There are no concrete steps in a rebuild—the concept in itself is abstract. We have well-publicized blueprints of other teams’ methods, such as the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, but every team is different. Every rebuild has its own hits, misses and surprises.
Anybody could tell you that the Marlins are very far from playing meaningful baseball, but they are clearly advancing in their process. Monday morning’s press conference introduced outfielders Víctor Víctor Mesa and Víctor Mesa Jr. The elder of the brothers, Víctor Víctor was the top international free agent available, a 22-year-old outfielder who is nearly MLB-ready and will almost surely be a top 100 prospect. It is incredibly rare to find a prospect with such a high floor, which is much needed in a Marlins organization that is riddled with high-ceiling yet volatile young talent.
“When you come into this park in 2019,” Marlins CEO Derek Jeter said, “there will be a noticeable difference.”
There is reason to believe that. Jeter wasn’t referring to the Mesas specifically, but rather the change in direction: a franchise once trapped in perpetual mediocrity now has a tangible plan.
MLB Pipeline now ranks Victor Victor Mesa as the Marlins no.1 prospect! pic.twitter.com/eQNNs8jeEs— Luis Luis Davila (@luisrdavi) October 22, 2018
As many of their best prospects continue to inch towards the big leagues, the Marlins inch their way to competitiveness. Several of them could find themselves in the big leagues by next season, providing evidence of the “process” Jeter has so often asked fans to trust.
Slowly, we are beginning to see the Marlins future at certain positions. An outfield made up of Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison and Víctor Víctor Mesa could come together as soon as late in the 2019 season. Whether or not you think Brinson, Harrison, or Mesa will reach their potential is up to you. The potential of the aforementioned three is irrefutable, however. Even with questionable bats, they would be arguably the most athletic outfield in the entire league.
Can Brinson, who flashed his elite skill set many times this past year, build off of a rough rookie season? Can Harrison, who showed his speed and power in Double-A Jacksonville, cut down on his absurdly high strikeout rate? Will Mesa be able to adjust to MLB pitching? These are all questions that may be answered as soon as 2019. If the answer is “yes” to even two of those questions, the Marlins have an outfield to be really excited about.
Meanwhile, the Marlins infield is more unsettled. Brian Anderson as third baseman of the future serves as a nice building block. Isan Diaz enjoyed a pretty good year in Jacksonville and projects to be the team’s starting second baseman as soon as 2019. He flashes some power, a knack for getting on base and a strong glove, which gives him a good shot to push the Marlins to trade Starlin Castro by July’s trade deadline this upcoming season.
As for shortstop, JT Riddle and Miguel Rojas are likely not in the long-term plans. Osiris Johnson, the Marlins’ second-round pick, is the first shortstop the Marlins have drafted in the early rounds in years. But what if he eventually requires a move to third base?
The future at first base is even more of a mystery. The Marlins traded their former first-round pick Josh Naylor for Andrew Cashner a few years ago, leaving the organization with virtually nothing at first base. There is Sean Reynolds, who boasts as much power as anyone in the Marlins organization, but also struck out 42% of his plate appearances last summer. Another option is 2018 third-round pick Tristan Pompey, a career outfielder who could move if his productive bat justifies making room for him in the big leagues.
Ultimately, the Marlins will not find the answer to every position within its own organization. Free agency is an option for tying up the loose ends of a team on the verge of contending. We’re not at that “phase” yet, but when the time comes, the Marlins will be in a great position.
The Marlins are freeing up a lot of spending money over the next two seasons. Edinson Vólquez, Junichi Tazawa, Justin Bour, Brad Ziegler and Cameron Maybin accounted for about $36 million in 2018. The end of Wei-Yin Chen’s and Martín Prado’s abysmal contracts is in sight. Starlin Castro is expensive but tradable. Pair the freed-up money with an eventual new, much more lucrative TV contract and the Marlins are in business.
The pitching rotation has been searching for its identity since the death of José Fernández. The team has no clear ace, but plenty of wild cards who the Marlins hope can develop into something special. Nick Neidert, the Marlins minor league pitcher of the year, was absolutely dominant this past season in Double-A. Pablo López surprised just about everyone and pitched himself into the long-term equation, as did Trevor Richards. Of course, there is José Ureña, who had a superb second half, plus veteran Dan Straily.
Further down the road, first-rounders Braxton Garrett and Trevor Rogers show promise in the low minors. The Marlins have more work to do when it comes to the starting rotation, though it’s leaps and bounds more projectable than previous seasons.
Phase 2 is about putting faces—or at least, legitimate candidates—to the needs of an eventual major league contender. The Marlins did more of that on Monday, signing the Mesa brothers to pair with all of this budding young talent. It is a step in the right direction.