The Marlins' two short-season affiliates kicked off their seasons on Monday. Most of the Marlins talent is in Jupiter and Greensboro, but they still have impressive prospects lower in the system. The development of prospects in the Gulf Coast League and New York-Pennslyvannia League is crucial to a team's success.
Catchers: In terms of catchers, neither of these rosters features any intriguing catching prospects. Jose Behar will do the catching for Jamestown, and Felix Castillo will catch in the GCL. Behar was the Marlins 2011 30th round selection out of FIU. He has yet to start hitting in the minors, but he is a solid defensive catcher who calls a great game. Not a bad guy to have working with your young pitchers.
Shortstops: The Marlins recently drafted a boatload of shortstops in the Amateur draft, so there will be an ongoing dogfight for the starting shortstop position on both teams. Austin Nola, the Marlins fifth-round pick in the recent draft, will man the shortstop position for Jamestown. He has a low ceiling and was definitely an overdraft, but he plays decent defense at short. Christian Rivera, the Marlins GCL shortstop, was drafted out of Puerto Rico this year in the twelfth round. He is undersized, even for a shortstop, but he has a solid hit tool.
Third Base: At third base for the Jamestown Jammers will be 2012 twenty-fourth round pick Matt Juengel, and Austin Nola, when they need him. Juengel was a solid hitter for Texas A&M, with surprising speed. He also plays at designated hitter, as he did with the Aggies.
Playing third for the GCL team will be Marlins 10th round pick Ron Miller. Miller signed early and he received a bonus over slot by about $75,000. I wrote a lot more about Miller here.
Left Side of the Infield: Usually, intriguing prospects don't play at second base. However, in Jamestown, Marlins 2012 sixth-round pick Anthony Gomez will man second base. To me, this means that the Marlins value Nola's defense over Gomez's. They were both shortstops in college, and both have similar tools. The Marlins have also tried playing at Nola at third for one game, which surprises me because Nola will never be a good enough hitter to play at a corner infield position. At second base for the GCL Marlins is Blake Barber who was an undrafted free agent.
To be a premier prospect who plays first base, you have to be an amazing hitter. Unfortunately, neither Jamestown or the GCL Marlins have a player that fits that profile. The Jamestown team will platoon Felix Munoz, Viosergy Rosa, and others at first base. Both of these players will have to make big strides in their game to earn a promotion to Greensboro. Also, Greensboro has gotten great production from first base, so unless someone gets injured, a first baseman from this squad getting promoted is improbable. At first base for the GCL squad will be a variety of players as well. Connor Burke, the Marlins 19th round pick in 2011, got a start their on Wednesday. Burke has some bat speed, but he too needs too make some big improvements in his game. He can also play outfield, so Carlos Duran is likely to get some starts at first.
Outfield: The one outfielder prospect to watch on the Jamestown roster is Jesus Solorzano. Solorzano was ranked as the seventh best Marlins prospect coming into this season by Kevin Goldstein. Solorzano has a straight swing which allows him to make contact with a lot of pitches most hitters can't. He also stole 18 bases last year in the GCL. Personally, I don't think Solorzano will ever hit for power due to his swing which sells out for contact. However, some think that Solorzano has the strength to hit twenty homers per year. Solorzano is now twenty-one, so if he is going to hit for power, now isn't a bad time to start. If he continues to hit in the NY-Penn League, the Marlins have no choice but to promote him to Greensboro.
Kolby Copeland, the Marlins third-round compensation pick, heads a talented group of outfielders starring for the GCL Marlins. Copeland starred as a quarterback in high school before deciding to stick with baseball. He projects to have an above-average hit tool, which makes him a steal in the third round. The biggest question is whether he can stick in center field or not. The GCL team is starting Copeland in center everyday, so look out for reports of how Copeland is handling the position.
Austin Dean, the Marlins 2012 fourth-round pick will play corner outfield for the GCL team. He has tremendous power potential, but he is extremely raw, even for a high-school player. Dean will be an intriguing player to watch, and people will start to take notice if he can tap into his power potential. Also in corner outfield for the GCL team will be Victor Castro. Castro is a young Dominican outfielder, who made great strides in his second year in the Dominican Summer League.
Pitchers: The Marlins have a few interesting pitchers on these two teams, but most of their pitching talent is in Jupiter and Greensboro. Mason Hope, a 5th round pick from last year, needs to show that he can throw his changeup for strikes, and more than anything, get a lot of innings against professional hitters. Hope, who will play for the Jammers this year, is a very intriguing pitcher due to his projectable frame, and outstanding curveball and slider. Hope doesn't throw very hard, but his offspeed pitchers are enough for Marlins' fans to stay hopeful. Get it? I'm such a comedian.
Jacob Esch is another pitcher to watch on the Jamestown roster. He is an all-around athlete who has yet to concentrate on just pitching. However, he has a fastball that has touched 94 MPH. He signed for well above slot after the Marlins selected him in the eleventh round of the 2012 MLB Amateur draft. Bryan Berglund was drafted by the Marlins in the second round of the 2009 MLB draft. However, injuries and such have prevented him from pitching. I am wary of former top draft picks that finally start to play years later. Berglund is 6'4'', and does obviously have talent. Now it's just up to the Marlins coaches to get him back to the pitcher he used to be.
Three pitchers of note on the GCL roster are Patrick Merkling, Dane Stone, and Scott Lyman. Merkling is a projectable left-handed pitcher who the Marlins drafted in the 18th round, he will probably end up pitching out of the bullpen. Ravago is a right-handed reliever who I saw pitch with Arizona State University. Stone is being looked at as a reliever, which is were he belongs. The Marlins 25th round pick, Stone, stands a whopping 6'7''. He grew up in Miami, and was dominant as a closer at St. Thomas university. Lyman was a college pitcher and outfielder who battled n elbow injury throughout his college career at UC Davis. However, he has been reported to have a fastball that can touch 96 MPH.
If a couple of these lesser-known Marlins prospects and recent draftees make big strides in short-season ball, a Marlins farm system that is already on the rise is only going to get better.