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Marlins must not waste tanked season (again)

The Marlins have few assets to show for their previous last-place finish in 2013. Taking advantage of high draft position this time around is critical to a successful rebuild.

Photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam Images

The Marlins made a choice to lose games and make profits during the 2018 season, trading four All-Stars and shedding tens of millions of dollars of payroll in the process...and we at Fish Stripes condoned that?

For the most part, yes. The franchise is banking on its revamped player development and scouting department to take advantage of premium draft position, both in the June (Rule 4) MLB Draft and the Rule 5 Draft a few weeks from now. An influx of high-upside, controllable talent is critical to assembling a sustainable contender. That foundation would allow Miami to reallocate funds to fill roster holes in free agency or to trade from their farm system surpluses. Look at the Astros! And the Cubs!

That being said, it is possible to fuck this up.

Last week, the Marlins officially took an “L” on their 2014 MLB Draft class. Right-hander Tyler Kolek (first round pick) and infielder Justin Twine (second round) were not placed on the 40-man roster, leaving them unprotected heading into the Rule 5. Brian Schales (fourth round) and Dillon Peters (10th round) were traded to the Twins and the Angels, respectively.

The only major assets from that class are Brian Anderson and maybe Jordan Holloway, who’s shown promise in recent months since returning to game action following Tommy John surgery. Nobody else remaining in the organization can even sniff a top prospects list. Unacceptable considering that they held the No. 2 overall draft position.

What a squandered opportunity to close the gap with the division rival Braves and Nationals, who likewise whiffed on most of their picks in 2014.

The demise of Kolek has been particularly painful. Several other pitchers who went near the top of the draft—Aaron Nola and Kyle Freeland—have since ascended to MLB stardom.

But Jeffrey Loria wanted the prep arm with the blazing fastball.

This is not an exercise in hindsight—the baseball industry was baffled by that selection from the very beginning.

Adam McInturff of 2080 Baseball was scouting for a major league organization in 2014. He explained to Fish Stripes that Kolek had obvious flaws and limitations coming out of Shepherd High School in Texas:

“He was an example of the best radar gun readings in the country and they thought they could teach him command and secondaries. The issue with that is two-fold—it’s a lot harder to teach a spin pitch than a changeup, and also, they didn’t take his physical size into account. He wasn’t really that projectable at 18, throwing 100. He had a man’s body and man’s strength early on.”

The one valuable tool Kolek had betrayed him immediately. J.J. Cooper of Baseball America recalls how the heater dipped dramatically into the 91-93 mph range when he was used on a standard five-day professional starter’s schedule. The overall results have been hideous: 150.0 IP, 5.34 ERA, 1.65 WHIP and 33(!) wild pitches.

McInturff saw the soon-to-be 23-year-old participate in Marlins instructional league this past September and didn’t sugarcoat it. Lacking control and command without quality secondary pitches, Kolek reaching the highest level—much less succeeding once he gets there—is a longshot.

Prospect spotlight report published Oct. 11, 2018
2080 Baseball

President of baseball operations Michael Hill is a holdover from that wasted draft. Fortunately, though, Loria and longtime scouting director Stan Meek have since been replaced. As a guest on the Five Reasons Sports podcast, Craig Mish explained how Hill was often overruled in the old, dysfunctional front office. Missteps from the past half-decade—and there were plenty of them in trades and free agency as well—can’t be entirely pinned on him.

To their credit, the 100-loss Marlins of 2013 made a shrewd acquisition during the Rule 5 Draft. The second pick of the minor league phase allowed them access to Justin Bour, whose power/plate discipline combination turned him into a league-average starting first baseman. If only they had some quality young pitching come up through the system to surround him and Stanton and Yelich and Ozuna with, that core might still be intact (and J.T. Realmuto wouldn’t be on the trading block right now).

I understand why many fans can’t get themselves hyped for the June and December drafts—the majority of selected players will fall short of meaningful major league careers. However, it takes only a few new legitimate building blocks to make the tanking worthwhile, especially for a franchise that has spent years spinning its wheels in the mediocre middle. Winning on the margins eventually translates to winning on the field.

Get it done, Gary Denbo.