JUPITER, FL- With the lowest payroll in baseball year after year, the Marlins depend heavily on their farm system. Good drafting and player development has allowed them to be reasonably competitive, ending the 2008 season at a respectable 84-77 despite a paltry $21.8M payroll that was not even half that of the next-to-last team, the Tampa Bay Rays.
But they’re always fun to watch in the minors and some of their best prospects are still with the big club in spring training.
While 2007 high school phenom draft picks Matt Dominguez (1st round) and Mike Stanton (2nd round) walked in their only at-bats, I was able to see three at-bats for outfielder Scott Cousins and two for second baseman Chris Coghlan. Both lefthanded hitters are legitimate prospects for the fish.
I’m real intrigued by Cousins, who played center field and went 1-3 with an opposite field single. I got a look at him in the Florida State League last year and considered him the most advanced hitter I saw during my FSL coverage. The 6-1, 185 University of San Francisco product was drafted in the third round in 2006 and has been plagued with injuries, getting 288 at-bats last year between high-A and AA (.285-10-38).
Cousins has a real handsy swing, meaning he can make adjustments to pitches mid-swing and spray it around the yard. He’s fairly short to the ball and generates average bat-speed. I like his approach and his eye at the plate, and he was a two-way player for USF. Cousins is not a plus raw power guy, but I think he’ll hit for occasional power because he has enough loft. Cousins has the solid-average speed, solid-average arm, and good radar to play all three spots in the outfield.
The Marlins are looking at a big league outfield with Jeremy Hermida as the only lefthanded hitter. Cousins isn’t likely to make the team out of spring, but I can see him forcing the issue in mid-season. I do believe he has the potential to become a solid starter who hits .300-15HR and plays good defense. Cousins is 24 years-old right now.
Chris Coghlan is about the same age as Cousins and was a teammate at AA Carolina. The 6-0, 190 lefthanded hitter has a line-drive stroke and has hit for average all the way up, including a .295-7-74 season last year in 483 AB. He has also played third base and I believe his upside is as an offensive utility type, maybe along the lines of Frank Catalanotto. His approach is good, but there is only average bat-speed and juice behind his swing and I don’t project him quite as a middle-order run producer. Defensively, he’s a good stationary fielder who should make the routine plays at second base, but he doesn’t have the quickness or arm to be a plus defender.
In addition to the two left bats, I also saw a Marlins pitcher I’d keep an eye on; he’s an unlikely one. Tim Wood was a 44th-round pick out of Pima JC in Arizona, back in 2002. At age 26, his career has been slowed by injuries. He got hit on Sunday (1 IP, 3H, 1ER) coming in to pitch the ninth, but he has a very good arm. Seeing that he was invited to big league camp and that he pitched in the Arizona Fall League, I’m under the impression that the Marlins have looked past the numbers (age and stats) to the stuff and are giving him a chance. I’d seen him twice over the summer as well, and he’s shown a 90-94 MPH fastball with plus sinking action to go with a solid-average low-80s slider. When he’s on, he’s a groundball-inducing machine and he should be able to do that for a middle inning or two in the big leagues.
Some pitchers take a little longer to figure out and though his history in the minors isn’t impressive, Wood has a big league arm and is showing it now. He had a pretty good season in 2008, between High-A Jupiter and AA Carolina (7-3, 3.13 ERA in 60.1 IP).
Bullpen depth is key in the pennant race. If the Florida Marlins are indeed challenging the Philadelphia Phillies come September, a strong arm like Wood’s would be a bolster in the pen.