The Cambridge Dictionary defines "hedge your bets" as follows: to protect yourself against making the wrong choice.
In the world of betting, and specifically sports betting, this strategy is used to ensure that, no matter the outcome of a game, you profit from the result. For example, let's say that you bet $1000 on 8 to 1 odds that the Marlins will win the World Series before the season starts. If (or when) they reach Game 7 of the World Series as 2 to 1 favorites, you bet $3000 on their opponent to win; this is the "hedge" bet. In the end, you are guaranteed at least a $5000 dollar profit. The idea is to ensure that you make a profit no matter how things turn out.
The idea of hedging your bets also applies to the world of baseball prospects. It makes sense that a concept borrowed from the unpredictable world of gambling would make its way into the world of baseball prospects; both institutions are unpredictable and volatile by nature. Identifying and assessing baseball players who range in age between 15 and 22 is never going to be a straightforward undertaking. To account for this high degree of uncertainty, baseball organizations hedge their bets. The goal, as it is in gambling, is to ensure you always come out ahead. In the world of baseball prospects that means consistently developing big league contributors.
The mark of a good farm system in baseball, among other things, is diversity. Such a system contains a solid mix of varying types of prospects; those with elite talent who in turn represent riskier bets to make the big league club, paired with prospects who do not profile as elite players yet represent a safer bet to one day make the Show. This balance of prospect types is a trait of strong farm systems. Today we take a look at both groups of prospects within the Miami organization: those with higher ceilings and those with lower ceilings. Remember, those prospects with higher ceilings often see more variance in their career projections. Those prospects with lower ceilings often have higher floors, which makes their career projections more stable.
Who else? This category was made for Tyler Kolek. The high school righthander is dripping with talent, as evidenced by his plus-plus fastball. He combines his heater with above average offerings of his slider and curveball; enough to entice the Marlins to give him a $6 million signing bonus. The issues lie in his lack of command and control. A lot has already been written about Kolek so suffice to say that he is certainly an elite talent with a high ceiling. It is easy to envision him manning the No. 1 spot in a rotation for many years. Any failure to gain sufficient command of his pure stuff will limit his potential. Opinions are mixed in regards to Kolek's future career; which make tracking his progress all the more interesting.
Justin Twine is a little-known infield prospect within the organization. Chosen in the second round of the 2014 draft, the Texas high school product currently projects as a shortstop. Twine was a football and track star in high school in addition to his baseball exploits, serving to highlight his immense athletic ability. The raw ingredients of a star are there; including his speed, strength, and bat speed. However, there have been plenty prospects throughout the years with the raw ingredients who never mastered the finer points of the game. Twine is still extremely raw, but held his own upon his first exposure to professional baseball, posting a .229/.285/.355 slash line over 44 rookie league games. Twine's pure athletic ability plays up is above average defensive rating, and is the reason his ceiling is so high. In order to reach his potential however, he will need some polish to his game. The potential is there for an everyday shortstop.
Blake Anderson was chosen with the 36th overall selection in the 2014 draft. The high school catcher from Mississippi has excellent size and a rocket arm behind the plate; he was consistently clocked at 92 mph when he pitched for his high school team. The raw tools for a plus defender are there as he is a good receiver and blocks the ball well in the dirt, in addition to his strong arm. Even at 6-foot-3 Anderson has a good chance to remain behind the plate because of his athleticism. His offense, however, leaves something to be desired. Anderson struggled at the plate during his first taste of professional ball, hitting just .108/.287/.135. This was, admittedly, a small sample size with Anderson only seeing 74 at-bats and the Marlins, rightly, are not yet concerned with his slash lines. 2015 will be an important year in Anderson's development, particularly the offensive side of his game. The tools of an elite defender behind the plate are there; if the offense catches up the Fish will have their catcher for the next decade.
While the prospects in this group will not enamor with potential, pure athleticism, and a single elite tool, they make up for it by providing demonstrated production. There are big league contributors in this group who should enjoy fine careers.
For as much the Tyler Kolek was a clear choice for the higher ceiling group, Justin Nicolino is a clear member of the lower ceiling group. Nicolino lacks a single elite pitch, but instead shows exceptional command of his three offerings. He also has demonstrated throughout his minor league career an elite ability to avoid walking batters; walking only 84 batters during his four season as a professional. His lack of an elite pitch likely limits his ceiling to a very good No. 3 starter. On the other hand, Nicolino's floor projects as a No. 5 starter/middle relief. Look for Nicolino to break into the Miami rotation during the 2016 season.
J.T. Realmuto is on the cusp of breaking into the big leagues; indeed he did see action in 11 games for the Fish during the 2014 season. Realmuto has a plus arm that combines with a quick release to project him as an above average defender in the big leagues. He also shows decent athleticism in his movements behind the plate. Realmuto's offensive game should fit in well at the big league level. He lacks power but should hit for a solid average as his compact swing makes consistent contact. Realmuto may not project as an All-Star candidate, but his combination of solid defense paired with a consistent offensive approach mean he should stick in the League for many years.
Nick Wittgren uses his above average fastball paired with his solid curveball, allowing him to be very effective in a relief role. His above average command doesn't hurt either. Wittgren is known for his competitiveness on the mound and such an attitude makes it easy to see him as a late game option in a high leverage situation. His lack of a truly elite offering places him in the low ceiling group because it is difficult to envision his pure stuff allowing him to enjoy an extended stint as a big league closer. However, Wittgren is a prime candidate for a late innings relief role, whether or not that means as a formal set-up man. Wittgren should begin 2015 in Triple-A New Orleans, but will be just a phone call away from Miami.
High ceiling prospects tend to be more risky by nature; these are players who have a nearly equal chance to succeed or fail during their professional careers. Of course there are always exceptions (see Harper, Bryce) to the rule; prospects who are advertised as "can't miss." Even these prospects often fail to reach their true potential though. Lower ceiling prospects really form the foundation of a farm system. These are prospects who, while not projected to reach elite levels, will become solid members of a big league club.
The Marlins have a decent mix of high ceiling and low ceiling players within the system. As with all prospects in baseball, it will be exciting to see which prospects develop and realize their potential, and those who fail to reach their ceiling.