Comments on Marlins top prospects

Recently FanGraphs authors BRyan Smith and Marc Hulet released their prospect and farm system rankings for the Florida Marlins minor league system. Though I am not at my strongest commenting on prospects, I would like to discuss a few things that were written in these pieces regarding our system and how those tidbits can affect the major league organization in the future. What follows will be quotes from the articles B. Smith and Hulet, followed by my thoughts.

And, while they are no longer prospects, the Marlins have a foundation of youthful stars. After developing the 2009 Rookie of the Year, the team did itself one better in 2010, finding two players in Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison that should be among the top sluggers in the NL East, and for six more cheap seasons. This is a team in the rare position that the farm system now merely must provide the team with an adequate number of role players; the stars are already there. And while what’s left in the minor league system isn’t fantastic, it could provide the Marlins with just enough of what they’ll need to stay competitive.

This is an accurate assessment of why the current Marlins farm system is so shallow. Sure, part of it has been the recent difficulties that the Marlins have had in the draft, but a good majority of it is most likely that the two biggest names in the organization, Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton (Patience and Power) have already arrived in the majors. Morrison and Stanton should stick, and the Marlins are already building a team with them as part of the foundation; the Marlins only need a few names to become solid contributors to the major league team in order to be successful in the near future.

One thing the Marlins do well as an organization, and you’ll find it with their top prospects, is scout defense. There are many Major League teams that, in my opinion, do a bad job at projecting how defense will mature. Too many scouts see average defenders in players that will never be, or fail to mark up a player that is a good bet to add runs to his team down the road. Not the Marlins.

In 2006, the team drafted Scott Cousins in the third round, a pick which hasn’t gained praise in many prospect circles over the years, but one that could yield a reliable Major Leaguer. Cousins plays good defense (and not just because he compiled 3.7 UZR in just 45 innings), and can hit RHP’s for some power. The next year, in the first round, the team spent big on Matt Dominguez, a third baseman known mostly for his defense. Dominguez just won’t have to hit a ton to be a productive big leaguer; a league-average bat should be good for 3 wins per season. This year, the team went with Christian Yelich in the first round. You won’t often hear Yelich praised too highly for his defensive skills because he has one of the worst arms I’ve ever seen from a blue-chip prospect, but he’s also incredibly athletic with a chance to be an asset at first base.

This is the first that I have heard of this defensive scouting prowess. I’d be interested to hear more from other sources regarding how well the team scouts defensive players, because it has not yet translated into the major league product. Granted, this may have been a strategy that has only recently been adopted, but the Marlins have brought up a few guys who just have not shown defensive skill. Morrison is decently athletic for a guy his size, but the Marlins shifted him to left field out of major league necessity,and that’s just not a position where he can excel. Christian Yelich compounds this problem, because as Smith mentions in the above quote, he has a terrible arm. Right now, the Marlins are infatuated with his athleticism and want to shift him to center field, but his throwing mechanics are so off from what I have heard that he would be a liability out there.

Two of the players Smith mentioned, however, are known for their defense. Matt Dominguez is, if anything, a defensive stud, though questions about his range are now coming up. An estimate of a +10 glove would make him worth it even if he ends as an average hitter in the majors, but there is probably still a good deal of time until he gets there. As for Scott Cousins, if he can play a solid or above average center field, he should be a valuable enough player, especially this season for the Marlins.

The other key for the Fish is finding the backstop that will ultimately succeed John Buck and guide these southpaw starters throughout the next decade. The team has been active in this search, and it seems to be their other priority in the early rounds. Their third-round pick in the 2007 draft was Jameson Smith, who hasn’t been able to stay on the field, and when he has, few catchers in the minors have been worse throwing out opposing baserunners (11-for-114 in full season leagues). The team went with a catcher at the top of their 2008 draft, taking Kyle Skipworth with a top ten pick. Skipworth impressed me some in the Arizona Fall League, showing real projectable power — he’s a big guy with a power-driven swing and an understanding of backspin. But his added bulk since 2008 has made him a bit more immobile behind the plate, and I’m just not sure he’s a viable option back there. The swing also has some holes in it, so you worry he could be a tweener — too big for catcher, too little bat for first base. The next hope will be 2010 third-round pick J.T. Realmuto, a high school quarterback with the requisite athleticism for the position.

I think this is the primary reason the Marlins sprang for John Buck this offseason. They know for certain that their catching situation will not get resolved in the next three years, so they went for what they felt was the best option heading into the next three seasons. Buck was one of the better hitting options in the free agent market, and he also happened to be the youngest of the options as well, so the team thought that a medium-length deal would buy them enough time for someone in the minor league system to emerge. The hope is that that someone is Kyle Skipworth, but a couple of options are still available.

Notes: [Matt Dominguez] has long been known for being a defensive player first and an offensive player second. The former No. 1 draft pick did nothing to take away from that notion in 2010, as he posted a .337 wOBA in double-A at the age of 20. His ISO rate of .158, accumulated between 2009-2010, goes to show that he currently projects to have average-at-best power for the hot corner. With that said, his 34 doubles in 2010 suggest he could develop more over-the-fence power down the line. Dominguez is not gifted with plus bat speed. He takes only a slight stride when batting and he shows a minor upper cut in his swing at times. Dominguez has a good arm at third base and solid hands, but some have questioned his range. He could appear in the Majors in 2011, but look for him to be ready for full-time duty in 2012.

Dominguez was supposed to have a power stroke coming out of high school, but that has yet to develop. However, there should still be some optimism. He was just 20 years old last season, which means he was below the average age in Double-A. This season, he should take a crack at Triple-A and see if his hitting, particularly that power, improves. I agree with Hulet that those doubles are a positive sign for future growth. The Marlins should expect him 2012, but there has been talk of him being in competition for a starting role in 2011, which I feel would be a mistake. His bat has been league average at almost every level so far, and it’s hard to imagine he can make the leap just yet after a performance that did not stand out in 2010. The Marlins would be better off signing a center fielder and having either Omar Infante or Chris Coghlan man third.

Notes: [Kyle Skipworth] made some strides in 2010 but it’s not saying that much when you consider he entered the year with a .208 career average in two pro seasons. He tired in the second half of the season and his triple-slash line dipped to .249/.312/.426 in 397 at-bats in high-A. His 17 homers (.176 ISO) were a nice surprise. Skipworth showed good power in the Arizona Fall League with three homers and four doubles in 15 games. The catcher is going to have to be more patient at the plate and improve his pitch recognition if he’s going to be an average offensive catcher in the Majors; the strikeout rate was far too high at 33.2 K%. At the plate, the former No. 1 pick shows a loopy swing and he needs to keep the bat through the strike zone for a longer period of time to improve his contact rates. He also looks unbalanced at the plate and may need to spread out a bit. He has a good defensive reputation behind the plate but I’ve seen him be slow with his transfers from glove to hand while attempting to throw out base runners.

Skipworth’s 2010 season was a pleasant surprise to be sure. He finally showed a power stroke in High-A last season, along with the ability to occasionally make contact. That will be the biggest struggle for Skipworth as he moves up in levels; can he cut down the strikeouts (30.7% in 2010) enough to be a consistent .250 hitter. If so, a future line of .250/.320/.430 for his first or second year in the bigs would not be surprising and would definitely be beneficial from the catcher position. The test of Double-A in 2011 should provide a gauge as to where he is at in development.

Notes: [Osvaldo Martinez] is a promising prospect with a modest ceiling. The middle infielder is not going to dethrone incumbent shortstop Hanley Ramirez, but he could end up replacing the departed Dan Uggla at the keystone. Martinez has a nice level swing and looks calm at the plate. He’s not afraid to bunt or use the whole field, which makes him an ideal No. 2 hitter. He’s also comfortable hitting with two strikes and can work the count. With a small frame, Martinez is not going to develop much home-run power, but he has a quick bat that could produce a significant amount of doubles.

It is great to hear that Osvaldo Martinez is back out there and had his best season yet in 2010. His brief stop in the majors at the end of last season had Marlins fans buzzing, but let’s temper any excitement right now. Martinez never approached hitting as well as he did in 2010, and nothing about his game changed significantly. He is still a contact-driven hitter with a decent walk rate and little power, an Omar Infante with some speed. If he is solid enough on defense, he could be an average player in the big leagues, but expecting much more from him is a pipe dream. Players of his type rarely become more than mere contributors.

Notes: [Scott Cousins] will be 26 years old on opening day 2011 and he has yet to secure a full-time gig in the Majors despite his promising tools. The outfielder flashes both power and speed but his overall game is still inconsistent, in part because he was a two-way player in college. Cousins has struggled against southpaws in the past but he hit more than .300 against them at triple-A in 2010. It remains to be seen if he’ll have to be platooned at the MLB level. He is a good defensive outfielder who can play all three positions and has a strong arm suitable for right field. Cousins could end up being a solid platoon or fourth outfielder for a playoff-contending club.

It is good to see Cousins make the bottom of this list (and a few others), as he may end up playing an important role for the 2011 Florida Marlins. If Cousins can impress in Spring Training, he may come out the gates with the starting center field job. This provides benefit to the team in two ways:

1) The Marlins will not have to play Emilio Bonifacio, who is a known offensive drain, anywhere in the starting lineup.

2) The Marlins will spare their fans of having to endure a season of Chris Coghlan playing center field, especially when his future really resides in the infield.

If Cousins is good enough to play a consistent center field, he could help mask some of the deficiencies of having Morrison man left field. Keeping Coghlan away from center also helps him develop as an infielder and makes sure that we don’t end up letting every ball in the left field gap land for a hit. Cousins’ 2010 season doesn’t bode as a promising sign towards big league success, but there is a chance he can help us, so he is someone to keep an eye on.

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Tags: Christian Yelich Kyle Skipworth Logan Morrison Matt Dominguez Miami Marlins Mike Stanton Osvaldo Martinez Scott Cousins

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