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Miami Marlins prospects: The often forgotten stop in New Orleans

Triple-A is often a prospect's last stop on their journey to the big leagues. For the Marlins however, Triple-A has become an often skipped level for their top prospects. Today, we'll examine this recent trend, as well as preview the prospects that will see time in New Orleans this summer.

Christian Yelich was a fast mover through the Miami farm system
Christian Yelich was a fast mover through the Miami farm system
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

It only makes logical sense, right?  A prospect is drafted and embarks on their professional career; the promotions follow one level at a time.  A prospect must first master Single-A baseball before handling the rigors and challenges of Double-A ball.  Triple-A baseball naturally provides the final stop in the minor league system on the way to the big leagues.  Recently, however, the Marlins have bucked this conventional trend of prospect promotion.  Instead, Miami has chosen to  quickly move select prospects through the organization.

Since 2013, Miami has put five of their most promising prospects on the (extremely) fast track to the big leagues.

Players

MLB Debut Age

Games Above High-A

Career WARP

2015 Projected WARP

Christian Yelich

21

49

4.7

3

Jose Fernandez

20

0

4.1

1.6

Marcell Ozuna

22

10

3.9

1.1

Jake Marisnick

22

122

0.8

0.8

Andrew Heaney

23

19

-0.4

0.6

And here is where the New Orleans Zephyrs come into the discussion.  Of the five players listed above, only Heaney spent any time at all playing for Miami's Triple-A affiliate.  None of the other four ever saw New Orleans (which is a shame).  Jose Fernandez did not even see time at Double-A before making his major league debut.  So, how can the Marlins get away with this practice of rocketing their top prospects up the ladder in such a short time?  For one, and it must be said, they have been fortunate.  It is not a regular occurrence to have such a high success rate among even the most well thought of prospects.  There is really no model for consistent success in regards to having your prospects skip Triple-A baseball; or Double-A ball for that matter.  So far, the Marlins have defied such logic.

But there is more to the situation, and it starts with identifying talent; whether through the draft or the international free agent market.  The Miami front office, scouts, and player personnel department have done an excellent job recently of acquiring impact talent.  Talent that they believe possess the tools and makeup to succeed in the big leagues at a young age.  Once that talent is in the organization, the Fish have shown no hesitation in quickly advancing prospects with big league ready tools through the organization.  In an era of baseball where front offices are apt to play the service time game, this is a refreshing stance for Miami to take.  Such aggressiveness with top prospects is rare in an industry that has leaned more and more towards extreme caution and patience over the past decade.

Really, though, this practice of quickly promoting prospects has two outcomes in mind.  First and foremost, Miami wants to promote prospects that will help the big league club.  Throwing their top prospects into the fire allows them to quickly identify what they have in terms of potential contributors; and it allows the decision makers in the front office to asses which prospects they see as part of the long term future in Miami.  The second outcome of quick promotions is allowing other big league clubs to see prospects perform at the major league level.  This, of course, allows Miami to entertain trade offers; and gives them greater opportunities to bolster their roster.  Marisnick was part of a deal that brought Jarred Cosart to the Fish, while Heaney was the key piece in the Dan Haren and Dee Gordon trade.  These trades do not happen if Marisnick and Heaney had not shown the ability to contribute at the major league level while playing for the Fish.

In their haste to promote their very top prospects, Miami has also shown a level of patience with other prospects within the organization.  So far, the Fish have struck a good balance between the quick promotion of certain prospects and bringing other prospects along at a more traditional pace.  Because of the Fish displaying such patience in regards to some prospects, the Triple-A affiliate in New Orleans has not been disbanded and will in fact field a team this year.  Below is a quick preview of noteworthy prospects who will likely begin the season playing for the Zephyrs.

-Justin Nicolino will not strike you out, but he will not walk you either; proven by his 81/20 K/BB ratio last year while pitching in Double-A.  Nicolino possess excellent command of his pitches, and should continue to get people out in Triple-A.  A successful first half of the year could see him be in place to receive a call to the big leagues at some point during the second half of the season.

-Adam Conley is a hard throwing lefty who may be best suited for a bullpen role, though he will start the season in the rotation in New Orleans.  His future as a big league starter depends on whether or not he gains control of his off speed stuff.

-Jose Urena hails from the Dominican Republic and will be a member of the rotation in New Orleans to start the season.  A hard throwing righthander, Urena posted a K/BB ratio of 121/29 last year in Double-A.  The Fish like his makeup and his 6-foot-2 frame in the rotation, though anytime he sees in Miami this year will likely be from the pen.

-J.T. Realmuto is the top position playing prospect in New Orleans.  Above average defender/receiver behind the plate, a plus arm, and decent offensive game combine to project a solid big league contributor for many years.  He won't set the world on fire with his bat, but will be dependable for many years.  Look for him full time in Miami starting in 2016.

In summary, Miami has maximized the talent in their farm system by being aggressive with promotions of certain high level prospects; and blending this philosophy with a slower, more traditional, progression curve for the rest of their prospects.  It is for this reason that fans of the Marlins should not worry about the Fish not appearing near the top of any organizational rankings.  Would it be nice to see Miami ranked in the top five each year when it comes to the best minor league systems?  Of course; but it is not likely to happen, at least not while the current front office remains.  Prospects like Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich are simply moved through the farm system too fast to give the Fish any lasting organizational clout.

The results of such quick promotions speak for themselves.  Players like Fernandez, Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna have not only stuck with the big league club, but thrived and look set to be key players for the foreseeable future.  Couple the success of these three players with the big league talent acquired in exchange for Heaney and Marisnick, and the Fish clearly have made the most of quickly promoting their promising prospects.