The Miami Marlins' farm system is struggling under several promotions and trades that have sapped any strength left in the group. It will be interesting to see what Minor League Ball's John Sickels has to say about the organization when his preliminary grades come up in a few days. But for now, the man who runs SB Nation's fine minor league and prospects coverage has posed several questions about the Marlins organization, and this is as good a time as any for Fish Stripes to pose our official answers.
***True or False: the Marlins are the most dysfunctional organization in major league baseball.
Probably. Most organizations appear to have a regular, long-term plan. A good one or a bad one is a different story, but a plan is still present. Very few teams switch between plans regularly before the regular season begins, based solely on their previous year's performance. The Marlins bought big in 2012, but it only took half of the season before Jeffrey Loria sold on the squad and dismantled the roster. It took only two years for the Marlins to decide to start buying again, and when that failed, the team decided to stand pat despite having a disadvantaged roster to compete.
We discussed the need to choose a direction for the Marlins, but the club chose to go full-on "wait and see" and play out this current core, including a few names who are free agents by the end of the season or otherwise don't fit Miami's long-term plans.
***What do you make of Tyler Kolek? Will he live up to the potential he showed in high school?
Kolek's development so far has been very concerning. He was one of the vaunted three pitching prospects from the 2014 draft, and the Fish chose him because they had pitching depth at the time and they wanted a high-upside selection over the more established but lower-ceiling Carlos Rodon. Flash forward a few years later and the Marlins are low on pitching depth, in need of rotation help, and have a high-ceiling prospect who has done nothing in the minors thus far.
On Kolek's side is that he has pitched primarily against hitters older than him. Working in Low-A Greensboro, he has faced batters with an average age of 21.5 years of age, which is two years older than he is. On the other side, he has been clearly knocked around at that level, posting a 4.56 ERA and 4.87 FIP in the season with terrible strikeout and walk numbers. In addition, the triple-digit fastballs that he boasted as a high schooler have fallen to the low-to-mid 90's in velocity, indicating that not only is he struggling at the professional level, but he is doing so without his primary tool.
It is probably still a little early to call Kolek a complete bust, especially given his age, but the drop in velocity is very concerning.
***Any impressions of Kendry Flores from his major league time?
Flores has not thrown much in the majors, having only recorded 12 2/3 innings of mostly relief for the Marlins. However, his work last year in the organization was encouraging. Like most Marlins pitching prospects, he is a strike-thrower, and he did that all season by recording just 29 walks in 119 1/3 innings between Double- and Triple-A (6.5 percent walk rate). He lost the strikeouts he had found in Low- and High-A back in the San Francisco organization, but that did not stop him from having solid seasons in the minors.
Flores boasts a sinker that averages 91 mph and throws an array of other pitches, including an average changeup and fringy secondary offerings, including a curve and a cutter-like pitch. He did throw the sinker in the majors, but he was not getting much in the way of ground balls with it. The fastball got grounders at a 50 percent rate, but the rest of the stuff lent itself to liners and fly balls far too often. Still, as a pitcher who actually performed up to his minor league level in a short stint, he deserves another big league look.
***What can we expect from J.T. Realmuto going forward?
The Marlins catcher had a strong first season in the big leagues, minus the difficulty with pitch framing. This has lead to thought that Realmuto should be a solid contributor going forward for Miami, and that seems like a reasonable guess. He was only 14 percent worse than league average at the plate this year, and when you compare that to the average catcher, that was right on par with what was expected. He had a decent year defensively aside from pitch framing, and that is often considered something that is teachable with time and effort.
Realmuto's bat does not have to be a whole lot better for him to be an average contributor, and one can definitely project some future improvement in things like his strikeouts and walks and, subsequently, his batting average. His power game may be at its limit, since it was never a major part of his batting profile, but if he forces more contact, the Marlins may have themselves a useful, cost-controlled piece for many years.
***Does Justin Nicolino's low strikeout rate worry you?
The short answer is that I'm very worried. Nicolino struck out just 23 batters in 74 innings in the majors last year, and his strikeout rate was just as low in Triple-A as it was in Double-A the previous year. Without some significant improvement, you have to suspect he will have a difficult time getting big-league hitters out; you can only expect so much from your defense, even if it is a good one like the Marlins', and few if any pitchers have true control over the strength of their contact allowed.
Nicolino needs to step up his strikeout game like he once had many years ago, but his stuff is not going to get any better, and neither is his low-90's fastball. The Marlins will have to help him figure out how to manufacture just enough strikeouts to allow his groundball / control game to be effective; at the levels he has been posting in the minors, it simply will not do.
***It seems to me that the chaos in Miami makes it easy to overlook the enormous progress made by Adam Conley in 2015. Agree or disagree? Do you like his odds to improve further?
Conley is the only Marlins pitching prospect who actually gets strikeouts, and he has been doing that since he was a fringe top-100 name a few years ago. He probably would have earned a long look the year before had he not gotten hurt in 2014, but an elbow injury kept him sidelined most of that year and a took a toll on his numbers. He recovered this past year and looked better as the year progressed, especially at the tail end of the 2015 regular season with the Marlins.
Conley throws low-to-mid 90's, mostly around 91-92 mph, and has a plus changeup that does a great job versus right-handed hitters. He got whiffs on 29 percent of those changeups last season and he showed decent ability to throw it for strikes, as evidenced by his 2.1 ratio of balls to called strikes. The slider, when used, was functional as well, getting 38 percent whiffs on fellow lefty hitters. These are all promising numbers for a young pitcher who will likely earn a rotation spot as the sole lefty in a righty-dominant rotation.
Any thoughts on the Marlins farm system? Leave your comments below!