“Elite” might be the favorite adjective in a sports fan’s vocabulary. Those five letters put the subject of your conversation into the top tier without requiring specificity or denigrating anybody else. It’s a sexy, malleable word, and for that reason, it gets ridiculously overused.
Not in this case. After hauling in three more potential impact bats in the days leading up to the MLB trade deadline, the Marlins farm system is elite.
It wasn’t pretty! With new Marlins ownership settling in after the 2017 regular season, we witnessed arguably the 21st century’s largest exodus of established major league talent from a single roster. They flipped Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon for 12 total prospects (and also Starlin Castro, who’s still here for some reason). Inundated with “fire sale” accusations while stripping any hope that they’d be competitive the following year, all Derek Jeter and Co. had to show for it was a system that remained thinner than most others around the league. Criticism of the approach only intensified during the summer of 2018 when Yelich emerged as the NL’s best all-around player while several of the new toolsy players struggled in their debuts with the Marlins organization.
They needed more—a lot more—to convince their fanbase that these new decision-makers could be trusted.
But over the past calendar year, the Marlins’ creativity has propelled them into a position of depth and financial flexibility that they’ve rarely experienced in franchise history. Some examples:
- Four separate trades from July-September 2018 involving international bonus pool money, later used to sign Cuban outfielders Victor Victor Mesa and Victor Mesa Jr. (both currently Marlins Top 30 prospects)
- Swapping third baseman Brian Schales for reliever Nick Anderson last November; Anderson was flipped on Wednesday to acquire Jesús Sánchez, Tampa Bay’s best outfield prospect
- Pitchers Zac Gallen and Chris Vallimont—prospects with moderate upside whose stocked has soared amid breakout 2019 campaigns—used in Jazz Chisholm and Lewin Díaz trades, potentially providing long-term solutions at shortstop and first base, respectively
- Prioritizing JJ Bleday, Kameron Misner, Nasim Nunez, Evan Fitterer and Chris Mokma in their 2019 draft class, paying each of them above slot value without incurring penalties that affect future drafts
“If you’re looking for a most-improved farm system, Miami is a great candidate,” Baseball America wrote a week ago in ranking the Marlins 10th in their organizational talent rankings (subscription required). Since then, that farm system has added Chisholm, Díaz—not to be confused with Isan Díaz, the team’s consensus MLB Top 100 second base prospect—and Sánchez—not to be confused with Sixto Sánchez, the team’s consensus MLB Top 100 pitching prospect—into the mix.
The first reputable national outlet to update their rankings to reflect trade deadline activity, FanGraphs has elevated the Marlins to No. 4.
Just a couple months ago, their farm system was solid yet imbalanced, flush with pitching while lacking the bats to adequately support them.
Balance has been restored.
Here is the last home run that Lewin Díaz hit before the trade. Gets a 2-2 pitch down and in, drives it nearly 400 feet to RF.— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) July 28, 2019
Welcome to the Fish https://t.co/CdUjOZNhhc pic.twitter.com/HfkjRO4tFu
New Marlin Jazz "Ruth" Chisholm https://t.co/IqFuA5YXNl— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) July 31, 2019
So...what’s next? The 2019 Marlins are going to lose about 100 games. Yes, that gets them top-five draft position again next June, but they’ll be playing out the string in front of puny in-person and televised/streaming crowds. For many in the South Florida community, the current major league product is unwatchable (no offense, Yadiel Rivera). Why should fans spend their time and disposable income to support it? Outside of the die-hards, they do not give a shit about farm system rankings.
Gifted as these prospects are, there is no precedent in recent MLB history of perennial postseason contenders being constructed entirely of homegrown talent. The Marlins now have dozen of prospects with ceilings as average or better major leaguers—most of them will never reach those ceilings.
To fill in the gaps on their roster, the Marlins must add players with track records at the highest level. Perhaps they sacrifice some of their prospect depth in trades to haul in stars when other clubs initiate their own rebuilds. They should be aggressive in free agency, beginning this coming winter. Recruiting will have its challenges given that meaningful baseball still seems years away, but those circumstances don’t change unless the Fish take incremental steps.
An elite farm system is just the means to an end—the end to this agonizing October drought, the end to this “tradition” of shipping away beloved players in their primes.
The Marlins rebuild is a triathlon—bottoming out, identifying core pieces and retaining success with them each require their own skills and resources. Executing the first leg doesn’t guarantee anything, but the discipline and collaboration required to get to this point should have fans feeling hopeful.