The Miami Marlins' crowded outfield situation

How will the Marlins' crowded outfield affect Justin Ruggiano when Giancarlo Stanton returns from injury? - Hannah Foslien

In about mid-June, the Miami Marlins are facing difficult decisions on a crowded outfield. What alignment will they choose, and who will be left behind?

It's not all the time that the Miami Marlins are facing a problem of plenty, when you consider the team's dire straits at various positions. But as we have discussed before, one place where the Marlins are not lacking is in the outfield. While the club may boast a weaker lineup with the likes of Chris Coghlan and Juan Pierre playing right now, in a few weeks the Fish may have one of the most interesting conundrums of their 2013 season, as pointed out by Juan C. Rodriguez of the Sun-Sentinel. The Marlins will once again have Giancarlo Stanton on board after he recovers from his hamstring injury. The team will likely also have passed the time necessary for Super Two status for prospects who have stayed in the minors for the season, opening up the possibility of a promotion for top prospect Christian Yelich, who is demolishing Double-A at the moment.

As mentioned, this would be a good problem for any team to have, but it is still a problem. The Marlins have to justify a few benchings, trades, or demotions for players currently on the roster. Prospect Marcell Ozuna has made a strong case to stay in the majors. Justin Ruggiano has been the Marlins' best position player this season. The other veterans may still want their spot to be secure. How will the Marlins juggle these various issues?

Let's consider each of the potential outfield combinations and see what will be required of each of them.

The Youth Movement: Ozuna, Yelich, Stanton

In the linked article, a couple of unnamed talent evaluators said that this was the lineup the Marlins should use.

Assuming Ozuna stays and Yelich and Stanton are part of the equation in the next few weeks how do they line up? The Marlins probably are several internal discussions away from making that call, but two talent evaluators didn't hesitate when asked.

Both said Stanton in right, Ozuna in center and Yelich in left. Stanton in spite of his uneven defensive play the first month is a premier defensive right fielder, as is Ozuna.

Ozuna has been touted as better in right field than anywhere else, where his arm can be best utilized. He does not have Yelich's excellent athleticism, but he beats Yelich's arm by miles. It may be a push to play either player at either position ultimately.

The youth movement lineup is certainly enticing, especially with the Marlins going nowhere this year. If the team is going to lose, why not lose with its most interesting players? But as mentioned in a previous article here on Fish Stripes, Yelich's promotion is dependent on the Marlins doing something with Justin Ruggiano. After all, Ruggiano has been the team's best offense player all season long and is currently the team leader in wOBA and Wins Above Replacement.

This approach would likely require that the team trade Ruggiano, who has value but is probably still perceived as a Quad-A player or platoon guy at best. If the Marlins attempt to trade Ruggiano, they may find the market a little weak for their taste. But is giving up Ruggiano's arbitration seasons (he is eligible after this year) for less worth the tantalizing option of playing the team's best future outfield combination?

The Promotion: Yelich, Ruggiano, Stanton

This implies that the Marlins are ready to promote Yelich but are not necessarily interested in parting with Ruggiano yet. This move would also force the demotion of Ozuna, who is currently hitting.304/.337/.443 (.339 wOBA). Ozuna's batting line obviously looks nice, but it is inflated by a .383 BABIP. He is still striking out a decent amount (21.3 percent) without drawing many walks (4.8 percent), indicating that his free-swinging ways are still present. Ozuna was promoted early enough that he could use the time in the minors. There is an added bonus that demoting Ozuna now could keep him out of Super Two status in the future.

On the downside, the Marlins would have to demote one of their successful prospect stories in order for this plan to work, and that may not go well with Ozuna. Trying to justify this demotion, especially in order to promote a guy who has not succeeded yet in the majors, would be difficult and may hurt the relationship between the team and Ozuna.

The Status Quo: Ozuna, Ruggiano, Stanton

On the other hand, the Marlins could keep Ozuna in the big league roster and leave Yelich in the minors. This would preserve Yelich's service time, which could be more important down the line as Yelich is a more high-ceiling, potential-superstar prospect. This allows Yelich to refine his game in the minors and does not force the Fish to make more 40-man roster moves, as Ozuna was on the 40-man roster previously.

The problem with this is that Yelich seems more than deserving of a promotion this season. He is hitting .308/.376/.624 (.437 wOBA), with six homers and five triples to his name in 133 plate appearances. If he keeps this up for another month, we could be looking at a Stanton-like situation in which the Marlins have a prospect overwhelming a certain level who has proven all he has to prove in the minors. Not promoting Yelich for a trial run, especially when you already guaranteed 6.5 years of team control of him, seems like a waste.

The Conservative: Pierre, Ruggiano, Stanton

This has almost no chance of happening, but please God no.

Overview

Chances are the Marlins will opt to keep one of their prospects, either Ozuna or Yelich, up in the majors and let the other one come up in September. If Yelich continues to dominate, bank on him being the one to take up a roster spot. Ozuna really could use more seasoning in the minors, especially after his early-season success begins to regress.

That being said, if the Marlins can find a taker for Ruggiano at a decent price, the team should definitely try their future outfield of Ozuna / Yelich / Stanton and give the fans a taste of their brighter future. This team can use all of the interest boost it can get, and boasting two of the more exciting outfield prospects and one of the best players in baseball should help keep some eyes on the team.

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