Kyle Jensen, Logan Morrison, and the future of left field

Today at Seedlings to Stars, FanSided’s own Nathaniel Stoltz discussed one of the more intriguing names in the world of Marlins prospects, outfielder Kyle Jensen. Here’s a little of what he had to say:

After demolishing FSL pitchers for a career-best .309/.383/.535 line, Jensen was moved up to Double-A earlier this month and immediately has proven his power translates. In nine games, he’s already launched four more homers, bringing his season total to 26, just eight behind minor-league leader Bryan LaHair (who, like most of the other homer leaders, has played in a much easier park and league).

You should read the entire piece to get a good idea of what a guy like Jensen looks like to a more trained eye like Stoltz’s. The thing I’d like to discuss is how Jensen fits into the near- to long-term future of this ballclub. At this point, the Marlins’ system is pretty bereft of interesting names. Matt Dominguez has lost a lot of his luster, even though he may still be a quality major leaguer. Osvaldo Martinez has a lot of Marlins fans intrigued because of last season’s late surge, but he really struggled in Triple-A this season (.231/.284/.303), so it’s no guarantee he will be a major leaguer. Brad Hand was clearly outmatched in the big leagues this year, and the other promising starters like Chad James are a few seasons away from contributing. The Marlins need a good contributor like Jensen to be ready soon.

Unfortunately for him and for them, there are a few roadblocks along the way. For one thing, Jensen’s position is, for the moment, blocked by two of the supposed young pillars of this ballclub. However, only one of them, Mike Stanton, is irreplaceable; Logan Morrison is not necessarily endearing himself to the team both on the field defensively or off of it with the media and Twitter readers. And if Morrison happens to be on his way out because of his supposed antics, how soon can Jensen actually fill the void?

Jensen’s skills

Stoltz has a great look at what it is Jensen is good and bad at. As mentioned in the article, Jensen has a decent strikeout rate, up at 23.9 percent of his PA for his career. Compare that to his 9.0 percent walk rate and you can see the similarities between him and Stanton, who struck out 26.7 percent of the time and walked 10.1 percent (unintentionally) in his minor league stint. Of course, Jensen is a good deal older than Stanton at age 23 this season, so there is far less upside even if the numbers were a lot more similar than they actually are. However, the style of play of the two guys is still similar; they both strike out a lot and hit home runs as their primary means of offensive contribution.

Jensen is not the skilled defensive player Stanton appears to be, and neither is he patient enough to draw walks like a Josh Willingham does consistently, but he seems to be a decent enough player to be at a Cody Ross type at the plate. If that is his 30th or 40th percentile projection right now, and he improves in the next few seasons to be more a of Willingham-type hitter, the Marlins could bank on him being their left fielder of the future.

LoMo’s impact

The problem is that the current left fielder of the future is still here, though he is not necessarily happy about it. As we all know, Morrison’s recent demotion has not had him happy; he has not said much of anything since the demotion, but his clear display of frustration to the media immediately after the event shows that he at least has some lingering problems with the front office. The team has not talked much about it at this point, and it seems that they are willing to let this hopefully blow by smoothly instead of having it continue in front of the media. Nevertheless, you have to imagine that the club and Morrison are not on good terms and, if the situation gets any worse, they might part ways.

In addition, there is a very clear other reason for parting ways: the Marlins do not have a competent defensive left fielder in Morrison. Part of the demotion had to be for Morrison to attempt to improve his defense, which has been lousy by any metric and by the eyes. It has been fairly obvious that Morrison’s glove could not hold up in left field, and the way that I figured would eventually fix the problem was to trade Gaby Sanchez, who is older than Morrison and less likely to be a critical part of the team five or six years down the line. However, with the current problems Morrison has facing him with the team, the club could be willing to get a large haul for trading him rather than receiving a smaller payday by trading the older Sanchez.

The front office’s plan

The last college player of decent caliber that the Marlins have had go through their system is Chris Coghlan. The Marlins promoted Coghlan after a complete season in Double-A at age 23 and a partial season in Triple-A at age 24. He spent two seasons going through Single-A levels before receiving his full year in Double-A. In comparison, Jensen has spent three seasons in Single-A levels before receiving the callup to Double-A late in his age 23 campaign. It is likely that Jensen starts 2012 in Double-A and gets a full season there unless he destroys the level like Stanton did last season.

The more plausible comparison between Marlins college draftees and Jensen is Sanchez, who also came to the Fish organization at age 21. He also spent three seasons climbing through the Single-A levels and hit more impressively during those first three years than Jensen did, though Sanchez’s best seasons were early rather than later like Jensen’s. Sanchez’s 2008 season in Double-A earned him Southern League MVP honors and put him on the Marlins’ prospect map, but it took one more season before he earned a full-time promotion, in part due to injury. It is likely that Jensen receives a similar gameplan in terms of his movement through the minors; after a strong 2011 season, the team will look to see if he can continue that performance at a higher level like Double-A. If he continues to impress, they will likely promote in 2013 provided they have an open slot. If he struggles in Double- or Triple-A or suffers through injuries, do not be surprised if he is held back until his age 26 season in 2014. The Marlins are ironically slower with their college prospects than they are with high school players.

Of course, this is still all speculative. The team needs to open a spot for a guy who can only play the corners (though my Jupiter correspondent @danspacesmith, who works over at Roger Dean Stadium, says Jensen is at least average defensively in the corner outfield) and Jensen still has to prove that his prolific 2011 year is less of a BABIP and power surge fluke and more like sustainable growth. But if there is one guy who is emerging as an at least interesting offensive prospect in the minors who could provide help as early as late next year, it is Jensen.

Tags: Gaby Sanchez Kyle Jensen Miami Marlins Mike Stanton

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