Christian Yelich is in the hunt for a second consecutive National League Most Valuable Player award.
The Miami Marlins are still trying to see what they have in the likes of Lewis Brinson, Isan Diaz, Jordan Yamamoto and Monte Harrison — the four players they acquired when they traded Yelich to the Milwaukee Brewers in January 2018.
The direct comparisons are sure to come into play once again over the next four days as the Marlins (51-91) host the Brewers (74-68) to close out their second-to-last homestand of the season.
Right now, at the major-league level, the trade still looks like a one-sided affair although the Marlins still believe it takes more than two seasons to fully evaluate the extent of the trade.
“Obviously, Yelich is a great player. Obviously having an MVP-caliber season again,” Brinson said back on Aug. 5, when he was called back up from Triple A New Orleans. “We’re over here, and we’re our own people. You can’t worry about what everybody else is doing.”
Yelich’s production is hard to ignore, though.
Heading into Monday, Yelich leads the NL with a 1.103 on-base plus slugging mark (commonly known as OPS) and is tied for second in the league in home runs (44) and has the third-highest batting average (.330). This is after Yelich’s 2018 MVP season in which he batted .326 with 36 home runs, 110 RBI and 188 runs scored.
The Marlins, meanwhile, are just starting to see early returns on the prospects they received from the Brewers. The growing pains have been evident.
Diaz, the 23-year-old who the Marlins hope will be their second baseman of the future, is hitting just .152 with two home runs, 12 RBI, 15 walks and 32 strikeouts through his first 30 MLB games.
This comes after a minor-league season in which Diaz belted out 26 home runs and batted .305 over 102 games with Triple A New Orleans.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly’s hope for Diaz as he continues to play at the highest level: Settle in.
“He’s got some work to do,” Mattingly said, “but what I like — what I’ve always liked — has been that he sees the ball good. He’s capable of using the whole field. He’s got a good swing. He has the attributes and everything’s there to allow him to have success if he’ll settle down and actually use the whole field. ... Obviously, his average isn’t close to what it should be for me, but this is going to be part of his process of turning himself into a really good big-league hitter, not just a good minor-league hitter.”
Brinson, meanwhile, is in his second year of extended struggles offensively while remaining a sound defender in both center and right field. Brinson, a Fort Lauderdale native and Coral Springs High alumnus, is hitting .181 through 182 at-bats this year after hitting .199 over a full season in 2018.
“Obviously the offensive side of that is kind of the profile that we’re going to have to figure out,” Mattingly said, “because you can’t hardly play in the outfield and not score runs at a position that profiles for offense. We’ve got to try to find that consistency.”
Yamamoto started his MLB career in record-setting fashion before regressing to the mean. The 23-year-old Hawaiian righty threw seven scoreless innings in back-to-back starts to begin his career and won his first four decisions.
He is now 4-5 with a 4.87 ERA over 13 starts. Yamamoto went on the 10-day injured list on Aug. 28 with a right forearm strain. He and Mattingly are optimistic he’ll return at some point before the season ends.
Harrison, the Marlins’ No. 3 prospect and the No. 84 overall prospect in baseball according to MLBPipeline, is the only one of the four who has yet to make his MLB debut — only due to the fact that he had wrist surgery in early July that sidelined him until Aug. 28.
Harrison finished the Triple A season hitting .274 with nine home runs, 24 RBI, 20 stolen bases and 41 runs scored in 56 games.
“He plays with juice,” Mattingly said. “He’s always trying to make plays in the outfield. He’s trying to steal a bag. He’s trying to go first to third. He’s trying to hit balls hard. We’ve seen improvement. I think that’s the biggest thing. ... I would bet on Monte because he’s that kind of kid.”
But will all of that be enough to compensate for the production Yelich has had over the last two years? Only time will tell.