The Miami Marlins organization made a bold move on Monday night when it was announced that outfield prospects Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick were promoted from Double-A to the big league squad. In return, 2013 rookies Derek Dietrich, an infielder, and Marcell Ozuna, an outfielder, were returned to the minor leagues. Interestingly, Ozuna checks in with the highest WAR (1.9) of any Marlins hitter in 2013. On the recent Top 50 prospects list at FanGraphs, Yelich came in 12th overall, while Marisnick checked in at 46.
The two rookies will join young slugging right-fielder Giancarlo Stanton to provide the club with an impressive core to (hopefully) build around for the future. The addition of Yelich and Marisnick could quickly give the Marlins one of the best defensive outfields in the game despite Stanton’s struggles in 2013. Both Justin Ruggiano and Juan Pierre could be relegated to back-up roles, or shopped on the open market.
Yelich, 21, entered 2013 ranked as the Marlins’ second-best prospect behind Cuban right-hander Jose Fernandez on Miami’s Top 15 prospects list at FanGraphs. He’s more than capable of playing center-field but will likely play left field in deference to Marisnick. At the plate, Yelich shows a beautiful left-handed swing that should allow him to maintain a strong batting average at the big league level and perhaps chase some batting titles down the road.
At 6-foor-4 and with good bat speed, the California native projects to develop at least average power for a left-fielder but he’s currently more of a line-drive, doubles hitter. Yelich also has good speed which helps him a lot in the field and on the base paths but he may not be a huge base stealer in the Majors. Although he has both a 30-plus and 20-plus stolen base season under his belt, Yelich has struggled to stay healthy so he may remain tethered to the bag more often in an effort to cut down on wear and tear.
Marisnick began the year ranked fifth on the Marlins top prospects list. He entered the organization last November during the Jose Reyes trade with the Toronto Blue Jays and he joins catcher Jeff Mathis, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and pitcher Henderson Alvarez as the fourth member of the deal to play at the big league level for The Fish. Veteran shortstop Yunel Escobar also came over in the deal but he was later flipped to Tampa Bay for Dietrich.
Marisnick, 22, can already provide above-average big league defense thanks to excellent range, good reads and a strong arm. He makes tough plays look easy. His speed helps him both in the field and on the bases where he could nab more than 20 bases in a full season. However, the young hitter has a lot growing still to do at the plate.
He needs to be more selective at the plate and choosing better pitches to drive could help both his power output and his batting average. He’s also still getting comfortable with his hitting mechanics and the Jays organization tried to rework his swing on more than one occasion. With his speed, Marisnick could be a top-of-the-order hitter but his reliance on his batting average for his on-base percentage (due to his low walk rates) could become problematic as his minor league strikeout rates of 17-22% could impact his ability to hit more than .240-.260.
Of the two prospects, Yelich should come out of the gate more quickly with his reliable bat. The toolsy Marisnick could struggle early because of the issues noted above, but arguably he has a higher ceiling if everything clicks and he becomes a four- or five-tool player. He could probably use another 300 to 400 at-bats in the minor leagues to help further iron out his offensive wrinkles but his outfield defense could save quite a few runs for the Marlins.
For more on Marisnick, read his Q&A with David Laurila from November.