In many ways, the Marlins are a modern baseball world anomaly.
They tend to focus very marginally on the wave of new age statistics, they employ a legitimate and shoulder-sculpted slugger, and for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 11 years they keep the prospect chirping to a relative minimum.
Unlike even with perennial contenders like the Dodgers and Cardinals, you don’t hear about many youthful saviors still to come for Miami.
That’s because they are already here. And there’s not much room for many more.
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Thanks to the impressive development of several young starters and a proactive front office initiative to acquire complementary veterans this offseason, the Marlins’ entire starting lineup is under team control through at least 2016.
All three starting outfielders and starting shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria are 25 or younger. Second baseman Dee Gordon can be considered middle-aged at 26.
“They’re younger than most prospects,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. “And they’re in the big leagues.”
The rotation is similarly set, or so it would seem. But as Miami saw last year, pitchers are becoming increasingly fragile and pitching staffs, as a result, thrown repeatedly in flux. More pitchers underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014 than did in the entire 1990s combined. The Marlins set a franchise record with 13 starters used.
“It’s hard to say what the season has in store but if you kind of go on the last couple of years, we’ve used a lot of guys,“ manager Mike Redmond said. “That’s for sure.”
So despite the rigid roster construction, reinforcements could very well be needed as the season trudges along. In a crowded field, here are a few prospects that can contribute in the not-so-distant future:
The 24-year-old catcher lowered his hands and added a leg kick to a hitting approach that resulted in a .299 average over 97 Double A games and the organizational Minor League Player of the Year award in 2014. A converted shortstop, Realmuto made his major-league debut last June when Jarrod Saltalamacchia sustained a concussion and is viewed as his long-term successor. He hit .250 in 12 at-bats this spring before being optioned to Triple A New Orleans, where he will provide insurance for Saltalamacchia and backup Jeff Mathis.
JOSE URENA AND JUSTIN NICOLINO
Marlins brass prefers to speak of Urena and Nicolino as a package deal, not dissimilarly to how Double A hitters last season considered them a two-headed monster. Urena, a 23-year-old righty, and Nicolino, a 23-year-old lefty, combined to win 27 games in 2014 for Jacksonville.
Hill calls Nicolino, a control pitcher acquired from the Blue Jays in the Jose Reyes blockbuster trade in 2012, a “tremendous competitor.” Urena is a power pitcher with a fastball in the mid-90s who took a “huge step” in 2014 by gaining consistency with his breaking pitches, according to Hill.
Both will start 2015 at Triple A and are expected to make their big-league debuts sometime this season.
The Dominican Republic native is just 18 and remains a long way off from the majors. But the relative unknown impressed with seven home runs in 183 at-bats in the Gulf Coast League last season, a gaudy total for a circuit known for far-away fences and players too skinny to reach them.
Soto possesses average speed but a plus arm despite being undersized at 6-0, 190 pounds. He’ll start the season at one of the Marlins’ three Class A affiliates, where he will be around three years younger than the average player.
“We want to just get him more at-bats and more playing time defensively,” Hill said. “He is still getting better everyday, and he has a real high ceiling.”
A durable righty, Williams struggled in a brief stint at Double A last season after excelling in the Florida State league. He throws four pitches, including a fastball that reaches the mid-90s. The Marlins hope Williams, in his third year out of Arizona State, can establish himself as a reliable starter at Jacksonville in case he’s needed in the majors in an emergency role.
Miami’s 2014 first-round pick is still a few years away from the majors, but he already possesses a triple-digit fastball. Expect the Marlins to treat an asset like that carefully, as last year’s No. 2 overall pick is just 19 and still growing. Miami has modest goals for Kolek this season. He’ll probably start in Low-A.
“First and foremost we want to get him accustomed to the routine, the travel and all things involved with professional baseball,” Hill said. “The expectation is that he continues to get better.”
▪ Other notables: LHP Adam Conley, RHP Kendry Flores, RHP Nick Wittgren, 1B Justin Bour