Top 15 Prospects: Miami Marlins by Marc Hulet February 27, 2012 I have some concerns over the future of the Marlins organization. Management has given fans a reason to get excited with the recent signings of veterans Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle. What the club has not done, though, is focus on rebuilding from within at the same time. The Marlins organization has some interesting names but the depth is thin because of a lack of focus with both signing players on the international market and with acquiring high-ceiling talent through the amateur draft. The above signing of Reyes will also cost the Marlins a second round draft pick in 2012. 1. Christian Yelich, OF/1B BORN: Dec. 5, 1991 EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons ACQUIRED: 2010 1st round, California HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 4th Yelich was the Marlins’ first round pick in 2010 and he started to blossom into a potential star player in ’11 during his first full season in the minors. Just 20 years old, he posted a wRC+ of 146 in 122 games at the low-A level thanks to a full-field approach with the bat. He projects to hit for both average and power. His frame suggests at future strength that could lead to 20-25 home runs once he matures as a hitter and learns to pull the appropriate pitches. Originally a first baseman, Yelich has taken well to the outfield, playing both left and center field. His arm strength is a little below average so left will likely be his permanent home and his above-average speed will allow him to provide excellent range. Yelich could eventually make Logan Morrison, another first-to-left conversion project, expendable. For now, though, he’ll move up to high-A ball but could see double-A by the end of the season. 2. Jose Fernandez, RHP BORN: July 31, 1991 EXPERIENCE: 1 season ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round, Florida HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA A Cuban native who arrived in the U.S. in 2009, Fernandez played high school ball in Florida making him attractive to the Marlins as a home grown product that can also appeal to the large Cuban population. He played competitive ball in Cuba as a member of the Cuban national junior team so he already has some high-level experience. Fernandez features a fastball in the 92-97 mph range, as well as three other promising pitches: a curveball, slider and changeup. Fernandez will have to watch his conditioning as he matures, as he already features a thick lower half. Despite that fact, scouts say he throws with a loose delivery and features smooth mechanics. He has the ceiling of a No. 2 starter and should open 2012 in low-A ball. 3. Marcell Ozuna, OF BORN: Nov. 12, 1990 EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons ACQUIRED: 2008 international free agent 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 6th Ozuna is an exciting young player because he showcases above-average raw power (.216 ISO in ’11) and is not your typical one-trick slugger. He has the potential to hit 30 home runs in his prime but he could also provide 10-15 steals in a full season. He may not hit more than .260 to .270 but he’s made big strides with his approach at the plate and his strikeout rate should continue to decline as he already trimmed his rate more than 10% over 2010 (32.1 to 21.9%). In the field, Ozuna has an absolute bazooka arm for right field and solid range. If he continues to make adjustments the Dominican native could split 2012 between high-A and double-A with an eye on making his MLB debut in late 2013. 4. J.T. Realmuto, C BORN: March 18, 1991 EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons ACQUIRED: 2010 3rd round, Oklahoma HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off Realmuto, soon to be 21, has done an excellent job of turning himself into a strong catching prospect. Originally a prep shortstop (and football quarterback), the organization immediately moved him behind the dish and he’s still rough around the edges – especially with his receiving skills – but he has all the tools necessary to shine. Realmuto has already shown the ability to shutdown the running game and threw out more than 40% of runners in ’11. At the plate he is too aggressive for his own good but has the potential to hit for a decent average and 10-12 home runs a season. He has above-average athleticism and speed for a catcher but that should dwindle with time. Realmuto will move up to high-A to begin 2012 and is the catcher of the future in Miami. 5. Chad James, LHP BORN: Jan. 23, 1991 EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons ACQUIRED: 2009 1st round, Oklahoma HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 2nd James’ 2011 season wasn’t as bad as it might seem given his 173 hits in 149 innings of work. His FIP was just 3.65 and he played with a relatively poor infield defense behind him. He doesn’t command the strike zone overly well, leading to too many hittable pitches, although he shows solid control after trimming two walks per nine innings between 2010 and ‘11. Better command of the lower half of the strike zone could help him induce more ground-ball outs. A better changeup could help him combat tough right-handed hitters. His repertoire also includes a low-90s fastball, and an improved slider. James has a good pitcher’s frame but his velocity dipped as the season progressed and he may need to focus more on his conditioning to get through a full season. The lefty is still just 21 years old so a repeat of high-A would not hurt him but he’ll likely receive an assignment to double-A if he has a solid spring. 6. Matt Dominguez, 3B BORN: Aug. 28, 1989 EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons ACQUIRED: 2007 1st round, California HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 1st A former No. 1 draft pick of the Marlins, Dominguez has started to lose some of his prospect sheen. Selected as a defense-first third baseman, he still possesses Gold Glove potential at the hot corner but his bat has not developed as expected. Dominguez still struggles with pitch recognition and needs to be more selective. He doesn’t show much pop, a skill that is fairly important for a first-division starting third baseman. The California native spent the majority of 2011 in triple-A, although he missed more than a month with a broken elbow. With Hanley Ramirez moving to the hot corner to accommodate Jose Reyes, Dominguez’s future with the organization is cloudy at best. He could be an interesting trade candidate in 2012 should The Fish find themselves in contention. 7. Noah Perio, 2B BORN: Nov. 14, 1991 EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons ACQUIRED: 2009 39th round, California HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off Perio has developed into a solid offensive-minded second baseman. He was a raw baseball athlete when he was drafted out of high school because he also focused on football. Perio has good hand-eye coordination, which gives him a chance to hit for a high average if he can become a little more selective and show increased patience at the plate. He doesn’t project to hit for much power but could slug 10-15 during a full year if he learns to use his lower half more effectively. Perio isn’t speedy but he shows solid range on defense but he’s still learning the intricacies of the position. He should move up to high-A in 2012 and could see double-A at some point. 8. Adam Conley, LHP BORN: May 24, 1990 EXPERIENCE: 1 season ACQUIRED: 2011 2nd round, Washington State University 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA Conley’s most consistent success in college came as a closer and he could move quickly through the minors if he sticks in the bullpen. The former second round draft pick is likely to top out as a set-up man in the Majors, though, because he lacks a true out-pitch. His fastball-changeup combination induces lots of ground-ball outs. The left-hander can get his fastball up into the 95-97 mph range. He also features a slider but it’s below average. Although he pitched just two innings after signing in 2011, Conley could open ‘12 in high-A ball. 9. Austin Brice, RHP BORN: June 19, 1992 EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons ACQUIRED: 2010 9th round, North Carolina HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off An over-slot signee out of a North Carolina high school in 2010, Brice has been slow to develop due to well below average control. He spent a second year in Rookie ball in 2011 and posted a walk rate of 6.10 BB/9 in 48.2 innings. When he can find the strike zone, Brice can dominate hitters, as witnessed by a strikeout rate of 10.17 K/9 and a batting-average-against of .186. His fastball sits in the low 90s and can touch the mid-90s. He also features a curveball and a changeup but both as still developing. Brice has a solid pitcher’s frame and could develop into an innings eater if he learns to throw enough strikes. If not, he could move to the bullpen where he could become an eighth inning reliever. 10. Mason Hope, RHP BORN: July 27, 1992 EXPERIENCE: 1 season ACQUIRED: 2011 5th round, Oklahoma HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA Hope may have been overshadowed a bit while pitching on the same high school team as Archie Bradley, who was drafted in the first round by Arizona. Hope flashes two potentially-plus pitches in a low-90s fastball and a curveball. His changeup needs a fair bit of work to become an average pitch. The right-hander is currently more of a fly-ball pitcher; it would benefit him to focus on controlling the lower half of the strike zone in an effort to induce more ground-ball outs. Hope had a solid debut in Rookie ball but should open 2012 in extended spring training before moving up to the New York Penn League. The Next Five 11. Rob Rasmussen, LHP: Rasmussen was a strong prep prospect who spurned the Los Angeles Dodgers and headed off to UCLA in 2007 where his draft status took a bit of a hit due to inconsistent command and control. The under-sized left-hander continued to struggle with his control in 2011 by posting a walk rate of 4.31 BB/9 in high-A ball. Unless he tightens up his command and control Rasmussen will likely end up as a lefty reliever at higher levels. He has an average fastball, as well as a slider and a changeup. 12. Jesus Solorzano, OF: Repeating Rookie ball in 2011, Solorzano had another solid offensive season by posting a wRC+ of 132. He started to drive the ball more consistently and saw his isolated power rate jump from .063 in ’10 to .155 in ’11. Solorzano also has good speed and stole 18 bags but he’s a raw base runner and was nabbed seven times. He also possesses the tools necessary to become an above-average defensive center-fielder. 13. Jose Urena, RHP: Urena is a hard-throwing relief prospect who can dial his fastball up to 94-95 mph. Just 20, Urena projects to have a solid pitcher’s frame but he has room to add muscle, which could help push the velocity even higher. The right-hander also tosses a slider and changeup, although both are currently below average. He currently doesn’t miss as many bats as his velocity would suggest but that should come as he sharpens his secondary pitches. 14. Chris Hatcher, RHP: Hatcher is a good story. A journeyman catcher who never hit well, he actually made his big league debut in 2010 as a hitter during an emergency call-up. He returned to the minors for 2011 but chose to make the switch to the mound where his fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s. His conversion went so well at double-A that the 27 year old received another promotion to the Majors. He struggled with his command in 10.1 innings but showed potential for a future big league career as a seventh or eighth inning reliever. 15. Scott Cousins, OF: Cousins has been dancing around the prospect fringes for a few years now but he’s been unable to break through as an everyday player. A two-way player in college, Cousins is still rather raw as a hitter and doesn’t have the best approach at the plate. He’s a plus defender and a good base runner so he may end up having a career as a fourth or fifth outfielder if his bat does not come around. SLEEPER ALERT: Austin Barnes, C: Barnes is a small-framed backstop who is fairly new to the position having transitioned there while at Arizona State. He had an encouraging pro debut with a wRC+ of 118 in short-season ball. Barnes also controlled the strike zone very well and struck out just 8.8% of the time. With a strong focus on improving his defensive skills (He already shows a lot of promise thanks to his athleticism) he could develop into a solid backup catcher at the big league level.