Miami Marlins

Starting pitching has been Marlins’ strength all year. There’s more promise in the minors

The Miami Marlins all season have showcased a glimpse of the talented-but-young starting pitching the team has to offer.

Eight pitchers, none older than 27, have posted a 3.94 ERA that is the seventh-best mark in Major League Baseball.

They will be on display and tested again this weekend in Los Angeles as the Marlins (36-58) begin a three-game series against the National League-leading Dodgers (64-35) on Friday at 10:10 p.m. The Marlins’ three youngest starters — 23-year-olds Zac Gallen, Sandy Alcantara and Jordan Yamamoto — match up against a trio of All-Stars in Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler.

But the Marlins’ pitching depth goes well beyond what is being displayed at the major-league level.

Take a step back and examine the Marlins’ minor-league teams — particularly Double A Jacksonville and Class A Advanced Jupiter — for a fuller picture at the Marlins’ situation. Eleven of the Marlins’ top-22 prospects according to MLB Pipeline are starting pitching prospects. Two, Gallen (No. 9) and Yamamoto (No. 18), are finishing their first month at the MLB level. Two, Nick Neidert (No. 4) and Robert Dugger (No. 22) are with Triple A New Orleans.

Three more are in Jacksonville and four in Jupiter. Those final seven, highlighted by the club’s top prospect, Sixto Sanchez, are at least one to two years away from cracking the majors but have impressed at their respective levels of play this year.

“You can never have enough starting pitching,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill has said on multiple occasions this season.

It was a calculated plan by the Marlins to focus on pitching as they began their rebuild under the Bruce Sherman/Derek Jeter ownership group prior to the 2018 season.

They acquired eight MLB-quality prospects through trades over the past two offseasons to mix in with a handful of high-potential prospects already in the farm system. Four — Caleb Smith, Alcantara, Gallen and Yamamoto — have already reached the big leagues.

The rest are impressing in the minor leagues.

Let’s start with Double A, where Sanchez has been the story since being promoted on May 14. He has settled in with Jacksonville over the past month, throwing quality starts, defined as giving up no more than three earned runs while throwing at least six innings, over five of his past six outings. Sanchez, the 20-year-old righty acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in February as part of the J.T. Realmuto trade, has struck out 69 batters while walking just 14 in 69 innings of work over a dozen Double A starts.

He has the raw stuff, a high-90s fastball complemented by a sinker, slider and change-up that all go for strikes. The main goal is to keep him healthy after being shut down early last season with right elbow inflammation.

“He’s more of a contact guy,” Jumbo Shrimp manager Kevin Randel said. “He’s learning to become a pitcher overall. It just so happens he has a 100-mph fastball as well. He can pitch on the edges.”

Not to be overshadowed is fellow righty Edward Cabrera, the Marlins’ No. 8 prospect who has dazzled since being promoted to Jacksonville. The 6-4 righty has a 2.00 ERA through three starts, striking out 17 batters while walking just six over 18 innings. He complements his fastball that sits between 93 and 97 mph with a low 90s changeup and a mid-80s slider.

And then there’s Jorge Guzman, the Marlins’ No. 10 overall prospect who continues to have an up-and-down season.

But the ability to repeat his delivery over multiple innings is the main question, which could make him a likely bullpen candidate should he reach the majors.

“Three talented young pitchers,” Jumbo Shrimp pitching coach Bruce Walton said. “They’re young, and that’s what’s exciting about them.”

The rotation in Jupiter has just as much to be excited about with the quartet of Braxton Garrett (No. 7), Trevor Rogers (No. 16), Jordan Holloway (No. 14) and Will Stewart (No. 21). The first three are homegrown talents, players the Marlins drafted and had dealt with injuries early in their professional careers.

Garrett and Rogers, first-round picks in 2016 and 2017, are having career years. Rogers is striking out more than a batter an inning and has nearly five times as many strikeouts (106) as he does walks (23). Garrett, a year removed from Tommy John surgery, is holding opponents to a .205 batting average with 96 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings.

The group provides needed backup for the Marlins’ current big-league rotation, especially with the unknown of if or when injuries will strike. The Marlins had three pitchers go on the injured list over a two-week span after making it 64 games into the season using just five starters. Smith (left hip inflammation) has since returned, but Jose Urena (herniated disk) and Pablo Lopez (right shoulder strain) are still on the IL, with August the earliest possible return for both.

That’s where the needed progress of Gallen and Yamamoto has been impressive. The two have 10 combined starts for the Marlins. Both have a two-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio and they have showed early on they can compete with some of MLB’s best.

They’ll look to continue that run of success in Los Angeles, and the starters of the future will continue developing in the minor leagues.

Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.