The Miami Marlins finally signed first-round pick Colin Moran to a contract, thus eliciting a huge sigh of relief from a cadre of Marlins fans. Even though news outlets had the Marlins having plenty of confidence about signing Moran, Marlins fans had to be concerned that the Fish would bail under potential demands, especially after they failed to sign one draft pick (Matt Krook) due to a physical issue and are supposedly unlikely to sign high school pitcher and third-round pick Ben Durozio. Last season, the Marlins took pitching prospect Andrew Heaney down to the wire as well, finally agreeing on a deal right at the signing deadline.
But now that Moran is on board, Marlins fans can begin dreaming about a day when third base may not be filled with the clutter the Fish have thrown out there since 2008. Moran represents the first real third base prospect the team has had since it drafted Matt Dominguez in the first round in 2007. Dominguez never paid off, but he was a high school position player whose bat never developed. The thinking is that Moran's bat is already advanced, given his insane plate discipline numbers in college, so this should not be an issue for him as he makes his way towards the majors.
The question is what that path is going to be. Joe Frisaro of MLB.com laid out the likely first step of that pathway.
Moran likely will begin his professional career at low Class A Greensboro, where the Marlins often start off their picks who are coming out of college.
Last year, Heaney began the year in Rookie ball, but quickly got promoted for a short stint in Low-A Greensboro to finish the season. This makes it reasonable that Moran will start in Low-A as well.
What kind of path will that take him on? Let's look at the past few drafts and see how the college hitters picked in the top ten have gotten to the majors.
I looked at the drafts from 2008 on to see just how college draftees from the top ten have reached the big leagues. There were 11 college bats drafted from 2008 to 2012. Not all players reached the big leagues; only eight of the 12 have the majors as their highest level. The following is the table of when they were drafted, at what level they started, and when they reached the majors on a permanent basis. (Note: I did not include Bryce Harper, who was an extremely special case)
|Player (Draft)||Starting Level (Year)||Majors (Highest Level)|
|Pedro Alvarez (2008)||High-A (2009)||2011|
|Yonder Alonso (2008)||High-A (2008)||2011|
|Buster Posey (2008)||Rookie/Short-season A (2008)||2010|
|Gordon Beckham (2008)||Low-A (2008)||2009|
|Jason Castro (2008)||Low-A (2008)||2010|
|Dustin Ackley (2009)||Double-A (2010)||2011|
|Tony Sanchez (2009)||Short-Season A/Low-A (2009)||--- (Triple-A)|
|Michael Choice (2010)||Rookie/Short-Season A (2010)||--- (Triple-A)|
|Christian Colon (2010)||High-A (2010)||--- (Triple-A)|
|Anthony Rendon (2011)||Rookie/Double-A (2012)||--- (Triple-A)|
|Mike Zunino (2012)||Short-Season A/Double-A (2012)||2013|
The majority of the non-Harper rookies began their seasons somewhere between Short Season A (Batavia is the Marlins' affiliate) and High-A (Jupiter). The players with the fastest paths to the majors made it to Double-A within their first playing year; Ackley, Zunino, and Rendon are the only three players to make Double-A in their first year, and two made the majors within their next year of play. Rendon is blocked at certain positions, which explains his situation. The only other player who has yet to make it to the majors who started relatively high is Christian Colon of the Kansas City Royals organization, who began in High-A but hasn't cracked the big leagues yet.
Among the players who began in Low-A or lower, one made it within the next year, while two took two seasons to get there. The others have not yet made it permanently to the majors, but all are in Triple-A by this time period.
If Moran is most likely to begin the year in Low-A Greensboro, the path to the majors should yield a 2015 start date, likely in midseason as Moran finishes off Double-A. Remember that, unlike in past seasons, it is highly unlikely that a prospect does not start playing for his organization until the following year, as the new collective bargaining agreement shifted the deadline signing date to early July (July 12, today, this season). That almost assures that Moran will get a good amount of playing time starting this year.
Based on what the players above have done, here is a potential path for Moran to the majors.
- He can begin in Low-A and spend either the full season there or get a crack at High-A at some point. Only Anthony Rendon and Buster Posey split their times through Low- and High-A levels among their stops in their first season.
- If Moran does well enough at either Low- or High-A, he can earn a permanent promotion to High-A Jupiter at the start of 2014. That allows him either a full season or, better yet, a half-year at High-A to get ready for the major hurdle to Double-A. It will also see how Moran plays in a mostly pitcher-friendly Florida State League and Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.
- The ticket to earning an early 2015 promotion is for Moran to do well enough in High-A to springboard himself into Double-A by midseason. This is the same path that Giancarlo Stanton took, as he took a dominant 210 plate appearances in Jupiter in 2009 and vaulted himself into Double-A, where he struggled. Even if Moran struggles in Double-A, he will have a foothold at the level and will have gained more experience at the most important competition level in the minors.
- In 2015, Moran can either start in Double- or Triple-A, depending on his 2014 Double-A performance. If he does not make the jump, he can start in Double-A and get a mostly full season before earning a late promotion to Triple-A and the majors. But if he had 200 plate appearances of Double-A experience in 2014 and he continues to perform well in 2015, you can expect him to get a July call-up, barring some circumstance in which the Marlins actually have a real third baseman.
This pathway gets Moran in the big leagues in two years, as most college hitters do. It also is a relatively acceptable pace for a player who is supposed to be ready at the plate. Moran has to avoid looking mediocre at his lower competition levels, as that has not been a good sign for players like Ackley and the Marlins' own Zack Cox, who is languishing in Triple-A after having a struggle of a second season out of college. The 2014 campaign will be critical to Moran's success, as playing well will almost certainly get him in the majors in 2015 barring injury, whereas being mediocre may force him to repeat the level.
The Marlins have a bright future at third base with Colin Moran, but it is up to him to realize it with a nice path to the big leagues. He will have very few roadblocks along the way, so the only determinant of his path will be his performance. Let's see if he can keep up.