Club redirects focus to pitching; top prospect Fernandez shows bright future
By Joe Frisaro
MIAMI -- A return to the basics has the Marlins once again focused on building around pitching and defense.
It's a change of direction from a year ago when the organization went on a spending spree, only to wind up disappointed. The Marlins signed high-priced free agents at a time their Minor League system was running dry. The end result was a last-place finish in the National League East and a short-handed farm system.
So through the Draft and several trades, the organization acquired pieces that, in time, will be part of a foundation for a brighter future. Although Miami is experiencing growing pains right now, a number of high-end prospects are currently developing at the Minor Leagues.
Some promising pitching is starting to migrate upward in the system. The Marlins' biggest prize -- 20-year-old Jose Fernandez -- already is in the big leagues. The hard-throwing right-hander has the makings of a future ace. Some other quality arms may reach the Majors by the All-Star break. Adam Conley, Brian Flynn and Sam Dyson are in the rotation for a stacked Double-A Jacksonville squad. Class A Jupiter also has a couple of pitchers worth following in Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani.
where to watch
Where the Marlins' Top 20 prospects are starting the season:
Click here for the complete Top 20 list on Prospect Watch.
"I think pitching is one of our strong suits," vice president of player development Marty Scott said. "If you had asked me that question last year, there were just a couple of guys. Fernandez is now in the big leagues, and we have Conley, Flynn and Dyson."
Pitching -- especially starting pitching -- is tough to find. It's also costly. Established free agents are expensive, and trading for a starter usually comes at the price of parting with top talent.
So in redirecting, the Marlins are concentrating on drafting and developing pitching. Some of the moves the team made, including their blockbuster 12-player trade with Toronto in November, brought in some young talent.
"We have an abundance of good, young arms," Scott said. "You're not going to hit on all of them. But the more you have, the higher percentage of good pitching you're going to have. I think it's definitely a bright spot for us."
Fernandez is the reason for the most hope. Born in Cuba, he defected to the United States at age 15. Fernandez became a star in high school in Tampa, and he now ranks No. 7 on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospect list.
Miami also has one of the top position-player prospects in the game in outfielder Christian Yelich, a pure hitter. The Marlins' first-round pick in 2010, Yelich rates 13th on MLB.com's Top 100 list. Yelich is part of a loaded Double-A Jacksonville team.
Heading into Spring Training, team officials were semi-jokingly calling Double-A Jacksonville the "Dream Team." The projection then was to have Fernandez as the ace, surrounded by an outfield that included Yelich in left, Jake Marisnick in center and Marcell Ozuna in right field.
What actually transpired is what makes projections so unpredictable. Fernandez was called up to the big leagues, while Yelich, Marisnick and Ozuna each started the season on the disabled list. Still, there is plenty of talent at Jacksonville, including Derek Dietrich, J.T. Realmuto and Conley.
Once the outfield is healthy, the Suns promise to be one of the most entertaining teams in all of the Minor Leagues.
Debuts and draftees
It took just six games into the Marlins' season for their No. 1 prospect to make his big league debut. Due to injuries to Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, Fernandez made the leap to the big leagues without pitching above the Class A level. The 20-year-old became the youngest pitcher to debut for Miami, and he struck out eight in five innings in a no-decision at the New York Mets.
The decision to promote Fernandez, the 14th overall pick in 2011, was based on need. It's not a trend the team is expected to follow with some of its other rising prospects.
Next in line appears to be Yelich, the 23rd overall choice in 2011. The 21-year-old out was arguably the team's best player in Spring Training. But because he hadn't played above Class A, it was decided to give him a couple of months to develop. But first he has to get healthy, after opening the season on the disabled list with a stone bruise to his left heel.
At the earliest, Yelich would arrive sometime around the middle of June. The same may hold true for Marisnick, Toronto's third-round pick in 2009.
Defensively, Marisnick has Gold Glove Award potential. It will be a matter of how quickly he shows he can hit. But like Yelich, Marisnick has started the season on the DL, where he is recovering from a broken left hand.
New kids on the block
The November trade with Toronto alone greatly upgraded the Marlins' system. Marisnick, Nicolino and Adeiny Hechavarria rank, third, fourth and sixth, respectively, on the team's Top 20 Prospect list. As part of that deal, Miami also acquired shortstop Yunel Escobar, who was swapped a few weeks later to Tampa Bay for Dietrich, the organization's ninth-rated prospect.
Teams on TV
As interest in Minor League Baseball grows, so has the ability to follow the Marlins' affiliates. Triple-A New Orleans and talent-rich Jacksonville are among the teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2013 MiLB.TV package streams more than 3,500 Minor League games.
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.