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Stock watch: Marlins minor leaguers

Reviewing Marlins prospects whose 2019 performances, for better or worse, changed how they’re being perceived moving forward.

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

In 2017, the Miami Marlins did not have a single top 100 prospect on MLB Pipeline, Baseball America, or just about any site that ranks prospects. Since then, the Marlins have been one of the fastest rising systems in MLB (consensus top 10 in minor league talent rankings). That jump is largely due to the trades of Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton, but the improved performance of players already in the Marlins system has added some helium to the Marlins rise.

The Marlins were difficult to watch at times at the major league level this season, but the team has exciting talent at every minor league level. Many of the Marlins top prospects took steps towards cracking the big league roster in the near future while some took a step back.

Now that the 2019 regular season has wrapped up, let's take a look at which players are trending up and the others whose stock took a hit.

Stock Up

SP Edward Cabrera

When the Marlins signed Edward Cabrera as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2015, his stuff was never a question. Cabrera posses a plus-plus fastball that sits mid-90s and can touch triple digits paired with two potential plus off speed pitches making it easy to understand what the Marlins saw in the 18 year-old.

Now just finishing his age-21 season, Cabrera put it together on the mound after a few shaky seasons at lower levels. The difference? Maturity. In his four professional seasons at five different levels, Cabrera has been on average roughly 2.5 years younger than his competition.

The 6’4” right hander started 2019 in High-A Jupiter where he carved up Florida State League bats and earned himself a mid-season promotion to AA Jacksonville. Cabrera’s strikeout numbers and ERA hardly budged against better competition as he continued to have success at the next level.

Cabrera saw improvements in virtually every statistic in 2019. Combined at both A and AA this season, he pitched to a 2.23 ERA, 3.06 FIP, 0.99 WHIP, 22.2 K-BB %, and .189 BAA, all career bests. He will likely start next season in AA with an outside chance at a late-season call-up.

SP Trevor Rogers

The Marlins took a bit of a leap of faith in the 2017 MLB Draft when they took high school southpaw Trevor Rogers 13th overall over the likes of Alex Faedo and JB Buskauskus. The 6’6 lefty from New Mexico made his debut nearly a year after hearing his name called by Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Rogers was assigned to make his professional debut with the Greensboro Grasshoppers, which is now the Pirates Single-A affiliate, in 2018. The southpaw would spend the rest of his season there. Plagued somewhat by bad luck, he flat-out struggled—in 17 starts, Rogers racked up a 5.82 ERA, 1.56 WHIP. Naturally, that left many questioning whether the Marlins made the right pick and or if the young pitcher would ever pan out. The fastball velocity was there, but his slider and changeup graded out as average, though many scouts cited the above average potential his offspeed pitches possessed.

Just a year later, Trevor Rogers led all Marlins minor leaguers with 140 strikeouts, dominating the Florida State League and earning a late season promotion to AA. Rogers was able to tap into the potential of his secondary stuff, making his mid-90s fastball that much more effective. Rogers should begin the season in AA with a shot at a mid to late season call-up.

SP Braxton Garrett

Garrett was another highly touted young pitcher who was able to use 2019 as a statement season. Much like Rogers, Garrett was a high school lefty selected in the first round by the Marlins, except Garrett was drafted in 2016, a year before Rogers.

Garrett made just 4 starts in 2017 for the Greensboro Grasshoppers, then did not pitch again until this season due to Tommy John surgery. The 6’3” southpaw made 21 starts in High-A Jupiter and showed few signs of rust pitching to a 3.34 ERA and 3.73 FIP. The strikeout numbers were there for Garrett (18.5 K-BB%) thanks to his plus curveball and overall command which tantalized MLB teams even when he was in high school.

Garrett’s changeup, which improved as the season went on, is the last piece of the puzzle for Garrett who works with a three pitch mix. The 22 year-old lefty should start next season in AA with a similar outside shot at a late season call-up. The hope is Garrett’s command and curveball will be enough to solidify him as a No. 2-3 starter in the bigs.

2B Isan Díaz

Probably one of the least surprising names on the list, Isan Díaz forced himself into the big leagues with a breakout season in AAA. Díaz was a force for her Orleans posting a slash line of .305/.395/.578 with 21 HR. Now 45 games into his big league career, Díaz has had some bright moments, but has struggled overall. The power hitting second baseman who came over in the Christian Yelich trade has yet to eclipse the Mendoza Line in the bigs and the peripherals don’t look good, but there’s still reason to believe that Díaz will figure things out.

Fish Stripes original GIF

Isan has showed an ability to hit the fastball, but the left-handed hitter was just 4-for-44 (.091) against offspeed pitches and not much better against southpaws. Obviously the sample sizes aren't massive, but they are still large enough to bring some concern.

The good news on Díaz is he is only 23 years old and has a very mature approach. Strikeouts have been a bit of a concern for Díaz at every level, but he offsets the punch-outs with a high on base percentage propelled by his patience. Despite the struggles of Díaz, he still posted an above-average 9.5 BB%. Though he struggled to consistently make contact, the power was there, with 12 of his 31 hits going for extra bases.

Díaz could very well be the most valuable piece in the Yelich trade, but the second baseman is going to need to improve his ability to hit the secondary stuff to have success at the highest level next year.

OF Jerar Encarnación

At 6’4”, 220 lbs, you’d expect a lot of power out of Encarnación. The big burly right-handed hitter finally met those expectations and then some in 2019. Encarnación started the season for the Clinton LumberKings, the Marlins Single-A affiliate, and was a force at the plate. The corner outfielder slugged 10 home runs in 68 games, helping him to a .841 OPS and 143 wRC+.

Encarnación’s hot start earned him a promotion to High-A Jupiter his numbers unsurprisingly took a bit of a hit. The 22-year-old still held his own, maintaining his K% in the mid 20s and producing power. That translated to the Arizona Fall League (AFL), too.

Encarnación will most likely begin his season in Jupiter next year in what could be a defining year for the young Dominican power hitter.

Honorable Mention: OF Monte Harrison

Harrison is not only one of the toolsiest prospects in the Marlins system, but maybe in all of pro baseball. The former football and basketball player boasts elite power and speed to go with a very strong arm in the outfield. Strikeouts have been the knock against Harrison, who punched out over 200 times in 2018. The Marlins sent Harrison to the AFL where he sacrificed power in an effort to hone in on his contact ability. One observable change in his approach was the diminishing of his dramatic leg kick.

Harrison carried his adjustments from the AFL to Triple-A, Jacksonville in 2019 where he cut his K% to 30% a dip from 37% in 2018. He also bumped his OPS up almost 100 points to .808 and increased his BB% from 7% to 10%.

Harrison still has some work to do in regards to making consistent contact, but there was a lot to be encouraged from in his age 23 season. An injury to Harrison’s wrist cut his season short, so expect to see him in AAA to start the year in 2020, with a chance to get called up as an opportunity presents itself.

Honorable Mention: SS José Devers

Devers came over in the Giancarlo Stanton trade from the Yankees as a 155 pound 18 year-old with not much information on him and a limited track record. The shortstop from the Dominican Republic enjoyed a respectable first season above rookie-ball slashing .273/.313/.330 in Single-A.

Sure, a .330 slugging percentage is not what you want from a shortstop, but Devers was the age of a college freshman playing grown men. Devers was three-and-a-half years younger than the average South Atlantic League Player and held his own.

Devers would build on his 2018 season with a torrid start to 2019. Now in his sophomore season in A-Ball, Devers not only looked like he belonged, but looked like he may be pushing towards a promotion. Unfortunately, Devers suffered groin and forearm injuries that limited him to 47 games. In 177 at-bats, Devers hit .322/.391/.390 to go with solid defense up the middle. He made up for some of those lost reps in the Midwest League playoffs and AFL.

Had it not been for his injury, Devers would have been firmly in the “Stock Up” group, but his abbreviated campaign was still a sign of progress for the 19-year-old. While José may not reach the potential of his brother, Rafael, José could turn into a legitimate major league piece down the road.

Stock Down

OF Víctor Víctor Mesa

Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

International free agency was expected to be a point of emphasis for Derek Jeter and the Marlins new ownership. Víctor Víctor and his younger brother, Víctor Jr. were the first major international targets for Miami, who made a clear effort to stockpile international money for the duo. Víctor Víctor was the clear prize however, commanding over $5 million in international bonus money and receiving interest from just about every team with a decent amount of money left in their pool.

At the time of the signing, the acquisition of the Mesa brothers may have been the most significant Marlins free agent signing since the team’s infamous splurge in 2011 when it signed José Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.

Víctor Víctor entered the season as one of the Marlins top prospects and made his way on to several top 100 lists. The excitement around Mesa would dissipate as the season went on as the outfielder struggled to consistently put the ball in play and hit for virtually no power. Between High-A and Double-A last year, Mesa posted a meager .235/.274/.263 clip with 99 of his 109 hits being singles.

The 23 year-old outfielder was sent to the Arizona Fall League, where he has enjoyed some improvement, hitting .327 through thirteen games. Still, only three of Mesa’s 17 hits have gone for extra bases.

Mesa’s elite glove and speed in the outfield alleviates some of the pressure on his bat, but it looks like the Marlins should be hoping for a Jake Marisnick type of outcome for Víctor Víctor...only this time holding onto him.

SP Jordan Holloway

There is a lot to be excited about with Holloway and many thought that coming off of Tommy John surgery, 2019 would be his breakout year. The right-hander can touch triple digits with his fastball and his breaking stuff has the potential to be devastating. At times this year, Holloway gave us a taste of the lights-out pitcher he can be; other times he left you questioning if his lack of command will hold him back from reaching his potential.

While conceding that control can be an issue for any pitcher returning from Tommy John Surgery, Holloway has had issues throwing strikes his entire professional career. In his 77 career games, Holloway has average nearly five walks per nine innings, a number that was inflated by his career worst 5.91 BB/9 in 2019.

Holloway will likely start his season where he finished the last, in Jupiter. While Holloway may have posted his worst season of his career in 2019, his elite fastball and solid stuff leaves hope for him as a high risk/high reward prospect.

OF Tristan Pompey

Pompey was a third-round pick out of Kentucky in 2018. The Marlins were hoping to get some value out of the selection of the toolsy outfielder who had been projected as a borderline first-round talent earlier that year.

The immediate yield looked good—Pompey made his debut in 2018 and mashed the ball in Single-A. Pompey was moved up to High-A after just 24 games and played another 24 games in Jupiter where his numbers remained consistent. Including his four games in rookie ball, Pompey hit .299/.408/.397 with 10 stolen bases in 52 games.

Pompey got off to a slow start in 2019, spent more than two months sidelined because of a foot injury, missed some more time with another lower body injury, then missed even more time to play for Canada in the Pan Am Games. When Pompey did play, to put it lightly, he was not good. The 22-year-old hit just .194 with an OPS of .566 to go with a 35 K%.

Though Pompey only played 42 games, there is reason to be concerned with his regression in his second year at the same level. The hope is that his late start and injury woes were the catalyst behind his struggles.

Pompey will likely start in Jupiter again, with the hope of consistency and health helping him bounce back.

Honorable Mention: 3B James Nelson

When Nelson was looking like a diamond in the rough for the Marlins when he was named the Miami Marlins Minor League Player of the Year in 2017. The 15th-round pick hit .309 with 7 home runs and an .810 OPS, giving one of the league’s worst farm systems at the time, something to be excited about.

Nelson has not been able to build on that 2017 season, playing just 62 games in 2018 due to injury and struggling mightily in 2019. The third baseman owned a .575 OPS alongside a 72 wRC+ in 121 games for the Jupiter Hammerheads. Nelson belted 41 extra-base hits in 2017 and has only recorded 29 over the last two seasons, his 35 errors are more than he had in his other three professional seasons combined. Add together his wRC+ over his last two seasons, the number still does not eclipse his 132 wRC+ in 2017. The numbers are ugly.

However, Nelson still has time to figure it out. Going into his age-22 season, it could be a make or break year for the Georgia native.

2019 MLB Pipeline Marlins Top 30 (Preseason vs. Postseason)