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End of 2018: State of the Marlins System

How does the Marlins farm system compare to some of the better farms in baseball?

Photo by @MsMambo/Twitter

Earlier this offseason, I discussed the key differences between the Loria rebuilds and the current organizational plan. Coming off a 98-loss season and without much optimism about the Marlins 2019 major league roster, it proved to be highly controversial. The conclusion was simply that new ownership has taken a smarter approach to talent acquisition and shown more conviction in their rebuild by taking the tough-but-necessary route: tearing down completely in order to draft and develop sustainable greatness.

The article didn’t sugarcoat things about where the farm system stands. The endgame for the Marlins is to be elite in that regard, but there’s still a long way to go; Baseball America currently ranks the organization 19th. That being said, a deeper dive into their young assets shows where they’ve taken huge strides in the right direction.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Depth in the System

With the inevitable Realmuto trade expected to yield some significant reinforcements, the Marlins already have a very promising and deep system. The foundation for an elite system is arguably in place.

Scholars of baseball theorize that 1 in every 3 prospects reach their ceilings, resulting in a 33% success rate. It’s admittedly an inexact science, but 1 in 3 is our best estimate.

If this were to apply for Marlins prospects, then they would be in the business of good news. Why? Because the Marlins front office has added a significant amount of average to above-average prospects, largely be flipping productive major leaguers who didn’t suit their competitive window. Prior to those moves, Miami’s system ranked 30th overall in most experts’ opinions, lacking in terms of both depth and high-upside players, so at least one of those areas has now been addressed.

Listed below are all of the young controllable players considered to have a ceiling of average major league contributor to above-average contributor, grouped by defensive position. Sticking with the 33% theory, I’d like you to randomly eliminate 2 of every 3:

Outfield: Víctor Víctor Mesa, Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, Connor Scott, Tristan Pompey, Davis Bradshaw, Brian Miller, Magneuris Sierra, Brayan Hernández, Thomas Jones, Albert Guaimaro, Austin Dean, Milton Smith, Víctor Mesa Jr.

Infield: Isan Díaz, Brian Anderson, Christopher Torres, James Nelson, José Devers, Joe Dunand, JT Riddle, Ynmanol Marinez, Will Banfield, Lazaro Alonso, Bryson Brigman, Osiris Johnson, Garrett Cooper, Peter O’Brien.

Pitchers: Sandy Alcántara, Jorge Guzmán, Braxton Garrett, Trevor Rogers, Nick Neidert, Edward Cabrera, Merandy González, Zac Gallen, Jordan Yamamoto, Trevor Richards, Pablo López, Robert Dugger, McKenzie Mills, Chris Vallimont, Jeff Brigham, Riley Ferrell, Caleb Smith, Drew Steckenrider, Tayron Guerrero, Tommy Eveld.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

You end up with approximately 16 players who reach their ceiling; 16 players who lead the next Marlins core. And that’s with more premium talent on the horizon, to be determined in the Realmuto trade and 2019 MLB Draft where this franchise will pick fourth overall.

Additionally, this is prior to the new Marlins ownership spending real money on the international market. The signings of Víctor Víctor Mesa and Víctor Mesa Jr. in October indicated that they plan to take advantage of this rich pipeline (unlike their predecessors).

And lastly, with Gary Denbo in charge of player development, one could reasonably argue that a 33% success rate on Marlins prospects may actually be too conservative an estimate. His track record overhauling the Yankees farm system speaks for itself.

This is how you rebuild an organization that needed to find sustainability. This is why the current rebuild, in my opinion, is different than what Loria conducted in the past. This is why Miami fans should have faith that it is finally going to be a different outcome at the major league level.

For all the skeptics still out there, this next section is for you!

Take a look at the following list; first, presented without context.

1. San Diego Padres

2. Tampa Bay Rays

3. Miami Marlins/Chicago White Sox

Whispers: That’s some good great company when discussing farm systems.

50/50+ Grades per System
MLB Pipeline

That list, according to MLB Pipeline, represents the organizations with the most prospects who have been assigned a 50-grade future value. As seen, 15 Marlins prospects meet that threshold. Keep in mind, a 50-grade is equivalent to an average everyday MLB player. Being tied with the third-most in baseball is a significant feat; the 2016 Marlins had only three developing players with such a strong projection. Three.

Also note that Lewis Brinson, Brian Anderson, Pablo López, Caleb Smith, Trevor Richards and others have all graduated from Pipeline’s rankings. Each of them would be considered 50-grade players—or better—moving forward and still have many years of club control remaining.

But if the Marlins are so deep with future Major League contributors, then why do national sites and writers (including myself) rank their organization in the 15 to 20 range? The answer is that they have prioritized quantity over quality, and lost out on truly elite prospects. That’s reflected in their limited presence on the top overall prospect lists from leading talent evaluation publications (usually 100 featured players). The Marlins are only averaging 2.3 prospects per site in our sample:

Prospects on Fangraph’s Big Board per System
Prospects on Baseball America’s Top 100
Baseball America

Fangraphs: 5

Baseball Prospectus: 5*

Baseball America: 2^

MLB Pipeline: 0

*Baseball Prospectus has not updated their list since Opening Day, and is not factored into the current average.

^Baseball America’s total is without Víctor Víctor Mesa qualifying.

I wholeheartedly disagree with MLB Pipeline not having a sole Marlin on their list, the same way that I think Fangraphs currently including five is a bit generous. This is why I typically follow Baseball America the closest and highly recommend you do the same. If we include Mesa—a few of their own writers have acknowledged that he’ll crack their next Top 100 update—then the number is three. That seems the most accurate in my books.

The good news? The Marlins are in the perfect position to acquire and develop more top-shelf talent, closing the gap with the Padres and Rays of the world.

First, the return in a J.T. Realmuto trade will guarantee either a Top 100 prospect, or an MLB controllable player that very recently carried distinction (i.e. Amed Rosario). Second, the upcoming MLB Draft should also yield a Top 100 talent at the #4 spot. Lastly, a few players in the Marlins system, such as Víctor Víctor Mesa and Braxton Garrett (now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery), easily have Top 100 tools and just need to prove their worth in 2019.

In sum, the Marlins own one of the deepest farm systems in baseball, and are in a great spot in their building process. For all the controversy with the rebuild, and all the angry comments, they haven’t been this strong on the minor league side since José Fernández was pitching for Jupiter and Greensboro. One critical difference this time around? The Marlins finally have the depth needed to sustain this upcoming core.