Marlins boast one of MLB's best farm systems
Hard-throwing righty Fernandez is club's top prospect, ranks No. 7 overall
MIAMI -- Improvement in the Marlins' Minor League system starts at the top. Over the past few years, the organization's first-round picks have panned out, and their No. 1 choices are being recognized.
The Marlins feature six players on MLB.com's 2013 Top 100 Prospect list, matching the most of any big league club.
Taking over as Miami's No. 1 prospect is Jose Fernandez, a hard-throwing right-hander, who was ranked second a year ago. Fernandez is the seventh-best overall prospect in the big leagues. The 20-year-old from Cuba, who played high school ball in Tampa, Fla., has the makings of a future big league ace.
Previously, the Marlins' top prospect was outfielder Christian Yelich, who now is second. But it's not like the 21-year-old Yelich has slipped too far. On the Top 100, the left-handed hitter is 13th overall.
The Marlins and the Mets are the only teams with two prospects in the top 13. New York features catcher Travis d'Arnaud (sixth) and right-hander Zack Wheeler (eighth). The complete rankings were announced on MLB Network on Tuesday night.
The annual ranking of baseball's biggest and brightest young talent is assembled by MLB.com's Draft and prospect expert Jonathan Mayo, who compiles input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, closeness to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on MLB.com's Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2013.
According to the point system in compiling the Top 100, Miami ranks fifth with 281 points. Seattle is first with 335, followed by St. Louis (340), Tampa Bay (310) and Minnesota (295).
Along with Fernandez and Yelich, the Marlins have four more prospects rated in the Top 100 -- outfielder Jake Marisnick (70), left-handed pitchers Justin Nicolino (72), left-hander Andrew Heaney (81) and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (82).
Of the six, three were Miami's first-round picks -- Yelich (2010), Fernandez ('11) and Heaney ('12). Marisnick, Nicolino and Hechavarria each joined the Marlins in their blockbuster Nov. 19 trade with the Blue Jays.
Hechavarria is expected to be Miami's starting shortstop this year, replacing Jose Reyes, who went to Toronto in that deal.
"Those trades we made at the Major League level have really boosted our depth throughout the organization," Marlins vice president of player development Marty Scott said in a recent interview. "It's helped our pitching and our position players. It continues to give us more depth. We do not have a need to rush everybody."
After finishing last in the National League East the past two years, Miami got younger by overturning its roster. The primary objective was to rebuild the organization with a solid Minor League system. The Marlins' hope is that the nucleus will develop into a competitive club at the big league level within a few years.
Fernandez and Yelich are expected to open the season at Double-A Jacksonville, but both will get a look by the big league club in Spring Training.
Fernandez dominated Class A last season, combining for a 14-1 record with a 1.75 ERA at Class A Greensboro and advanced Class A Jupiter. At Jupiter, he was 7-1 with a 1.96 ERA in 11 starts, striking out 59 in 55 innings.
Yelich was the Topps Florida State League Player of the Year in '12, and he participated in the Rising Stars Game in the Arizona Fall League. At Jupiter, he batted .330 with 12 home runs and 48 RBIs in 106 games.
"They deservedly get the attention," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said about Fernandez and Yelich. "In Fernandez's case, he's been dominant. And in Yelich's case, he's been really good, right from the outset. They've had no hiccups in their Minor League progression. They've done a great job.
"They've put themselves in position to be in the big leagues in the very near future. Our guess right now on paper is they will start the year in Double-A. Neither one of them has played above the Florida State League. So it's natural to move them to Double-A. If they continue the way they've gone up until this point, we have no reason to believe otherwise, they're going to be in the big leagues in the very near future. Very high project guys. But again, until they do it in the big leagues, they're just prospects. But they've done a great job as prospects."
Yelich is beginning to catch on to the hype surrounding himself and the team's other prospects.
"You hear about it," Yelich told MLB.com recently. "You kind of start to understand what is expected from you. You kind of expect that out of yourself, too. Speaking for myself, I have high expectations. I know other people do also. It's an honor, and it's good to be viewed that way. Hopefully, everything works out."
Marisnick, 21, is a five-tool player with blazing speed. A 6-foot-4, 200-pounder, he batted .314 in 19 games in the Arizona Fall League. He is projected to open at Double-A, joining Yelich in the outfield there.
Nicolino is a 6-foot-3 lefty from Orlando, Fla., who projects to pitch for Jupiter once the season gets under way. Last year, he was 10-4 with a 2.46 ERA, striking out 119 in 124 1/3 innings.
Heaney, 21, is a 6-foot-3 left-hander out of Oklahoma State, and is also expected to open at Jupiter. In 20 innings with Greensboro last year, he struck out 21 and walked four.
Hechavarria, 23, is a Cuban native who played in 41 games for the Blue Jays a year ago. A slick fielder, the question is how much will he be able to hit at the big league level. In 126 at-bats with Toronto last season, he hit .254.
The influx of talent brought in from several trades a year ago has restocked Miami's farm system.
"It's going to be good when we're solid throughout," Scott said. "I think throughout the season, guys are going to filter up.
"Every year, it seems like we're improving. We're trying to have that depth from top to bottom. At the very least, going into Spring Training in 2014, I think we're going to have top-to-bottom depth, as far as prospects are concerned."