A sports organization that undergoes a rebuild is like a train headed through a long tunnel. You start out in daylight, enjoying the view in an open area, and then...sudden darkness. Some passengers of the cabin (observant fans) may have seen the tunnel coming; they understood that the “track” they were riding on would lead them through this process before arriving at its ultimate destination. For the rest of them, the sudden absence of light was a shock to their system.
This has been the experience for Marlins fans since 2017.
Like it or not, we are all on this train together, and the ride could be bumpy. You see players that you once enjoyed and cheered for disappear from view, while still waiting on worthy replacements to emerge. It’s natural to want to accelerate through the tunnel as fast as possible, to hell with what the experienced conductor recommends.
Then, one person seated at the right angle gets the first peek at the light on the other end and tries to share the excitement with other passengers. They get called fanatical or biased, told that the light is a figment of their imagination, and that all that is left is the familiar darkness. After all, in the pitch black of 98-loss seasons, even the weakest-lit flame can be distorted out of proportion.
Gradually, as the trip continues, it is more than the “fanatical few” who see the light. Even the fiercest skeptics have to admit it. The train is past the halfway point of the tunnel, putting them close enough to see the outside world...and for those outside to stare back at them.
Acknowledging that the Marlins still have work ahead to reach World Series Station, Baseball America likes the direction that they’re headed in. Widely considered the gold standard of baseball talent evaluation, BA released its 2019 MLB Organizational Talent Rankings on Wednesday (subscription required and recommended). Miami placed at No. 13, a dramatic bump from No. 24 the previous year and No. 29 the year before that.
The Marlins rank second-best in the competitive NL East and sixth among all National League franchises. An organization that spent years in purgatory is finally showing signs of life again with the combination of depth and upside that fans haven’t been able to claim since José Fernández and Christian Yelich were prospects.
How did the Marlins get this far?
The answer: with significant risk attached. The Marlins have not had a flawless rebuild by any means, and they are rightly scrutinized for that (e.g. not taking on more of Stanton’s money, acquiring highly volatile prospects, waiting so long to trade J.T. Realmuto).
On the other hand, they acquired nine prospects who have received Top 100 designation at some point since arriving in their custody, with the exception of Jorge Alfaro who had graduated prospect status. Sixto Sánchez, Jorge Alfaro, Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, Isan Díaz, Sandy Alcántara, Víctor Víctor Mesa, Jorge Guzman, and Nick Neidert each received that accolade from at least one credible national outlet.
The reason the Marlins are ranked 13th is not primarily due to top-shelf talent—Baseball America only has Sánchez and Mesa as current Top 100 prospects. Rather, it’s thanks to the layers of talent and depth that has been acquired. A previous article stated how the Marlins are top five in terms of their quantity of 50-grade prospects in their organization (those projected to be at least average major leaguers). There is still a need for impactful stars, though.
What happens moving forward?
The most significant stop for this train is scheduled for June 2019. This is the date when the Marlins—along with every other organization—get the chance to enrich their system via the draft. With the #4 overall pick and three picks within the first 50 slots, the Marlins are in an opportune spot to continue adding to their now-talented farm system.
Although rankings do not dictate the success of an organization’s future, they are the best barometer fans have from the outside looking in. If this holds true, then that light is going to become much brighter, as healthy reasoning should allow for most to assume that the Marlins achieve a Top 10 organizational ranking post-draft. In addition, the Marlins may benefit from the returns of highly touted but previously injured pitching prospects Trevor Rogers, Braxton Garrett, and Jordan Holloway.
There is no doubt that the tunnel still envelops us in darkness. But the light is getting closer, and the observant fans are not the only people seeing it any longer.