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The Marlins’ 40-man roster crunch

Several tricky decisions are coming ahead of Tuesday night’s deadline.

Outfielder Monte Harrison doesn’t have much to be nervous about—adding him to the 40-man is just a formality
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been painful at times, but the Marlins have gradually built respectable depth in their farm system. The inevitable J.T. Realmuto trade and June draft—where they select fourth overall—will allow them to add even more high-end talent. Their immediate concern, however, is trying to hold on to what they got.

MLB teams have that other draft upcoming on Dec. 13: the Rule 5 draft. The deadline to “protect” eligible players from being selected is Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET. That protection comes in the form of a 40-man roster spot.

Who’s eligible on the Marlins? Players who signed or were drafted when they were 18 or younger and have been in pro ball for five years (since 2014), or those who signed or were drafted when they were 19 or older and have been in pro ball for four years (since 2015). Health permitting, players selected during the MLB phase of the draft must remain on their new team’s 25-man active roster for the entire following season (min. 90 days of active duty).

To review, the Marlins lost right-hander Tyler Kinley to the Twins last December. They returned him to Miami in late April after initial struggles. Meanwhile, the Fish added right-handers Elieser Hernández and Brett Graves from the Astros and Athletics, respectively. Both made it through the full summer (though with mediocre results). Here are pick-by-pick results of that draft for anybody who’s curious.

Now, let’s run through some obvious housecleaning moves and vulnerable players heading into 2018’s Rule 5.

Current Marlins 40-man roster

[UPDATE: On Monday evening, the Marlins claimed right-hander Julian Fernández off waivers from the Giants. With 24 hours remaining until the deadline, their 40-man roster is at 36.]

There are 35 players on the Marlins 40-man roster—19 pitchers and 16 position players. Each of them have some prior major league experience.

The club does not necessarily have to fill every spot by Tuesday night, but that’s the likeliest outcome. Should the Marlins want to acquire experienced players between now and the end of the Winter Meetings (when the draft occurs), they can easily create space via trades, non-tenders or placing undesirables on waivers.

Prospects who must be protected

Expect the Marlins to select the contracts of outfielder Monte Harrison, second baseman Isan Diaz, right-hander Jordan Yamamoto and right-hander Jorge Guzman. These prospects received in the Yelich and Stanton trades still have significant upside and relatively youth (ages 22-23). Harrison and Diaz, in particular, would definitely get snatched by another team in the MLB phase of the draft.

Homering in the U-23 Baseball World Cup last month, Isan Diaz projects to be an everyday middle infielder in the majors as soon as next season.
Fish Stripes original GIF

Despite size and fastball velocity limitations, Yamamoto’s 2018 dominance suggests he does enough of the little things to succeed as a starter at the highest level. Just the opposite, Guzman should have a bright future as a flame-throwing, late-inning reliever even if he can’t find the strike zone.

That would put the 40-man roster at 39.

Probably safe

A former second-round draft pick who most people had already written off a disappointment, infielder Justin Twine went Super Saiyan following a late-season promotion to Double-A Jacksonville. He slashed .402/.433/.571 in 28 games, clearly benefiting from some batted ball luck, but also driving four pitches over the fence.

Even so, Twine has a long track record of terrible offensive production, setting up a dilemma for the Marlins.

Perhaps a blessing in disguise, he suffered a wrist injury in late August and wasn’t available to “audition” in the Arizona Fall League. There’s enough risk here to scare other teams away.

Christopher Torres, Brayan Hernandez and (birthday boy!) McKenzie Mills are ranked among MLB Pipeline’s Marlins Top 30 prospects. They aren’t quite ready to make the leap to the majors, but could draw interest in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft. Protecting them from that fate is as simple as adding them to Miami’s Triple-A reserve list, which doesn’t require a corresponding move like the 40-man.

On the bubble

Coming off intriguing 2018 seasons, Schales, Quijada and Keller are the names to watch. It’s hard to see a scenario where the Marlins make room for all three on the roster.

Similar to Twine, Schales has struggled to justify his early-round draft position in 2014. He changed the narrative a bit in his fifth professional campaign, slashing .258/.354/.403 while demonstrating more extra-base pop than ever before.

Keller had the opportunity to make a final impression during the AFL and didn’t really help or hurt his stock. He posted one of the highest strikeout rates in the entire organization this year, but the 25-year-old frequently matched up with younger competition.

Quijada will try to raise his profile over the next few weeks in the Venezuelan Winter League. So far, just 3 23 innings pitched with a 7.36 earned run average for Caribes de Anzoategui.