The Miami Marlins gutted their farm system recently with a myriad of trades dealing a lot of the team's pitching depth in favor of a win-now approach. This is an understandable move for a franchise that has a limited time window with a star player in Giancarlo Stanton and affordable surrounding pieces in Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Jose Fernandez. But the future of the franchise, as always, is in the minors, and at least two names are considered among the better ones in baseball, at least according to ESPN's prospects expert Keith Law.
Righty starter prospect Tyler Kolek and catcher J.T. Realmuto landed on Law's top 100 prospects list for 2015, giving Miami two players after only having one last season. For Kolek, this is unsurprising given his status as an elite top pick from the 2014 draft. Kolek was drafted second overall by the Marlins in last season's draft, as the team gave the big Texas righty their biggest draft bonus commitment in team history. The right-hander is a classic Marlins draft selection, a southern flamethrowing righty out of high school like Josh Beckett and others before him. Kolek's stock picked up steam fast last year when it was recognized that he was throwing upper-90's heat as a starter and touching 100 mph pretty regularly as well.
The allure and enticement of a hard-throwing starting pitcher like him was always a big deal for the Marlins, who are forever chasing high-upside high school starters with limitless potential. However, Law mentions that the Fish have a long time to go until they see the fruits of their labor with the 34th-ranked Kolek, who remains a very raw player.
This all makes sense, and the Marlins at the time were prepared to wait for some time for Kolek with good pitching at the top of their system. After a series of offseason trades drained a good deal of their prospect depth, however, the Fish may need assistance sooner, and it will not be able to turn to a raw Kolek for that. Still, few pitchers have better upside than him.
Realmuto missed lists for the last two years after struggling at the plate throughout that time period. In repeating Double-A, he showed great improvement with his work, drawing walks at a career-best rate while reducing his strikeouts. Realmuto's game has always been better on the defensive end, where he developed from a converted infielder into a plus player behind the plate. His defensive game is ready for the majors.
Law was among the first folks to spot upside in Realmuto before two years of mediocre play soured his stock. He now thinks after this Double-A season that Realmuto is ready for the bigs.
His arm is an easy plus with a career 38 percent caught-stealing rate, and he has developed into a solid-average receiver as well. He still has a lot less experience than most 24-year-olds, but he's major league-ready now and should be an average regular after a year or so of at-bats in Miami.
This is a promising sign for the Marlins, who will likely transition stewardship of the catching position from incumbent Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Realmuto beginning next season via platoon. Realmuto does have only 423 plate appearances of good performance at the plate in recent years, so it is still worth seeing how well he will play in 2015 in Triple-A before fully committing to the Realmuto bandwagon right now, but the Marlins can be fairly assured that they have their catcher of the future after that successful bounceback season.
Did your favorite Marlins prospect make the cut? Who do you like? Let us know in the comments!