With the Marlins’ first season under new ownership now complete, what’s encouraging is how several of the young pitchers looked, in both the minors and the majors.
Of far more concern, however, is the position player outlook, where only J.T. Realmuto (who could be traded) and Brian Anderson have emerged as clear-cut proven, long-term starters, excluding veteran second baseman Starlin Castro, who remains very much available if any team decides to trade for him.
A look at where the organization stands long-term at each position:
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▪ First base: There’s no clear-cut can’t-miss prospect here, but two older intriguing ones should contend for the job next spring.
The Marlins believe Garrett Cooper, who hit .212 and was limited to 12 games because of wrist injuries, has a chance to be an everyday first baseman. He’s already 27 but a .304 career minor league hitter.
“We love the offensive package that Garrett brings to the table, the ability to hit for average and power and the ability to get on base,” Marlins president/baseball operations Michael Hill said.
The Marlins also will consider 28-year-old Peter O’Brien, the former UM player who hit only .206 but with 30 homers and 86 RBI in the minors this year and impressed during his September call-up (.273, four homers, 10 RBI in 74 plate appearances).
Manager Don Mattingly was particularly impressed how O’Brien had a plan going into each at-bat.
“We know his power profiles at the position,” Hill said. “And we’ve got [arbitration-eligible] Derek Dietrich as well” for 2019 if he’s tendered, which appears highly questionable. Third baseman Martin Prado, dealing with yet another injury, would be another option at first base if he’s healthy.
Other long-term possibilities: Lazaro Alonso, who hit .336 in Greensboro but just .194 at higher-level Class A Jupiter; and Sean Reynolds (.193 but 17 homers, 52 RBI in 76 games in low-level Batavia).
“Alonso has big-time power and Sean Reynolds is left-handed, big time power as well,” Hill said.
▪ Second base: Castro, due $11 million in 2019, will be the second baseman next season if the Marlins cannot find a trade partner, but beyond that, the plan/hope would be for Isan Diaz, 22, who was acquired with three other strong prospects in the Christian Yelich trade, to be ready to take over in 2020.
Diaz hit .232 with 13 homers and 56 RBI between Double and Triple A.
“Isan Diaz has had a tremendous season, what he was able to do his first full season at Double A and to jump to Triple A,” Hill said.
“Advanced offensive approach, above average defender. We really like his tool package to be an impactful every day second baseman.”
And the Marlins also are eyeing Justin Twine, 22, a Marlins second-round pick in 2014 who hit .290 in Single and Double A this year, including .402 in 28 games for Jacksonville.
”Really resurfaced, sort of put himself on the map as a second base prospect with his speed and hit ability,” Hill said. “Those are two — Diaz and Twine — we are really excited about.”
As for Castro, the Marlins were unable to find a taker for him all season. In 14 months, the Marlins must buy him out for $1 million or pay him $16 million in 2020. A buyout is highly likely if he’s still on the team next winter.
▪ Shortstop: The Marlins have three high-level prospects and hope one of them wins the job by 2020 or 2021: Jose Devers (acquired in the Giancarlo Stanton trade), Joe Dunand (Alex Rodriguez’s nephew and a second-round pick last year) and Osiris Johnson (the cousin of former All Star second baseman Jimmy Rollins and Miami’s second-round pick this year).
Dunand hit .239 with 14 homers and 70 RBI in 127 games at Single and Double A. “He is not your prototypical shortstop in terms of range but he’s very solid defensively with great instincts and in the age of positioning and putting guys in the best position, if you can get his bat and power at shortstop, for now, you would have him in that shortstop market,” Hill said.
Devers, 18, hit .272 with 26 RBI and 13 steals at two levels of Single A. “As the youngest player in the South Atlantic League, he did a tremendous job, hitting at the top of the order,” Hill said. “Understands who he needs to be offensively. Plays a Gold Glove defense at shortstop and was really the reason why we jumped him to Jupiter.”
Johnson, 17, hit .250 with three homers and 19 RBI in 48 games in rookie league and low-level Single A. “He’s got young Hanley Ramirez tools,” Hill said. “Just the look and the package and ability.”
▪ Third base: Anderson (.273, 11 homers, 65 RBI) has a good chance to be the Marlins’ third baseman well into the next decade unless they move him to right field. Hill said that decision hasn’t been made and will remain fluid.
So if not Anderson, then what?
Hill cites three other potential longterm options: 22-year-old Brian Schales (.258, 10 homers, 49 RBI at Jacksonville and a good defender) Dunand (“if he comes off of short, you probably can project as a third baseman because he will hit for enough power to be a third baseman,” Hill said); and James Nelson, 20, the team’s minor league Player of the Year in 2017.
Nelson missed the first two months of the 2018 season after knee surgery and finished at .211 in 62 games at Jupiter.
“He will go to the instructional league and we will try to make up some of those at bats that he missed during the season,” Hill said of Nelson.
▪ Catcher: The Marlins intend to make a multiyear offer to J.T. Realmuto, who’s under team control through 2020. If he rejects it, he likely would be traded in the next year or two.
Then Miami’s long-term catcher could be a catcher acquired in the Realmuto trade or potentially Will Banfield, the 69th overall pick of this year’s draft who hit .238 and threw out 38 percent of attempted base stealers.
“He was headed to Vanderbilt but we stepped up [financially] and got tremendous support from ownership to allow us to go over slot to sign him,” Hill said. “That is not a pick we ever would have been able to do in the past. Will has a tremendous skill set. One of those high energy guys behind the plate, which is what you love talking about that position.”
Hill also mentioned Rodrigo Vigil, who hit .245 at Jacksonville, “a young Panamian catcher, has a chance because he’s a very good defensive catcher but shows some offensive prowess. That’s what separates whether a guy can be backup or frontline player — the ability to help a team on both sides of the ball.”
▪ Outfield: The area of most uncertainty. The Marlins have nearly 10 players who could be starting outfielders someday, but it’s far from certain if any of them will be. Most disappointing was that Lewis Brinson didn’t definitively prove that he can be projected as a sure-fire 2019 starter.
Unless the Marlins move Anderson to the outfield or acquire a quality outfielder, Miami essentially needs at least three of these nine to become above average starters: Brinson (hit. 239 in September to close at .199, 11 homers, 42 RBI in 109 games), Magneuris Sierra (.190 in 156 plate appearances), Monte Harrison ( .240, 19 homers, 48 RBI, 28 steals but also 215 strikeouts at AA Jacksonville), Austin Dean (.420 in 22 games at Double A, .221, four homers, 14 RBI in 122 plate appearances with the Marlins), Brian Miller ( .295, 40 steals, 43 RBI between Class A and AA), 2018 third-round pick Tristan Pompey (.299, 23 RBI in 52 games in three low-minor league levels), 2018 first-round pick Connor Scott (.218, 13 RBI in two low levels of minors), Isael Soto (.230, 15, 69 in 96 games at Class A Greensboro) and Braxton Lee (went from hitting .321 in Double A in 2017 to .233 at three levels this season).
Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa would shoot to the top of that list if he signs with the Marlins, who are interested. He works out for interested teams at Marlins Park on Friday.
Brinson and Harrison have the highest ceiling but the Marlins can’t be sure about either, amid Brinson’s overall struggles and Harrison’s difficulty making consistent contact.
“We knew there would be adjustments that needed to be made mechanically and offensively to become a productive major-league hitter,” Hill said. “I hope everyone has seen the progress he’s made in April to where he is now, the quality of at-bats that he’s been able to give. We are encouraged by what we’ve been seeing since he came off the disabled list.”
Harrison’s 36.9 percent strikeout rate remains a concern. He needs to be placed on the 40-man roster this winter and will thus be in major league spring training.
“And whenever you’re in major league spring training, you’ve got an opportunity to compete for the club,” Hill said. “All of our decisions will come down to what’s in the best interest of the player. If we feel like he has a command of the strike zone and doing the things that allow him to be successful at this level, then that is something you have to consider.
“He has the complete package: can defend — he was rated the best defensive outfielder in the Southern League, can hit, can hit for power, can steal bases. He will be in the fall league as our priority player.”
Sierra was a big disappointment, with six walks in 156 plate appearances, though Mattingly insists he’s going to be a quality player.
“We have to get him more consistent offensively and for him to truly grasp who he is as an offensive player, that top of the order player who can impact a game with his speed and his short game,” Hill said.
Hill on some of the others: Dean “has a short compact stroke, one that should work at the major league level. ... Brian Miller, our second-round pick out of North Carolina [in 2017], hasn’t stopped hitting from the day he stepped into professional baseball.
“He plays Gold Glove defense in center field, top of the order bat but has power and command of the short game. When you look at all the things that allow a player to be successful, he checks a lot of those boxes….
“Tristan Pompey, we couldn’t have been more excited he was available to us at the beginning of the third round. An accomplished college performer [at Kentucky], and someone who was mentioned as a strong first round consideration. You are talking about a switch hitting outfielder with power from both sides of the plate. Very, very interesting young man.
“Connor Scott; the ability is without question. Soto has left handed power potential. He had an up and down season and it has been a constant battle to keep him healthy.”
If few of these outfielders develop, the Marlins also could flip a pitching prospect or two for a top hitting prospect.
Coming Wednesday: Part 2 of this series, on the Marlins’ starting pitching outlook.