Scouting Miami’s Return for Marcell Ozuna

The Miami Marlins received a quartet of prospects – OF Magneuris Sierra, RHP Sandy Alcantara, RHP Zac Gallen, and LHP Daniel Castano — from St. Louis in exchange for All-Star outfielder Marcell Ozuna on Wednesday afternoon. Sierra and Alcantara ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, on our recent Cardinals farm system audit, while Gallen ranked 18th. Castano didn’t make the list, which has full reports regarding everyone I discuss below.

Alcantara reached the majors in 2017 but had a somewhat disappointing season, posting a 4.44 ERA at Double-A and a lower strikeout rate relative to his 2016 numbers. He throws hard, 95-99 as a starter and 98-101 in relief, and had one of the more promising curveballs in the minors entering this season. But Alcantara’s repertoire was tinkered with this year. Though he was throwing the curveball early in the season, it was scrapped in his major-league appearances in deference to a mediocre slider, perhaps because Alcantara was exhibiting a higher arm slot when he threw his curveball. In his 2017 Fall League run, Alcantara was utilizing both a curve and slider, though neither was very good. His changeup, which projects to plus, is now his best secondary pitch.

It’s possible that Miami’s player-development staff can now take the time to push the reset button on Alcantara’s curveball. If he looks like 2016 Sandy Alcantara (elite velocity, plus curveball, and changeup projection) then his future is brighter than it would have been in St. Louis, where he was likely ticketed for the bullpen immediately. He’ll have to continue to polish his ability to throw strikes to avoid that outcome in Miami, but he’s likely to be some kind of valuable big leaguer, whether as a lights-out bullpen arm (if his secondaries and command never develop) or an All-Star rotation piece if they do.

Magneuris Sierra also made his major-league debut in 2017, jumping straight from A-ball to St. Louis early in the year. He began his career with a nine-game hit streak but had an unproductive September due to limited playing time.

I’ve gotten mixed reports on Sierra’s defensive instincts, but scouts agree that his plus-plus speed should allow him to become at least an above-average defender in center field. His most ardent supporters believe he could be an elite defender and perennial Gold Glove contender. Much of Sierra’s ability is derived from his speed, which not only makes him a promising defensive prospect, but makes his small-ball offensive approach viable. Sierra is a slasher who peppers the baselines with weak, low-lying contact. He accrues many infield hits because of his speed, something with which he’ll have a tougher time against big-league defenses. He projects to hit for very little game power in the big leagues, and I’m not optimistic about his ability to hit for a high average, nor reach base at a high clip because of his lack of pop. But if Sierra turns into the defender many expect him to become, he’ll still be an average everyday player.

Zac Gallen is an advanced righty with command of a bevy of fringe-to-average pitches. He’ll touch 95 but sits mostly in the low 90s with and average changeup, fringe curveball, and fringe cutter. Gallen reached Triple-A in 2017, his first full pro season, and projects as a fifth starter. He, Alcantara, and Sierra could all wear Marlins uniforms at some point in 2018.

The final piece of the deal is Daniel Castano, a fairly athletic, 6-foot-4, 230-pound lefty who had a 2.57 ERA at short-season State College in 2017. He was a 19th-rounder out of Baylor in 2016 and thus old relative to most prospects at that level of the minor leagues. Castano posted a 51% ground-ball rate thanks to the plane created on his fastball by his overhand arm slot. He has fringe velocity, an average changeup, and a well-below-average curveball. He’s a long-shot flier with an interesting skill.





Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

21 Comments
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Mario Mendozamember
4 years ago

I have had no problems with Miami’s moves until this one. This return is incredibly light. When we thought Flaherty was included, it made more sense.

Wilmerrr
4 years ago
Reply to  Mario Mendoza

Ozuna’s surplus value is probably in the range of 40M or so. I think this prospect package is roughly equivalent to that.

jdbolick
4 years ago
Reply to  Wilmerrr

It depends on the arbitration amounts, cost per WAR, and how much if any Ozuna regresses from 2017, but most estimates that I’ve seen put his estimated surplus value above $45 million over the next two seasons. The estimated value of the prospects received, based on Eric’s FVs, falls short of that figure without even considering that future surplus is less valuable than current surplus.

Dave T
4 years ago
Reply to  jdbolick

Click through the Fangraphs prospect values ( https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/valuing-the-2017-top-100-prospects/ ) to the research behind them ( http://www.thepointofpittsburgh.com/mlb-prospect-surplus-values-2016-updated-edition/ ).

“So the player’s six (plus) years of team control WAR were added up, multiplied by $8M/WAR, then brought to present value with a discount value of 8%.”

So the work includes a net present value concept using an 8% per year discount rate. And, yes, as they explain in that article, they also factor in estimated arbitration salaries in the future in looking at surplus value.

To get to $45 million or more of surplus value on Ozuna requires doing one or more of three things:

(1) Valuing WAR at quite a bit more than $8 million per WAR, which also implies increasing prospect values that appear to be based on $8 million per WAR.

(2) Projecting Ozuna to perform better than his 2018 Steamer forecast of 3.5 WAR. That projection could be defensible but requires some explanation in light of Ozuna’s career trajectory (2.5 WAR and 106 wRC+ in 2016) and his 2017 BABIP (career high) and 2017 Statcast expected wOBA (38 points below his actual 2017 wOBA).

(3) Estimating Ozuna’s 2018 arb salary to be less than the $10.9 million from MLBTR, which implies a 2019 arb salary on the order of $15 to $20 million based on how arb increases typically work.

And, based on Eric’s FV’s, Sierra plus Alcantara get to $36 million of prospect value based on what looks to be an underlying assumption of $8 million / WAR. If we are valuing Ozuna at $10 million / WAR, then we should also increased prospect values for that higher value. And Gallen (40 FV) plus a throw-in have some value that I think combine for ~$10 million. Maybe I’m high on that estimate (40 FV’s are off the bottom of the chart) and it’s really ~$5 million. We’d put more value on Sierra and Alcantara at $10 million per WAR, though, if (and it’s a significant if) we really believe that they are 50 FV prospects.

johansantana17
4 years ago
Reply to  Wilmerrr

That surplus value is using projections that expect regression. What happened to being able to sell high on a player who is ostensibly still improving?

Dave T
4 years ago
Reply to  johansantana17

@johan – front offices are pretty much universally smart enough to understand that a career year is often just that, especially when some of the underlying stats are a career-high BABIP and a 2017 wOBA that’s higher than Statcast’s xwOBA by 38 points ( https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/statcast_search?hfPT=&hfAB=&hfBBT=&hfPR=&hfZ=&stadium=&hfBBL=&hfNewZones=&hfGT=R%7C&hfC=&hfSea=2017%7C&hfSit=&player_type=batter&hfOuts=&opponent=&pitcher_throws=&batter_stands=&hfSA=&game_date_gt=&game_date_lt=&player_lookup%5B%5D=542303&team=&position=&hfRO=&home_road=&hfFlag=&metric_1=&hfInn=&min_pitches=0&min_results=0&group_by=name&sort_col=wobadiff&player_event_sort=h_launch_speed&sort_order=desc&min_abs=0#results )

Basically, no front office is simply going to ignore the above underlying stats, nor completely ignore that in 2016 Ozuna had a 2.5 WAR year with a 106 wRC+. I’m also pretty sure there’s not evidence from modern aging curves that 27 year old players with 2,600+ major league PA’s are, in general, “still improving” (see the ’06 to ’13 aging curve here – https://www.fangraphs.com/library/the-beginners-guide-to-aging-curves/ )

Mario Mendozamember
4 years ago
Reply to  Wilmerrr

Wilmerr — based on what? 4 minor leaguers with no prospect ranking = 40 MM value?

Wilmerrr
4 years ago
Reply to  Mario Mendoza

They’re probably around 100. According to the prospect values linked above by Dave T, Alcantara would be worth about 14M and Sierra 20M. That methodology also uses an 8M/win figure whereas I used 9M/win for Ozuna. The point is not that both sides are exactly 40M, but that there’s nothing crazy here and that the Marlins didn’t necessarily get ripped off.

Dave T
4 years ago
Reply to  Wilmerrr

Fully agree with Wilmerr.

I’d describe it as that the math basically works (1) if you believe that Sierra and Alcantara are 50 FV’s, (2) make sure to use the same $/WAR for valuing every player in the deal, and (3) understand that Ozuna’s mean projection isn’t to repeat the best season of his career, especially since it has some peripherals that look primed for regression (highest BABIP, actual wOBA well above Statcast xwOBA).

The first one of those is a big “if”, and the negative views ( like Dave Cameron’s Instagraphs post – https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/instagraphs/my-problem-with-the-marcell-ozuna-return/ ) seem to be that Sierra isn’t really a 50 FV prospect, and maybe not even really a 45 FV, and that Alcantara is a fringe-y 50 FV at best. The first of those knocks about $10 million (or more) off the return using the FG prospect value chart, so that’s a fair criticism. Saying that the Marlins’ return would have looked better if it had been pitcher Jack Flaherty and catcher Carson Kelly, also both just rated as 50 FV’s by Eric, is debating those rankings. It’s not debating the idea or methodology of comparing surplus value of prospects vs. Ozuna.

Point 2 seems pretty clear-cut.

I suppose we could debate point 3, but it seems like the days of finding an outlier front office that ignores detailed data are over. Their own projections might be somewhat higher or lower and use more granular factors, but the concept is there. They won’t just say “OMG, 37 HR’s and 142 wRC+” while ignoring peripherals and history, much less pay anything based on 124 RBI’s.