4 Prospects at Spring Training the Miami Marlins Can Build Around
The future is not here yet, but it's coming.
When the Miami Marlins opened camp last month, 11 of the organization's top 12 prospects, according to MLB.com's 2013 prospect watch, were either on the team's 40-man roster or were invited to spring training as a non-roster invitee.
Some flashed potential, but a select few showed they can be the crown jewels the Marlins can build around. The only question that remained for the cream of the crop was whether they would start the season with the Marlins or in the minors.
- Marcell Ozuna: Rated the No. 7 prospect in the organization by MLB.com, Ozuna batted .364 (4-for-11) with one home run and seven RBI before he was optioned to Double-A Jacksonville on March 11.
"This has been good," the outfielder told MLB.com of being in big league camp. "I learned how it is to be here."
- Derek Dietrich: The No. 9 prospect in the organization was solid as he hit .375 (3-for-8) before being re-assigned to minor league camp March 8.
- Zack Cox: Ranked right behind Dietrich, Cox was optioned to Double-A Jacksonville the same day as Dietrich. The third baseman batted .300 (3-for-10) during his time with the Marlins this spring.
"The biggest thing for him is his bat," first-year manager Mike Redmond told the Sun-Sentinel. "His ticket to the big leagues is his bat and that's his biggest value to this team. Where he fits in defensively, if it's third base or second base, if he hits he becomes a serious weapon. That's what we talked about in the office."
Now, without further ado, in order of least impressive to the most impressive, here are four youngsters the Marlins can build around.
Let's make one thing perfectly clear: Adeiny Hechavarria did not make this list because of his bat.
Hechavarria is currently hitting .167 (7-for-42), has a .250 on-base percentage and a OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .488 in spring training. For crying out loud, Hechavarria makes Mario Mendoza, of the Mendoza line fame, look like Giancarlo Stanton.
As Grantland.com's Jonah Keri indicated four months ago, Hechavarria will be lucky to hit like Rey Ordonez.
But what makes Hechavarria potentially special is his defense. As Keri also noted, Hechavarria is an "excellent glove man." In fact, when Hechavarria arrived from the Toronto Blue Jays in the 12-player fire sale last November, the Marlins received a glowing recommendation from former Marlins All-Star Hanley Ramirez, according to the Miami Herald.
"Hanley Ramirez called us and told us what an incredible shortstop he is,” Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said. “When Hanley tells you ‘He is better than I am, you’ve got a great guy with great hands,’ it’s amusing to listen to."
Playing the most important defensive position in baseball, the Marlins can build their team around Hechavarria's defense even though he carries a Nerf bat. The Mets did. Ordonez won three Gold Gloves in his first four seasons before he fractured his left arm and never recovered.
Who is to say Hechavarria won't only do the same, but avoid the tragic injury that befell Ordonez?
Considered one of the building blocks the Marlins received in the 12-player fire sale, Jake Marisnick quickly went to work to show his new club what he could provide in the future.
Marisnick had five hits in 11 at-bats, which included a double and a triple, before his spring was cut short when he suffered a broken bone in his left hand after he was hit by a Trevor Rosenthal pitch in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals on March 6.
The initial X-ray came back negative, but a subsequent test a few days later revealed the fracture, which will keep Marisnick off the field for about a month.
Luckily for Marisnick, the one guy he doesn't have to impress as much is Redmond because Redmond has been his manager in each of the past two seasons in the Blue Jays organization.
In 2011, Marisnick hit .320, smashed 14 home runs, drove in 77 runs and stole 37 bases in Single-A Lansing in Redmond's first-year in the dugout. Then last season, Marisnick and Redmond began the season in Advanced Single-A Dunedin, where Marisnick batted .263 with six home runs and 35 RBI before receiving a promotion to Double-A New Hampshire.
When Marisnick returns from his injury, the organization's No. 3 prospect is expected to start the season in Double-A Jacksonville. But if you ask Redmond, Marisnick could be playing center field about 350 miles to the south pretty soon.
"I told these guys (the front office) that he can play center field in the big leagues right now," Redmond told MLB.com.
Usually, pitchers who are 20 years old, have yet to throw a major league pitch and has made only one appearance in spring training aren't a big deal.
Jose Fernandez does not fall into this category.
Fernandez threw two scoreless innings and struck out two in his only performance this spring, but that's not what makes him a prospect the Marlins will build around. What makes Fernandez a future cornerstone is he comes highly touted, as he was the 14th overall pick from the 2011 draft, and he has the repertoire to dominate in the majors.
According to ESPN.com's Keith Law, Fernandez sits in the mid-90s and can regularly throw a heavy 97-99 mph heater. He also throws a real swing-and-miss low-80s curveball that would miss right-handers' bats in the majors today, while the upper-80s slider is also quite effective, with more tilt than the curve to break away from right-handers' bats. But what sets Fernandez apart is his command as he throws all his pitches for strikes, which should help Fernandez pitch at the top of a rotation in the future, according to MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo.
Now what makes Fernandez matter is the intangibles, you know, qualities that can't be measured by wins and losses or a 98 mph fastball.
For instance, when pitching coach Chuck Hernandez first laid eyes on Fernandez, Hernandez knew Fernandez wasn't going to college even though the youngster had signed a National Letter of Intent to play at the University of South Florida. Hernandez also told the Miami Herald he likened Fernandez to Justin Verlander, whom Hernandez worked with from 2006-08.
“I went and saw him pitch one inning, a high school game during his senior year,” Hernandez recalled. “I left after one inning and told [the USF] coach, ‘You’re not getting that guy. He ain’t going to no college.’ ”
Then, there was the start of spring training last month. Rob Brantly, the Marlins projected starting catcher, shooed minor leaguer Wilfredo Gimenez away so he could experience what it's like to catch Fernandez on the first day of workouts.
“I just kind of snuck on over there, Brantly said with a grin to the Palm Beach Post. “I wanted to see Fernandez."
Finally, there was March 13. Marlins officials carefully chose their words to inform Fernandez he was being re-assigned to minor league camp, according to this story. It was as if the front office cared so much about Fernandez, it was doing everything it can to not hurt the 20-year-old's feelings, sort of like softening the blow when a woman breaks up with a man.
Fernandez, meanwhile, just it took in stride as he smiled and laughed.
“They were trying to make it easy for me and I told them, ‘You don’t have to. It’s not a big deal,’” said Fernandez, the Marlins’ top prospect. “I understand how this works. I’m fine.”
This is when you know Fernandez is a big deal.
Although Fernandez is the Marlins' top prospect, the guy who has turned heads all spring has been the organization's No. 2 prospect, Christian Yelich.
Thus far, unlike Marisnick and Fernandez, Yelich is still with the big league club as he's hit .364 with five home runs and 14 RBI in 44 at-bats. Furthermore, Yelich is no stranger to drama, evidenced by the two-run, walk-off home run he belted against the Boston Red Sox in an 8-7 win March 11.
"They (front office) might come down and tell me to quit playing him," Redmond said with a laugh to the Associated Press. "It's fun to get him in there. You feel like any situation he comes up he's got a chance to do something, and he hits a home run to dead center to win it."
While Redmond was joking, the situation is real. Yelich has been impressive to the point where some wonder if the 21-year-old outfielder should start the season in Double-A Jacksonville, as expected, or with the Marlins hitting in front of Stanton.
Heck, some teammates have already given Yelich nicknames. After the walk-off home run, infielder Nick Green asked a contingent of reporters if they were "waiting for the Natural." Another teammate, outfielder Jordan Brown, called Yelich "the Truth."
"That's a tough conversation," Redmond told the Sun-Sentinel about the possibility of Yelich vaulting from Class A to the majors. "I'm sure we'll have to talk about it. We want to make sure to do what's best for him and the organization. I think we've all seen guys that have great springs and then struggle out of the chute, too."
The most logical solution, from the Marlins standpoint, is to send Yelich to Jacksonville and then call him up as early as June after he avoids the Super 2 arbitration class and the Marlins figure out if Justin Ruggiano, Gorkys Hernandez or Chris Coghlan can play center field.
However, if money and team control wasn't an issue, which it never is with the Marlins, Yelich is probably the best player still in camp not named Giancarlo Stanton.
But whatever the front office decides, Yelich seems content with the path they have chosen.
“It’s been a blast. I’ll just try to ride it out as long as possible and see what happens,” Yelich told the Palm Beach Post after homering in last Saturday's 4-2 win against the Mets.