New Marlins CEO Derek Jeter this week called new Marlins executive Gary Denbo the best in the business in player development. And nobody has a better feel for the five ex-Yankees players acquired by the Marlins recently than Denbo, who spent the past eight years with the Yankees after multiple previous stints with the organization.
Denbo, who is involved in Marlins personnel decisions as the team’s new vice president of scouting and player development, sees a lot to like about the five 2017 Yankees now with Miami. He spoke about all five, among other topics, in his first public comments since joining the Marlins in October:
▪ Asked if second baseman Starlin Castro, the one proven major-leaguer acquired in the Giancarlo Stanton trade, would be on the team next season (as opposed to being traded), Denbo said: “At this point, he’s on our roster. I expect him to be part of the team.”
Castro, who is due $10 million in 2018 and $11 million in 2019, hit .300 with 16 homers and 63 RBI in 112 games last season.
“Starlin Castro is a good major-league player,” Denbo said. “He does provide power for that position. He’s got some of the best hands for a hitter that you will see in the major leagues. We needed to fill a hole at that position. ... Starlin will do that very well.”
▪ On Single A pitcher Jorge Guzman, also acquired in the Stanton trade: “The sky is the limit for Jorge Guzman. Jorge has a power arm. Our director of player personnel Dan Greenlee [who also came to the Marlins from the Yankees this offseason] will tell you there is no other starter in baseball that has an average fastball as high as Jorge Guzman, not only this year but I think as far back as they’ve been measuring it. I think he averaged 99 mph with his fastball.
“So it’s obvious he has a great arm. He has an ability to strike out hitters, which I value. He has the ability to throw strikes and he’s a good athlete. The athleticism should allow him to make adjustments as needed.”
▪ On minor-league shortstop Jose Devers, whom Denbo watched the past 2½ years: “He has above-average speed, above-average hands. Just outstanding potential. He is underdeveloped. He’s 18 years old, but he has a body that looks like is going to be a major-league player. He has a great swing that we think ... eventually will provide us an everyday major-league shortstop.”
▪ Denbo said the organization believes left-hander Caleb Smith, acquired from the Yankees a few weeks before the Stanton trade, is “going to be able to compete for a starting spot in the rotation here in 2018. Caleb had great success in Triple A last year” — 9-1, 2.39 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 98 innings at Triple A Scranton Wilkes-Barre, before pitching 18 2/3 innings, with a 7.71 ERA, for the Yankees.
Smith and first baseman Garrett Cooper were acquired from the Yankees in exchange for minor-leaguer Michael King and $250,000 in international bonus pool money.
▪ Cooper hit .326 with six RBI in 45 Yankees plate appearances this past season (his first big-league experience) after batting .359 with 18 homers and 84 RBI in 83 games in the upper minors in 2017.
“Garrett Cooper is a guy that Dan Greenlee and I have had an eye on for quite some time,” Denbo said. “In the corner infield positions, we’re always looking for guys that have the ability to hit for power and also to hit for high average. … He has the ability to hit for a high average. … We hope the power that he showed … last season continues to emerge and he’s an option for us at first base for the 2018 season.”
Though Denbo didn’t say this, the right-handed hitting Cooper could back up — or platoon with — left-handed hitting Justin Bour.
The well-regarded Denbo, 57, held multiple jobs for the Yankees, most recently director of player development and scouting. Denbo reportedly helped get Jeter out of a slump in 2011.
Jeter said Denbo “is going to help” president/baseball operations Michael Hill with player evaluations.
Denbo said he and Hill speak several times a day and named at least four other Marlins executives (Greenlee, Stan Meek, Jim Cuthbert, D.J. Svihlik) who also give input to Hill.
“We try to make the best recommendation possible so Michael Hill and Derek Jeter can make decisions,” Denbo said.
The Marlins signed former Marlins pitcher Jacob Turner to a minor-league deal. He was 2-3 with a 5.08 earned-run average in 18 games for Washington last season, including two starts. For his career, he’s 14-30 with a 5.09 ERA; he pitched parts of three seasons in Miami, most recently in 2014.