The deadline for big league clubs to protect players from the Rule 5 draft was 8 PM ET Wednesday night, and the Marlins waited until the last possible moment to finalize their 40-man roster. As projected, the team protected six of their top prospects—Sixto Sánchez, Jazz Chisholm, Edward Cabrera, Nick Neidert, Lewin Díaz and Humberto Mejía, all of whom would have been surefire selections in the upcoming draft.
Sanchez, the top prospect in the organization, cruised through 114 innings over the course of the 2019 campaign. Of those frames, Sanchez threw 103 for Double-A Jacksonville, where he posted a 2.53 ERA, 2.69 FIP and 19.0% K-BB% while showing premium velocity, fastball command and impressive secondaries. He continues to project as a potential #2 starter and could make his big league debut in 2020.
Selected to the Marlins 40-man roster: RHP Sixto Sánchez pic.twitter.com/YNbBYzXdGp— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) November 21, 2019
Chisholm, who came over in the deadline swap for Zac Gallen, looked like a new man upon joining the Marlins organization. After a slow start with Jackson in the Arizona system, Jazz posted a .284/.383/.494 slash line in 23 games for Jacksonville after the trade, where he had a reasonable 25% K rate. His swing-and-miss concerns are likely to persist, but he makes very loud contact and projects as a potential 30-homer threat at shortstop, where he should be ready by 2021.
Cabrera and Neidert are likely the organization’s two best pitchers after Sanchez, and both show potential to be big league starters in fairly short order. The two come at hitters in different ways- Cabrera is a power arm with improving secondary stuff, whereas Neidert is a softer thrower who relies on superb location and a plus changeup. They took somewhat divergent paths in 2019—Cabrera showed improved stuff and improved his stock significantly on the back of 116 strikeouts in 96 2⁄3 innings across High-A and Double-A, while Neidert struggled a bit with injury and had so-so results in the goofy offensive environment in Triple-A, effectively flip-flopping the two in the organizational rankings. They could be rotation-mates in Miami as soon as 2021.
Like Chisholm, Díaz joined the Miami organization via trade during 2019. Acquired from the Twins in a July deal, Diaz gave his stock a serious shot in the arm this past season, hitting a combined .270/.321/.530 across three teams and two levels while increasing his career-high home run total from 13 to 27. Díaz’s numbers were even stronger prior to a late-season slump, and he shows the potential to hit for both average and power at the major league level, perhaps as soon as next year.
Selected to the Marlins 40-man roster: 1B Lewin Díaz pic.twitter.com/r4yfGcqsqG— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) November 21, 2019
The final slot went to 22-year-old hurler Humberto Mejía, an athletic 6’3” righty with an impressive fastball-curveball combination. He also shows strong strike-throwing ability, and should get a chance to continue to start in the Miami organization if he can stay healthy. That has been an issue thus far though, as he’s only managed 156 1⁄3 innings in the last four seasons due to various injuries, and didn’t pitch after August 9th last season. That said, he’s been effective when on the field, and could rise in the rankings significantly with a healthy 2020.
In addition to the above protections, the Marlins cleared a spot on the 40-man by designating starter Wei-Yin Chen for assignment. Signed to a five-year, $80M contract prior to the 2016 season, Chen is due $22M in 2020, and the team’s leadership nonetheless decided to move on to keep as much talent in the system as possible. This ensures, as was to be expected, that Chen’s option for 2021 will not vest, and he’ll be off the team’s books following the 2020 campaign. Marlins fans will likely welcome his absence, as Chen’s performance has ranged from bad to worse during his Marlins tenure, culminating in an ugly 6.59 ERA across 68 1⁄3 innings in 2019.
In speaking to reporters shortly after the deadline, president of baseball operations Michael Hill emphasized that “this decision was not about money. It was about building our best 40-man roster” (h/t Wells Dusenbury, Sun Sentinel).
After learning of the decision, Chen thanked the Marlins in Taiwanese via his social media accounts:
謝謝馬林魚的成全，對接下來的挑戰，我將繼續全力以赴！— Wei-Yin Chen（一生懸命） (@WeiYinChen16) November 21, 2019
As other teams made moves to protect their prospects, some interesting players across the league were designated for assignment that could be of interest to Miami, who could make more room on their 40-man pretty easily if they so desired. One name that has sparked intrigue is CD Pelham, a power reliever from the Rangers organization who has struggled to locate his lively, 97-99 MPH heater but still carries significant upside. Additionally, it was confirmed that one potential target for the Marlins in the Rule 5 Draft will indeed be available: first baseman Roberto Ramos from the Rockies organization. Colorado opted to protect contact oriented first baseman Tyler Nevin over the slugging Ramos, who launched 30 bombs at the Triple-A level to go with a .309/.400/.580 slash line in 2019. At 24 with proven pop, Ramos could be well worth a look for a Miami club seeking competition at first.