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Fish Stripes Top 30: Updated Marlins prospects list for 2020 season

The next several waves of talent in the Marlins farm system can put the franchise in a position to consistently contend this decade.

New York Mets v Miami Marlins
1B Lewin Díaz has emerged as a Fish Stripes staff favorite.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

In these unprecedented times, as the ongoing battle against the COVID-19 pandemic has brought Major League Baseball and countless other enterprises to a halt, nobody knows what will happen next. The only thing we’re sure of is that the Fish Stripes Marlins top prospects list was overdue for an update. Regardless of whether or not there will be a 2020 season, the staff wanted to put together a new Top 30 that better reflects the state of this loaded farm system.

The list was previously updated in December. There haven’t been any regular season games since then, but we have learned a lot from Spring Training observations and recent transactions. Also, we adopted a new format to collaborate with one another, ensuring that all relevant information about the players was exchanged before voting on how to rank them.

The image slider below puts the December 2019 and March 2020 lists side by side. Blue names were originally drafted/signed by the Marlins and have been developed inside the organization for their whole minor league careers; bold names are on 40-man roster; italics are for players who weren’t included on December’s Top 30 list; arrows indicate that the player moved up or down at least two spots since December.

For full transparency (and some added entertainment value), the staff conference call used to finalize the Top 30 update—featuring Ethan Budowsky, Luis Davila, Spencer Morris, Ian Smith and Ely Sussman—was posted to the Fish Stripes podcast feed as a two-part Earning Their Stripes episode.

Without any Minor League Baseball (MiLB) games or even organized baseball activities on the horizon, each player’s current age is irrelevant. Rather, we listed how old they will be as of July 1, 2020, by which point things will hopefully have returned to normal.

In the meantime, enjoy...AND STAY HOME!

Fish Stripes Top 30

1) RHP Sixto Sánchez

The Dominican right-hander has sat atop the Marlins top prospects list ever since the Phillies sent him over to headline the J.T. Realmuto blockbuster. This is the first time he’s faced a legitimate challenge for the No. 1 spot after reporting to Spring Training visibly out of shape and being held out of all Grapefruit League games. Despite his superb 2019 performance, his 11.6% swinging strike rate for Double-A Jacksonville was somewhat underwhelming—he won’t be able to replicate those results at Triple-A or the majors without adapting his game plan to miss more bats.

Naturally, fans are enamored with how Sánchez lights up the radar gun, but this changeup is the primary reason to be optimistic about him realizing his top-of-the-rotation potential. It makes left-handed batters just as uncomfortable as righties, and if you’re fortunate enough to put the ball in play, it’ll be nothing more than an innocuous ground ball.

Fish Stripes original GIF

Sixto is heading to Triple-A Wichita to begin 2020. We could make the case that he is already one of the Marlins’ five best MLB starting options, but the club wants to save as many bullets as possible for when they have a deep lineup and competent bullpen to surround him with.

2) SS Jazz Chisholm

The dynamic Chisholm offers monstrous power and impactful baserunning at a premium defensive position. But during his first several months with the Diamondbacks Double-A affiliate in 2019, he was lagging in the most important of all offensive categories: reaching base safely. Too much aggressiveness in the box contributed to striking out in one-third of his plate appearances.

Chisholm’s performance since the trade has been very encouraging on that front. He followed up his big August in Jacksonville with reps in the Puerto Rican Winter League, then slashed .308/.500/.615 for the Marlins in Spring Training.

This farm system has stacked up on promising position players recently, but Jazz offers the most tantalizing potential.

3) OF JJ Bleday

It’s been true throughout the entire history of the franchise: the Marlins struggle to produce runs efficiently. More specific to these past two seasons under new ownership, their lineup doesn’t work deep counts, make contact in key situations or elevate the ball. Coaches like James Rowson and Eric Duncan are being counted on to assist with that, but quite simply, the major league roster is still lacking in regulars with loud tools and advanced approaches.

The silver lining of 2018’s non-competitive campaign was the No. 4 overall pick in the amateur draft this past June. That is how the Marlins wound up with Bleday, whose well-rounded skill set and high floor are unmatched by any other current farmhand.

The Marlins took the extraordinarily aggressive step of having the lefty-swinging outfielder make his professional debut with the High-A Jupiter Hammerheads—that’s the third-highest level of MiLB competition. Whether he remains in the Florida State League a little while longer or gets immediately promoted to Jacksonville, expect improved production.

4) RHP Edward Cabrera

Under Jeffrey Loria’s regime, the Marlins were notorious for neglecting to scout and sign players outside the United States. As you’ll see, however, there are several exceptions who remain in the organization and have recently made massive developmental strides.

The $100,000 initial investment in Edward Cabrera is proving to be a terrific bargain—he has progressed from “raw and inexperienced” to a prototypical ace in the making.

There are staffers within the Marlins organization who believe that Cabrera has surpassed Sixto Sánchez as the most impactful arm in their system. We aren’t quite ready to jump on that bandwagon until the tall right-hander demonstrates more precise command.

5) OF Jesús Sánchez

Though only one month older than Bleday, Jesús Sánchez has the vast edge in terms of pro experience. He ascended to Triple-A in 2019 and already owns a spot on the Marlins 40-man roster.

Sánchez’s platoon splits are practically non-existent, the byproduct of using the entire field. Last season, he sprayed 41.0% of his batted balls the opposite way, according to FanGraphs. That rate is higher than any of the qualified Marlins minor leaguers who competed at full-season levels.

Believe in Jesús.

6) 1B Lewin Díaz

The Marlins were sorely lacking in long-term internal options at first base, so they went out and got one from the Twins.

Díaz had been viewed as a disappointment around this time a year ago. He was not utilizing the big-time power that earned him a $1.4 million bonus when originally signed out of the Dominican Republic. Minnesota left him unprotected for the 2018 Rule 5 Draft, and none of the other teams bothered taking a flier on him.

With a newfound commitment to his physical fitness, Díaz established a new career high in home runs by early June, then posted a .838 OPS in his 64 games at Double-A (a better mark than he had at any previous MiLB level). He doesn’t sacrifice contact skills in the process, either, which makes him a run-production threat even when contained in the ballpark. This was most evident during his Dominican Winter League stint with Estrellas Orientales (3 HR, 20 RBI in 29 G).

And what else? He has the technique and elasticity to be a valuable defender.

No pressure, but Marlins manager Don Mattingly has repeatedly drawn comparisons between him and Carlos Delgado.

7) OF Monte Harrison

Finding the right mechanics at the plate has been an ongoing battle for Harrison. Thankfully, in 2019, he got back to being the “impacting the game in a millions different ways” type of weapon deserving of Top 100 MLB prospect consideration despite approaching his 25th birthday this August.

Despite seeing his progress disrupted a handful of times due to injuries, Harrison’s plus-plus speed and mighty batted ball quality remain tantalizing. At the very least, the defensive and baserunning abilities give him a solid floor.

8) LHP Braxton Garrett

There wasn’t much to update about the former first-rounder’s scouting report from 2016-2018, as he was limited to 15 1⁄3 regular season innings. Garrett made it all the way back from Tommy John surgery this past season, demonstrating why he should still be regarded among the Marlins’ elite pitching talents.

Garrett brings 92-95 mph heat and gets huge depth on his high-70s curveball. With the changeup looking like an above-average offering too, he struck out right-handed batters nearly as frequently as lefties.

Fish Stripes original GIF

There are still some kinks to work out in Garrett’s execution when he gets multiple times through the opposing lineup—he allowed 11 of his 13 home runs in 2019 from the fourth inning on.

9) LHP Trevor Rogers

The lanky, 6-foot-6 Rogers dominated in his first full season of Minor League Baseball. His 150 strikeouts topped all other Marlins pitching prospects. There were four double-digit strikeout games along the way, including one following his late-season promotion from Jupiter to Jacksonville.

Rogers tends to be fastball-reliant, and that’s fine considering how precisely he locates it and his willingness to throw it up in the zone. His low-80s slider has beautiful two-plane tilt that predictably gives lefties nightmares.

10) OF Jerar Encarnación

Encarnación had more regular season runs batted in (71) and plate appearances (553) than any other Marlins prospect, while ranking second only to Isan Díaz with 16 home runs. The Arizona Fall League was more of the same. Also, 18 outfield assists!

His long-term defensive home remains unclear; for every run he saves with a bazooka throw from right field, there may be a couple he costs the team due to poor range and instincts.

However, assuming that he’s able to limit the high-volume whiffing that plagued him prior to this breakout, the bat alone makes him an intriguing player.

11) OF Kameron Misner

The Marlins were thrilled when Misner—once regarded as an early-to-mid first-round talent—fell to them at the 35th overall pick. Reportedly, he wasn’t as thrilled about it considering how it limited his signing bonus. Negotiations between the team and his representatives continued up until the signing deadline, with the Fish ultimately agreeing to pay slightly above slot value.

His skill set is impressive. Even during tune-up games in the Gulf Coast League, Misner drew walks constantly. The Clinton LumberKings deployed him in center field and in the middle of their lineup, and it’s not a coincidence that they were the hottest club in the Midwest League from that point forward.

Still a couple years away from his MLB arrival, but don’t be stunned if Misner winds up as the most valuable member of Miami’s stacked 2019 draft class.

12) RHP Nick Neidert

Neidert was the 2018 Marlins Minor League Pitcher of the Year. His opportunity to defend that title vanished immediately when he suffered a right meniscus injury in April. He would go on to make just three quality starts last season that occurred after his return to Triple-A New Orleans in August.

But all things considered, Neidert’s prospect stock is relatively flat year to year. He compensated for some of his absence at the Arizona Fall League, allowing only three earned runs in 21 2⁄3 innings (the ERA drops to 1.14 when accounting for two more scoreless innings in the Fall Stars Game). The right-hander showed his pinpoint fastball command and used both the slider and changeup as putaway pitches.

Even with well-below-average velocity, Neidert hides the ball well during his delivery, limiting the time that opponents have to react. He has all the other ingredients required to stick in the rotation.

13) OF Peyton Burdick

“Baby Trout” out of Wright State University spent the bulk of his summer terrorizing Midwest League pitchers. Between the no-doubt homers and all-out hustle, he is an enjoyable watch.

It is necessary to note, of course, that Burdick was a senior signing who has thus far had the luxury of competing against mostly younger opponents. The stats from his upcoming season with High-A Jupiter will be far more telling as he deals with superior strike-throwers.

14) OF Connor Scott

Scott certainly has a unique aesthetic, from his unconventional gait to his preference not to wear batting gloves.

The Marlins made him their first-round pick in 2018 because they were attracted to his upside. There have been glimpses of that—his plus-plus running has translated well to center field and on the base paths—but he didn’t carry much momentum into the offseason after slumping during his closing weeks with the Hammerheads.

Expect a sizable improvement in Scott’s power production as his 6-foot-4 frame fills out.

15) SS José Salas

The third-generation Venezuelan baseball player received the largest bonus of any Marlins pick-up during the 2019-20 international signing period. Will Salas remain as a shortstop? Likely not, but he has the tools to be a switch-hitting sensation in the heart of a major league lineup someday.

All signs point to Salas skipping the Dominican Summer League and making his pro debut on U.S. soil.

16) SS Nasim Nuñez

The energetic second-rounder has the makings of a superb defensive shortstop with arguably the best sprinting speed in this farm system. Being so young, it was a pleasant surprise to see nearly as many walks (35) as strikeouts (48) from Nuñez in the Gulf Coast League and Batavia combined.

He stole 28 bases during his age-18 season, making him the first Marlins teenager since Christian Yelich(!!!) with at least that many steals in a domestic league.

17) SS José Devers

Hardly anything was known about Devers when he was included in the Giancarlo Stanton trade two years ago, other than that he was the cousin of Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers. Credit to Gary Denbo and the other ex-Yankees decision-makers in the Marlins front office for identifying the promise in him based on rookie ball and backfields performances.

Though he continues to be officially listed at 155 pounds, Devers is noticeably larger than that these days. The training has boosted his arm strength, though there are some mixed opinions on our staff about whether shortstop is a realistic possibility for him.

New York Mets v Miami Marlins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Devers is approaching a pivotal season of his career, trying to prove he should still be a top priority in an organization that’s suddenly deep in potential middle infielders.

18) RHP Evan Fitterer

It was widely assumed that Fitterer would honor his commitment to UCLA and reenter the MLB Draft in 2022. Instead, the Marlins met the asking price to lure their fifth-rounder into the professional ranks.

Fitterer’s mechanics and fastball would be enough to intrigue to a degree, the most exciting part of Fitterer’s profile is his breaking ball, a bending slider that he throws with conviction, generating two-plane break. While he’ll lose location of it occasionally, he shows a lot of confidence uncorking his breaker, often throwing it multiple times in a row. At its best, it looks like a plus pitch, and he has nascent ability to throw it for strikes, as well as a chase pitch out of the zone.

19) SS Osiris Johnson (19)

Johnson is now one full year removed from undergoing surgery to repair a right tibial fracture. He’s been taking part in baseball activities ever since instructional league last September, so no reason to be concerned about the injury affecting him in 2020 and beyond.

Like with Salas, the teenager’s ticket to a long career in The Show is his bat rather than his current shortstop label.

20) OF Víctor Mesa Jr.

MLB Pipeline took the bold stance that Víctor Jr. has surpassed his more famous brother Víctor Víctor Mesa as an overall prospect. We are following suit after an impressive summer from “The Chosen One” (as he refers to himself on Instagram):

Mesa has average speed and the instincts to play faster than that on the bases and in the outfield. He spent most of his pro debut in center field, though he probably lacks the quickness to play there regularly at the highest levels. He’s more likely to wind up in right field, where he can be a solid defender with arm strength to match.

21) RHP Breidy Encarnación

We still haven’t seen him compete stateside, but the evaluators at FanGraphs already love Encarnación’s measureables:

He doesn’t throw all that hard right now, but Encarnacion is pretty projectable and his fastball has abnormal spin for a heater with fringe velocity, so if he does throw harder, it has a chance to miss a lot of bats. You can project on the rest of Encarnacion’s stuff with varying levels of zeal, since his arm action is very clean and his curveball has pleasing shape. He’s the best teenage arm in this system and has a chance to be a league average starter in time.

22) LHP Alex Vesia

Vesia’s per-inning stats stack up well versus anybody in the minors. No surprise that he was selected in 2019 as a Top Relief Pitcher finalist for the annual MiLBYS awards. High-A, Double-A, Arizona Fall League and major league Spring Training combined, the lefty has a scoreless streak that dates back to July, a span of nearly 40 total appearances.

Vesia gets it done by complementing his high-spin fastball with a changeup and slider, all coming from an unconventional release point.

Barring injury, he’ll be the first member of the Fish’s 2018 draft class to arrive in Miami.

23) OF Diowill Burgos

The Marlins acquired Burgos in exchange for Austin Dean. More insight on him from FanGraphs:

The sweet-swinging Burgos has a left-handed cut that looks like Robinson Canó‘s, and George Valera’s. He has a softer, top-heavy frame with bulky shoulders, and probably won’t grow into substantially more power, but he’s already got quite a bit. We’re being a little more aggressive in ranking what is a relatively projectionless, corner-only bat in this situation because we have increased confidence that Burgos will continue to hit for power because of his hitting hands’ talent. Realistically he projects as an average everyday player.

24) RHP Jorge Guzman

Guzman was very durable for the Jumbo Shrimp last year. He even made himself a more complete pitcher by refining his changeup.

However, the 24-year-old’s extreme fly-ball tendencies and scattershot control are difficult to overcome in a starting role.

Guzman lights up the radar gun as consistently as any Marlin on this list or otherwise. With so few proven commodities in their major league bullpen, you may seen the team plug him into a high-leverage role soon and let him figure it out.

25) RHP Jordan Holloway

The story of Holloway’s 2019, as told through monthly splits:

  • 3.07 ERA in April
  • 0.43 ERA in May
  • 9.42 ERA in June
  • 8.57 ERA in July
  • 2.25 ERA in August

26) RHP Sterling Sharp

More from MLB Pipeline on Sharp, who had been slated to open up the 2020 campaign in the Marlins ‘pen:

Sharp has exceptionally low spin rates on his one- and two-seam sinkers, resulting in heavy life and exceptionally high ground-ball rates, including a 3.2 groundout/airout ratio in 2019. His fastball velocity usually ranges from 89-92 mph and tops out at 94, so he pitches to weak contact more than he misses bats. His changeup sinks as well and gives him a solid second offering, though his slurvy slider needs more work.

A pitch-to-contact starter, Sharp translates his athleticism into an easy delivery with a high leg kick that provides deception without compromising his control. He hasn’t had any arm issues in pro ball and his efficiency helps his cause as a starter.

27) RHP Humberto Mejía

Mejía is the longest-tenured Marlins player in this Top 30 and a new addition to their 40-man roster.

Primarily in a starting role, the right-hander performed splendidly last season. Placing him on the 40-man was aimed at protecting him from exposure via the Rule 5 Draft, and an indication that other MLB teams would’ve been willing to take a flier on his low-90s fastball and high leg kick.

The lingering concern is Mejía’s durability. Most of his July and August was wiped out by soreness, which means he’s slated to open 2020 back in High-A Jupiter (and a long shot to debut in the majors until the following year).

28) OF Víctor Víctor Mesa

The eldest of the Mesa brothers was the consensus best international player available in 2018 whose fielding, baserunning and bat-to-ball skills were supposed to accelerate his journey towards joining the big leaguers in Little Havana. A .235/.274/.263 slash line at Jupiter and Jacksonville combined—seldom reaching the warning track—cannot be spun into anything other than a massive disappointment.

Either the 2020 campaign features an uptick in solid contact that allows us to dismiss his initial struggles as the manifestation of rust...or reinforces our worst fears that the Fish overpaid for a run-of-the-mill fourth outfielder type.

On the bright side, Mesa’s 7.8% swinging strike rate was the best of any qualified Marlins position player at a full-season MiLB level.

29) C Will Banfield

A special defensive catcher, there’s little doubt that Banfield will carve out a role in the majors. Perhaps the only area where he has room to improve on that side of the ball is pitch framing, which will dramatically lose its importance should MLB implement an electronic strike zone in the next collective bargaining agreement.

But the bottom line is, he’ll need to get on base more consistently to raise his ceiling to something better than a journeyman backup.

Nice power potential, though, and he has time on his side.

30) RHP Chris Mokma

FanGraphs on Mokma:

He was a tad old for the draft class, but there are other reasons to dream on Mokma’s stuff. He has a projectable, shooting guard build, he’s from a cold weather state, and his delivery is fluid and repeatable. It sounds like the curveball Mokma used in high school has already been shelved in favor of a new slider, but the fastball/changeup combo is what might end up missing bats, and the ceiling on the command seems high based on his athleticism.

Honorable Mentions

On the verge of graduating from prospect eligibility anyway, RHP Robert Dugger opened some eyes this past spring with improved fastball velocity and 9 23 scoreless innings to show for it. With MLB active rosters now expanded to accommodate an extra position player, OF Brian Miller and OF JD Orr should have usefulness for some teams in high-leverage baserunning/bunting situations. LHP Luis Palacios needs to be tested at the full-season level, RHP Josh Roberson needs to stay healthy and LHP Will Stewart needs a more consistent breaking ball.

Follow Ethan Budowsky (@GatorBait_Ethan), Luis Davila (@luisrdavi), Spencer Morris (@ProspectSpencer), Ian Smith (@FlaSmitty), Ely Sussman (@RealEly) and Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) on Twitter.