Minors : : General
Thursday, January 19, 2012

Top Prospects: Miami Marlins

David Rawnsley        
Photo: Perfect Game

General Manager: Michael Hill
Minor League Director: Marty Scott
Scouting Director: Stan Meek

AAA: New Orleans Zephyrs (Pacific Coast League) 69-74
AA: Jacksonville Suns (Southern League) 70-70
Hi A: Jupiter Hammerheads (Florida State League) 60-80
Low A: Greensboro Grasshoppers (South Atlantic League) 79-60
Rookie Adv.: Jamestown Jammers (NY-Penn League) 35-40
Rookie: GCL Marlins (Gulf Coast League) 38-16
Dominican: DSL Marlins (Dominican Summer League) 24-43

System Overview

As the Florida Marlins, the franchise has won exactly as many World Series championships over the last two decades as the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. Of course, those are also the only two times that the Marlins have made the playoffs in their existence. They have spent the majority of the intervening years as a low budget team with the reputation for being very savvy about acquiring and developing young talent but that didn’t have the funds to push much beyond a .500 team.

The past few years have been marked by what seemed to be a near desperate wait on the fate of getting a new stadium. The team was criticized for its microscopic Major League payrolls (even as they continued to post at or above .500 records) and spending on talent acquisition tapered off to a bare minimum.

That all turned around this past off-season as the Marlins long awaited new ball park and its potential as a new revenue stream became a reality. The team’s biggest splash might have been their strong but unsuccessful run at acquiring 1B Albert Pujols, which told everyone in baseball just how serious the organization was about becoming real players in the talent market again. But signing SS Jose Reyes, LHP Mark Buerhle and closer Heath Bell to a combined $191M in contracts spoke to the Marlins commitment to spending their new money. Bringing on the controversial Ozzie Guillen to manage the club and trading for equally unpredictable RHP Carlos Zambrano guaranteed that the team will remain in the headlines no matter what is happening on the field.

Some in baseball characterized the newly named “Miami” Marlins as “having gone all in after years of going almost all out.” Whatever the case, the organization dominated the off season Hot Stove League as no other time in their 19-year history.

The biggest challenge on the field will be to pump some life into an offense that scored the fewest amount of runs of any full-season Marlins team since their expansion season of 1993. A return to form from potential superstar Hanley Ramirez, along with a full season from Reyes at the top of the batting order, could accomplish that just by itself. Of course, keeping with the “controversy” theme, no one really knows how Ramirez will accept his forced move to third base to make room for Reyes.

The starting rotation of Josh Johnson, Buerhle, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and Zambrano could be either very, very good or not so good, depending on the condition of Johnson’s arm, Zambrano’s psyche and Nolasco and Sanchez’s consistency. Bullpen depth will definitely be an issue going into spring training.

One thing that the last few years of uncertainly has brought is a shallow pool of talent at the upper levels of the minor leagues and limited depth on the Major League roster. That’s the kind of thing that can usually only be fixed with an increased financial commitment to scouting and player development. The Marlins have shown they are willing to do that at the Major League level, it will be interesting to note whether it will happen at what has been the organization’s historical lynch pin as well.

2011 Draft

Any short comings with talent that the Marlins may or may not have could well be argued to be the result of spending habits rather than scouting ability. The organization has spent approximately $3.6M in the first 10 rounds of each of the past two drafts while failing to sign their third (IF Connor Barron) and fourth round (IF Tyler Palmer) picks in 2011 and their 2010 fourth round selection (OF Andrew Toles). That investment pales in comparison to what many organizations are spending and doesn’t include the fact that the Marlins are not spending any money going overslot for players past the 10
th round either. Their biggest investment in a round 10+ player the past two years is $200K.

It will be very interesting to see what the Marlins do in 2012 in light of a) the new CBA draft bonus slots, and b) the opening of the organization’s wallet at the Major League level.

The Marlins hold the ninth pick in the first and subsequent rounds in 2012 and have no comp round picks. The new CBA bonus slots for the Marlins picks in the first 10 rounds add up to about $5.6M. They have certainly had the option to spend that type of money the past few years and have strongly avoided it.

Because they failed to sign their two top hitting prospects in Barron and Palmer, the Marlins 2011 draft list leans very heavily to pitching, with only two signed players in the top 11 rounds, 1B Ryan Reiger and C Austin Barnes.

RHP Jose Fernandez was a potential steal with the 14th pick in the draft, not only because of his talent on the mound but because of his Cuban heritage. Fernandez “escaped” from Cuba twice as a teenager, the first time being put under house arrest after being captured and the second time successfully reaching Mexico and eventually the Tampa area. That type of background could make Fernandez an icon in the Miami community if he becomes a successful Major League pitcher.

Second round pick Adam Conley (Washington State) lacks the eye catching background Fernandez has but has touched 97 mph from the left side and could move quickly through the Marlins system, especially if the organization decides to use him out of the bullpen, where he has shown better stuff and had more success.

The picks that could really make the Marlins draft, though, were the fifth and sixth rounds, where they were able to pick up high school RHP Mason Hope and Wichita State LHP Charlie Lowell. Hope is a very projectable right hander with potentially dynamic secondary pitches who immediately dominated the Gulf Coast League. Lowell is a big, mature southpaw who flashes a plus fastball and was thought to be a second/third round pick leading up to the draft before mysteriously sliding.

The pitching emphasis seemed to strongly emphasize plus raw arm strength down the draft list where plus fastballs are often hard to find. Eighth rounder, RHP Dejei Oliver, the son of former big league catcher Joe Oliver, can get up to 93-94 mph with his fastball and has a sharp slider to go with it.  10th round pick Scott Lyman had a disappointing 2011 season as a two-way player at UC Davis and can touch 96 mph, profiling well as a late innings reliever.  11th round pick RHP Jacob Eshe was primarily a shortstop at Georgia Tech but has huge arm strength and could end up being a mid-90s thrower once he gets enough repetitions.

A sleeper to watch is their 33rd round pick, RHP James Nygren from Oregon State. Nygren has flashed plus stuff in the past and was dominant in his professional debut.

Top 10 Prospects

1. OF Christian Yelich Baseball-reference player profile

Yelich was an often overlooked member of the powerhouse ABD Bulldog travel teams during high school, despite the fact that he usually hit cleanup in the Bulldogs line up. During the 2009 summer, scouts began remarking, “Wow, this kid is really starting to improve” as he started adding strength to his long and slender frame.

Still, few expected Yelich to continue to improve at the rate he did during the spring of 2010, when the Marlins settled on him as their first round pick and ironically signed him away from a scholarship to U. Miami.

That same pace of improvement continued during Yelich’s first full season in the minors. Most teenagers in full season A ball struggle as the season wears on as they get tired and often have trouble making adjustments. The opposite was true, as he got better and better as the year progressed.

Perhaps the most important part of Yelich’s big picture development was the Marlins immediate decision to take Yelich off first base, his exclusive position in high school, and move him to the outfield. Although Yelich’s arm strength may necessitate a move to left field, he has 6.7 speed and quickly adapted, as he has to every challenge thus far, to his new position.

2. OF Marcel Ozuna Baseball-reference player profile

The 6-2/190 Ozuna has the best overall tool package in the Marlins system and has five-tool potential if he continues to progress with his pitch recognition and contact skills and his strike out ratios keep going down as they did in 2011.  After finishing the 2010 season in the South Atlantic League, he spent the entire summer there in 2011, with remarkably similar slash lines to his cumulative 2010 numbers: .258/.306/.532 vs. .266/.330/.482.  While not dominating numbers, they do point to a young man at the very worst holding his own at an advanced level while possessing exciting raw power potential.  His slightly above average running speed and plus/plus throwing arm make him a potential impact right fielder on defense, although the Marlins might be tempted to work him more in centerfield in the future with Mike Stanton firmly established at that position in Miami. A future outfield of Yelich, Ozuna and Stanton could form a productive, young trio in the Miami lineup, something that Marlins fans could get very excited about over the next few years.

3. 3B Matt Dominguez Baseball-reference player profile

Dominguez has been placed in a difficult position in the Marlins system, at least with the public’s perception of his standing as a prospect. The team’s 2007 first round pick (he was high school teammates with Royals 3B Mike Moustakas) was very young for his high school class, yet advanced enough skill-wise to play well above his age group in the minor leagues.

Dominguez played his entire 18 year old year in the South Atlantic League (and tore it up, hitting .296/.354/.499), reached AA as a 19 year old and split his 21 year old league between AAA and the Major Leagues. By comparison, he’s only nine months older than the top college third baseman in the 2011 draft, Pirates first round pick Anthony Rendon. Yet the perception is that Dominguez has essentially failed to develop as a hitter despite consistent double figure home run totals and an OPS in the mid .700s.

What Dominguez is offensively is a dead replica of Aaron Boone or Scott Brosius (look up their Major League numbers and compare them to Dominguez minor league production). And where Dominguez stands out, of course, is defensively, where he is considered Gold Glove quality at third base. Do you think that the Marlins would welcome six or more years of Aaron Boone/Scott Brosius quality work at third base with a Gold Glove or two mixed in? Hanley Ramirez obviously has Dominguez blocked for the moment, but you can win with Boone/Brosius/Dominguez as your starting third baseman.

Dominguez has claim to a couple of very unusual minor league stats that are worth noting. In almost 2,000 minor league at bats, he has a grand total of one stolen base and four triples. While he may have cat like quickness at third base defensively, his straight-line speed isn't one of his attributes.

4. RHP Jose Fernandez Baseball-reference player profile

As mentioned above, Fernandez could reach a unique status with the Miami community should he become an established big league pitcher for the Marlins. While that may have affected the Marlins picking him with the 14
th pick in the 2011 draft, his talent definitely warranted that slot as well.

Fernandez’ defining moment as a high school prospect was his performance at the 2010 WWBA World Championships in Jupiter. Pitching in a quarterfinal game against a Dallas Patriots lineup that featured top prospects OF Josh Bell and SS Trevor Story and with upwards of 300 scouts watching, Fernandez showed 3 plus pitches in a 92-95 (T97) mph fastball, an 83 mph slider and 81 mph change up, all thrown with pinpoint control, in throwing six dominant innings. Some scouts remarked that there was no doubt that Fernandez could have pitched in the big leagues that evening.

Fernandez has pitched in international competition for the Cuban Junior National Team before and has shown the ability to rise to the occasion like he did in Jupiter on other occasions. His challenge in reaching Miami could well be to harness his talent into a consistent “every five days” approach and grind it out in the minor leagues. If that happens, all of Miami will celebrate him.

5. C J.T. Realmuto Baseball-reference player profile

Realmuto was not a well exposed player prior to the 2010 draft as his primary high school accomplishment up until the spring of his senior year was leading Carl Albert High School to the 5A Oklahoma state football championship as a quarterback. He exploded that spring, though, with one of the most amazing high school seasons ever, hitting .595 with 28 home runs and driving in a national record 119 runs en route to being the Marlins third round draft pick.

Realmuto signed late and only got into a few games in 2010 but is old for his draft class and the Marlins didn’t hesitate to send him to full season A ball in 2011. In addition, they moved him full-time to catcher, as he had switched back and forth between catching and playing shortstop previously. While Realmuto’s defense is still a work in progress, he has the athleticism and leadership ability to excel at the position with more experience and repetitions. His big value will come from his ability to play a premium position with a potential impact bat. Like Christian Yelich, Realmuto showed steady progress throughout the summer and was at his best at the end of the season.

6. LHP Chad James Baseball-reference player profile

James was the Marlins first round in 2009 and signed for a $1.7M bonus out of an Oklahoma high school. He was a well regarded prospect coming in into his senior year but jumped up draft lists before the draft when his fastball went from the low-90s to the mid-90s, very rare ground for a young left hander.

Unlike many southpaws, though, James was not a polished product by any means and much of his development time in two years of pro ball has been spent in taking short steps to refine and calm down his delivery and determine which of his four pitches can be commanded the best while maintaining quality. That led to a situation last summer where James was 0-13 at one point in the Florida State League on what admittedly was a well below average Jupiter team. That record, which left him at 5-23 for his professional career, was deceptive as he was a 20 year old pitching in Hi A with what were very presentable ratio’s and peripheral numbers. He went on to win five of his final seven decisions.

At his best, James has a low-90s fastball that he’s increasingly able to spot in the strike zone, both a big curveball and a power slider and a change up that was actually his best pitch in high school most of the time. When he figures out how to get all those tools working together, he could develop into a solid middle of the rotation starter.

7. LHP Rob Rasmussen Baseball-reference player profile

Rasmussen was a starter on the 2010 UCLA Bruins team with 2011 first round picks Gerrit Cole (first overall) and Trevor Bauer (fourth overall) and outpitched both, finishing with an 11-3, 2.72 record and 128 Ks in 109 innings. That performance, keyed by a low-90s fastball, a sharp late slider and big, hard nasty curveball, made the 5-10 left hander the Marlins second round draft pick.

Rasmussen has never had pinpoint control and that was perhaps the only negative factor in his debut first full season (12-10, 3.64 in 148 innings), as he walked 71 hitters. Due to his height and a delivery that has some effort, there has always been talk of Rasmussen eventually moving to the bullpen, although he’s proven very durable both in maintaining his stuff during games and throughout the course of the season. Whether he’s able to continue to improve his command as a starter could be the determining factor in what his role at the big league level will eventually become.

8. RHP Mason Hope Baseball-reference player profile

It’s hard to believe that Hope was only the fifth high school pitcher drafted out of Oklahoma as the Marlins fifth round pick, that’s how deep the state’s prep pitching class was. But don’t be surprised if Hope ends up being almost as successful as bigger names such as Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley.

While Hope threw up to 93 mph at WWBA/Perfect Game events in high school, his most interesting attribute as a teenage pitching prospect is that he has four quality pitches that he can throw for strikes. His fastball has nice hard late life on occasion and sits at 91 mph, he throws both a curveball and a true low-80s slider and his change up might end becoming his best pitch. That and his signing early and getting the Gulf Coast League out of the way in 2011 means that Hope is in position to move quickly through the Marlins minor league system if he stays healthy.

It’s worth noting that three of the top eight Marlins prospects are high school drafts out of Oklahoma. Marlins scouting director Stan Meek grew up and lives in Oklahoma and worked his way up from being an area scout responsible for the state.

9. OF Kyle Jensen Baseball-reference player profile

A couple of things differentiate Jensen from your usual 6-4/230 ex-college slugger who puts up big numbers in the lower minor leagues. Being a left handed hitter helps, of course, but Jensen is a very good athlete for his size with mobility and a very strong arm. The Marlins have switched him back and forth between left and right field and he hasn’t sniffed first base since rookie ball. The other thing is that while Jensen will strike out, he also shows barrel skills and the ability to hit for a high average and draw a couple of walks (.309/.385/.535 in the FSL in 2011 before promotion). That bodes well for his future as a hitter. He might never be a starter for Miami with the young talent in front of him but he can be a productive fourth outfielder and pinch hitter.

10. RHP Jose Urena Baseball-reference player profile

The 6-3/175 Urena has a steady low to mid-90s fastball as a starting pitcher and had a strong debut in the United States as a 19 year old pitching in the New York-Penn League after two seasons in the Dominican Summer League. He has no problem throwing strikes with his fastball for his age and experience level. His secondary stuff is well behind his velocity, however, and he struck out only 48 hitters in 72 innings against the older hitters, a sure sign that hitters were comfortable standing in on his plus fastball without fear of being fooled by a quality breaking ball or change up.

Others in the Conversation: RHP Austin Brice, 1B Mark Canha, LHP Adam Conley, OF Kevin Mattison, 2B Noah Perio, OF Jesus Solorzano

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