The Miami Marlins made the decision to promote top prospects Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick last night to replace other prospects in Marcell Ozuna and Derek Dietrich. Earlier this season, the Fish have made multiple decisions to promote top prospects like Ozuna, Dietrich, and Jose Fernandez at times much earlier than expected. Some of this was forced by necessity, while some of it was forced by poor decision-making on the part of the Marlins. Either way, the act of promoting another top minor leaguer to the bigs is nothing new for the Fish in 2013.
What makes this promotion new is that, unlike the others, this was a smart decision by the Marlins. It was a good move not just from a performance perspective, but from a service time and long-term management side as well.
From a strict performance perspective, it is difficult to tell if the Marlins improve by much. While Ozuna has mostly been good for the Fish thanks to his defensive performance (according to UZR), his bat has slowly wilted away as expected due to his lack of power. Ozuna came into the season as the lowest-ranked of the Marlins' trio of outfield prospects, but he was the first to be promoted because he was the only one who was on the 40-man roster already.
Outside of that reason, there was little evidence to say that Ozuna, a raw power guy with an iffy plate approach, was a better player than Yelich. Yelich has always been praised for his advanced plate discipline and fantastic swing mechanics, while hitting coach Tino Martinez and pundits like Preston Wilson have critiqued Ozuna's foot tap and swing timing for the last week. Yelich has performed fantastically in Double-A, and there is no reason to believe he would be worse off than Ozuna, who surprised many with his strong start.
Yelich's pedigree as a better prospect and his strong performance in Double-A should signal that he would be an improvement over Ozuna. The promotion of Marisnick is a more interesting question. He is clearly heading to the main roster to be the team's full-time center fielder, meaning that the struggling Justin Ruggiano and the almost invisible Juan Pierre will be the team's fourth and fifth outfielders now. But as good as Marisnick was in Double-A this year and as bad as Ruggiano has played as of late, there is no indication that the former is better than the latter right now. Marisnick's plate discipline issues are still a concern as he heads to the majors, so it will be interested to see if his free-swinging ways are more exploited here a la Ozuna.
As for the demotion of Dietrich, it was a surprising move performance-wise given that he was not struggling as badly as Ozuna was. The Marlins will replace his playing time primarily with Donovan Solano and Placido Polanco, making it a clear decrease in talent.
The overall tally is likely that the Marlins at best stayed even with their previous lineup's performance but more likely lost a little performance with this switch.
The Service Time Question, Part 1
Most fans are probably excited to see the young prospects just as they were when Fernandez, Ozuna, or Dietrich were promoted. But there is a difference in timing between when the Fish sent those players up and their decision to bring up these two prospects now. The difference is that, with Yelich and Marisnick, the Marlins waited long enough to avoid losing a year of team control or triggering Super 2 status.
By waiting until July, the Marlins guarantee that they do not lose an entire season of team control of two valuable assets like Yelich and Marisnick to a 2013 season that would have been lost with or without them. This is critical for the Marlins because of their penny-pinching ways, as the franchise has a difficult enough time preserving a decent payroll and needs assistance in the form of cost-controlled talent.
By waiting past July, they also guaranteed that neither player would trigger Super 2 status, thus costing the Fish arbitration money at an earlier time. Unlike with Ozuna and Dietrich, who were in line to at least earn Super 2 status should they finish up the season with the Fish, neither Yelich nor Marisnick will get that fourth year of arbitration. Again, this helps a supposedly cash-strapped franchise keep as much cheap control over their talent as possible.
Free Evaluation Time
The consequence of the Marlins passing the time period of losing a team-controlled season or being at risk for Super 2 status is that there is no cost to bring up Yelich and Marisnick. The Fish are not paying a significantly higher salary, as the two players are earning essentially what Ozuna and Dietrich would have earned in the back end of their rookie deals. The service time question for the two promotions is meaningless, since it will cost the Fish no extra time or money to have these two on board.
Because there is no cost, the Marlins essentially have free evaluation time with which to accommodate the two young piece of the future to the Major League situation. The transition from Double-A to the Major Leagues is the toughest jump commonly made in professional baseball, so there will likely be an adjustment period for Yelich and Marisnick. Luckily for Miami, that adjustment period is coming in a lost half-season rather than in 2014, when the Fish are trying to creep back into potential contender status. With this free evaluation time period, the Marlins can safely tinker as needed with their two top prospects and have them ready and more accustomed to the majors by next season.
If the Marlins like what they see, they can keep both players in the majors going forward. But if one or two struggle, they can return to the minors as needed in 2014, thus screwing up only 2013 games that no longer matter from a competitive standpoint. Either way, the franchise benefits long-term from giving these two an early chance at the majors without costing the Major League team significant games.
The Service Time Question, Part 2
Interestingly enough, there is a second part to the playing time question, and it might also solve the problem of the team's previous promotions. The Marlins brought up Ozuna and Dietrich in a time period that would allow them to earn Super 2 status if they stayed with the organization continuously going forward. But their sudden demotion now serves to reverse that effect. Essentially, rather than promoting the two players later to avoid arbitration problems, the Fish are demoting them early by sending them to the minors and avoiding accumulation of service time.
The Marlins can give Ozuna and Dietrich an extra month in the minors. That might not be enough to avoid Ozuna from triggering arbitration early, as he arrived in late April, but it is almost guaranteed to bail the Marlins out on Dietrich. Of course, there is no guarantee either player will stick in the majors long enough to get Super 2 status, but the Marlins' promotion of Yelich and Marisnick furthers that cause.
The team may have gotten slightly worse than their alternative, but at this point, the benefits and evaluating of developing Yelich and Marisnick in the majors far outweigh the on-field proponent of this move. The 2013 season is a lost one anyway, so if the Fish endure hard times from either of their prospects, they are not tossing out any significant games. But if both players succeed, they can perhaps point to their early Major League experience as a benefit to their future Marlins careers. Given that the franchise suffers no cost for playing these guys earlier than expected, this turns out to be an excellent decision for the Marlins.
When the Fish face the Colorado Rockies tonight, they will boast an outfield of Yelich, Marisnick, and Giancarlo Stanton. This was the team's dream outfield when they acquired Marisnick, and it should be a fun outfield to watch in 2013.