MIAMI -- With its large Latin population, Marlins executives frequently refer to the city of Miami as the “Gateway to the Americas.”
The diversity of the market is reflected in the composition of the Marlins as an organization and the players on the roster, from the Major League level down to the Minor League affiliates. Since the current ownership -- headed by Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter -- took over, Miami has increased its commitment to signing international players, as well as making upgrades to the organization’s academy in the Dominican Republic.
Five of the franchise’s top seven prospects, according to MLB Pipeline, were international signees -- right-hander Sixto Sánchez (No. 1, Dominican Republic), shortstop Jazz Chisholm (No. 3, Bahamas), outfielder Jesús Sánchez (No. 4, Dominican Republic), right-hander Edward Cabrera (No. 5, Dominican Republic) and first baseman Lewin Díaz (No. 7, Dominican Republic).
MLB Pipeline recently released its annual Top 30 International Prospects list for players eligible to sign in the 2020-21 signing period. These young players are the game’s international stars of tomorrow and are following in the footsteps of thousands of international players who laid the groundwork before them. One day, these young men could be remembered among the best players in team history.
• Here are 2020’s Top 30 international prospects
On MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 International Prospects list, the Marlins are the favorite to sign the No. 9-ranked player, Cuban shortstop Yiddi Cappe, according to MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez.
These are the Marlins’ top 5 international prospects of all time. To qualify, the players must have initially signed with the Marlins.
1) INF Miguel Cabrera, Venezuela. Marlins from 2003-07. Signed for $1.9 million in 1999.
Before he built the bulk of his Hall of Fame resume, Cabrera was one of the most hyped MLB prospects in recent decades. Former Marlins scout Al Avila, currently the Tigers' general manager, was a major factor in the Marlins signing Cabrera as a 16-year-old sensation from Venezuela.
“He was a big strong kid, even at an early age, with a very good, solid hitting approach, had really good instincts for the game,” Avila said in a Fox Sports interview in 2013. “We started a relationship with his family and we basically stayed in touch with the family throughout the whole year, going into the following summer when he was eligible to sign. It was kind of a year-long courtship of Miguel and his family that led up to the signing.”
Initially a shortstop prospect, Cabrera played third base and left field in his five years with the Marlins.
By the time Cabrera was called up to the big leagues as a 20-year-old in June 2003, Marlins evaluators already were touting him as a generational talent. The slugger certainly lived up to the billing. He was a four-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner with the Marlins.
“He was a prize,” former Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. “He always found a way to do something good.”
After the 2007 season, Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis were traded to the Tigers.
2) 2B Luis Castillo, Dominican Republic. Marlins from 1996-2005. Signed as a non-drafted free agent in 1992.
One of the best players in franchise history, Castillo was a three-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner, as well as one of the catalysts of the Marlins’ 2003 World Series title team. He also was part of the 1997 championship team. Castillo led the Majors in stolen bases in '00 (62) and '02 (48). He was an All-Star in 2002-03 and '05, and he was the National League Gold Glove Award winner at second base for three straight years from 2003-05.
Castillo holds the franchise-record hitting streak of 35 games, which went from May 8-June 21, 2002.
3) OF Marcell Ozuna, Dominican Republic. Marlins from 2013-17. Signed as an international free agent for $49,000 in 2008.
A two-time All-Star, Ozuna was one of the top players in the NL in 2017, posting a slash line of .312/.376/.548 with 37 homers and 124 RBIs. Nicknamed “The Big Bear,” Ozuna had a FanGraphs WAR of 5.0 in ’17, and he was voted in by the fans as a starting outfielder in the All-Star Game.
Ozuna also was an All-Star in '16, and he started in the All-Star Game in San Diego. He wasn’t voted in as a starter that year, but he made his way into the starting lineup due to injury. In his five seasons with Miami, Ozuna hit 96 home runs and drove in 361 runs.
4) SS Alex Gonzalez, Venezuela. Marlins from 1998-2005. Signed as a non-drafted free agent in 1994.
Gonzalez and Castillo formed the best defensive double-play combination in Marlins history. While Gonzalez never won a Gold Glove Award at shortstop, to those within the organization, he is considered the best defensive shortstop the franchise has had.
At the plate, Gonzalez also had his moments. His most memorable hit came in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series, when he connected on a walk-off home run in the 12th inning that evened the Series at two games apiece. The Marlins went on to beat the Yankees and win the World Series in six games. In the clinching game, Gonzalez made an athletic finger-tip slide at home plate to score the first run in a 2-0 win.
In ’03, Gonzalez hit 18 home runs and drove in 77 runs, and he had 81 homers in his Marlins career. He also was an All-Star in 1999.
5) SS Edgar Renteria, Colombia. Marlins from 1996-98. Signed as a non-drafted free agent in 1992.
A comparatively short tenure with the Marlins is the only reason Renteria is not ranked higher on this list. Renteria, of course, was a World Series hero in 1997, delivering the clinching walk-off single in the 11th inning of Game 7 against the Indians to give the organization its first championship. Renteria was just 21 when he etched his name in franchise lore. In '96, Renteria finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting to Todd Hollandsworth of the Dodgers. Hollandsworth, of course, is now the Marlins’ color analyst for Fox Sports Florida. Renteria was an All-Star in '98, his final season with the organization. He went on to play 16 big league seasons and was a five-time All-Star and a two-time Gold Glove Award winner.
Livan Hernandez (Cuba) was the 1997 World Series MVP. The right-hander was with the Marlins from 1996-99 and was 9-3 with a 3.18 ERA in 17 starts as a rookie in ’97. … José Ureña (Dominican Republic) was the club’s Opening Day starter in 2018-19, and he projects to be part of the 2020 rotation.
Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.