tarpons. "I didn't know how it would be first year in pro baseball and throwing as much as we do, because I've never thrown this much. But honestly, I feel like I'm finally hitting my stride. I feel like I'm finally getting comfortable and I'm able to repeat my delivery. I feel really good. My shoulder feels fine. My elbow feels great, and I feel overall very good."
Fulton, who didn’t turn 20 until October, was also among the youngest to play a full season in the Minors as a teenager. He was battered around a bit in his first and last starts with Beloit, the latter of which single handedly caused a 0.61 leap in his full-season ERA. But he also had a three-start stretch in which he struck out 15, walked five and allowed three runs over 13 frames (2.08 ERA).
"My whole goal was to make it to the next level, that's everybody's goal," Fulton told MLB.com on Feb. 2. "I wanted to make it up there being so young. That was definitely one of the bigger moments in my career last year."
While he should be able to go deeper into games and add strength to his 6-foot-7 frame as he continues to distance himself from the surgery, Fulton might also be able to add some velocity to what’s now a low-90s four-seam fastball. His best offering is a power curveball that he often relies on as an out-pitch, but he also mixes in a two-seam sinker and a developing changeup, which he never really used much as an amateur.
Fulton will likely return to Beloit for the start of the 2022 season, but it should be interesting to see what he’s capable of without restriction.
He’s already reported to camp, where he’s joined by an impressive trio of starters in Max Meyer, Eury Perez and Jake Eder. Miami also has Sixto Sanchez and Edward Cabrera on the 40-man roster and a couple very good arms already established in the Majors, including Sandy Alcantara, who inked a five-year extension in December, and Trevor Rogers, owner of one of the best rookie seasons in the big leagues in 2021.
While it’s definitely a crowded and supremely talented group to break into, Fulton has what it takes to add to that depth.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.