Developing players a new Marlins problem?


This news bit is from a week ago, but I have been chomping at the bit to get at it over the week. MLB Trade Rumors reported on a recent hot stove piece from Buster Olney that discussed a few interesting notes. The one that particularly caught my eye was this blurb that was rephrased by Ben Nicholson-Smith:

"– People in MLB front offices believe that the Marlins aren’t developing quite as much talent as they once did. One talent evaluator suggests the Marlins may have to lock up their current players to remain competitive. Dan Uggla and Ricky Nolasco are both extension candidates, but the Marlins aren’t close to signing either of them."

This is an intriguing claim by these MLB front office folks. I’m not particularly incensed about the comment, to be honest. But there are two reasons why these comments are both odd and oddly timed.

– The comments came after a season that the Marlins debuted three impressive rookies in Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison, and Gaby Sanchez.

– The Marlins have never really done that much developing to begin with.

Prospect Bloom

Yes, the Marlins haven’t developed a lot of players in recent years, but this season was not the year to make a point of that. The Fish just came off a season during which three excellent players debuted for them, including a consensus preseason Top 5 prospect whose performance in 2010 only hyped him further. While in previous years, the Marlins barely debuted anyone of interest outside of the rebuilding campaigns, this year the Fish had three legitimate, in-house prospects come up through their organization and contribute at the major league level.

Stanton was the much-hyped guy, and he certainly deserved most of the attention. You have to be impressed by a player who racks up almost 3 WAR as a 20-year old rookie in the majors. But Morrison debuted with an amazing OBP run and Sanchez played the entire year and was as solid as we could have expected. So it seems strange that, when the Marlins debuted three rookies who should be here for at least the next two or three years together (Sanchez will probably end up being the odd man out), comments come out saying the Marlins don’t develop young talent from their minor league systems any more.

Rare Home-Grown Treats

I think it is particularly important to mention that the Marlins’ three rookies in 2010 were all home-grown products drafted and developed fully by the Fish. For a team that is always built on a nucleus of young talent, this has actually rarely been the case. I’ve discussed this topic before, but it bears repeating: the Marlins have never really had a team that was built in large part from guys developed by their minor league organization. Compare the team’s nucleus at any point in its history and you will see that the majority of those players were guys thrust into the limelight by circumstance (the Fire Sale guys like Derrek Lee and the 2006-era guys like Dan Uggla) after acquisition. Rare is the Marlin that succeeds after having spent time developing in the minor league organization.

Try to think of the names of players the Marlins originally developed, guys who spent significant time in the minor league system for the Fish. I can only think of a few who contributed significantly to the team in terms of playing time:

Charles Johnson from before the Fire Sale

Mark Kotsay, Alex Gonzalez for the seasons right after the Fire Sale

Josh Beckett, Gonzalez for the years leading up to the World Series. A case could be made for Mike Lowell

Miguel Cabrera, Beckett, Gonzalez, and maybe Lowell for the 2003-2006 seasons. A case could be made for Dontrelle Willis

Josh Johnson, Scott Olsen, Josh Willingham, and Jeremy Hermida for the 2006 era, along with Cabrera and maybe Willis.

That’s not a lot of time. The pre-fire sale years make sense; few players were ready and available to be brought up to contribute. But the post-Fire Sale years were fueled heavily by the trades of the sale. The 2003 team was the culmination of development in the majors of guys like Beckett, Lee, and Brad Penny, many of whom were not original Marlins. Even this latest 2006 era squad was headed by a slew of guys we acquired via trade, with only Johnson and Willingham being successful.

An argument can be made that the Marlins’ entire developmental success rides on the success of Charles Johnson, Josh Beckett, Josh Johnson, Miguel Cabrera, and Josh Willingham. For a small-market known for its youth, we haven’t really gotten much of that youth from within. Compare that to the Rays organization, whose two stars are homegrown (Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford) and whose entire starting staff (except for Matt Garza) is from their own farm.

This question about the lack of development by the Marlins is a strange one. Recently, I’ve been less and less impressed by the Marlins and how they grow their farmhands compared to other lower-market teams. Our farm system is in really bad shape, especially after this trio graduated to the majors this season. Most prospect gurus had our organization in the bottom quarter of minor league systems when it still included Stanton and Morrison. Whether this is drafting or development, I cannot tell, but after these three excellent players, the Marlins are running empty in the minors, and they have been for a good amount of time.