For any team in Major League Baseball, the key to success begins with a solid foundation, and at the core of that foundation is the minor league system. In recent years, we have seen the Astros and Cubs take home World Series titles on the backs of homegrown prospects who turned into MLB stars, supplemented with key veteran free agents. This past year, even though the Red Sox sported the league’s highest payroll at almost $240 million, they likely would not have won their championship without Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and Rafael Devers, all developed from within their own organization.
To that point, Marlins fans, consider this. A team that has missed the playoffs in each of the last 15 seasons should be expected to have a fairly robust farm system, filled with high draft picks from over a decade’s worth of disappointing campaigns. Well, about that...In 2016-17, Miami’s #1 and #2 prospects were Braxton Garrett and Tyler Kolek, respectively. Garrett, while talented, has yet to throw a pitch in affiliated professional baseball. Kolek has done nothing but struggle mightily since entering the Marlins system, and is no longer considered a viable prospect.
A perennial sub-.500 team filled with several untradeable contracts for underperforming veterans, coupled with the league’s worst minor league system, clearly meant that the blueprint was not working, and something needed to change in Miami.
Things have changed.
The Marlins stocked up considerably more depth in just the past year. Among the new additions are the team’s new #1 and #2 prospects, Víctor Víctor Mesa and Monte Harrison. Harrison was rated as the team’s top prospect until he was recently dethroned by Mesa, according to MLB Pipeline, once he signed out of Cuba along with his brother, Víctor Jr., on October 22.
Víctor Víctor—No. 32, Víctor Jr.—No. 10 pic.twitter.com/wdd4siWMnv— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) October 22, 2018
While Mesa is certainly guaranteed to provide a huge boost to the Marlins system, did he deserve the jump straight to the top? Both he and Harrison are immensely talented. However, both also come with their fair share of questions.
So, in the spirit of finally having a minor league pipeline worth paying attention to, let’s have some fun and dig into the cream of our crop.
We’ll start with Harrison. Acquired in the Christian Yelich deal with the Brewers along with Lewis Brinson, Isan Diaz and Jordan Yamamoto, he is the epitome of a five-tool player. A three-sport star out of high school, and possibly the most athletic player in the entire sport, Harrison earns high praise from scouts for his speed, defense, and throwing arm, earning above average grades for all three. A 70-grade arm is the loudest of his tools.
(Oh, and just in case you were having any doubts about what I just said about Monte’s athleticism, here are some highlights of him dunking all over everyone on his high school basketball court. Here are some more of him making things look way too easy on the football field. You’re welcome.)
At the plate, Harrison possesses above-average power generated from plus bat speed and considerable upper body strength and the ability to use it to all fields. His aggressive approach and violent swing (awesome bat flips notwithstanding) have also led to alarming strikeout rates. In 2018, Harrison posted a 36.9 K%, while leading the entire minor leagues with 215 strikeouts and only drawing 44 walks. Combined with an almost 50% ground ball rate—two of the least productive outcomes at the plate—have at times put a muzzle on Monte’s considerable offensive upside.
Monte did it again pic.twitter.com/iD2WdKFG2q— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) August 9, 2018
All hope is not lost, however. While Harrison’s swing-and-miss struggles are well documented, he still managed to put up 19 home runs this season, easily the most on his team, and good for fourth in the entire Southern League. He was also third in stolen bases with 28 and 21st in OPS.
His most encouraging signs may have come most recently in the Arizona Fall League. An adjustment to his swing, particularly a reduction in his leg kick, created a much more sound approach and led to more contact and overall production. Harrison posted a .353/.460/.431 slash line in the AFL leading up to the league’s all-star game with only 12 K in 51 AB.
Someone with tools as loud as Monte’s, it should come as no surprise to see him near the top of any prospect list. So what is it about Víctor Víctor Mesa that prompted MLB Pipeline to rank him ahead of Harrison? Were they simply grading by number of first names? Or did they see something more in the Cuban phenom?
While much less is known stateside about the oldest Mesa brother, he has still managed to leave quite an impression with MLB scouts. In his last full season for Cuba’s Industriales national team, he posted a .939 OPS with only 19 strikeouts and 14 walks in almost 300 plate appearances to go along with a ridiculous 40 stolen bases in 70 games. He followed that up at the 2017 World Baseball Classic , leading his team with a 1.140 OPS(!) in six games.
Like Harrison, Mesa is projected to be a five-tool talent at the MLB level, drawing rave reviews for his speed, defense, and throwing arm. All three earn a 60 grade from scouts as well above average. Here’s a highlight of him showing off the cannon during a game last year:
Hoy no es #TBT pero es de mis favoritos ! pic.twitter.com/6CIIPg5XLg— Victor Victor Mesa (@victorvmesa) October 21, 2018
At the plate, VV remains a work in progress. While possessing a very quick bat and excellent hand-eye coordination, there are questions about the impact his bat will make at the major league level, as he has yet to demonstrate in-game power.
One of the other complicating factors in evaluating Víctor Víctor is the fairly wide variance in scouting reports and projections, depending on what you read. Many publications insist that his bat will keep up with his other tools, and the impact he can make on both sides of the ball will be All-Star caliber, garnering comps to Víctor Robles and Carlos Gómez. FanGraphs is less enthusiastic about his potential, citing “real doubt about the game application of his power,” labeling Mesa as “an average to slightly below-average offensive profile on an above-average defender at a premium position”. The closest comp they offer is Albert Almora.
Either way, there does not seem to be any question about the impact he will make in the field and on the bases, which gives him a considerably high floor.
So, what does all this mean for the top spot in the Marlins system? Well, I guess that all depends on what you find more valuable. Víctor Víctor’s speed/defense combo is sure to provide guaranteed value to a big league club for years to come, but will his bat make enough of an impact? Monte’s power potential could prove far more valuable in today’s MLB, to go along with all his other skills. The question is, will he be able to overcome his contact issues to consistently tap into that power? For what it’s worth, Victor Victor garners a 45+FV (future value) from FanGraphs, while Harrison receives a 50 FV. Both are subject to change if the player improves an area of weakness during his time in the minor leagues.
In this writer’s humble opinion, I’ll take Víctor Víctor’s more advanced hit tool, which will keep his strikeouts down and allow him to impact the game offensively on a more consistent basis. Monte’s contact issues could prevent him from doing so quite as often. MLB Pipeline seems to agree.
But whichever way you go, projecting the futures of a couple of outfielders as talented as those two is a great problem for the Marlins to have.