The Marlins have gone from having one of the best outfields in baseball to perhaps the worst.
So is there realistic hope of that changing anytime soon?
Probably not this season, but the Marlins’ long-term outfield outlook essentially can be summarized this way:
Presuming the Marlins eventually put Brian Anderson back at third base (where they prefer he play long-term), they need at least three — preferably more — of at least 11 decent-to-very-good prospects to become average or better-than-average big-league starters. Otherwise, they will need to make trades or address it in free agency.
Those 11 that I would include in that group: Victor Victor Mesa (the Marlins’ No. 2 prospect, per MLB.com), Monte Harrison (No. 3), Connor Scott (No. 5), Brian Miller (No. 14), Tristan Pompey (No. 16), Thomas Jones (No. 28), Victor Mesa Jr. (No. 29) and three others who have a chance, based on talent: Lewis Brinson (demoted Monday and signs aren’t encouraging), Magneuris Sierra, emerging 21-year-old Jerar Encarnacion and Harold Ramirez, who was wisely snagged by the Marlins when the Blue Jays designated him for assignment last fall and looms as the next potential outfield call-up.
Garrett Cooper, who has had terrible injury luck, cannot be ruled out because he has always hit minor-league pitching (.306), though he certainly can’t be considered a top prospect at 28. And don’t rule out Austin Dean, a .283 career minor-league hitter without a big enough sample size to judge what he can do in the majors (.222 in 135 at-bats).
“We definitely have a number of candidates we like incredibly much and can be part of a championship cycle,” Michael Hill, the Marlins’ president/baseball operations said Wednesday. “But they need to be finished products and get their time to develop. Have to be mindful of not rushing players before they’re ready for the big leagues.
“[Overall], our pitching is ahead of our position players. We have more starting pitching depth than we do position player depth, but there are other ways to augment your major-league talent. … You may have to go into free agency to plug certain things.”
What’s clear is that very little has worked out in the outfield this season as Miami tries to somewhat compensate for the loss of stars Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.
Brinson was banished to the minors on Monday after hitting .197 with four RBI in 27 games. And while the Marlins have by no means given up on him, there’s a quiet acknowledgment by some internally that he might not become what everyone hoped.
Curtis Granderson, making $1.75 million, is hitting .193 with four homers and 11 RBI.
But for those, like myself, who would have preferred Miami sign Adam Jones (.276, 18 RBI after signing for $3 million with Arizona) instead of Granderson, an important caveat: When the Marlins approached Jones in January, he wanted north of $5 million. So the Marlins signed Granderson instead on Feb. 5 to protect themselves. Jones settled for $3 million with the Diamondbacks on March 11.
Dean continues to hit minor-league pitching (.383 at Triple A) but hit .227 with the Marlins and was demoted after six games.
Peter O’Brien struggled badly in his Marlins audition this season (3 for 27, 14 strikeouts) and is back at Triple A, where he’s hitting .265 with four homers and 11 RBI. His inability to make consistent contact through his minor-league career suggests the Marlins shouldn’t count on him.
Multiposition utilityman Rosell Herrera, viewed as a potential outfield starter this spring, has hit just .172 (10 for 58). “Offensively hasn’t been as good as we’ve liked,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “Positionally, he’s been pretty good. We still feel he’s a better offensive player. That part has been a little bit disappointing.”
The Marlins’ two 29-year-old career minor-leaguers — Isaac Galloway and Jon Berti — are on the big-league roster merely as stopgaps, needed because Miami, at the moment, has nobody better or ready.
So basically you’re hoping some of the aforementioned 13 pan out. Here’s what we know so far, with all stats through Wednesday night:
▪ Mesa, who missed time in spring with a hamstring injury, cannot be judged from the small body of work so far: .227, zero homers, four RBI, six for six on steals, 20 hits (19 of them singles), and 12 strikeouts in 88 at-bats at Jupiter. He remains a quality prospect, though there shouldn’t be expectation of much power.
▪ Harrison got off to a blazing start at Triple A but has faltered the past week, going 5 for 31 with 14 strikeouts. Despite the elite skill set, making contact remains an issue (27 strikeouts in 73 at-bats this season). Even with the recent slump, he’s still at .274 this season — a big jump over his .244 career average — with four homers and nine RBI.
“He’s off to a good start,” Hill said. “All of his at-bats have been competitive. Seeing pitches, driving the ball with authority to all fields. Continuing to play Gold Glove defense in the outfield. Running the bases well, stealing bases.”
▪ Scott, the Tampa area high school outfielder picked 13th in last June’s amateur draft, is off to a slow start: .205, two homers, 19 RBI in his first 70 games over two seasons. He’s at .177 in 79 at-bats this season at low-level Class A Clinton, Iowa, with four hits the past two days.
“We knew there would be adjustments his first full season,” Hill said. “Our development staff is extremely happy with his progress.”
I fear the Marlins might regret taking Scott over high school third baseman Nolan Gorman, who went six spots later to St Louis and is hitting .298 with 24 homers and 66 RBI in his first 86 minor-league games. We’ll see.
▪ Miller, the Marlins’ compensatory pick after the first round of the 2017 draft, came to the organization as a polished college hitter out of North Carolina, but the results have been average at Double A Jacksonville both in 66 games last season (.267, no homers, 14 RBI) and this season (.244, 1, 10). He needs to hit for a high average to make it, because there’s little power (two homers in 209 minor league games).
▪ Pompey, the Marlins’ third-rounder last year from the University of Kentucky, impressed everyone by hitting .314 in 24 games in Greensboro, North Carolina, last year and .291 in 24 at Jupiter, but missed time this season because of an injury and is off to a 4-for-26 start at Jupiter. He remains a top prospect.
▪ Jones, picked by the Marlins in the third round out of a South Carolina high school in 2016, is a high-end athlete but has hit only .208, with 13 homers and 72 RBI in 207 minor-league games, including .200 in Clinton this season.
▪ Mesa Jr. — Victor Victor’s brother — remains in Marlins extended spring training and the reports have been positive.
“He just turned 17,” Hill noted. “You want to continue to see him improve his at-bats and all areas of his game.”
So those are the outfielders listed among MLB.com’s top 30 overall Marlins prospects. Among others, the jury remains out on Brinson, who has now appeared in 157 big-league games and hit .190 with 13 homers and 49 RBI.
There’s still hope for Sierra, who’s hitting .341 at Double A and, thankfully, is walking more (nine in 91 at-bats). He hit .190 in 147 at-bats for the Marlins last season, but the Marlins still believe there’s something there.
“The reports have been really good,” Mattingly said. “He’s getting on base, he’s bunting, he’s doing the things we asked him to do last year to utilize his speed.”
And Encarnacion, a 21-year-old from the Dominican Republic, has erupted as a prospect this season, hitting .368 with five homers and 25 RBI in 24 games at Clinton. He hit .236 in the low-level minors last season.
“We always knew he was immensely talented,” Hill said. “He’s a physical presence, 6-5, 6-6 with power potential. It’s nice to see him off to a good start in Clinton.”
The outfielder worthy of the next call-up might be Ramirez, who won an Eastern League batting title last year (hitting .320,with 11 homers and 70 RBI) , then was surprisingly designated for assignment by the Blue Jays.
A career .302 hitter in the minors, Ramirez, 24, is hitting .345 with two homers and 11 RBI in 25 games at New Orleans. The Marlins would need to create room on the 40-man roster to promote him to the big leagues.
“We liked everything we were able to see [in the spring],” Mattingly said of Ramirez. “He’s a guy we talk about” potentially promoting.
Hill said “Harold, playing in his first year in Triple A, we’re treating him similar to Harrison, where you feel when the need arises he’s an option for you to go to.”
Several other outfield prospects that the Marlins hoped would develop offensively have not to this point: At Jacksonville, former eighth-rounder Stone Garrett (.148) and seventh-rounder Anfernee Seymour (.204); at Jupiter, Isael Soto (.167) and former ninth-rounder Cameron Baranek (.153); and at Clinton, Brayan Hernandez (an interesting player acquired in the David Phelps trade with Seattle; hitting .130 this season).
Right-hander Jorge Guzman, the 100-mph prospect acquired from the Yankees in the Giancarlo Stanton trade, finally won a game in the Marlins system in his 26th attempt.
He pitched five scoreless innings in a Jacksonville win Saturday, meaning he’s 1-11 in 26 starts since the trade. But he is throwing well, and promising infielder Jose Devers — also acquired in the Stanton trade — continues to impress at Jupiter (.333).