Thursday, December 30, 2010

TEAM #27 – Florida Marlins

Dominguez is primed to assume the Marlins 3B job sometime this season

With Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison taking their game to the next level, the Marlins’ prospect list is a bit thin this year. Matt Dominguez was the #3 prospect from last year’s list (TEAM #14 – Florida Marlins) and more or less by default assumes the organization’s top ranking heading into 2011. Left-handed pitching is a surprising strength of the Marlins, while a tremendous dearth of right-handed starting pitching prospects forms a glaring weakness. Most of the Marlins’ troubles can be traced back to relatively disappointing drafts in 2008 and 2009 where respective top picks Kyle Skipworth and Chad James haven’t lived up to expectations. When this is coupled with the fact that the Marlins have been one of the least aggressive players in the international market, the result is an organization that lacks both strength at the top and depth throughout.

The question, though, is whether the arrow is pointed up or down, as the Marlins slipped to under .500 for the first time in three seasons in 2010. With key departures of Dan Uggla and Cameron Maybin being replaced by Omar Infante and likely Scott Cousins it is difficult to imagine the Marlins improving upon last season’s third place finish—even considering likely improvements from Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton and the upgrades at catcher of John Buck and Javier Vasquez replacing Nate Robertson. The problem is that the Marlins just don’t spend the money to continue to keep up with teams like the Phillies. It shows up glaringly when examining the amateur draft. Where the typical Major League team annually shells out in the neighborhood of $7.0 million in signing bonuses (draft and international); the Marlins rank in the bottom 10%, having averaged about $4.3 million over the last four years. This becomes evident when examining the Marlins Minor League talent levels. The Marlins are a team that have a history of successfully accomplishing ‘more with less’, so it would be silly to write them off now, but this is a franchise in need of a major prospect talent infusion.

Best Pick from 2010 – We could go in a lot of directions with this as we have consistently believed in Dominguez, cautioned that Chad James was a ‘reach’ in 2009 and have been ahead of the curve on Marcell Ozuna, but the logically choice here is our selection of Brad Hand at #10, who is likely to be found no worse than 7th or 8th in any 2011 rankings and even higher in ours.

Worst Pick from 2010 – Injuries played a role in a number of Marlins’ misses in 2010, such as Bryan Berglund and Isaac Galloway, but Ryan Tucker, who we had at #6, has not returned to the levels that we had expected.

Grade A-

1) Matt Dominguez, 3B (2010 Performance Scores– Power 66; Discipline 57; First Base Rate 41; Speed 29)

We have been touting Dominguez as the Minor’s best defensive third baseman for three years now. Because of the defense, the Marlin’s have rushed him a bit and his offense has lagged behind—despite still posting the #7 Performance Score in the Southern League (SOL) in 2010. The important thing to remember is that Dominguez will play nearly all of the 2011 season as a 21yo, and if the Marlins’ plans workout, in the Major Leagues. If Dominguez is never more than a .720 OPS hitter, he will still be an everyday Major League third baseman—his glove is that good. But don’t fear, as he matures, there is every reason to believe that Dominguez will develop average, across-the-board, hitting skills for the position—with potentially above average power (50 XBH in AA as a 20yo in 2010). Given time, the assessment is that Dominguez should develop into a league-average offensive player with ‘gold glove’ defensive abilities. That said, it won’t be in 2011. The Marlins plan to give Dominguez a solid shot at winning a starting position this spring. Instead, we hope they will send him to AAA to start the season and give him at least another half season in the minors. His offensive game is not yet Major League ready—especially vs. left-handers. Long-term, however, Dominguez has an all-star caliber ceiling. It is quite possible that Dominguez is the best overall third base prospect—among those likely to remain at the position. The question is whether the Marlins will be patient with his offensive development.

Grade B+

2) Christian Yelich, OF/1B

We had Yelich pegged as a sandwich round pick last June, before the Marlins selected him with the #23 pick in the first round. A polished hitter, Yelich showed no signs of problems transitioning to the pro game in his brief 2010 debut. With above average contact skills and average power and speed skills there is little concern about his offensive abilities. The real question lies in his defense. After playing primarily first base in high school, the Marlins are trying Yelich in the outfield. There is little reason to believe that Yelich has the requisite coverage skills to play in center and his below average arm will not play in right field. This leaves left field and first base as his likely eventual defensive destination. We are not confident that Yelich possesses the requisite power skills for a Major League first baseman (hence our slight pre-draft downgrade), thereby making his ceiling likely limited to a league average left fielder or perhaps even a platoon type player. Given his advanced development, his ‘certainty’ rating is higher than most—leading to his ranking on this list, but we don’t find the upside that you would expect from a first round pick. We will watch, with interest, his defensive development. The Marlins are likely to send him to full-season A-ball to begin 2011, and it wouldn’t shock us to see him spend less than a ‘full-season’ there.

3) Chad James, LHP (2010– Dominance 48; Control 23; HRrate 71; Stamina 67)

Much like Yelich, we believed James to be a sandwich round talent in 2009 before the Marlins tabbed him at #18. Also much like Yelich, our concerns center around taking a prep pick with a limited ceiling in the first round—the washout rate is extensive. In 2010, James did little to change our minds, as he showed the ability to use a relatively developed, heavy, repertoire to keep the ball on the ground—but lacked a dominant ‘swing and miss’ pitch. To properly frame this, we are higher on Ian Krol, a smallish lefty with a similar upside that the A’s selected six rounds later in 2010. While it sounds like we are bashing James, the reality is that he still has a very projectable 6’3” frame that should leave him with a consistent low-90s fastball. His best pitch remains his hard curve and he has an adequate change—leaving him with a solid three pitch arsenal and making him a projectable #2/#3 starter. His 2010 South Atlantic League performance earned him the league’s #9 Score. While he struggled with his control, it has more to do with his approach than any flaw in his mechanics. The Marlins are likely to begin him in the Florida State League to open 2011—despite being barely 20 yo. There is still plenty to be optimistic on with James and this season would be a good spot for him to start to demonstrate it.

4) Brad Hand, LHP (2010– Dominance 54; Control 49; HRrate 38; Stamina 72)

We became ‘enamored’ with Hand after his fastball took a bit of a jump—leading to a breakout 2009 season. Already possessing a plus curve and an average change, the solid fastball was the key to believing that Hand had the makings of a solid mid-rotation starter. Hand built upon his 2009 season, finishing 2010 with the #8 Performance Score in FSL. The Marlins believed in Hand enough that they made him part of their AA playoff rotation, where he had a masterful couple of starts—as a 20yo. Hand should return to the SOL in 2011, where he will be one of the League’s youngest starters. His ceiling isn’t extremely high, but this is a young left-handed starter with three solid Major League pitches—making him very attractive on the ‘certainty’ side. An argument could be made that Hand is the most attractive starting pitching prospect in the system. With another solid season this year, he should be part of the Marlins’ rotation plans in 2012.

5) Marcell Ozuna, RF (2010 – Power 80; Discipline 24; First Base Rate 26; Speed 47)

We sounded the watch for Ozuna in our 2010 guide, and he did little to alter our thinking this past season. An early season wrist injury ended his full-season debut, but when he returned in the New York-Penn League he went on a monster offensive tear, belting 21 Home Runs in 270 ABs—50% more than the league runner up—earning the top Performance Score in the League. Ozuna possesses plus-plus power skills, above average speed and a strong arm—all which should make him a natural for right field. The downside is his contact skills, as his strikeout rate soared to 33% in 2010, and Ozuna rarely sees a pitch that he doesn’t believe is worthy of a swing. If you are looking for comps, think Greg Halman or Johermyn Chavez for the Mariners—although we like Ozuna’s upside slightly more than either of them. Plate discipline is the key. If Ozuna finds it, he has the potential to be an all-star caliber Major League right fielder…if he doesn’t he may never escape the Minors. Look for Ozuna to begin 2011 in the SAL.

Grade B

6) Osvaldo Martinez, MI (2010 – Power 39; Discipline 72; First Base Rate 70; Speed 54)

Martinez checked in at #20 on our 2010 list, before posting a breakout season that earned him the #12 Performance Score in the SOL and a Major League call-up when Hanley Ramirez was shut down. Martinez possesses solid defensive skills with soft hands and a solid arm. This makes him a high ‘floor’ type with the defensive capabilities of handling any of the three infield positions. Offensively Martinez possesses below average power, average speed and above average contact and plate discipline skills. This leads us to believe that he has the ceiling of a Major League average middle infielder and #2 hitter. Expect Martinez to begin 2011 in AAA. With Ramirez entrenched at shortstop, second base appears to be Martinez’s best bet to win a Major League job. It is interesting that the Marlins dealt for Omar Infante this off-season, as the similarities between the two players are striking.

7) Jhan Marinez, RP (2010– Dominance 80; Control 26; HRrate 67; Stamina 26)

While we are never high on Minor League relief pitchers, Marinez is clearly one of the game’s better ones. With a mid-to upper-90s fastball, Marinez has back of the bullpen potential. How closely he comes to realizing it will depend on the development of slider and improvements in his control. Marinez got a brief opportunity with the Marlins in 2010 and without a true closer in the organization, his path is clear. Look for him to begin 2011 in AAA. If he can show improved control he will likely join the Big League team by mid-season. It wouldn’t even surprise us to see him closing games by season’s end.

Grade B-

8) Kyle Skipworth, C (2010 – Power 73; Discipline 25; First Base Rate 37; Speed 32)

Skipworth made strides in 2010, posting his best season as a pro—belting 17 Home Runs in 397 At Bats. However, it still was a far cry from what has been expected of him since the Marlins made him the sixth overall pick in 2008. His Achilles heel has been a propensity to strike out, and 2010 was no different as he fanned in 31% of his Plate Appearances. Skipworth remains a developing, but very solid, defensive backstop. He will turn 21yo just before the 2011 season begins, and will likely begin it in AA. The point being that there is still a significant ceiling here and plenty of time to realize it. Given that the Marlins invested $2.3 million in him when he was drafted they are likely to give him plenty of opportunity. It is still likely a couple of seasons before we should expect to see him in Florida, but we do expect to eventually see him there.

9) Scott Cousins, CF (2010 – Power 57; Discipline 51; First Base Rate 46; Speed 71)

Another ‘high-floor’/’low-ceiling’ prospect, Cousins will be given an opportunity to earn a starting role as Cameron Maybin’s replacement. There are those that will tell you that the 2006 third round pick has one of the stronger ‘tools’ sets in the system. As we forecast in the 2010 edition, we see Cousins as strictly a 4th outfield/platoon type player with average offensive skills being his upside—an unlikely one. Cousins enters 2011 as a 26yo. While the center field job is available to him, our guess is that it ends up going to Coghlan and Cousins secures a bench role with the Marlins. There isn’t likely to be much projection left here and therefore we see that as is likely outcome.

10) Rob Rassmussen, LHP

We had Rasmussen as a late second/early third round pick—a bit below where the Marlins tabbed him. Rassmussen fits the mold of recent Marlin early round picks—namely solid skills but limited ceiling. With a low-90s fastball and four solid pitches—including a plus-curve, it isn’t difficult to envision the leap from where Rassmussen is to the back of the Marlins’ rotation. But the ‘back’ of the rotation is likely his ceiling. Look for Rassmussen to open 2009 in the FSL, but he could move quickly—even seeing the Marlin bullpen in early 2012.

Grade C+

11) Michael Dunn, RP (2010– Dominance 79; Control 28; HRrate 76; Stamina 27)

Dunn was acquired by the Marlins in the Dan Uggla trade. He possesses a mid-90s fastball that he effectively utilizes to set up his ‘swing-and-miss’ slider. Unfortunately, the 25yo has never been able to consistently harness his command enough to provide significant hope that he winds up anything more than a solid ‘LOOGY’. He should get an opportunity to earn a bullpen job with the Marlins this spring, but we are less than confident that you will see much more in the way of development with him.

12) Noah Perio, 2B/SS (2010 – Power 30; Discipline 76; First Base Rate 54; Speed 74)

A name you are unlikely to find any other prospect list, Perio was a top 200 draft talent that the Marlins selected in the 39th round in 2009. Perio played 2010 as an 18yo in the NYP—the League’s 5th youngest everyday player—where he earned the #3 Performance Score. A solid athlete with soft-hands, Perio is a smooth fielder. Offensively he shows plus speed and plate discipline skills and average contact skills. We believe that once his 6’1” frame fills out, he even has the potential for average middle infield power to develop. This makes his ceiling that of a slightly above average middle infielder. There is a long way between here and there, for 2011 Perio should face a legitimate challenge in full-season ball.

Other Top 300 Considerations – We are already past the Top 500!

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

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