Yesterday the Marlins sent down star prospect Mike Stanton to minor league camp, meaning that he will officially open up the season in Double-A Jacksonville. That’s nice and all, but should we expect to see him again soon? Via MLB.com:
Now, there are a couple of factors weighing on when the right fielder makes his debut. The fact remains that he has just 79 games and 299 at-bats at Double-A. And he did struggle there, with a .231 batting average at Jacksonville last year.
So the team would like for him to prove he can perform at Double-A. There also is the business side of the game. The economic reality is teams are mindful of rushing young prospects, because once they arrive in the big leagues, their arbitration clock starts.
If Stanton is called up around Memorial Day, or June 1, he likely would not qualify as a Super Two and reach arbitration earlier.
Another consideration is Stanton’s health. He recently missed some time with a hyperextended left elbow. And he also has been treating his left shoulder since camp started. At the Arizona Fall League, he was sent home early with back stiffness.
John and I have been proponents of keeping Stanton in the minor leagues, and the Marlins of course made the right call to send him down to Double-A. But with all the hype surrounding the 20-year old and the way he hit in Spring Training, you have to have a feeling that the Marlins would be tempted to get him back up here at some point soon, as early as (gasp!) Memorial Day. That can’t be a good move, right?
A little clarification
I think the Marlins will give Stanton his cup of coffee this season, and next season he may well end up in the starting lineup for the Fish. But I don’t think that the Marlins are planning on giving Stanton significant time in the majors this year. There is no way that that is the plan unless serious issues in the outfield happen. Remember, Stanton is not like Atlanta Braves prospect Jason Heyward, who is being heralded as one of the two best prospects in all of baseball this year. Heyward was polished all throughout the minors and had very few issues, while Stanton has a significant concern and has indeed struggled in the minors at some level (albeit for a short time/in a small sample size). No matter what he did in spring, Stanton likely isn’t ready yet.
What if the worst happens?
So I doubt the Marlins pull a Matt Wieters plan and bring him up midseason just to avoid Super-Two status. That’s not in the cards; the Marlins WANT Stanton in Double-A this year. But what happens if one of the outfielders is hurt or struggles, like Cameron Maybin did last season? Who do the Marlins turn to? Would it then be Stanton? Would he even be the best choice?
Joe Frisaro fielded a question about that in his latest mailbag column, but I figured I’d chime in as well. If one of the Marlins’ three outfielders goes down with injury or struggles, I would not expect Stanton to be the replacement either. Remember what the Marlins did last year when injuries and ineffectiveness hit the starting rotation? The team went with Graham Taylor, Hayden Penn, and John Koronka before they settled on top pitching prospect Sean West. The team would prefer to delay the arbitration clock as much as possible if it can be helped, even if it means settling for inferior play.
The Marlins also have a ton of outfield “depth,” if the multitude of middling prospects could be called depth. The team has Jai Miller, Scott Cousins, and Bryan Petersen in the minors either in Double- or Triple-A, ready to contribute poorly at the major league level. If the team felt like it could get similar production from Stanton, even with his hype, as it could from Miller or Petersen, the team probably would opt for the more expendable guys. Each of those guys projects at around the same hitting level, and as John has mentioned in his prospect series, Cousins and Petersen both bring decent gloves in the corners as well.
Don’t expect to see Stanton patrolling the outfield any time before September. Anything before then is likely wasting his arbitration clock and the team’s years of control on him, things that just aren’t necessary with other options of similar current level. Stanton still needs to work out his contact issues in Jacksonville, let him do it in peace. Then again, if Miller and company fail, Stanton flourishes and cuts down on his K’s, and there remains a corner outfield hole to be filled, the Marlins may not hesitate. I just wouldn’t count on it.