The Miami Marlins farm system has lost much of its luster in the past few years, dropping to one of the weaker overall systems in baseball. This has partly been the result of graduating excellent top tier talent, including Logan Morrison, Mike Stanton, and Gaby Sanchez. But the Marlins have also shown an unwillingness to spend a great deal of money on the draft and the result is a system devoid of impact talent. In 2011, the Marlins only spent $3.9 million on the draft versus the league average of $7.9 million. With their second round pick, the team selected Adam Conley, while the top high school left-handed pitcher, Daniel Norris, was still available (Toronto drafted Norris two picks later). Norris cost a considerable amount more to sign than Conley, but he rivaled 1st round selection Jose Fernandez in talent. The 2009 and 2010 drafts are similar stories - the Marlins spent an average of $4.3 million versus the league average of $6.4 million. The scarcity of talent in the upper minors is a cause for serious concern, particularly the lack of high-ceiling pitching prospects.
The Marlins will have the opportunity to address this issue with the ninth overall pick in the 2012 draft. Most of the promise in the farm system currently lies at the bottom, with a number of toolsy high school players just beginning their professional careers. The Marlins’ single-A affiliate, the Greensboro Grasshoppers, won the South Atlantic League title thanks to the efforts of Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Jacob Realmuto. Unfortunately, these players are multiple years away from donning the Miami Marlins uniform. On the bright side, the 2012 top prospect list is a small improvement over last year’s group. The system stands to improve further next season too, as only Matt Dominguez, Scott Cousins, and Jose Ceda are likely to graduate to the majors.
Without further ado, here are my selections for the top five Marlins prospects:
1. Christian Yelich, OF
Drafted: 2010 1st round, 23rd overall from Westlake HS (CA)
Age: 20 Height: 6’3" Weight: 189 lbs.
Christian Yelich is the clear star of the Marlins farm system after his dominant 2011 year in which he lead the Greensboro Grasshoppers in batting average, on-base percentage, and stolen bases. He posted an impressive .312/.388/.484 stat line in 521 plate appearances, totaling out to a 146 wRC+. Yelich makes hitting look easy with his smooth left-handed swing and disciplined plate approach. Unlike some other tall left-handed batters, Yelich is able to combat the inside fastball due to his quick hands and plus bat speed. His swing won’t enable him to generate enormous power, although he did manage to put up a decent .171 ISO last year. Perhaps Yelich’s greatest flaw is his sizable platoon splits - he only posted a .256/.337/.391 line against left-handed pitching last year. If he can apply his polished approach to better tackle lefties, Yelich could shoot through the Marlins’ system in 2012. On the defensive side of the spectrum, Yelich rates well for a corner outfielder. He has good speed in the outfield and his throwing mechanics have shown improvement since high school.
2. Marcell Ozuna, OF
Drafted: N/A (International signing from the Dominican Republic)
Age: 21 Height: 6’2" Weight: 190 lbs.
Marcell Ozuna made his mark in 2010 with a monstrous campaign for low-A Jamestown, posting a 141 wRC+ and .289 ISO in 293 plate appearances. Scouts showed concern over Ozuna’s ability to make consistent contact and avoid striking out, but he displayed noticeable improvement in 2011, dropping his strikeout percentage from 32.5 percent to 21.9 percent. Ozuna’s calling card is his tremendous raw power, but he has also has a powerful arm in the outfield that will make him a plus defender. Ozuna’s tools and overall potential may actually exceed Yelich’s, but Yelich’s age and past performance give him the edge on this list.
3. Matt Dominguez, 3B
Drafted: 2007 1st round, 12th overall from Chatsworth HS (CA)
Age: 22 Height: 6’1" Weight: 205 lbs.
Baseball America and John Sickels of Minor League Ball both dropped Matt Dominguez behind Jose Fernandez in their rankings, but I am holding fast in my support of him. The 2011 season was undoubtedly a disappointing year for Dominguez; he missed the early part of the season with a broken elbow, failed to impress in 48 plate appearances for the Marlins, and had a dismal 78 wRC+ for Triple-A New Orleans. Now that Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez are occupying the Marlins’ left side of the infield, Dominguez is also blocked from starting in the majors. But I believe Dominguez will benefit from another season in the minor leagues. He is still very young and has plenty of time to grow as a hitter. Even if he never bats for league average, Dominguez’s stellar glove will ensure he is a valuable contributor at the major league level.
4. Jose Fernandez, RHP
Drafted: 2011 1st round, 14th overall from Alonso HS (FLA)
Age: 19 Height: 6’3" Weight: 215 lbs.
Cuban defector Jose Fernandez is a classic large-bodied right-handed power pitcher. He boasts a four pitch arsenal that includes a mid-90s fastball, a curve and slider with plus potential, and a work-in-progress change-up. At the moment, it is unclear whether Fernandez will end up a starter or a reliever. I believe he will need to improve his change-up to stick as a starter, but at his young age, Fernandez will have ample opportunity to develop his repertoire of pitches. Conditioning may be another issue for Fernandez that could force him into the reliever role. I was tempted to rank Fernandez ahead of Matt Dominguez, but I hesitated due to his lack of professional experience. The ceiling and tools are all there for Fernandez, but he has yet to face minor league competition.
5. Jacob Realmuto, C
Drafted: 2010 3rd round, 104th overall from Carl Albert JC (OK)
Age: 20 Height: 6’1" Weight: 190 lbs.
Jacob Realmuto stands above other catching prospects in baseball with his excellent athletic ability and speed, giving him the potential to be a solid defender behind the dish. Reaching that ceiling is contingent on Realmuto polishing his ball-blocking mechanics (he allowed 25 passed balls last season). He has already done a good job at controlling would-be basestealers, catching 42 percent of attempts last season. Realmuto did very well batting in his first full season for Greensboro, posting a .284/.345/.451 stat line. His 6.8 walk percentage, 20.5 strikeout percentage, and .167 ISO don’t jump out as spectacular figures, but Realmuto’s age and physical ability rank him as one of the better prospects in the Marlins system. A converted shortstop, Realmuto appears poised to make huge strides in 2012 for high-A Jupiter, hopefully easing the pain of Kyle Skipworth’s disappointing career. Next week, I will continue with another five Marlins prospects.