Unsurprisingly, the Marlins have been about what we expected entering this season. They’re 41-57, NL East bottom dwellers with a few bright lights peppered throughout the roster. The lineup has some nice contributors in Realmuto, Dietrich, and Anderson. Steckenrider and Barraclough have been productive cogs in the bullpen as well. That said, for an organization in which 42 players have suited up thus far in 2018 at the Major League level, the fact that only five players on the active 25-man roster can be pointed to as relevant pieces speaks volumes as to how early the franchise is in this new process.
Down on the farm, however, is a different tale to be told. Here are a few “who’s hot” cases I’ve seen throughout the Marlins’ system in the first half of 2018, and players to watch throughout the second half of the season up and down the organization. I wanted to go beyond the “top prospects” here, so I won’t be including Anderson, Guzman, or other players from the blue chip tier of Miami’s farm. I also will look into whether the Marlins should stand pat at the deadline, or look to continue selling off veteran pieces.
Triple-A: Austin Dean (OF)
Dean has long been a player who has struggled to adjust to promotions, which is why he still has yet to make his MLB debut after being a fourth-round selection by Miami back in 2012. However, he earned his promotion to Triple-A after playing 22 games at Double-A to start off 2018, and mashing .420 with a 1.120 OPS (34 hits, 12 for extra bases). He has now spent 66 games at Triple-A, and by all accounts he looks like the real deal. He isn’t known as a deep ball hitter, as his minor-league career average is barely 11 homers per season. With that, however, he strikes out at a low clip, walks relatively often and has strong career marks against both left-handed and right-handed pitchers.
Double-A: Peter O’Brien (1B)
O’Brien has been stuck bouncing between different levels in the minor leagues for the longest time. He has played 695 professional games since being drafted by the Yankees in 2012, and only 36 of those were on an MLB roster. This year, he actually got off to a dreadful start with the Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate, Tulsa. In 31 games, he put up a .150 average, .631 OPS, and a 64 wRC+ (for context, 100 is league average). This was plausibly attributable to his pulling the ball 55.4% of the time, something he hadn’t done across at least 30 games since 2014, when he was in the Diamondbacks’ organization (again, at Double-A). He has corrected that since being traded to Miami, which has allowed him to have a strong 22 games following the deal despite a low batting average. Now only pulling the ball 47% of the time, much closer to his career average, he is hitting .209 with a 127 wRC+, putting up respectable metrics in both OBP (.331) and SLG (.500). He will always be strikeout-prone due to his long swing mechanics, but he has begun to draw walks more, and if he keeps that up it will help to further forgive his swing and miss tendencies.
High-A: Jordan Yamamoto (P)
I identified Yamamoto as my favorite piece of the deal when he was part of the return in the Christian Yelich trade with Milwaukee this offseason. In this first taste of action as a Miami farmhand, he’s displaying why. In seven starts at High-A, he sports a 1.55 ERA, and continued to decrease his walk rate (it was under 2.00 for the first time in his career) while maintaining his K/9 of 9+. He also continues to keep the ball in the park. Throughout 245.1 minor-league innings between 2016-17, he allowed just 14 home runs and has yet to sacrifice a single long ball in 2018. They are also getting some length out of him, as he’s gone at least six innings in three of his six starts and only was kept to shorter than five frames in one start. The major questions, of course, lie within the level of competition. Even though he has improved his metrics with every advancement to a higher level, he just turned 22, and was recently promoted to Double-A, the notorious colander to separate the “for-real” from the “not-for-real”.
Keep or Shop?
Justin Bour (1B)
Bour is a good, not great player. He’s an above-average, slugging first baseman who can get on base even though he won’t hit for average. He hasn’t ever played a full season, but when he’s in the lineup he’s among the better 1B in the National League. According to Baseball-Reference, his 650-PA average over the last three years is over 3.0 WAR. That won’t win him any MVPs and he may never be an All-Star, but he’s a solid contributor. The problem is, he’s a first baseman, and even though he’s controllable, there isn’t much demand around the league for someone who only plays first base and provides less-than-superb offense. If a team with a glaring need and a decent farm is willing to talk (perhaps Colorado), then go for it. But don’t trade him just because. He can still provide veteran value and solid production to the team, and I’m not sure that they can get equal value in return in a transaction.
Starlin Castro (2B)
Castro is one player with whom I’ll never understand the hype surrounding him. I’m going to assume that he will be bought out rather than paid $16 million after 2019, so whoever wants him would be on the hook for a little over $18 million between the remainder of this and all of next season. That’s not going to break the bank, but is any team that desperate for second base help that they would take on that deal for a league-average-at-best player with character issues and lackluster defense? Boston? The Dodgers? I’m not sure there’s a lot of clear fits for him right now beyond those clubs, in terms of teams who are simultaneously weak this year in 2B production, yet are in contention enough that they would pursue that type of acquisition. He might be better off being kept by Miami for veteran presence/culture sake with the young upcoming Latino players.
J.T. Realmuto (C)
Here is the player I would focus on trading. Production is down among catchers across the league, while simultaneously we see Realmuto not only in the midst of a career year, but doing so as a player who won’t be 28 until next spring. Washington, Minnesota, Colorado, Oakland, Philadelphia are just five of several teams who are chasing the 10 playoff spots this season and beyond who could use a serious upgrade on both sides of the ball at catcher that Realmuto would provide. Don’t sleep on the fact either that he won’t be a free agent until after 2020. According to Baseball-Reference, which breaks down collective production cross-referenced by team and position, the catchers of Miami have been better this season than those of any other franchise in the game. Nowhere else is Miami even top-10 at a position. Acknowledging all of this, and taking stock of how his production continues to improve and will likely progress further over the coming 2-3 seasons, leads me to believe that the right play is continuing to pump legitimate prospect talent into the minor leagues by seeing what’s out there for Realmuto at the deadline.
In conclusion, when looking at the Marlins’ current state of affairs, I believe that their Mmajor Lleague team doesn’t need much tinkering. It’s most likely going to be a painful waiting process that must be endured to bring the Marlins back(?) to respectability. Should they opt to move a piece like Realmuto in the coming weeks, the franchise could one of the next to begin to turn around when the operations are placed in the hands of a true baseball regime.