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Ema2R

Progress in 2019 from key prospects could balance the way the Marlins’ trades last winter are judged

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https://theathletic.com/660075/2018/11/22/progress-in-2019-from-key-prospects-could-balance-the-way-the-marlins-trades-last-winter-are-judged/

It has been almost a year and it still stings many Marlins’ fans.

If seeing recently minted National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton dealt to the Yankees wasn’t enough, watching Christian Yelich win this year’s award in a Brewers uniform made South Floridians all-too-familiar with the franchise’s history cringe even more.

The Marlins gained substantial financial flexibility by trading Stanton.

But seeing Stanton belt 38 home runs and play in his first postseason hurt.

And though Yelich made it clear he wanted to be traded, seeing him take a monumental leap forward with career numbers in every offensive category (he doubled his home runs from 2017 going from 18 to 36), while still in the fourth year of a reasonable seven-year contract, hurt more.

The jury might not be as harsh in another year’s time if the players the Marlins acquired in those deals take a big step forward in 2019.

Three of the prospects acquired for Yelich – outfielder Monte Harrison, middle infielder Isan Diaz and right-handed pitcher Jordan Yamamoto – and right-handed pitcher Jorge Guzman (acquired in the Stanton trade) were among the eight players the Marlins added to their 40-man roster before the Rule 5 draft protection deadline.

The moves put them a step closer to potential major-league breakthroughs by season’s end or by 2020 when the Marlins hope to be much closer to their window of contention.

And the highest-regarded asset from the Yelich deal – outfielder Lewis Brinson – may be primed for a big turnaround if he can carry over a positive finish to a mostly difficult 2018 season.

But none of the prospects acquired in those deals are considered among baseball’s elite potential future stars, which casts serious doubt as to whether the Marlins gained real value to justify parting with their All-Star talent last winter.

Is it time to start judging the trades with different expectations?

“When you talk about prospect packages for stars, an enormous amount of the time the prospect package never matches what that star does over the course of his career,” said Kyle Glaser, a national writer for Baseball America. “If I’m a Marlins fan I would try not to measure it by how Yelich performs. Start with the assumption that Christian Yelich will outperform all four prospects for the rest of his career. But be happy with getting two contributing starting outfielders (Brinson and Harrison) and maybe a contributing second baseman (Diaz).”

Both Brinson and Harrison have five-tool potential and the combination of athleticism, defensive ability and raw power at the plate — qualities the Marlins are targeting in their efforts to build a sustainable winner.

For both, the upcoming season will be vital to proving they can live up to lofty expectations.

Brinson’s hitting struggles raised concerns in his first season in Miami as he slashed .199/.240/.338 with a .577 OPS in 382 at-bats.

The Marlins were encouraged with Brinson’s September after he returned from a hip injury and showed some improvement (.239/.263/.337) at the plate.

Brinson adjusted his approach and it showed late in the year as his hard-hit percentage on balls in play was a team-best 43.2 percent after June 1, according to MLB’s Statcast. His exit velocity on fastballs by the end of the season rose to 94.5 mph – his best all year.

The Marlins hope those are signs Brinson can put it all together and bring some much-needed pop to their lineup next year.

“Lewis is better than what he showed last year,” Glaser said. “At the same time, swing and miss and strikeouts are probably going to be a part of his game. Maybe he’s never a hit over .300 with 30 homers guy, but I like Lewis as a player and I trust him to be better than he was last year. But if he hits .220 that still doesn’t really cut it.”

Brinson got off to a solid start defensively with 11 defensive runs saved (most among center fielders by mid-June) but committed nine errors – a league-high among center fielders.

The Marlins’ starting center field job would appear to be Brinson’s to lose entering 2019. But the Marlins are expecting more results from their young players with Brinson at the forefront of that group.

Brinson, who was born in Fort Lauderdale, went to high school in Coral Springs and was a Marlins fan, would be a boon for Miami in many ways if he turns into the productive player the team expects.

Brinson resumed his offseason workout program three weeks ago and has been training in Davie with Mets pitcher Anthony Swarzak, an alum of local Nova High School.

“I’m staying with my same approach and trying to build off my second half,” Brinson said. “I’m trying to study pitchers better and study myself better, focus on my strengths and trying to get stronger and faster, hitting every day.”

Marlins outfielder Monte Harrison slashed .290/.383/.348 and cut his strikeout rate to 23.4 percent (19 in 81 plate appearances) after making some adjustments to his swing during the Arizona Fall League. (Mark J. Rebilas / USA TODAY Sports)

AFL standouts

Harrison, formerly the Marlins’ top-rated prospect by MLBPipeline.com before the team signed international free agent Victor Victor Mesa last month, slashed .240/.316/.399 with 19 home runs and 48 RBI but struck out at an alarming 36.9 percent clip last year in double-A ball — a rate that exceeded 40 percent for a large portion of the season.

Harrison may have found an entry point to solving those woes during the recently concluded Arizona Fall League, in which seven players in the Marlins’ organization were on the team (the Salt River Rafters) that reached the championship game.

Harrison slashed .290/.383/.348 and cut his strikeout rate to 23.4 percent (19 in 81 plate appearances) after making some mechanical adjustments to his swing that increased his ability to make contact consistently.

The downside was a power drop as Harrison did not homer in any of the 19 games he played and mustered only three extra-base hits out of his 20).

Harrison was still impacting the ball hard in the AFL though. One of the singles he hit had an exit velocity of 114.6 mph, which was the fifth-hardest hit ball in the entire tournament.

“What (Harrison) did in the past was a lot more uphill, which made it a lot more impactful but there was a lot more swing and miss to it,” said Glaser, who scouted Harrison in his AFL appearances in both 2017 and 2018. “We saw a much more level swing around his body as opposed to up through it.

“It was more of a swing change than an approach change. He was still aggressive, still went after pitches, but it was more of a level, contact off the ground.”

Glaser believes Harrison will be a major-leaguer, but how high of a ceiling he has remains to be seen depending on whether he can apply these adjustments at the plate without sacrificing his power potential.

“He’s an incredible athlete and has an incredible skill set, but you see a swing that’s more under control,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. “I think that’s going to allow him to repeat his swing and repeat contact and cut strikeouts down, draw more walks. He can impact the game in so many ways, not just with his power but by getting on base and stealing a bag. Defensively, he can impact the game with his glove as well.”

Infield of the future?

The Marlins’ infield figures to look radically different if all goes well for them in terms of development by the time their competitive window draws closer.

Isan Diaz could find himself grabbing a hold of the starting second baseman job, possibly even by the tail end of next season.

Diaz, 22, got a taste of the triple-A level (.204, 3 HR, 15 RBI in 137 ABs) late last year after hitting .245 with 10 homers and 42 RBI at Double A.

The Marlins’ incumbent second baseman, Starlin Castro, who came over in the Stanton deal, is entering the final year of his contract barring the team picking up a club option for 2020. He is owed $11.85 million. Should the Marlins trade Castro this offseason or by the July deadline, Diaz could earn an opportunity at the position.

Diaz has the potential to become an impactful power-hitting player, who has shown a knack for drawing walks and finding a way to get on base. Like Brinson and Harrison, cutting down a high strikeout rate (27.4 percent) is vital.

Diaz, who represented Puerto Rico at the Sup-23 tournament in Colombia in October, is playing in the Puerto Rican Winter League.

“I felt like the majority of the at-bats I struggled with (this year) were mental,” Diaz said. “I just needed to solidify a good approach at the plate.”

While JT Riddle and Miguel Rojas figure to battle for the 2019 starting shortstop job, a key ingredient that could form part of the core middle infield for the Marlins in future seasons could also come from their MVP player trades.

The Marlins are looking at 18-year old Jose Devers (acquired in the Stanton deal), the cousin of the Red Sox’s Rafael Devers, who probably has two to three more years of minor-league development to go before that day comes.

But his rapid rise from rookie ball to high Single A last season opened some eyes.

The wiry Devers (6-0, 155 pounds) still must develop more physically, but a quick progression in the coming years wouldn’t surprise Marlins vice president of player development and scouting Gary Denbo.

“His swing and his defense and his ability to make adjustments,” Denbo said when asked what has impressed him the most when watching Devers play. “We feel he has one of the best swings of any of the young prospects in baseball. He sprays the field with line drives. He has good hands. His defensive ability is developing. He makes adjustments quickly. Early in a game, he was getting beat by fastballs. He made adjustments actively in the game and found a way to hit the fastball and get on base. For an 18-year old in the South Atlantic League, that’s very unusual.”

Pitcher Jorge Guzman projects as another potential solid piece exchanged for Giancarlo Stanton. With velocity that can often exceed 100 mph, Guzman might need one more full year in the minors to hone his secondary pitches and continue to learn to sequence his pitches better. (Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports)

High heat

Right-handed power pitcher Jorge Guzman projects as another potential solid piece exchanged for Stanton. With velocity that can often exceed 100 mph, Guzman might need to go one more full year in the minors to hone his secondary pitches and continue to learn to sequence his pitches better as he began to do in 2018 at single-A Jupiter.

Guzman gave a demonstration of his power in this year’s MLB Futures Game with a 10-fastball outing that often touched 100 or higher. But whether he can become a more complete pitcher will determine his long-term potential as a starter or possibly even a dominant closer.

“For Jorge, it’s all about fastball command,” Denbo said. “When he learns that, he’s going to move up quickly in this organization. He did a lot better job learning how to throw his changeup, when to throw it and when to throw his secondary pitches.”

The forgotten man

The player in the Yelich deal most forget is 22-year old right-hander Jordan Yamamoto, rated the Marlins’ No. 17 prospect by MLB.com. Yamamoto went 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA in six starts (26 IP) in the AFL, striking out 27 and walking 13 with a 1.08 WHIP.

According to Statcast, Yamamoto’s curveball had a spin rate of 2,920 revolutions per minute, which creates more deception to the plate.

For perspective, the league average curveball spin rate last year was 2,493 rpm.

The Yelich trade’s value swings a lot more in the Marlins’ favor if Yamamoto develops into any sort of positive contributor in the next two years whether as a starter or even some sort of specialist out of the bullpen.

But consistency in his velocity and command of secondary pitches is ultimately what has some believing Yamamoto is still on the fringe of reaching the majors.

“When I saw him (in Arizona), he was 87-90 (mph), and a weird arm slot which was not doing a whole lot for him,” Glaser said. “His breaking ball and change weren’t all that great and he got hit around hard. But then he comes back in the championship game and throws 94 (mph) and up with a nasty curveball. So that guy would be a major leaguer.”

Yamamoto was impressive in the minors even before pitching well in Arizona. He compiled a 1.55 ERA with 47 strikeouts and eight walks at high Single A last year, leading to move up to Double A, where he pitched 11 innings and compiled a 2.45 ERA with 15 strikeouts and two walks.

“He’s performed for most of his career. There’s control. There’s three pitches. There’s things to like, but there’s not a lot to hang your hat on so far to say he can perform against major-league hitters consistently. But again, if he’s that guy with the 94 and that dirty curveball, then he could be.”

Though the Marlins may produce multiple major-league talent from the Yelich and Stanton deals, only two players from the deals for All-Stars Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon have reached the majors so far – pitcher Sandy Alcantara and outfielder Magneuris Sierra.

With a five-pitch arsenal, Alcantara has the potential to become a fixture in the rotation this coming season with improved control.

But Sierra, who has been working with team legend Juan Pierre on improving his bunting skills and improve upon his dismal slash line of .190/.222/.211 over his first 147 major-league at-bats.

The Gordon trade purged nearly $38 million of his remaining salary. But the only bright spot thus far has been right-handed pitcher Nick Neidert, the Marlins’ organizational Pitcher of the Year. Neidert made 26 starts in Double A and went 12-7 with a 3.24 ERA with 154 strikeouts and 31 walks. Neidert wasn’t added to the 40-man roster and figures to open next season in the minors. It remains to be seen if he can progress enough to become an effective starter at the major-league level.

Youth push will continue

The Marlins parted with their longest-tenured player, Derek Dietrich, when they designated him for assignment on Tuesday to make room for new additions to their 40-man roster.

The Marlins have nine players on that list, including seven pitchers, who have no major-league experience.

Among them are potential sleepers for future rotation spots, including right-hander Jordan Holloway, a 2014 draft pick of the Marlins in the 20th round who is coming off Tommy John surgery. Denbo raved about Holloway during the team’s instructional league season in September, saying his velocity was touching 95-99 mph with solid command. The Marlins think he is a future contender for the top of their rotation.

This week the Marlins added three right-handed minor-league pitchers to their system by trading for Nick Anderson and Tyler Stevens for other minor-leaguers in deals with the Twins and Angels respectively and by claiming Julian Fernandez off waivers from the Giants.

One more big trade?

Dietrich’s departure made catcher J.T. Realmuto the longest-tenured player on Miami’s roster.

And that could change in the coming days or weeks if the Marlins make another blockbuster move to acquire more prospects.

Hill said last week the organization is pleased with the foundation it has begun to build to repair one of baseball’s worst farm systems.

Still, if the Marlins face the seemingly inevitable possibility of having to trade yet another All-Star, then securing the elite-level prospect with the potential for immediate and substantial contribution reminiscent of a Ronald Acuna Jr. or Kyle Tucker in a swap for Realmuto is imperative.

For the moment, the Marlins’ farm system looks better.

But while Miami’s former players continue to rack up major accolades and compete for championships, the pressure will begin to mount soon for many of their replacements to start showing results.

“We’ve come so far when you think about the upper-level talent and upper-level pitching that’s ready to help us at the major-league level,” Hill said. “The depth of our starting pitching is what’s going to speed up our return to competitiveness and playoffs and winning championships.

“You need the depth. You need the numbers. We’re just going to try to add to it and build on.”

(Top photo of Lewis Brinson: Charles LeClaire / USA TODAY Sports)

 

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Edited by Ema2R (see edit history)
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9 hours ago, Ema2R said:

Is it time to start judging the trades with different expectations?

To me this should have been the case from day one. None of those trades were ever about what the players that came to the Marlins were gonna do in 2018. 

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