Having swam through two thirds of August into the dog days of summer, the Marlins find themselves at the edge of the reef. It’s sink or swim for the Fish; with 40 games left in the season, they sit just 6.5 games out of making the playoffs for the first time since they went dancin’ in 2003.
What the Marlins need right now is an “x factor.” While what remains of the roster has banded together to manufacture this exciting late season run, the club might need one more player to give them the shot-in-the-arm they need to pass the Brewers and Cardinals.
However, instead of looking to make a hasty post-deadline waiver trade, with September roster expansions quickly approaching, the Marlins should be chomping at the bit to call up their third-ranked prospect – Brian “The Matrix” Anderson.
Brian Anderson slashed .312/.415/.451 with an OPS of .866 in three years at the University of Arkansas before the Marlins drafted him in the third round in 2014. Since then, Anderson has put together a modest minor league career, batting .264/.340/.416, and for the most part manning the hot corner.
This year, after starting the first half with the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, Anderson bursted on to the scene as the spotlight shone bright on Miami. Anderson was selected for the MLB Future’s Game, and although as a courtesy to the host team he was never taken out of the lineup, Anderson took advantage of the opportunity. The Matrix went 2-for-4 with a double in the game, earning himself a promotion to Triple-A New Orleans soon after.
Anderson hasn’t looked back since his stellar debut; the third baseman has adapted quickly to Triple-A pitching, batting .354/.426/.625 in 27 games with the Baby Cakes. After knocking a career-high 14 home runs in Double-A for the Jumbo Shrimp, Anderson has already hit seven more home runs in his short time in Triple-A.
The Marlins are running with a four-man bench right now. On September 1, the rosters will expand to hold 40 players. While the pitching staff seems to have a perpetually-running shuttle for minor league arms, the only two position players on both the Triple-A and 40-man rosters are outfielder Destin Hood and converted catcher Austin Nola; given that Nola hasn’t yet made the adjustment to Triple-A pitching and the depth the Marlins have at catcher, Nola may not make the jump.
Although they have a number of “safer” candidates for infield promotions, the Marlins can maximize their ceiling for potential by calling up Anderson over other potential players. In the wake of a depletion of infield depth, the Marlins have given a slew of journeymen infielders many a chance to earn a role this year.
Steve Lombardozzi didn’t muster a hit in his eight at-bats, Christian Colon slashed .152/.243/.182 in 17 games, and Mike Aviles — who is currently with the big-league club — is getting on base in less than 30 percent of his plate appearances. We have seen these players and we already know what they can do; amongst the infielders relied on to fill gaps this year, only Derek Dietrich and Miguel Rojas have amassed positive bWARs – just .8 and .7, respectively.
Instead, the Marlins can benefit from giving Brian Anderson his cup of coffee and letting him see what he can do against big league pitching. Although the 24 year old has played the majority of his games at the hot-corner, Anderson played second base earlier in his pro career, and some shortstop during his time at Arkansas.
To give him consistent at-bats, the Fish should look to heat-check Anderson in different roles. Even if they were uncomfortable with his range up the middle, the Marlins could still conceivably play the tall third baseman at both corner infield and outfield spots. The bottom line is, while Anderson is playing well, the Marlins should take advantage of calling him up in the interest of gleaning increased value from the infield while they groom him for future seasons.
While Anderson is the most exciting prospect the Marlins have had in a while, it’s important to remember that he is exactly that — a prospect. Look at Anderson’s Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference pages; they lack the detailed splits and other statistics that we so heavily rely on to predict future value. And while the Marlins certainly are more privy to such information, it really is hard for anyone to pinpoint how a prospect will perform in the majors.
Look at the White Sox for example. Yoan Moncada, the most highly touted prospect in the game over the last two years, has accumulated a wOBA of just .302 in his first 26 games with Chicago. In nine fewer games, Moncada’s teammate Nicky Delmonico — who never cracked the Top 30 Prospects list for the White Sox — has a wOBA of .457, a wRC+ of 191, and five home runs.
These short-sample values aren’t necessarily indicators for Moncada’s inevitable demise and/or Delmonico’s road to the Hall of Fame, but instead illustrate the fickle nature of valuing prospects. You never know how a prospect will pan out until they get under the bright lights.
Nevertheless, it’s undeniable that Anderson is hot right now, and the Marlins would do right by the organization to play the hot hand when September rolls around. The Marlins lineup is notoriously rigid; notwithstanding the occasional off-day, the lineup rarely changes. By shuffling the deck and getting some fresh blood like Anderson in the mix, Mattingly and The Boys could get the boost they need to make a bona fide playoff run.
So what will the Marlins do?
Will they take the red pill, and let Mr. Anderson take them down the rabbit hole?
Or will they take the blue pill, and never know what could have been?