While the Marlins have become big-spenders this off-season, they’ve always built their teams from within. That, of course, has only brought them periodic success, and it only gave them a fifth place finish as Hanley Ramirez had his worst professional season and Josh Johnson was lost early on to shoulder surgery. Michael Dunn made the biggest rookie impact by having a pretty Michael Dunn-like season – lots of strikeouts and lots of walks. Brad Hand also got thrown into major-league duty, but it was pretty obvious that he was rushed. Heading into 2012, there aren’t any major prospects really knocking on the door, but the Marlins are taking advantage of their new stadium and adding free-agents to fill needs.
Most of the minor-league talent is in the lower minors anyway. Of the top 10 prospects below, 4 played in Low-A, 2 played in High-A, and one will be making his full-season debut in 2012. Low-A Greensboro had tons of position player talent in Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, JT Realmuto, and Noah Perio, and High-A Jupiter had pitching talent in Chad James and Rob Rasmussen. Having all of that talent down there is very risky, but at least there’s talent somewhere.
Matt Dominguez is the prospect closest to the majors, but his situation is very interesting. He’s a Gold Glove-caliber defender at third, but his bat isn’t so good. Dominguez got a brief stint in the majors, where he basically fell flat on his face, but he was only 21. The thought was that he’d spend most of 2011 in AAA and be ready for the MLB in 2012, but with Hanley Ramirez moving to third to accommodate Jose Reyes, there is no longer a place for Dominguez within the organization. While his bat isn’t very good, I think the bashing goes a bit too far. He’s always been very young for the level he was in, and he’s never been particularly bad. Someone with a need for a third baseman might want to buy low.
The Marlins have a nice system. There’s certainly plenty of talent there, and there’s even some star upside in Yelich, Ozuna, Fernandez, and Realmuto. But that talent is neither certain nor very close to helping the major-league team, and while the team has money now, I’m not sure anyone can be certain it will be there in a few years. It would help to be able to develop this talent for that point in time, but we know the possibility of that is low. It will be very interesting to see how this system looks at this point next season.
Christian Yelich OF
Projection: 3-5 WAR
Yelich is easily the best player in the Marlins’ system. He has a plus bat with a solid approach and above-average power that could be plus down the road, and he even showed speed that was a tick above average in stealing 32 bases. I wouldn’t expect him to continue to do that as he fills out, but it’s nice to see the athleticism from a guy some thought needed to stay at first. Out in the outfield, he’s still learning the position, and he doesn’t have a good arm and will need to play left. While Yelich basically has to ride the bat to the majors, it’s a pretty darn good bat.
Marcell Ozuna OF
Projection: 2-4 WAR
A year older, Ozuna teamed up with Yelich in the outfield. Ozuna has 70-80 power, but he’s not quite the pure hitter Yelich is and doesn’t have as good of an approach. That, of course, doesn’t mean he’s not a good hitter, but at a corner position, the bar is pretty high. Defensively, he’s a good outfielder with a plus arm, but he doesn’t have as much speed as Yelich. Ozuna is a nice prospect to have, but there’s a bit more uncertainty with his bat being able to get him to the majors.
Jose Fernandez SP
Fernandez, from the island of Cuba, is a reportedly 19-year old (I see no reason to doubt it, but I figured I’d mention it because the rumors are out there) righty with a high ceiling. He’s built just like you’d want a pitcher to be made, and if he can master his mechanics and his control, Fernandez should be able to handle 200+ innings. During those 200+ innings, he can give you a low-to-mid 90s fastball, a plus slider, an average to tick-above curveball, and a change-up he already seems to have some feel for. As I said, he has a huge ceiling, but like with all high school draftees, there’s still quite a bit of risk.
JT Realmuto C
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Greensboro must have been a fun team to watch last season as Realmuto is now the third player on this list from that team. Unlike the other two, however, Realmuto plays a premium defensive position. Converted from third base, Realmuto has a bazooka for an arm, but he still has a lot of work to do behind the plate to stay at the position. At the plate, he’s solid all the way around – hitting, approach, and power – which would make him very valuable if he could stick there. But like with the other guys, Realmuto has a long way to go.
Matt Dominguez 3B
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Without a doubt, Dominguez is one of the best defensive third basemen in the minors (probably the best) with plus range, hands, and arm. He’s simply outstanding and could win a few Gold Gloves at the position. The thing is that no one is sure if he can hit well enough to otherwise warrant a starting spot. He has average or better power, but he hasn’t developed much as a hitter, still having an iffy approach and pitch recognition. I hold out hope, however, as he’s moved very quickly (played AAA at 21), and he could spend the next two years in AAA learning to hit and not be “behind schedule”.
Chad James SP
During high school James would hit the mid-90s with regularity, but since becoming a Marlin, he’s been more in the low-90s, though that’s still good for a lefty. To that fastball, James adds an above-average slider and a decent change-up. Without the plus velocity, he doesn’t have a real stand-out pitch, but his real problem might end up being his control. His delivery isn’t pretty and has a significant step toward first base, so while he might have decent control, he may always have iffy command, especially toward his glove side. There’s still some hope that the velocity will come back, but even if it doesn’t, he still looks like he could be a mid-rotation guy.
Rob Rasmussen SP
Yet another A-ball player, Rasmussen had some serious control issues in his first full season. His delivery is pretty simple, but he has some violence to it that throws him off occasionally. If the control improves, the stuff is pretty darn good. The diminutive lefty has a low-90s fastball and a solid curveball, slider, and change-up. The stuff isn’t the problem. If he can reign in the control problems, he looks to have a fine career as a mid-rotation guy, though there are the usual concerns about a small guy holding up for 200 innings.
Noah Perio 2B
Projection: 2-4 WAR
These Greensboro guys just won’t stop coming. This time we talk about Perio the second baseman, though he’s not a particularly good second baseman yet as he adjusts to his move from short. Perio’s offense is his main calling card as he has an above-average hit tool and decent power. He is aggressive, though, so he’ll need to work on his approach in order to avoid being carved up by better pitching. Like I feel like I’ve said a hundred times already, Perio could be a solid regular, but there’s a ton of risk here.
Scott Cousins OF
Projection: 1-3 WAR
There’s no reason for Cousins to be in the minors anymore. Though he’s getting a bit old, Cousins is still a pretty talented player with a solid hit tool, approach, and power, and he can play all the outfield positions. The problem, however, is that he may not be good enough to patrol center every day, and his bat isn’t good enough if he’s going to a corner. We’ve heard this description before. He’s a fourth outfielder. Cousins, however, probably could get a chance in center, considering Chris Coghlan is kind of out of place out there, but I don’t think the Marlins will actually do it.
Jose Ceda RP
Projection: Middle Reliever
Ceda is all about the radar gun. An upper-90s guy a few years ago, he now hit the mid-90s with an occasional 97 thrown in there for good measure. In addition to that heat, he throws a slider that flashes plus but is inconsistent. The big question with Ceda is his control, but he made some strides in improving that before he headed up to the big club last season. He’s got a big arm and will get plenty of chances, but I’m not convinced he’s a late-inning arm.
Big Question – Development
Go back and look at the levels these prospects played in again. Of the top 8 prospects, only Matt Dominguez has played above High-A. There’s obviously some talent there, but there’s a lot of risk in this system. The Marlins, however, have had quite a bit of success in recent years helping Hanley Ramirez, Chris Coghlan, Mike Stanton, and Logan Morrison among several others develop into major-league players. So while this farm system could look horrible next year, the Marlins player development have earned the benefit of the doubt.