FOX Sports’ 26-and-under power rankings are a new spin on the classic prospect rankings. Yes, prospects are important, but with all the game-changing young talent already in the bigs, farm systems alone can’t tell the whole story. So we’re diving deep into every single MLB club, ranking them all by the players in an organization entering their age-26 season or younger — from the bigs to the farm. Each weekday through March 24, we’ll count down from last to first.
No. 11 Miami Marlins
26-and-under total score: 19 (out of 30)
If baseball simply required pitching, the Marlins might claim a top-five spot on this list. Unfortunately for them, hitting is also part of the deal.
Miami boasts a bevy of young arms ready to contribute both now and in the future, from reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara to top pitching prospect Eury Pérez. Even with Alcantara no longer qualifying for this list entering his age 27 season, the Marlins could field an entire rotation full of pitchers 26 and under that would draw the envy of competitors.
That ability to develop arms is juxtaposed with a long-standing inability to find, develop and retain impact bats. Competing in a division with some of the heaviest spenders in the sport while operating with a payroll close to $100 million, without any homegrown offensive difference-makers since the firesales of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and J.T. Realmuto, the results haven’t been particularly favorable.
Outside of the shortened 2020 season, the Marlins last went to the playoffs in 2003. The struggles and state of mediocrity have sparked some shake-ups over the past year on the player development side and on the coaching staff, but it will likely be a years-long process for them to start drafting and developing enough hitting in the system to win the 90-plus games it would require for their first ever division title.
On the bright side, given their abundance of top-notch young arms, even a middling year offensively could have them edging out more close games — they lost 40 (!) one-run games last season — and seeing a potential double-digit improvement from their 69 wins last year.
Big-league pitching: 7 (out of 10)
The Marlins had more capable young starters than spots available in the rotation, which made 27-year-old Pablo Lopez and his 3.0 bWAR somewhat expendable. Not a bad problem to have.
Left-hander Trevor Rogers, one of the better Marlins first-round picks of the past decade, was an All-Star two years ago. While last season didn’t go nearly as smoothly — he dealt with back spasms and a lat strain, his trusted fastball got hit around, and he finished the year 4-11 with a 5.47 ERA and 1.51 WHIP — there is reason to believe better health can get him back on track. It’s easier to project his potential when he’s already demonstrated it, striking out 157 batters in 133 innings in 2021.
And even if he can’t recapture that form, other young options abound. In Jesus Luzardo, Braxton Garrett and Edward Cabrera, the Marlins have three more pitchers under the age of 26 who were considerably above-average starters last year.
They correctly identified Luzardo’s potential, dealing Starling Marte for him in 2021 and helping the former top prospect and 2016 third-round pick tap into his promise in 2022. Despite missing time with a forearm strain, it was a career year for Luzardo, who averaged more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings while cutting his ERA in half from the previous season. His slider is special, but he can put hitters away with any offering in his four-pitch mix.
While not quite as dominant as Luzardo, Garrett also looked ready for the opportunity after getting called up in June. With Alcantara and Johnny Cueto in the rotation, he could end up the odd man out, but the proliferation of young talent might make the Marlins consider going six deep.
Cabrera seems more likely to earn a rotation spot out of spring training. He boasts a mid-90s fastball with a changeup that might be even better. Opponents had a batting average under .200 against each of his fastball, changeup, curveball and slider, and he looked comfortable going to any of his secondaries to put hitters away.
The Marlins have all of that before even getting to Sixto Sánchez, their top prospect a couple years ago, whose shoulder issues have set him back the last couple years. While it’s unclear when or if he can again regain the velocity he displayed during the shortened COVID season, when he finished seventh in Rookie of the Year voting, they can afford to take their time with him.
Prospect pitching: 5 (out of 5)
Behind all those elite young arms is arguably the best pitching prospect in the game, 19-year-old Eury Pérez. The towering right-hander struck out 110 batters in 77 innings across Single-A and Double-A last year. Not that the Marlins need to rush him, but he probably has the stuff to compete as a major-league starter this year. His fastball-changeup combo in particular could make him a legitimate ace.
Their patience with prospects Max Meyer and Jake Eder is more out of necessity than desire. Meyer, the No. 3 overall pick in 2020, reached the majors last year but made just two starts before needing Tommy John surgery. Eder, who was selected three rounds after Meyer, is also on the Tommy John comeback trail after undergoing the procedure in August 2021. Eder looked terrific at Double-A Pensacola prior to injury in 2021, and if he can pick up this year where he left off, he could be a mid-rotation starter by 2024.
The 2020 draft might eventually net the Marlins three major-league starters in Meyer, Eder and Dax Fulton, who has looked better and better the further removed he has gotten from his own Tommy John surgery. The procedure he underwent as a high schooler in 2019 allowed the Marlins to get Fulton a round after Meyer.
Big-league hitting: 6 (out of 10)
The best young hitters on Miami’s roster are a direct result of the system’s pitching.
While most of the Marlins’ outfield firesale didn’t pan out, the Marcell Ozuna trade after the 2017 season was a major win. The deal netted them Alcantara and Zac Gallen, who was turned around for MLB The Show cover man Jazz Chisholm Jr.
Not that there were any major competitors, but Chisholm’s rare combination of speed and power easily made him the best offensive player in Miami last season. Even as a back injury limited him to 60 games, the All-Star infielder still finished the year with the highest WAR on the team. A 30-30 season looked likely prior to the injury. Now, the 25-year-old Bahamian will challenge himself more with a move from second base to center field.
The Marlins will look to Chisholm and Luis Arraez, acquired this offseason for Lopez, to guide their offense. Arraez, 25, won the American League batting title last year. His ability to put the ball in play should help a Marlins team that ranked in the bottom five in every slash-line category last season.
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The rest of the Marlins’ 26-and-under crew are mostly depth pieces, though 26-year-old Bryan De La Cruz might be the most consistent outfield bat after Chisholm and 25-year-old Jesús Sánchez does offer hard-hitting upside. Sánchez, who put together an above-average 2021 season before regressing last year and getting demoted, will likely compete or platoon with De La Cruz at a corner outfield spot.
Prospect Hitting: 1 (out of 5)
There are no obvious position-player stars set to emerge anytime soon from the Miami farm system, making the progress of 2021 top pick Kahlil Watson and 2022 top selection Jacob Berry all the more crucial.
Neither had a particularly promising offensive start to their pro careers at Low-A, though Watson started to look more comfortable as the season progressed. It’s still way too early to make any judgments on either, but the development of the Marlins’ last two draft classes will be vital if the Marlins want to seriously compete soon.
The Marlins traded for a couple of middle infield prospects this offseason in the Dodgers’ Jacob Amaya and the Rays’ Xavier Edwards, though both have questions about their ability to hit at the highest level. Edwards has a career .300 batting average in the minors but hit .246 last year in his first stint at Triple-A and has six career home runs. Two other names to watch are Cuban infielder Yiddi Cappe and catcher Joe Mack, though both players are a ways out from potentially contributing.
Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. He previously was the Dodgers’ editor of digital and print publications. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.
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