As soon as I finish this piece, I’m going to get ice cream. There’s a soft serve frozen yogurt place owned by a surprisingly fastidious stoner about a mile from my house, and I go there once or twice a week. If I told you there are 10 rotating flavors, with chocolate and vanilla as constants, how long do you think it would take you to learn what I like by watching me fill my bowl (there are all sorts of bowl-packing jokes on the store’s signage)? How many times would I need to go in there and pull that soft serve lever before you’d know that vanilla is actually pretty high on my pref list, and that only a few things, like coconut or coffee, will pull me away from it? Or that I avoid all of the fruit flavors?
How long before we can start to identify team regime patterns in player acquisition, and start talking about team preferences with confidence, the way we do when we say that progressive clubs look for common arm slots and hand positions, or fastballs that spin? The current Marlins regime has basically now been in place since the fall of 2017, when Gary Denbo was brought in as Vice President of Scouting and Development. Miami has made a lot of seller’s trades during that year and a half, and they clearly have a type, especially when you look at their amateur acquisitions. Yesterday, that type came further into focus after a deadline deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Here’s the trade:
SS Jazz Chisholm
RHP Zac Gallen
I’ll spare you what can easily be discerned by looking at our prospect coverage, namely that we prefer Chisholm to Gallen by a decent-sized margin, while also acknowledging that Gallen is a more stable prospect. The depth of Gallen’s repertoire, which he commands with precision, as well as the way his fastball plays up because of underlying components, is going to make him a good big league starter. He’s cost-controlled for the next half decade on a roster that appears poised to compete more quickly than is typical for most rebuilds.
Instead, I’ll focus on the Marlins’ return. Chisholm, Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, Jorge Alfaro, Magneuris Sierra, and Jesús Sánchez are all prospects acquired during the current Marlins era who have monstrous, pure physical ability, but who also have underlying issues with hitting that, except for Sánchez so far, have caused their performance to wax and wane, or their development to stall entirely. (Jorge Guzman, Sixto Sanchez, and Sandy Alcantara are pitching versions of this kind of hitter.) That’s not to say that this type of hitter doesn’t work out (Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo would have been considered this type of player as prospects), or that tools are bad (Mike Trout and Ketel Marte have huge tools), but prospects with strikeout issues in the minors are seen as risky among what seems like a majority of folks in baseball now. Not many hitters with strikeout rates as high as Chisholm’s work out. For every Aaron Judge there are several Dylan Cozens and Steven Moyas, and Kyle Blankses and Brandon Woods.
The Marlins don’t seem to mind. They’re chasing potential superstars with high-end physical ability. Chisholm, who is striking out 34% of the time as a 21-year-old at Double-A, has all-world physical talent, and Jazz plays with clear awareness of these physical gifts. He’s a small young man with big power because of how explosively he rotates, but generating that kind of whip sometimes leaves him out of control, and this, combined with a tenuous approach to hitting (he cheats on a lot of first-pitch fastballs and often gets goofed by offspeed stuff early in counts as a result), has led to a lot of strikeouts.
Like Alfaro, there’s some room for Chisholm to strike out a lot and be a serviceable everyday player because he plays a premium defensive position. If it works, and Chisholm’s propensity to whiff doesn’t prove fatal, I think he’ll produce like Chris Taylor (who also hunts first-pitch fastballs) but with much better defense, or maybe like Danny Espinosa did in his couple of good years — power, speed, and flashy defense at a premium position.
You could argue the Marlins and other “small market” teams should target these types of players more often than other teams do in trades, drafts, and signing periods, because teams with ownership that’s unwilling to spend won’t pay a superstar talent on the open market. When presented with this theory, some folks in baseball have pushed back and told me they think it’s more important, especially when you’re trading a big league piece, not to miss, either by mitigating risk by acquiring several prospects or by acquiring prospects perceived to be safer, the way Gallen is (for a pitcher).
I like that the Marlins appreciate flash, and sexy tools, and that they’re chasing them in trades, in the draft, and among international free-agents. A rival team source told me this week that Miami seemed much more willing to part with Trackman-friendly pitching than it was with their younger prospects in rookie ball. They’ve climbed to the No. 4 spot on our farm system rankings and even though some of the guys at the top of their system will likely bust, they’ve brought on enough of these types of players now that it’s reasonable to think the core of the next good Marlins team is already in the org.
After having the most picks in June’s draft, the D-backs also had a notable deadline, behaving like a team reloading for contention in the near future rather than one enacting a long-term rebuild. Trading Chisholm for Gallen makes them better right now, and moving Zack Greinke for several upper-level pieces is a sign that the club is trying to fill talent in around franchise cornerstones like Ketel Marte, and clubhouse cornerstones like David Peralta and Eduardo Escobar while those guys are around. We now have eight D-backs in our 50 FV tier or above, and six of them are likely to be in the big leagues within the next two years. Just beneath them in the system is a huge group of teenagers Arizona just drafted or recently signed internationally. The club seems set up for long term success while also being deceptively close to competing again in earnest.
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.