The Marlins entered the 2019 season with an understanding that they were still a ways away from completing their massive rebuild and coming out on the other side of it as a major league contender. Their top priority in the meantime? The increased development of future stars in the minor leagues, bringing the young, controllable talent one step closer to contributing in Miami. Yet as of Minor League Baseball’s Opening Day, evaluators at Baseball America acknowledged only two players in the entire Marlins farm system on their MLB Top 100 prospects list: right-hander Sixto Sánchez (No. 13) and outfielder Víctor Víctor Mesa (No. 58). Most other reputable national outlets made a similar assessment.
The concept that only two Marlins made the cut was an undeniable hit to the confidence in the overall direction of the team rebuild. Fans understandably hoped that trading a league MVP in Giancarlo Stanton, an eventual MVP in Christian Yelich, a two-time All-Star Marcell Ozuna and plummeting to a 63-98 record to secure premium draft position would yield more value in terms of impact prospects with the potential to fill their shoes.
Thankfully for the Fish, the narrative has changed dramatically during this MiLB season. On July 19, BA released their post-draft, midseason Top 100 prospects list (subscription required). The Marlins currently have five players within the organization boasting top 100-caliber talent, four of which are new faces to the list.
Below, we will provide the current rankings for each of these players, a brief breakdown of their 2019 campaigns, and a projected timetable for their eventual call-up to the major leagues.
(It is worth mentioning that Monte Harrison’s season has been heavily impacted by a nagging wrist injury that recently required surgery. His stats throughout the time he has played at Triple-A New Orleans have been exceptional, earning him a selection to the Futures Game held during the All-Star week in Cleveland, Ohio. Health permitting, Harrison may have cracked the Top 100 as well.)
#20: RHP Sixto Sánchez
2019 Stats: 15 G, 3.41 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 5.25 K/BB
MLB Scouting Grades (on a 20-80 scale): Fastball: 75 | Curve: 55 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 60 | Overall: 55
Ever since Jeter’s takeover as CEO, there has been a profound emphasis by the Marlins front office to develop young, talented, and championship-caliber players within their minor league affiliates. If there is anybody that fits the bill, it is Sixto Sanchez.
In addition to being the youngest Marlin on Baseball America’s updated list, he is also the highest ranked one at #20 overall.
At just 20 years of age, Sánchez has bulldozed his way through the minor leagues since the start of his professional career in 2015, posting a 2.74 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP, and a 4.51 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Upon being traded to the Marlins by the Philadelphia Phillies in early February, Sánchez has made a loud impact on the mound and around the Marlins organization. During 2019, Sánchez has split time between Single-A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville, but his 13 games with Jacksonville have been far more representative of the pitcher he projects to be throughout his career.
Sixto Sánchez, Pitching with Emotion @PitchingNinja pic.twitter.com/ShG499IBqD— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) July 24, 2019
As a staple of the Jumbo Shrimp rotation, Sánchez has posted a 3.20 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, and a 5.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Per Baseball-Reference, he’s accomplishing that against competition whose average age is more than four years his senior.
Fortunately, Sánchez’s pitching ability has been recognized on a national scale, and it was put on display during the Futures Game. Despite allowing one base hit to Angels prospect Jo Adell, he would retire the next two hitters he faced with significant help from the blistering velocity of his fastball, which was consistently thrown at speeds ranging from 98-100 miles per hour. Nothing out of the ordinary for Sánchez.
Sixto Sánchez’s season totals may not be stellar, but the ability for him to make adjustments at such an early age across multiple levels of competitive play should not be underscored. For those reasons, he is widely seen as a top arm in development across Major League Baseball, and the one with the highest ceiling in the Marlins organization.
Projected MLB Debut: 2020 midseason call-up/2021 starting rotation
#60: OF JJ Bleday
2019 Stats (Vanderbilt University): 71 G, 347/.465/.701, 27 HR, 72 RBI, 1.166 OPS
MLB Scouting Grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 55 | Run: 40 | Arm: 60 | Field: 50 | Overall: 55
Possibly the best overall player on this list, 21-year-old JJ Bleday—the fourth overall pick of the 2019 MLB Draft and the Marlins’s first round selection—cracked Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list without having made his professional debut!
In what appears to be arguably the most talented draft class in franchise history, the Marlins made a splash in their selection of Bleday. Being a central part of Vanderbilt University’s renowned baseball program, Bleday’s success at the plate was bound to make headlines throughout the country in anticipation of the MLB Draft.
The Vanderbilt Commodores have consistently developed remarkable ballplayers—like David Price, Walker Buehler, and Dansby Swanson for instance—on a yearly basis. However, Bleday has received an unparalleled amount of praise for his endeavors throughout 2019. Prior to the draft, MLB Pipeline labeled Bleday as “one of the best hitters in the college ranks,” while also making mention of his unique ability to maintain control of the strike zone and drive the ball to all fields from the left side of the plate.
These sentiments have reverberated nationally, whether it was within the Commodore clubhouse or the Marlins front office on Draft Day.
In selecting Bleday, the Marlins acquired a player with the blood of a champion who radiates MVP-caliber potential. Not to be overlooked by his incredible individual performance in 2019, Bleday was easily the best player on the best team, as the Vanderbilt Commodores would ultimately emerge victorious as national champions in the College World Series.
While Bleday appears to be a primarily offensive player upon first glance, his defensive ability is not to be undermined. Where he lacks in speed, he compensates in his overall athleticism and his strong throwing arm, which was developed early through high school pitching.
Since his official signing with the Fish, JJ Bleday has already made four game appearances with Single-A Jupiter, hitting for a .190 average in 22 opportunities with one home run and two RBIs.
JJ Bleday hits his first career home run in Charlotte as the Hammerheads take a 6-1 lead!— Jupiter Hammerheads (@GoHammerheads) July 22, 2019
The first of many for the fourth overall selection in the 2019 MLB Draft! #HammerDown pic.twitter.com/9d3ZSacy3u
It may just be the start of his professional career, but Bleday is expected to cruise through the minor leagues and make a major league debut in a relatively short amount of time largely due to his advanced instincts on the field, on the basepaths, and at the plate.
Projected MLB Debut: 2020 end-of-season call-up/2021 Opening Day roster
#73: RHP Zac Gallen
ZaCHary Gallen having a career night pic.twitter.com/OSnwM5IjSm— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) July 25, 2019
2019 Stats (Triple-A New Orleans): 14 G, 1.77 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 6.59 K/BB
MLB Scouting Grades: Fastball: 55 | Cutter: 60 | Curveball: 50 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 55 | Overall: 50
While Zac Gallen is currently in the Marlins starting rotation, he still maintains prospect eligibility as of this publishing (Gallen will likely graduate in August once topping 50 innings pitched in the majors).
The right-hander truly thrived in Triple-A New Orleans with the Baby Cakes. In its entirety, Gallen’s minor league career has been impressive, but none of his previous seasons come close to rivaling the dominance he has displayed in 2019. Repeating the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Gallen dropped his ERA from 3.65 in 2018 to 1.77 this season, he greatly improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio, and he held a 9-1 record across 14 starts; his record in 2018 was 8-9 over 25 starts.
As a result of this drastic improvement, Gallen was the recipient of three PCL “Pitcher of the Week” awards in the span of two months, justifying his eventual call-up to the majors on June 20. While Gallen has had some difficulties providing lengthy starts with the Marlins since his promotion, his 2.76 ERA thus far is more than adequate.
It may be difficult to duplicate his achievements with New Orleans, but the 23-year-old right-hander figures to be a dependable middle-of-the-rotation pitcher for the seasons to come.
Projected MLB Debut: Already debuted
#91: 2B Isan Díaz
2019 Stats: 93 G, .303/.393/.581, 24 HR, 64 RBI, .974 OPS
MLB Scouting Grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 50 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50 | Overall: 50
Probably the most frequently discussed Marlin prospect in 2019, Isan Díaz has been ripping the cover off the baseball with Triple-A New Orleans .
Despite having a weak offensive month in April that saw Díaz hit only two home runs with a .226 batting average, every month since then has been exceptional. The following month, which also happens to be his poorest month at the plate since April, Díaz hit for a .323 average while clubbing eight home runs and driving in 19.
While his batting average has evidently skyrocketed to never-before-seen heights, Díaz has also displayed tremendous improvements in plate discipline. Since that dreaded month of April, Díaz has increased his walk rate, decreased his strikeout rate, and has reached base in nearly 43% of his plate appearances. In addition, his slugging percentage across the aforementioned time span has been nearly doubled his April mark. Combined with his increased plate discipline, that has translated to an OPS no lower than 1.044 since the beginning of May.
It is indisputable that Díaz has evolved as a hitter in 2019, so much so that he earned an appearance in the Futures Game. Initially perceived to be a player who did not display excellence in any particular tool, Díaz has revolutionized his game to become one of the minor leagues’ most potent hitters.
His placement on Baseball America’s rankings may seem low, especially to Marlins fans, but there is no doubt that the 23-year-old middle infielder is clicking right now. We anxiously await the day in the near future that he replaces veteran Starlin Castro.
Projected MLB Debut: August/September 2019
#92: RHP Edward Cabrera
2019 Stats: 15 G, 2.20 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 4.00 K/BB
MLB Scouting Grades: Fastball: 70 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 45 | Control: 45 | Overall: 45
Unlike the other players on this list, Edward Cabrera was developed entirely within the Marlins organization. He was signed out of the Dominican Republic under previous team management in 2015 as an international free agent.
Despite having an above-average slider and a fastball that can exceed triple digits, Cabrera’s greatest weakness up to this point in his professional career has been his control. He never had an ERA below 4.21 prior to this season, held back by an inconsistent breaking ball and a sub-par changeup that was “too firm to be effective.”
However, Cabrera has found a higher gear in 2019—fewer walks, a career high in strikeouts with 100, the lowest WHIP of his career, and a combined 2.20 ERA across 15 games split between Single-A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville. He is in the midst of a successful transition from being a wild fireballer to being a true pitcher.
While Cabrera may be pitching with ease in 2019, his ultimate future with the Marlins is heavily dependent on the command of his secondaries. If he can locate his breaking pitches and further develop his changeup, he may find himself in the starting rotation. Otherwise, the back end of the bullpen may be the most appropriate role.
Projected MLB Debut: 2020 MLB season (spot starts or reliever)/2021 starting rotation
In a Marlins farm system with plenty of player development success stories, these five have been definite standouts. This much Top 100 representation would be impressive under any circumstances, but to have all of these prospects under the age of 24 suits the trajectory of the rebuild perfectly.