It’s no secret that success for an organization like the Florida Marlins must begin with a healthy scouting department. This has long been a team that has either used prospects (or homegrown regulars) to acquire greater talent, and filled their 25-man roster with Marlins draftees. Even with the team’s busy November — acquiring Omar Infante, John Buck, Javier Vazquez — this payroll will always be one that demands a foundation of youthful stars.
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.
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.
I think there is a real market inefficiency in drafting for defense, and the Marlins have been smart to pick some up when appropriate. But they rarely go overboard, because they are equally anxious to draft high-upside pitching, and particularly, high-upside southpaws. In the second round of 2008, the first of 2009, and the second of 2010, Florida drafted a left-handed pitcher that you’ll find on Marc Hulet’s top 10 prospects list. The two high school kids of the group, Brad Hand and Chad James, both have dealt with some command problems in the past, but have big league stuff. Hand made real strides with his command in 2010, and because of it, I might just value him a little higher. But both have a real chance to contribute.
If there was a sleeper to be found in this system, it might just be another left-handed starter, drafted in the round after Hand in 2008. Lanky lefty Edgar Olmos had his first real taste of pro ball this season with 25 starts in Low-A, and it went well, as he posted a 8.28 K/9 and 0.69 HR/9. Olmos also has some command issues, mostly because the team is still working on the inconsistencies of his delivery, but they should get ironed out. At worst, he’s a funky lefty that can spin a curveball and pitch in the 90′s, which is a big league relief profile. At best, he could have a real breakout if he finds consistency in his delivery in 2011.
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.
It does seem to me that the Marlins are doing a good job in terms of scouting and player development. This organization has realized that they need to develop stars, and with Stanton and Morrison ready to join Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson, they’ve done just that. Now, the team’s resolve in the middle rounds of the draft — their ability to create prospect depth — will be tested. They could be doing better on that front, but I certainly do see some depth in terms of defensive-minded prospects, left-handed pitchers, and a resolve in adding catching depth.