The Miami Marlins may have messed up numerous things about their team's long-term future with the mega-trade involving the Toronto Blue Jays. The organization may have given up their chance to sign Giancarlo Stanton to a long-term extension. The club may have ruined their odds of signing free agents for the foreseeable future thanks to their immediate fire sale. One can obviously be upset about the status of the current 2013 version of the Marlins that is sure to be an NL East cellar-dweller for the third straight year.
The one thing that Marlins fans cannot argue is that, in terms of the long-term state of the team's farm system, the situation is greatly improved. Recently, both Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) and John Sickels of SB Nation's own Minor League Ball released their respective prospect lists for the 2013 season, and both lists speak significantly better about the Marlins' previously decimated farm system.
Over at Baseball Prospectus, Jason Parks had this to say about the state of the farm for the team:
A Parting Thought: It’s hard to soothe the recent wounds inflicted on the Marlins fan base by selling them on a future hope, but the seeds of this organization are still quite strong, with high-impact talent sitting atop a list featuring quality depth.
Similarly, John Sickels had this thought on the team's improved system.
The Marlins system was thin for awhile, but trades and better drafting at the top the last few years has helped and things are turning around quickly.
While it is very annoying for Marlins fans to have to rebuild again, the farm system is making clear progress rebuilding the organization's base of young talent.
Both prospect experts found the Marlins' system suddenly flush with depth that the team had not seen since before the 2006 season. While the Fish will not boast eight top-100 prospects as it did that year, the Marlins can boast a number of players who are not only quality talents, but also players who are significantly closer to major league ready than the team could previously boast.
Take a look at the raw improvement of the team's farm system in terms of Sickels's grading system.
|Marlins, Sickels Grade||Pre-2012||Pre-2013|
There are two grades in which the Marlins made significant improvements. At the top, the Fish filled out the top tier, not by adding players via trade but merely by the development of two well-regarded prospects. The advancement of Christian Yelich, who dominated High-A at age 20, and Jose Fernandez, who bulldozed through two minor league levels in his first full season, really bolstered the overall status of the farm.
But had those two been the only graduates, the Marlins would merely have two great players on top of a still-floundering, thin system. The Fish managed to pull off a number of trades that really bolstered the prospects in the farm system. Among the top ten players Sickels mentioned in this year's list, five were outside acquisitions via trade. One new player listed was the team's first-round draft pick, left-hander Andrew Heaney. Only Fernandez, Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Adam Conley were in the Marlins organization to start 2012.
How did the players within the organization fare over the year? Have any improved their outlook in John Sickels's observation? Here are eight of the top 10 prospects on the team before 2012 (two others, Matt Dominguez and Rob Rasmussen, are now with the Houston Astros) and how their grades fared thanks to their 2012 performance.
|Marlins||Pre-2012 Grade||Pre-2013 Grade|
|Chad James||B-||< C+|
|Noah Perio||C+||< C+|
Two players took big leaps forward, and those are the two obvious stars of the organization. Two players suffered legitimate falls, including former first-round pick Chad James and former second baseman of the future Noah Perio. The others more or less held their ground, but only Ozuna and Conley remain in the top 10 among the prospects whose statuses held steady thanks to the 2013 season.
What about the players the Marlins acquired? Here are the prospects the team acquired this season who were ranked both in last year's and this year's lists. This list does not include Jacob Turner or Nathan Eovaldi, both of whom entered last season as top 100 prospects but likely would have dropped in perception this year.
|Marlins||Pre-2012 Grade||Pre-2013 Grade|
|Rob Brantly||< C||B-|
|Anthony Desclafani||< C||< C+|
|Scott McGough||< C+||< C+|
You can see that the Marlins mostly picked up prospects whose stocks were on the rise, and we already saw that the team did a decent job with selecting Rob Brantly, who is the only player on this list who has already played for the Fish in the majors. The only prospect whose stock went down was Jake Marisnick, and Marisnick was doing well as late as midseason for many prospect gurus and remains fairly high on other lists, such as the one by Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus. There is at least a decent chance that half of these players will be long-term major league contributors, with Nicolino, Hechavarria, and Brantly being fairly assured as high-floor players with certain known qualities.
Perhaps the most important part about this crop of players the Marlins now have in their farm is that a number of them should be major league ready very shortly. There is suspicion that, if Fernandez and Yelich scorch Double-A at the start of 2013, they may receive call-ups to the big league level, and this seems especially true given the status of the big league club. Hechavarria is already being counted on as the team's shortstop, as is Brantly at catcher. The remaining players, both acquired and from the roster, are likely to be ready by 2014, meaning the roster will be receiving a major infusion of talent in the near future. We already discussed the likelihood that first-round pick Andrew Heaney was picked distinctly for that purpose, and it seems the Marlins took a similar, intelligent approach in acquiring their prospects to be ready shortly rather than going for talent in the distant future in prep players. Recall that the Marlins often draft prep players and have had difficulty transitioning them into major leaguers in the past.
It is very possible that, in 2014, the Marlins may debut Conley, Dietrich, Heaney, Marisnick, and Nicolino into their starting lineups and rotations, in addition to adding guys like Flynn, Dayton, or McGough as pieces for the bullpen. This is a huge influx of well-regarded talent, and it may turn into the 2006 Marlins all over again. In addition to the obvious inclusions of Fernandez and Yelich, the team could have seven or more young, cost-controlled, talented players filling various holes on the roster starting in 2014 or at most 2015. The next few seasons may be relatively lean, and they will be especially poor if the Marlins end up trading Giancarlo Stanton, but at least the future beyond 2014 looks very bright, provided a decent number of these prospects continue their ascent.
Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but at least the concerns beyond 2014 have now been somewhat allayed. The Fish have some players coming to fill spots in the near future, and if the team ever starts spending money again, they could supplement that core with some timely additions that could make the franchise competitive in two or three years. The problem, as mentioned before, is whether ownership will be willing to supplement this core or if it will settle for the cheap product they already have. That may be the difference between contention and mediocrity, but do not blame the prospect haul the Marlins received in their trades for that problem.
In the coming weeks, Fish Stripes will begin its own top 20 prospect coverage for the Marlins, with prospect mavens Sam Evans, Eric Weston, and Conor Dorney covering all of the team's best. We have our own list coming out, so for you Fish Stripes readers who are interested in the future of the Marlins, we will have you covered! Stay tuned to Fish Stripes for all of your Marlins prospect needs!