Handling of prospects a balancing act for Miami

November 14th, 2019

MIAMI -- The Marlins spent the past two years accumulating prospects through the Draft, trades and international free-agent market. Those benefits haven’t fully reached the Major League level yet, but the organization now is regarded as one of the top five farm systems in the sport.

Miami has six players on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list -- right-hander (No. 22), outfielder JJ Bleday (29), outfielder Jesús Sánchez (51), shortstop (54), outfielder (83) and right-hander Edward Cabrera (99). Just a few years ago, it had none.

Still, in some cases, stockpiling young talent came at a steep price for the Marlins, like trading away established big leaguers Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon and J.T. Realmuto.

Those deals netted some promising players who project to be part of the organization’s core moving forward. But not all the prospects in the system will factor into Miami’s short- and long-range plans.

If the opportunity presents itself, the Marlins are open to dipping into their prospect pool to make trades. They already showed that in July, when they made a startling deal, sending rookie right-hander Zac Gallen to the D-backs for Chisholm.

“All of the prospects and the Minor League awards are tremendous,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. “But we want to take that step at the Major League level.”

This week, the Marlins explored all their options at the General Managers Meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz. While Miami isn't expected to gut the system to trade a heft of prospects for an All-Star like Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor, it still may end up including prospects in other trades.

“I think it's a matter of how it all fits, in the larger picture,” Hill said. “You acquire that talent to help you win at the Major League level. And that comes in different forms. Some of it may play for you.”

The Gallen-Chisholm trade is eye-opening, because dealing essentially two Top 100 prospects for each other -- with no other players involved -- rarely happens.

Gallen, who was acquired in December 2017 in the Ozuna deal with the Cardinals, had a breakthrough '19 season. The right-hander was a standout at Triple-A New Orleans, earned his big league promotion and made seven starts before being dealt to Arizona on July 31.

“In Zac Gallen's case, he was turned into another championship-caliber piece,” Hill said. “We believe in Jazz Chisholm.”

Chisholm, who will turn 22 on Feb. 1, has a high ceiling, and he is expected to be the Marlins' shortstop of the future. Rule 5 Draft eligible, the left-handed-hitting shortstop must be added to the 40-man roster by Wednesday's deadline. That’s a formality, because he will be.

The upside with Chisholm is obvious, even though he was hitting just .204/.305/.427 at the time of the trade. At that point, he had 18 home runs and 51 RBIs at Double-A Jackson.

After joining Miami’s Double-A Jacksonville affiliate, Chisholm made some improvements. In 23 games with the Jumbo Shrimp, he hit .284/.383/.494 with three home runs and 10 RBIs.

Perhaps the most telling improvement was Chisholm's strikeout rate reduced to 25.5 percent; it was 33.8 percent at Jackson.

Chisholm likely will start off 2020 at Triple-A Wichita, and if he shows he’s ready, he could perhaps reach the big leagues as early as '21.

With Chisholm now regarded as a big piece of the franchise moving forward, could he or any other of the Marlins' highest-rated prospects be traded this offseason? It’s unlikely, but you can’t totally rule it out.

“That's sort of the science of it, of how we put it together,” Hill said, referring to building the 2020 roster. “Obviously, you need a strong system to help you win at the Major League level. Either they play for you or they get you pieces to help you be successful at the Major League level.

“That's the purpose of these [GM] Meetings and Winter Meetings. All the discussions with our counterparts, we’re looking at areas where you can improve and get better.”