Watching the elite pitchers in this World Series — Houston’s Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke and Washington’s Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin — Marlins fans can only hope their top young pitching prospects someday can comprise a rotation that’s anywhere close to that quality.
This group of young Marlins prospects “can be a very dangerous rotation,” Marlins prospect Jorge Guzman said, through an interpreter, of a highly-regarded group including himself, Sixto Sanchez, Edward Cabrera, Braxton Garrett, Trevor Rogers and the Sandy Alcantara-led group of those already with the big league team.
“We are young, healthy and have very good potential,” Guzman said. “We all throw really hard but we focus on learning how to pitch, not throwing hard.”
The Marlins’ organization pitching depth has diminished a bit, with the July trades of Zac Gallen and Trevor Richards. But management still believe the Marlins have a dozen or so pitchers who project as big-league rotation members.
Two of those — Alcantara (6-14, 3.88 ERA) and Caleb Smith (10-11, 4.52) — likely will anchor next season’s rotation, though Smith’s 5.42 ERA after the All Star break (compared with 3.50 before) is a concern. A decision is pending on whether veteran Jose Urena will be tendered.
But several others - Pablo Lopez (5-8, 4.94) and Elieser Hernandez (3-5, 5.03) and Jordan Yamamoto (4-5, 4.87) — must compete for rotation spots next spring, with Lopez needing to re-prove himself because of his uneven work coming off this year’s injury.
Sizing up the other top Marlins pitching prospects:
▪ Right-hander Sanchez:
Rated the 24th best prospect in baseball by MLB.com, Sanchez was thoroughly dominant the final month at Double A Jacksonville, allowing three earned runs and 23 hits — with 35 strikeouts — in 40 innings. He closed the season 8-6 with a 2.76 ERA, mostly at Double A.
It would be a surprise if he’s not in the rotation by some point next summer, and he and Alcantara are the most likely to be the Marlins’ longterm No. 1 and 2 starters, in some order.
“There was a lot of work done with his delivery and mechanics,” Marlins president/baseball operations Michael Hill said. “It takes time for that to take hold and get buy in. That’s what you started to see as the season progressed. We couldn’t be happier with the year he’s been able to put together. Almost tripled his career innings this year. It’s been great to see his growth as a young pitcher. ..
“I don’t think you can say there’s one dominant pitch. You are talking about a pitcher who has multiple well-above average pitches - his fastball, his slider, his changeup. His command of all of those pitches, his presence on the mound, his ability to repeat his delivery [all stand out].”
▪ Right-hander Cabrera:
The right-hander, just 21, emerged this season as a high-end prospect, finishing 9-4 with a 2.23 ERA (between Double A and Single A) after missing a few weeks with a bruise on his elbow that became infected. The numbers were dominant: just 65 hits allowed and 116 strikeouts in 96 2/3 innings. At Double A, he was 4-1 with a 2.56 ERA.
Hill’s take: “Another one of those young arms that projects middle of the rotation or better with three pitches and an attitude. You are talking about a 6-6, right handed pitcher, loose arm action, ball just explodes out of his hand.”
▪ Left-hander Rogers:
The Marlins’ 2017 first-round pick went 5-8 with a 2.53 ERA at Single A Jupiter, then 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in five starts at Double A Jacksonville He struck out 150 in 136 combined innings, with 122 hits relinquished.
Hill’s take: “When you see him on the attack, you see the best version of him. Another pitcher with three pitch mix. You love his pitch package. You see his growth as a young man. You look at how he approaches each of his starts and how he is on the attack with all three of his pitches and it makes you feel excited.”
▪ Right-hander Guzman:
Acquired with infielder Jose Devers in the Giancarlo Stanton trade with the Yankees, Guzman pitched better than perhaps anybody in the system over the final month. Over his final 30 innings at Jacksonville, he allowed four runs and just six hits while striking out 35.
His final season numbers: 7-11, 3.50 ERA, all at Jacksonville.
He’s come a long way from the pitcher who failed to win any of his first 25 starts in the Marlins organization. He’s also quieted talk about possibly being moved to the bullpen. The Marlins are convinced he’s a future big-league starter.
Hill’s take: “You try to harness all of that raw physical ability. There was always arm strength, but the breaking ball was inconsistent. There was no change-up. He was truly a development success story when you think about how he has grown from a season in 2018, which we thought was a positive one but one he didn’t win a game.
“You look at where he is now; he’s pitching in the upper 90s — pitching [not just throwing]. The outing I saw, he was 96 to 99; that’s where he worked [consistently]. You put a plus changeup there and then a curveball which he was overthrowing a little bit, another plus pitch and you get excited with what these guys will eventually be.”
▪ Left-hander Garrett:
The Marlins’ 2016 first-rounder, who missed all of 2018 after Tommy John surgery, threw well at Jupiter (6-6, 3.34 ERA, 118 strikeouts and 92 hits allowed in 105 innings). He made one start at Jacksonville, allowing four runs in 1 2/3 innings.
And the Marlins believe there’s another level he can get to as he moves further away from Tommy John.
Hill’s take: “We’re all extremely pleased where he has come, coming back from injury his first year back. He’s going to get a full offseason, which he hasn’t had post surgery. He’ll get to get into our strength and conditioning program and be able to prepare himself to compete even more.”
▪ Right-hander Jordan Holloway: The Marlins say not to be deceived by the unimpressive stats (4-11, 4.45 at Jupiter) for the right-hander who is two years removed from Tommy John surgery.
Hill’s take: “Holloway you put in that same bucket with Brax in that he will finally have offseason where he can prepare to do all he needs to do to harness an unbelievably electric arm. You talk about size, athleticism, he has a chance to be as good as any of them with his ability. And this is a guy that hadn’t pitched above short season A.
“We get him healthy, get him to high A. We see the ups and downs. But he’s consistently working 97 to 100 mph as a starting pitching. The stuff is totally there. This guy is learning how to pitch again coming off of surgery. You look at the real strides he’s going to make, there is no telling what you will see him do next year given the fact he’s back into pitching on a regular basis every five days and back into the routine and be more and more comfortable with himself, his body, mechanics.”
There are other young pitchers in the mix, too, including Robert Dugger (0-4, 5.77 with the Marlins after his late season promotion), Nick Neidert (missed part of year with knee injury and 3-5, 4.67 in 13 starts), Will Stewart (lefty acquired in J.T. Realmuto trade was 6-12, 5.43 at Jupiter) and 2018 ninth-rounder Jake Walters (7-4, 2.35 at Clinton), among others.
Neidert pitched well in the recent Arizona Fall League, and Baseball America noted this week: “Neidert finished sixth in the AFL in ERA (1.25) while posting a sharp 19-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 21.2 innings. It was a positive finish for Neidert, who had surgery to fix a torn meniscus in his right knee and threw just 54 innings during the regular season.”
Hill, assessing all of the top pitching prospects, says: “You talk about why there is so much reason for excitement. You look at these guys and think Sixto front of the rotation, Guzman middle or front, you think Cabrera middle or front, Trevor Rogers middle or front, you think Braxton Garrett middle or front.”
If five of these dozen or so arms turn out to be as good as the Marlins believe they will be, this could be an excellent rotation well into the next decade. If they’re three-quarters as good as Washington’s and Houston’s starters (and infinitely cheaper), that would be reason for celebration.
Here’s a look at how the Marlins top outfield prospects fared this season.
Here’s a look at how the Marlins top infield and catching prospects fared this season.