Playoff baseball is almost upon us. And while most people over the course of the next week will be talking about the 10 teams participating in baseball’s grand tournament, I’d like to take the time to write about one of the league’s worst.
Not the Houston Astros, who seemingly get golden boy worst team treatment in the media. Everyone likes to write about them and their tanking strategy; and while Jeff Luhnow and his staff have done a great job putting together their now-loaded farm system, that is the topic of a different article. I’d like to focus on the Miami Marlins, arguably the most criticized team in baseball last winter, who have emerged as the winner of the blockbuster deal they struck with Toronto in November.
Before we push on, let’s take a quick look at that deal. Toronto received Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio. Not all of those players wore Blue Jays’ uniforms this year, but on average they played to a 0.88 WAR, earned an average of $8.67 million, and average 30.6 years in age. Even if the Marlins hadn’t received anyone in return, simply dumping them on another club would be a victory. What makes the swap nice for the Marlins was that they received their possible shortstop of the future in Adeiny Hechavarria, elite prospect Jake Marisnick, who struggled in the majors in 2013 but will be back, Justin Nicolino, a highly touted left-handed pitching prospect, Henderson Alvarez, a suitable major league pitcher, and Yunel Escobar, who they flipped for another young talent in Derek Dietrich.
While the Marlins team performance in 2013 was unsatisfactory, this trade, along with several shrewd draft selections, has the team starting to build a core nucleus of young talent to carry them forward.
In the outfield, you’re looking at the possibility of having Christian Yelich in left, Jake Marisnick in center, and Giancarlo Stanton in right on a consistent basis as soon as 2014. All three of these players have all-star level potential and Stanton is already there. Yelich flashed his talent in 260 at bats in 2013, posting a slash line of .286/.362/.398, and he should display more power as his career progresses. 2013 showed that it will take time for Marisnick’s tools to lead to in-game success at the major league level, but his outstanding performance at Double-A and his raw athletic prowess leads me to believe that he’ll get there. Stanton had a down-year in 2013, but it’s easy to forget that he’s only 23 and has been disadvantaged by the limited protection in the current Marlins lineup.
The Marlins’ future infield doesn’t have the upside of their outfield, but Hechavarria still projects to be a major league starting shortstop, even if he doesn’t reach the all-star status some hoped for him when he was a prospect. At third, Colin Moran adjusted well to professional baseball, posting a slash line of .299/.354/.442 at Single A and looks to keep improving during the Arizona Fall League. Moran is one of the more polished hitters in minor league baseball and should progress to the majors at an expedited rate. At second, Derek Dietrich, who like Marisnick didn’t immediately adjust to the big leagues in 2013, still figures to be a credible option there. First base and catcher are the two on-field positions the Marlins might have to look elsewhere to address. Logan Morrison hasn’t posted a positive WAR in any of the last three seasons and none of the Marlins’ current catchers seem to factor into their long-term plans. Catching prospect J.T. Realmuto is a possibility but it’s still up in the air whether he can be a major league caliber backstop.
On the mound, however, is where the Marlins’ young nucleus stands out the most. We all know about Jose Fernandez, who has taken the baseball world by storm and looks to be the National League Rookie of the Year, but he is joined by several other explosive young arms. Already at the major league level are Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi. Turner, the prize of the Anibal Sanchez trade, has pitched to a 3.74 ERA in 2013 at the mere age of 22, and Eovaldi pitched to an even more impressive 3.50 ERA at the age of 23. Eovaldi’s peripherals may suggest he’s more suited for the bullpen as Chris Moran wrote earlier in the week, but regardless he will be a quality major league pitcher. In addition to this trio, the Marlins’ farm system features dynamic lefties Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino, and Adam Conley who could all make it to the big club by 2014. Heaney finished a stellar 2013 campaign with a combined 1.60 ERA between High-A and Double-A, where he held hitters to a measly .211 batting average against. Nicolino dominated at High-A as well, but got a hit around a bit at Double-A. His track record and pure stuff should allow him to reverse that trend next season. Conley lived up to his hype in 2013, striking out 129 and only walking 37 at Double-A, leading me to believe his minor league stint is almost over. With Fernandez, Turner, Eovaldi, Heaney, Nicolino, and Conley, the Marlins have six prospects close to or in the majors who could all be above average major league starters.
Despite being the butt of many jokes less than a year ago, the Marlins are on the footsteps of becoming a small market contender similar to Tampa Bay. Projecting prospects is an inexact science, but the advantage Miami has is the sheer amount of talent they have swiftly moving up their system. If even some of these prospects reach their potential, with a couple of smart moves from Vice President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest, the Marlins could surprise a lot of fans rather quickly.
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