As Marlins CEO Derek Jeter correctly noted this week, “We’re much deeper [with prospects] than when we took over the organization.”
But while the Marlins have enviable depth with pitching and outfield prospects, there are holes in the minor-league system at first base, third base and catcher.
Where things stand on the prospect watch, by position:
▪ Starting pitching: Miami appears in good shape, with five talented young pitchers joining injured Jose Urena on the big-league team (Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Richards, Pablo Lopez, Caleb Smith, Elieser Hernandez), Jordan Yamamoto (seven scoreless innings in his Marlins debut Wednesday), Zach Gallen dominating Triple A (8-1, 1.57 ERA), top prospect Sixto Sanchez flashing in Double A (1-2, 3.66) and Trevor Rodgers, Braxton Garrett, Edward Cabrera and Jordan Holloway all legitimate prospects at Jupiter.
And don’t forget Nick Neidert (remains out with a knee injury) and Jorge Guzman (2-6, 3.93 at Double A), plus Robert Dugger, Chris Vallimont, Will Stewart, Cody Poteet and Humberto Mejia.
▪ Outfield: With polished college hitters J.J. Bleday, Kameron Misner and Peyton Burdick added in the draft, the Marlins legitimately have at least 15 outfielders who they believe have a chance to become full-time big leaguers.
Of that group, Monte Harrison (.288, 7 homers, 18 RBI, 19 for 20 in steals at Triple A New Orleans) and Jerar Encarnacion (.310, 9, 42 in Class A Clinton) are having the best years, with Brian Miller (.281 at Jacksonville) and Magneuris Sierra (.284 at Double A and now Triple A) faring well.
On the flip side, Connor Scott — last year’s first-round pick — is hitting .218, 4, 19 at Clinton (though he has improved recently); last year’s third-rounder Tristan Pompey has been injured most of the season; Lewis Brinson is still working out issues at Triple A (.288, 5, 29 in 37 games) after hitting. 197 in 27 games for the Marlins this season; 2016 third-rounder Thomas Jones is hitting .204, 5, 23 in Clinton and ballyhooed winter signing Victor Victor Mesa is hitting .220 at Jupiter and back playing after missing a few days with cramping and tightness in his legs.
“Based on what we’ve seen so far, he’s a player who’s been away from the game for a year and a half,” Marlins president/baseball operations Michael Hill said of Mesa. “We still have a lot of baseball to go with him in terms of at-bats. We also have the winter program and instructional league and potentially fall league, potentially winter ball. Still a lot of at-bats we have available for him and then we’ve got all of spring training next year as well.”
His brother, Victor Jr., has been in extended spring training.
“He probably will start with rookies in the GCL [Gulf Coast League],” Hill said. “When he was at our workout, he had just turned 17. As a long as he was graduating from high school, he could have been eligible for the draft. We have been extremely excited with his growth and development. You guys got to see him when he worked out for us. Tremendous personality. Had a very good extended spring training. Excited to get him into game action and see what he can do as well.”
▪ First base: The system is mostly bereft of legitimate prospects; fourth round pick Evan Edwards instantly will become the best first base prospect after hitting .330 with 14 homers and 60 RBI as a senior at NC State.
There’s little beyond Edwards. Lazaro Alonso thrived at Greensboro last year but is hitting .262, 6, 30 at Class A Jupiter. Sean Reynolds, Miami’s fourth-round pick in 2016, is hitting .179 in Clinton and .184 in his career.
Garrett Cooper can play first, but unless he’s great the rest of the year, the Marlins will need to use some of the money freed up by Martin Prado’s expiring contract to sign a legitimate first baseman this summer, perhaps Jose Abreu (.246, 16 homers, American League leading-leading 52 RBI for the White Sox) or Edwin Encarnacion (.241, AL-leading 21 homers, 49 RBI for Seattle). Neil Walker has hit well, but he’s obviously a stopgap.
“One of the considerations for the draft was a first baseman specifically in Andrew Vaughn,” Hill said. “He didn’t get to us. He was taken in front of us [by the White Sox], but there’s nothing to say that we can’t transition players from other positions if there’s a need to fill somewhere else. Some of these outfielders will potentially be first-base options for us down the road.”
▪ Shortstop: There are three high-end prospects in Jose Devers, Osiris Johnson and last week’s second round pick (Georgia prep standout Nasim Nunez) but none are close to the big leagues.
Devers, acquired in the Giancarlo Stanton trade, is hitting .325 at Jupiter but has been sidelined since May 20 with a forearm strain. Johnson, Miami’s second-round pick last year, hit .250 in the low-level minors last year and will likely miss the entire season with a tibial stress fracture.
The hope is that at least one of the three (including Nunez, who signed this week) becomes a quality big league starter, but we won’t know for awhile.
Two other prospects — Bryson Brigman (.229) and Alex Rodriguez nephew Joe Dunand (.220) — have stalled offensively a Double A Jacksonville.
▪ Second base: With Starlin Castro on an expiring contract, the likely starter next season is Isan Diaz, who’s hitting .287 with 14 homers and 41 RBI in Triple A.
Diaz is the only high-level second base prospect in the system, though the Marlins still have hopes for 2017 third-rounder Riley Mahan (.269, 4, 17 at Jupiter) and Justin Twine (.255, 1, 24 at Jacksonville).
Christopher Torres — acquired with Neidert and Dugger in the Dee Gordon trade with Seattle — is hitting just .175 in Clinton.
And the top three aforementioned shortstop prospects could theoretically be switched to second base if needed, though the Marlins see Devers, Nunez and Johnson as shortstops.
▪ Third base: The Marlins better hope Brian Anderson is the longterm answer. If not, they will need to sign a free agent because there’s no clear alternative in the system.
James Nelson, the only third baseman ranked among MLB.com’s top 30 Marlins prospects this spring (20th overall) is hitting .198, 4, 18 for Jupiter. Yadiel Rivera (.318 at Triple A) is a .176 big-league hitter in 154 games and 27 years old.
▪ Catcher: Jorge Alfaro needs to be the longterm answer, because internal alternatives aren’t appealing. Before acquiring eight-year minor leaguer Tyler Heineman last week from the Giants for cash, there wasn’t a single catcher in the system hitting better with his current team than .212 except Clinton’s J.D. Osborne (.248).
The best catching prospect, 2018 second-round pick Will Banfied, is highly skilled defensively but hitting .219 at Clinton, though he does have six homers and 32 RBI, to go with 63 strikeouts in 50 games. The Marlins really like him, but the bat needs to develop to have a chance for an extended big-league career.