Despite having only one prospect listed as a first baseman within MLB.com’s Miami Marlins Top 30 Prospects for 2015, the Marlins are actually well stocked at first base. There may have been little to talk about for the Marlins last season at this position, as Garrett Jones proved to yet another organization why he is not the guy to lean on as your everyday first baseman. This season will be a different story. The big bat off-season acquisition of Michael Morse can only improve the Marlins chances of being a playoff contender this season as long as he stays healthy. Even if it came at the cost of 2014 Comeback Player of the Year Casey McGhee, the Marlins are stacked with power in the middle of the 2015 Opening Day line-up.
Should Michael Morse’s health plague him this season, we can always turn to the Miami Marlins 16th ranked prospect in Justin Bour. After being selected in the 2013 Rule 5 draft by the Marlins from the Chicago Cubs, he has done nothing but impress the Marlins organization - sporting a .319 BABIP with 18 home runs at Triple-A New Orleans in 2014 during a period of promotions and demotions from the big league roster. He will undoubtedly find a home this season as a regular coming off the Marlins bench, while we will be watching to see if he can continue to improve at the plate and showcase the big league power that his large frame possesses. In 74 at bats for the Marlins last season he was only able to muster one home run - an upper deck blast to right-center off the Nationals Doug Fister. Marlin’s fans are hoping to see more of these this season - especially after he was named the 2014 MiLB.com Organizational All-Star for the Marlins. There is nothing else for him to prove at the minor league level, so he will continue to play the waiting game behind Morse on the Marlins depth chart.
Although Morse and Bour are already starting to become household names in Miami, there are others who play first base in the Marlins Minor league system that might prove to be hidden gems and future household names. Let’s take a look at the Best of the Rest down on the farm at first base for the Marlins.
Best of the Rest
After being drafted by the Marlins in 2010 in the 29th round, Rosa played two seasons fine tuning his craft for short-season Batavia Muckdogs. At 6’3"and 190 lbs., the 24 year-old lefty swinging Rosa bounced back in 2013 playing the full season for Low-A Greensboro. In 549 plate appearances he registered a .289 BABIP with 23 long balls. He continued to live up to his emerging prospect hype in 2014 with High-A Jupiter Hammerheads and again after being promoted to Double-A Jacksonville, where he was named the Southern League Championship Series Most Valuable Player, posting a .379 batting average to go along with four home runs in just seven post season games.
And just so you know, we are talking about a player who was cut from his George Washington High School baseball team every year but his senior one. He went on to play at Odessa Junior College in Texas, where I witnessed his play. This background makes what he has done in the past two seasons in the Marlins minor league system even more impressive, not only to me and Marlins advocates but to 2014 Double-A Jacksonville’s manager Andy Barkett:
"I thought [Rosa] would be able to hold his own here, but he’s excelled. He changed the whole dynamic of our lineup with his presence and power potential. He can fatigue and stress pitchers out for the hitters coming up behind him." said Suns manager Andy Barkett. "[Rosa] is like the perfect piece of clay to work with," said Barkett. "I love teaching a left-handed hitting first baseman because that's what I was. He's got the makings of a classic power hitter..."
If he can make a believer out of Andy Barkett, he should easily be starting to make a believer out of the rest of the Marlins Organization, making him a valued organizational prospect at an aged position for the Marlins.
As I mentioned in my earlier article, Critical year for Marlins overshadowed prospect Felix Munoz, this is going to be a decisive year for Munoz. Turning the all-important age of 23, Munoz will look to build on the success he has had in the Marlins minor leagues over the past two seasons. Like Rosa, 2014 was a real breakout year for Munoz. Playing in 126 games during the 2014 Season at Single-A Greensboro, more games than he had in the past two seasons combined, he put together an impressive campaign with a slash line of .300/.368/.476 in 560 plate appearances with 16 home-runs. He was able to draw 57 walks to only 79 strikeouts while driving the ball for a .320 BABIP.
Boosting almost comparable statistics to Rosa, the younger Munoz will look to start the season nipping at the heels of Rosa. Munoz is projected to start the season with High-A Jupiter Hammerheads, a level behind Double-A Jacksonville where Rosa is projected to start his 2015 campaign. Should Rosa fail to recapture the hot streak from his 2014 season, you could see Felix Munoz’s stock on the rise in 2015.
This 6’2" 236 lbs. left-handed hitting and right-handed throwing Cal State Fullerton prospect was drafted by the Miami Marlins in the 10th round of the 2013 First Year Player Draft at the late age of 24. This was the same 2013 Marlins draft class that included the recently traded Cal State Fullerton teammate Chad Wallach. It didn’t take long for Lopez to make a name for himself in the Marlins minor league system. After being awarded the 2013 Big West Co-Player of the year, Lopez signed and immediately reported to the Batavia Muckdogs in the New-York Penn League. With an impressive .366 BABIP with 71 total hits in just 61 games, including a game where he went 6-6 at the plate while driving in 3 runs in his first full season with the Marlins Organization, he showcased his clutch hitting ability. Based on his 2014 statistics for Low-A Greensboro below, 2013 looked to be just a prelude to what could become a valued prospect at first base in the Marlins minor league system. Unfortunately, at the age of 25 heading into the 2015 season, his window to the big league is getting smaller.
Before being drafted in the 33rd round by the Miami Marlins, this 2014 Tallahassee All-Regional team choice, Baseball America’s Preseason No. 34 ranked senior and Mid-Season Golden Spikes Watch List first baseman, put on a hitting display his senior year in college. He led the Alabama Crimson Tide with 19 runs batted in and 11 walks against conference opponents, while finishing the year with a .316 batting average, 27 walks and 39 total runs batted in in 57 games started. We also can’t fail to mention the walk-off home run Smith blasted to lift Alabama over the then #11 ranked Vanderbilt Commodores. He brought this home run stroke with him to the Miami Marlins rookie level instructional league, as shown in his 2014 stats below:
Smith’s collegiate prowess his senior year at Alabama is translating well to the professional level. At age 23, Austen Smith will have more time to develop and mature physically – if that is possible for someone already at 6’4" and 240 lbs. Either way, he has opened a lot of eyes in the Marlins system with his advanced approach and thunderous power at the plate, making him a possible hidden gem that with continued success could be on the fast track to the Marlins big league doorstep.
Other Notable First Basemen to Watch
Eric Fisher/6-foot-3 210 pounds/Drafted 2014 by Miami Marlins (17th Round) out of Arkansas University.
Scott Carcaise/6-foot-5 236 pounds/Drafted 2013 by Miami Marlins (14th Round) out of Florida Tech.