Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system.
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Miami Marlins.
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Miami Marlins' farm system -- while producing superstars Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez -- along with some big league contributors more recently like J.T. Realmuto, does not have the reputation as being deep. So the Marlins wanted to fix that by infusing it with a ton of talent.
Coaching and player development staff talent, not on-field talent. It started with the hiring of Marc DelPiano away from the Pirates to be the vice president of player development. It's a return engagement for DelPiano, who was part of the staff that helped build the 2003 World Series champions. He's ready to help usher in an era where the organization takes its time in shepherding players up to the highest level.
"I think the difference is they've put an emphasis on player development," DelPiano explained. "Not that they didn't do that in the past, but it was a means to get players to the big leagues as quickly as possible, where I think here, we're going to have more of a process-oriented approach. We'll be able to get guys to the big leagues, but when we get them to the big leagues, they have a better opportunity of sticking because we've ironed out so many things in the Minor Leagues."
In order to implement that process-driven philosophy, one that DelPiano says will have developmental approaches catered specifically to each level, he has what he feels is a dream team of coordinators and instructors. There's Joe Dillon as hitting coordinator, Mike Cather as pitching coordinator and Gary Cathcart as Minor League field coordinator. In addition, the Marlins were able to bring pitching guru Jim Benedict in from the Pirates to be the vice president of pitching development.
"Bringing in the manpower to do it, having the ability to bring them in, it was a good group of guys we could bring together that could help with this process-driven form of development," DelPiano said.
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Of course, there's a need to have quality players in the system in order to produce big leaguers. While DelPiano is still getting to know his personnel during his first Spring Training back with the organization, he's been pleasantly surprised with what he's seen. Expecting a barren system, he's pleased that it's better than he anticipated.
"There's more talent than advertised," DelPiano said. "The lion's share of our prospects is in the pitching department. We have a lot of arms, a lot of young arms who have good deliveries and starter foundations."
All the more reason why bringing Benedict in -- even if the move eventually cost the Marlins prospect Trevor Williams, sent to the Pirates as a somewhat unofficial return for Miami taking two top staffers away -- is essential to helping the Marlins maximize what they have in the system.
"Bene and I have known each other for a long time," DelPiano said. "He's extremely talented at what he does, and having his input and vision for where he sees young pitchers, who initially enter the Marlins organization to where they eventually end up going, I think we have the right guy to facilitate all of that."
Perhaps the first order of business for this new group on the pitching end was top prospect Tyler Kolek. The big right-hander, taken No. 2 overall in the 2014 Draft, had an uneven first full season, at best. He was looking good in camp before he injured his elbow last week and was scheduled to have it examined Monday, with fear that he could need Tommy John surgery.
DelPiano and staff saw what he did last year and were eager to help him get headed back on the right track. Kolek, for his part, came to camp in terrific shape and had bought in completely to all that had been thrown at him.
"You look at guys' bios and stat lines, and you maybe see some trends that may have occurred from the time they signed to present," DelPiano said. "You identify those things statistically, then you try to iron out a plan for them developmentally. How are we going to attack the delivery so he can throw more strikes? He's executed all of the stuff well. He's put it into play.
"He has the chance to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. He's big, he's strong, he's got easy velocity. We've seen him make some adjustments as far as his delivery goes. He's really getting the ball downhill and throwing it over more than his past has indicated."
First baseman Josh Naylor, the club's top 2015 Draft pick, has also been impressive. Typically, the expectation for a Canadian high schooler is to be a bit raw and unpolished. Naylor hit .327 during his 98 at-bats in his debut in the Gulf Coast League last summer, and he's picked up where he left off this spring.
"He came into camp in tremendous shape, and he's gravitated toward all the work he and Joe Dillon have put in during the offseason and the start of this camp," DelPiano said. "This kid looks like a really good hitter, an advanced hitter. He came from Canada, but he has an approach. He's working diligently on things and he's certainly opened my eyes this camp."
While DelPiano feels some pitchers at the top of the system, guys like Bryan Ellington and Kyle Barraclaugh, who came via trade, will make bigger contributions at the big league level than many thought, there are a couple of hitters who could be poised to perform better than they have previously.
No. 6 prospect Austin Dean has come into camp swinging the bat well. Even though he's highly ranked on the Marlins' list, he's flown under the radar in terms of more national exposure. That could change in 2016. DelPiano believes the same might be true of No. 10 prospect J.T. Riddle, especially after a strong second half in Double-A last year.
"We're going to expose him to other positions," DelPiano said. "He's been primarily a shortstop and he plays that position extremely well. This is a guy who has a good offensive approach. He can manage an at-bat, he has line-drive power to all fields, someone who is going to have an opportunity at some point to help the big league club."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow @JonathanMayo on Twitter.