A year ago, the depth and quality of the Marlins’ minor-league system was heavily tilted toward pitching, with a dearth of high-end position prospects. That’s no longer the case.
While a pitcher (Sixto Sanchez) is No. 1 atop mlb.com’s listing of the Marlins’ top 30 prospects, prospects two through six are hitters: outfielders JJ Bleday and Jesus Sanchez, shortstop Jazz Chisholm, second baseman Isan Diaz and outfielder Monte Harrison. The first three were acquired this summer (Bleday via the draft) and all are ranked in MLB.com’s top 100 overall prospects.
What’s more, the Marlins now have high-upside prospects at every position in the minors except third base, with catcher something of a question mark, too.
“It’s good and much improved,” ESPN minor-league analyst Keith Law said of the Marlins’ group of hitting prospects, during a phone conversation. “You have a nice collection of bats. There has not been position player depth in a decade in their system. The previous regime didn’t collect those guys and didn’t do much internationally. That’s all changed now.”
Here’s where the Marlins system looks with position players after this summer’s flurry of moves:
▪ First base: The Marlins have gone from having no high-caliber first base prospect to having two: Lewin Diaz, acquired in the Sergio Romo deal with Minnesota; and their fourth-round pick in June, North Carolina State’s Evan Edwards.
Diaz, ranked 13th among Marlins prospects, is hitting .289 with 22 homers and 69 RBI in 98 games in Single and Double A this season. He has emerged offensively this season, recently homering in three consecutive games, and he’s 7 for 30 with three homers since joining AA Jacksonville.
“The industry kind of liked Diaz a couple of years ago, and I thought he was going to be better,” Law said. “The Marlins are definitely trying to find guys they think they can change. The Yankees have done that too. He has ability. I would keep an eye on him. And first basemen come from other positions” such as a surplus of outfielders.
Edwards is hitting .264, with five homers and 28 RBI in 48 games in the low-level minors, mostly at Clinton.
▪ Second base: No second baseman in the minors has more home runs than Isan Diaz (26), and he homered in his Marlins debut Monday. He’s the only second baseman in the system in Miami’s top 30 prospects list (he’s ranked fifth), but any of Miami’s top shortstop prospects could play second if needed.
“I love him,” Law said. “He’s at least going to be an average everyday player. He’s been banged up a ton, played through so many minor injuries the last couple years. He’s got a chance to make an All Star team or two.”
▪ Shortstop: There are five legitimate prospects.
Chisholm (.207, 20 homers, 47 RBI in Double A) has surpassed Jose Devers as the team’s top shortstop prospect, but Miami has hardly given up on Devers, the Giancarlo Stanton trade pickup who has missed most of the year with injury.
Ranked Miami’s 11th best prospect, Devers is only 19 and was hitting .325 in 32 games at Jupiter before being sidelined since May with a forearm strain.
Chisholm is hitting .217 in AA Jacksonville (5 for 23 with two homers and five strikeouts) since being acquired from Arizona for Zac Gallen, who allowed one hit and no runs in five innings of his Diamondbacks’ debut Wednesday, earning the win against Philadelphia. He was hitting .204 in Double A Jackson in the Diamondbacks system but also had 18 homers and 44 RBI in 89 games.
“High strikeout rate is why Chisholm’s average is low,” Law said. “But he has electric hand speed. I was floored Arizona gave him up; they have been too reactive [to his struggles this season].
“His average concerns me, and his strikeouts (38 percent of his at-bats this season) concern me. But he’s only 21. I don’t think he’s a hacker or clueless at the plate, just overmatched. His ceiling is superstar. If he hits his ceiling, he’s the best player on the team [down the road]. Super fun to watch.”
The Marlins took a big gamble with the Chisholm trade, and while it can be justified, there is certainly some risk, because Gallen continues to exceed expectations.
As for Devers, “the Marlins really like him; I can never find anyone else who does,” Law said. “People don’t think the offense is there.”
Nasim Nunez, the Marlins’ defensively gifted second-round rookie, is Miami’s No. 16 prospect but his offensive development will determine his future; he’s hitting .225 in 33 games in rookie league, though nothing should be drawn from that yet, obviously.
“Nunez is small (5-9, 160 pounds at age 18),” Law said. “Is he going to get bigger and stronger? I think he can add enough strength to be a regular. He will play the hell out of shortstop.”
Jose Salas, the Marlins’ 21st ranked prospect, was signed using international money this summer, is only 16, a talented switch hitter due to make his pro debut in 2020.
Osiris Johnson, Miami’s No. 23 prospect who was drafted 53rd overall in 2018, hasn’t played this season because of a tibial stress fracture sustained in spring training; he could end up at second or third.
▪ Third base: Fortunately for the Marlins, this is the position where they already have found their likely longterm future in Brian Anderson, who hit his 18th home run Wednesday.
James Nelson was a good prospect at one point but faded this season (.215, 4 homers, 30 RBI in 103 games at Jupiter). Nic Ready - the Marlins’ rookie 23rd-round pick out of Air Force - is hitting .263 with five homers and 29 RBI in 46 games at Batavia after smoking the ball in four years in college (.327, 50 homers, 224 RBI).
“Nelson hasn’t met my expectations; thought he would be better,” Law said. “Some scouts have said Chisholm could outgrow shortstop, so he could be an option. He will be really big, absolutely has the arm and athleticism to play third.”
▪ Outfield: The Marlins might not have a single full-time longterm starting outfielder on their current roster, though Harold Ramirez has a chance and Lewis Brinson cannot yet be ruled out.
But they have arguably a dozen or more legitimate prospects in the minors.
Four of the Marlins’ top 10 prospects (according to MLB.com) are outfielders: rookie first round draft choice J.J. Bleday (hitting .182 in 66 at bats at Jupiter), Jesus Sanchez (acquired from Tampa last week; hitting .263, 12, 61 in AA and AAA this season), Monte Harrison (.284, 9, 22 in 50 games; now out with a wrist injury) and rookie second-round pick Kameron Misner (.273, 2, 12 in 17 low-level minor league games).
And three more outfielders are ranked between 11 and 20 among all prospects in the Marlins’ system, per mlb.com: Last year’s first-rounder Connor Scott (.251 at Low A ball Clinton and 8 for first 23 -- .348 -- since promoted to High A Jupiter), ballyhooed offseason pickup Victor Victor Mesa (.242 and 27 RBI; promoted to Double A a week ago, where’s he’s 4 for his first 31) and Jerar Encarnacion (.290, 15, 64 in two levels of A ball).
And four more outfielders are ranked between 21 and 30: Brian Miller (.271, 32 RBI in Double A), Tristan Pompey (.207 at Jupiter; Marlins’ 2018 third-round pick out of University of Kentucky missed much of this season with injury), Victor Mesa Jr. (the 17-year-old is hitting .267 in 34 games in rookie league) and Peyton Burdick (the third-round rookie from Wright State has impressed, hitting .301 with four homers and 38 RBI in 42 games at Clinton after quickly being promoted from Batavia).
And don’t rule out Brinson or speedy 10th round Wright State rookie J.D. Orr (.385, 21 steals at Batavia).
Who’s most likely to become an above average major league starter among these outfielders?
“Bleday is going to hit, hit for power, play competent right field,” Law said. “I like Sanchez; the Rays were a little reactive in trading him because [they wanted pitching and he was] not quite progressing as much as they would like. Sanchez makes quality contact.”
What about Harrison and Victor Victor Mesa? “I want to like Harrison more,” Law said. “He’s a great kid and there is ability there, but I don’t think Monte will make enough contact in the big leagues. Guys who went to Victor Victor Mesa’s workout last year said he’s an extra outfielder, didn’t see the kind of tools you want in a regular.”
▪ Catcher: Jorge Alfaro looks like the Marlins’ long-term catcher; he’s under team control through 2023. The best prospects in the system are defensively-skilled Will Banfield, the Marlins’ 69th in 2018 who was the most polished prep catcher defensively in last year’s draft but hasn’t hit much for average (.193, 9, 48 at Clinton) and two rookie college players - Mississippi State’s Dustin Skelton (picked in round 18; hitting .151 in Batavia) and UC-Santa Barbara’s Thomas Rowan (picked in 20th round; hitting 0 for 5 at Batavia).
“Banfield very good defensively; I thought his swing [technically] was fine,” Law said, suggesting the Marlins might switch a hitting prospect to catcher.
Here’s my Thursday piece on the Dolphins signing a former first-round pick.
Here’s my Thursday update on the UM quarterback battle and other notes.
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