With the lights beginning to fade on a season to forget, the Marlins find themselves entrenched deep in the standings with one of the poorest records in the majors.
Beneath the surface, the picture is gloomier.
When the minor-league season ended Monday, the four highest-tiered teams in the Marlins’ farm system each sat in last place in their respective leagues.
Add in the feeling among experts that the system is lacking in high-end prospects — ones who could either provide a quick lift to the parent club or be used as trade bait to acquire major-league ready talent — and the future looks bleak.
“There’s not a whole lot,” J.J. Cooper, managing editor of Baseball America, said of the Marlins’ threadbare farm system.
Cooper said when Baseball America ranks each organization based on the talent in their farm systems, the Marlins will likely end up at or near the bottom of the list.
“It’s bad,” Cooper said. “I feel very confident saying that they are among the absolute bottom group.”
Said ESPN.com baseball analyst Keith Law, who also examines the developing talent within each organization: “I don’t see a lot of depth there at all. The system right now is not going to fill the short-term needs of the major league club.”
Cooper and Law point to various explanations for the dearth of talent: They’ve drafted poorly, they haven’t spent as much as others on the international market, they’ve fallen into a habit of trading away their Compensatory Draft Picks, and they’ve traded off some of their better young players (i.e. Andrew Heaney and Anthony Desclafani) to acquire big-league talent. The list of reasons is as long as the pool of talent is thin.
“I feel bad for Marlins fans in general because they have to root for a team owned by the current owner,” Law said of Jeffrey Loria. “It is a team that is run in the worst possible way. There is just no feel at all for how the game works.”
The Marlins have taken steps to rectify the issue from a leadership standpoint, reassigning their vice presidents of player development and player personnel while hiring Marc DelPiano to oversee minor-league operations. More staff changes could be coming.
But, for now, the Marlins have a real problem on their hands.
The only Marlins minor-leaguer Baseball America has ranked in its top 50 prospects is pitcher Tyler Kolek, and that’s only because he was the second overall pick in the 2014 draft. His ranking is based more on reputation than performance so far.
Kolek struggled at Low-A Greensboro this season, going 4-10 with a 4.56 ERA. Coveted for his big-time fastball coming out of high school, Kolek averaged fewer than seven strikeouts per nine innings.
“And then you go beyond [Kolek], and you get to guys who are not top 200- or 300-type guys,” Cooper said. “I have talked to scouts who struggle to name a player or two they project as future regulars from the Marlins’ position-player prospects.”
Sources said the Marlins even had a hard time filling their roster for the upcoming Arizona Fall League with deserving major-league prospects. The Fall League is a showcase for potential future big-leaguers.
Because their cupboard is so bare, Law envisions a scenario in which the Marlins might have to trade some blue-chip players on the major-league roster in order to rebuild.
“I think they’re going to face some very difficult questions,” Law said. “Like, do they trade [Giancarlo] Stanton at some point? Do they trade [Jose] Fernandez if he’s healthy? Their only option is to continue to lose 100 games a year, or trade major-league assets, like a Christian Yelich. What other choice do you have?”
Major trouble in minors
A team-by-team ranking of each organization’s farm system based on cumulative minor-league win percentage from the 2015 season: (Triple A, Double A, High Single A, Low Single A):
Team, Win Pct.
1. Houston Astros, .599
2. Pittsburgh Pirates, .565
3. Arizona Diamondbacks, .551
4. Minnesota Twins, .546
5. New York Mets, .546
6. Chicago Cubs, .541
7. Cleveland Indians, .531
8. Texas Rangers, .530
9. Philadelphia Phillies, .527
10. Los Angeles Dodgers, .525
11. Tampa Bay Rays, .521
12. Baltimore Orioles, .517
13. St. Louis Cardinals, .513
14. Chicago White Sox, .504
15. New York Yankees, .504
16. San Francisco Giants, .498
17. Cincinnati Reds, .495
18. Oakland A’s, .494
19. Atlanta Braves, .492
20. Toronto Blue Jays, .484
21. Colorado Rockies, .480
22. Kansas City Royals, .480
23. San Diego Padres, .472
24. Washington Nationals, .472
25. Detroit Tigers, .456
26. Los Angeles Angels, .450
27. Boston Red Sox, .442
28. Milwaukee Brewers, .442
29. Miami Marlins, .415
30. Seattle Mariners, .406