The Miami Marlins have already demoted some of their very best prospects to minor league camp in spring training. Jose Fernandez was dropped early in spring despite a solid performance. The Christian Yelich hitting barrage has yet to stop him from being demoted, as he was sent down a few days earlier. Numerous other players on the Marlins' top prospect lists have already been sent down as well.
One name that is also being floated for an early season start in the minors is starting pitcher Jacob Turner, who came to the Fish last season in the Detroit Tigers trade. Turner was a top prospect with the Tigers and put up a strong performance with the Marlins late last year, and all of those signs pointed to him being a key to success in 2013 for the Fish. But it seems as though the Marlins may demote Turner thanks to a poor spring training that includes just 13 innings.
On the demotions of Fernandez and Yelich, Fish Stripes is staunchly in support. Newest contributor Andrew Townes mentioned that the Marlins should not bring up Fernandez in 2012, at least not until he gets a chance to develop and prove himself in the minors. Ditto for Yelich, as Sam Evans pointed out that he has not yet made the big leap to Double-A. But in the case of Turner, I am against the move to demote him, and that brings up the question as to what the difference is between the two situations.
The Marlins are not facing the same type of prospect in Fernandez, Yelich, and Turner. Yes, Turner was once ranked alongside where these players are now, and he is just seven months older than Yelich, but his situation has changed drastically from 2012 to 2013. In 2012, he proved himself major league capable and was consistently getting Triple-A hitters out, though admittedly he was doing so in an inefficient, strikeout-light manner. With a player who has performed well enough in the major leagues, the Marlins should be less concerned about him flopping at the big league level in a way that would be detrimental to his development. If he were going to do that, he would have already done so in any of his previous outings in the majors, especially in his latest 42 innings in the big leagues.
Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez have yet to face the biggest challenge that they face as minor league prospects on the way to the majors: Double-A. Double-A is the supposed largest jump in the minors for prospects, and it is the one in which they are most likely to face premium, prospect-level competition. While the low minors are wrought with players just starting their career, many of whom are fresh out of college or high school, the Double-A level is where the weeding truly occurs among prospects. The players are older and more experienced, the quality of prospects is better, and there are a number of minor league veterans who are not good enough for major league work but have settled into Double- or Triple-A and carved out an effective minor league career.
All of that is to say that Double-A is where the real challenge begins for prospects like Yelich and Fernandez. For a player like Turner, on the other hand, Double-A is in the rear view mirror. He completed that level in 2011 and did so with some success, posting a 3.48 ERA and 3.68 FIP and striking out 19 percent of his batters faced. While he may not have blown out hitters at that level, he was an above-average pitcher in the league at age 20. The league was scoring 4.4 runs per game, and Turner allowed around 3.7 runs per game; that ERA- of 84, presuming that Eerie in 2011 was a neutral park for the Eastern League, is the equivalent of how well a pitcher like Mat Latos, Ross Detwiler, and Jarrod Parker pitched last season.
This is not to say that Turner should be expected to pitch that well in the majors in 2013, as we already projected his numbers for this season. But the fact that we can say that Turner was about as good in Double-A in his career as Mat Latos was good in the majors last season shows proof that he is past that hump of his minor league career. We have yet to see the same from Yelich and Fernandez, and that is the reason why their demotions are logical and Turner's less so.
Having said that, there is a silver lining to a Turner demotion, and it once again has something to do with playing time. If the Marlins do demote Turner and he immediately shows that he is above the Triple-A level by dominating at the level, there is no doubt that the Marlins will look to bring him back up to the rotation. Such a move allows them to work through any potential kinks in the minors and save his team control time and arbitration clock for later. This matters more for the Marlins if indeed he does have actual problems to fix in Triple-A, but whether he does or does not, the Marlins will still save some of his team control years by keeping him in the minors.
Are the Marlins likely overreacting to a small 13-inning sample? Almost certainly, yes. Does this harm Turner's development? It is hard to tell as an outsider, but it is certainly possible. There is definitely a difference between why this is viewed as a negative move while demoting Yelich and Fernandez is not, but it is unlikely that this "negative" move is not going to hurt the team significantly.