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Marlins improved system, now eye development

@JimCallisMLB
March 15, 2019

JUPITER, Fla. -- Change has been a constant in the Marlins farm system since an ownership group led by Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter took over the franchise in October 2017. The Marlins traded the six best position players from their 2017 club -- Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich,

JUPITER, Fla. -- Change has been a constant in the Marlins farm system since an ownership group led by Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter took over the franchise in October 2017.

The Marlins traded the six best position players from their 2017 club -- Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, J.T. Realmuto, Dee Gordon and Justin Bour -- in an attempt to cut costs and add some much-needed prospects to a system that had been regarded as baseball's thinnest. In addition to adding talented young players, Miami also has tried to make the development experience better for them.

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"We moved all of our player development staff from Miami to Jupiter," Marlins farm director Dick Scott said. "We improved the clubhouse, the food, better equipment in the training room, upgraded the weight room and the pitching machines. We did it in the Dominican Republic as well.

"It's seemingly small stuff but it made a difference with the players. They notice the organization is trying to take care of them."

Now the next step is developing those players so they can help end Miami's streaks of nine losing seasons (the longest in MLB) and 15 years without a postseason appearance (the second-longest, trailing only the Mariners).

Of the prospects on MLB Pipeline's Marlins Top 30 list, the first seven joined the organization after the ownership change, as did 11 of the top 14 and 19 in total. Right-hander Sixto Sanchez and outfielder Victor Victor Mesa, the system's only Top 100 Prospects, are making their debuts in Marlins uniforms this spring.

Sanchez, acquired in the deal that sent Realmuto to the Phillies last month, has earned comparisons to Pedro Martinez as a smaller (6 foot) pitcher with electric stuff. He has a mid-90s sinker, can push his four-seam fastball to 101 mph and flashes wipeout sliders and well above-average changeups. Elbow inflammation ended his 2018 season in June and a sore collarbone scrapped plans to send him to the Arizona Fall League, so Miami understandably is handling him with care.

Scott said Sanchez should be ready or close to ready to make an Opening Day rotation, likely at Double-A Jacksonville. He's on a throwing program and will begin throwing side sessions soon.

"What we've seen is fantastic," Scott said. "The ball comes out well and there's a lot of life to his arm. He's a great kid and we've really liked the early glimpses we've seen."

Mesa signed for $5.25 million in October, setting a club record for an amateur position player and serving as evidence that the Marlins intend to increase their presence in the international market. His speed and arm strength earn double-plus grades from some evaluators, and he also plays a quality center field. He makes consistent contact at the plate, though his relatively flat right-handed stroke may limit his power upside.

Mesa suffered a mild strain to his right hamstring beating out a double-play ball in his first big league Spring Training game on Feb. 24, so he hasn't been able to do much yet. He took live batting practice on Wednesday and should return to game action soon. He'll probably open the season at Class A Advanced Jupiter.

"His tools certainly capture everyone's attention," Scott said. "We have a lot of confidence in our coaches that they can help him with his swing. We're not going to rush him."

Besides Sanchez and Mesa, the Marlins have a lot to look forward to in the Minors in 2019. Outfielder Monte Harrison, a key part of the Yelich trade with the Brewers, made significant strides in the Arizona Fall League after striking out a Minor League-worst 215 times during the regular season.

"Monte is an unbelievable athlete," Scott said. "He can run, throw, hit, hit for power. He can play defense in the Major Leagues right now. It just hasn't all come together for him yet.

"He made huge adjustments with his stance and approach in the Fall League. He got away from his big leg kick, changed where he held his hands and stayed in the middle of the field more. It was pretty bold by him and it worked out."

Many of Miami's best young pitchers will team up in an all-prospect rotation at Jupiter: left-handers Braxton Garrett, Trevor Rogers and Will Stewart and right-handers Edward Cabrera and Jordan Holloway. The Marlins also are eager to see how their top three picks in the 2018 Draft -- outfielder Connor Scott, catcher Will Banfield, shortstop Osiris Johnson, all high schoolers -- will fare at Class A Clinton after getting promoted to that level last August.

Camp standout

The headliner in the four-prospect package the Marlins received from the Cardinals in exchange for Ozuna in December 2017, right-hander Sandy Alcantara made his big league debut last summer. He won his first start with five strong innings against the Mets in June, missed time with a shoulder infection, then delivered three quality starts in five tries in September.

That performance set him up to claim a full-time job in Miami's rotation this spring, and he's making the most of his opportunity. He has been the most dominant pitcher in big league camp, allowing just two runs while striking out 14 in 12 innings through his first four starts. He's still in the process of learning to keep his delivery in sync, however, and his 10 walks this spring are evidence of that.

If Alcantara can master his mechanics and develop command, he has the pure stuff to become the Marlins' best starter. He sits in the mid-90s with late life on a fastball that can reach triple digits, and both his slider and his changeup are plus pitches at their best.

"Alcantara made a lot of progress last year and the Major League staff was impressed with the strides he made," Scott said. "He does have a big arm but he's still learning how to pitch. Learning how to pitch at the Major League level is not easy to do.

"Repeating his delivery is the big thing for him. It's all in there. It's just consistency."

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.