The Miami Marlins may have destroyed the major league team's chances in the 2013 and 2014 seasons with their mega-trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. The team's major league group is decimated and loaded with pseudo-rookies at best around Giancarlo Stanton, and while players like Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, and Adeiny Hechevarria have potential, none are guarantees to be major league contributors. Back in 1998 and 1999, the Fish had to try a lot of different players at various positions before rooting out the top prospects for consistent roles on the major league team, and that process will likely be repeated in 2013 and 2014.
But you cannot argue that the Marlins did not give themselves as good a chance as they could to reload the franchise. The team's dearth in the minor leagues was resolved with just one trade, and now the Marlins are likely better set for seasons in the distant future than they would have been without the trade. Off-field implications aside, the Marlins were able to fill more holes in their flawed roster with this move; it simply took talent (with the benefit of shrugging off a lot of salary) to accomplish this.
The fact that the Marlins turned around the team's minor league organization is evidenced by their suddenly high ranking among the other teams in baseball. John Sickels of Minor League Ball recently ranked all the minor league organizations for the second time, and the Fish did pretty well for themselves. The number at the front is this year's ranking, while the number in parentheses is the previous year's ranking.
8) Miami Marlins (29): Quick turnaround here. Strengths: star power at the top with Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez. Trades have added some depth (Marisnick, Nicolino, Hechavarria, Dietrich, Brantly). Some sleeper pitching arms (Charlie Lowell, Mason Hope). Weaknesses: much of the improvement is due to trades and not internal development, especially on the hitting side.
As Sickels mentions, this is quite a fast turnaround for an organization that, just one year before, was clearly among the worst in baseball. The Marlins last year had Christian Yelich, Jose Fernandez, and not much else, and neither Yelich nor Fernandez were that highly-ranked. Thanks to their extremely positive developments this year, Yelich and Fernandez have leaped into top-20 or top-30 prospect contention, making both players quite valuable to the Marlins' future.
Many other sources are in agreement with regards to the turnaround made by the Marlins. The recently-released MLB Top 100 Prospects list by MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo includes a whopping six Marlins players in the top 100 prospects, including Fernandez and Yelich at sixth and 13th, respectively. Overall, the top-100 presence by the Marlins ranks them fifth among all teams in their "prospect points" weighted ranking system, behind only the Seattle Mariners, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays, and Minnesota Twins. In Sickels's rankings, all four of those teams ranked ahead of the Marlins in overall organization rankings, with the Cardinals, Mariners, and Rays being the top three teams overall.
But we already suspected all of this long before the "official" rankings came out. I mentioned earlier how the Marlins did a great job restocking their farm system with talent and improving their stock for the future with this trade. This no doubt makes the prospects of competing in 2015, 2016, and beyond much greater. The fact that the Marlins have jumped into a top-10 minor league organization after languishing for years is nothing but a positive sign when looked at in a vacuum.
However, aside from concerns that the Fish will never be able to recover from their reputation among players or from Jeffrey Loria's meddling, there is one real concern that Sickels brings up in his blurb on the Marlins' minor league organization. While the Marlins did benefit from breakout years by Fernandez and Yelich, much of the team's turnaround was due to the acquisition of prospects via the fire sale trade. Most of the team's top ten prospects were newly acquired players, with only four of them being homegrown talents. While the top two prospects took big leaps forward, a number of other players declined, including former important prospects Chad James and Noah Perio. Most other prospects remained more or less level in potential versus current production.
In other words, the Marlins gained very little when you do not consider the players they acquired. This is important because this continues a trend from which the team suffered for many years. The Marlins famously failed multiple drafts in the mid- to late-2000's, culminating in a number of weak promotions to the majors. From 2010 on, it seems the Fish have done better, but now that the team is back to its penny-pinching ways, the minor league system will once again be depended upon to supplement this team in the big leagues.