Winning in the minor leagues is not priority number one, but if a team isn’t winning and lacks talented players then there are some real problems. Brandon Magee takes a look at the Miami Marlins minor misfortune and finds three very flawed short-season teams.
Judging the merits of a minor league team, or system, by its record is an easy accomplishment. For example, one look at at the record of the Boston Red Sox Double-A affiliate in Portland, Maine – holding a record of 37-66 – would suggest that the Red Sox best talent lies elsewhere in the system. However, it would also be wrong. With Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi – two of baseball’s top prospects – rostered with the Sea Dogs, it is not lack of upper-level talent that has dragged Portland to the Eastern League cellar. But does this divergence of record and talent hold true in other cases? What can we make of the Miami Marlins’ short-season system, which currently holds the two worst records in all of baseball?
Before looking specifically at the Marlins’ situation, it should be noted that the short-season leagues have two major causes that make it difficult to judge the players and the systems. The first is evident in the name, as a 70-game season is not a great indicator of how talented individual players on a team are. The second is the inherent structure and timing of the leagues, coming directly on the heels of the Rule 4 Draft. Given that the deadline for signing comes in the middle of the season, the rosters of these short-season teams are constantly in flux. Making sure each individual gets the playing time needed to best unlock his potential is difficult at best.
But one look at the records of the Marlins’ short-season clubs – the Batavia Muckdogs in the New York-Penn League, and the Marlins’ affiliates in the Gulf Coast League and the Dominican Summer League – shows that Miami has been having particular difficulty with this task.
The Best of the Worst
While the GCL Marlins are the bottom-ranked team in the GCL East Division, their record of 12-17 is a run-of-the-mill poor record at this time of the season. They are only five games out of the division lead despite being five games under .500, and they are the only one of the three short-season Miami teams not to hold the worst record in the league. They also, in theory, should be better, having scored 22 more runs in their 29 games than they have allowed.
Alas, even these caveats come with their own caveats. In a league dominated by youth – with players graduating from the Dominican Summer League and prep and college players coming in from the draft – the average age in the GCL for position players is 19.5 and the average age of pitchers is 20.6. The Marlins skew older, with the offense averaging a league oldest – tied with one of the Detroit Tigers affiliates – at 20.4 while their pitching staff sits at 21.8-years-old, topped only by the GCL Nationals.
Not surprisingly, the offense has been led by some over-aged for the league prospects. Branden Berry – a 23 year old first baseman – led the Marlins offense with a .313/.402/.450 line in 22 games in the GCL prior to his recent promotion to the Batavia squad. 22-year-old second baseman Mike Garzillo was also quickly promoted back to Batavia after batting .313/.421/.406 in nine games in Florida. Zach Daly and Walker Olis – a pair of 22-year-old outfielders – have each played over 20 games for the GCL Marlins. All four of these prospects were drafted out of college this year, a sign that the Marlins were in need of players for their short-season squads.
This is not to say that there is no youth in the Miami system. But, other than James Nelson – the 18-year-old shortstop drafted in the 15th round this season – who is batting .309/.384/.402, the results have not been good. Sean Reynolds, an 18-year-old outfielder drafted in the 4th round in this year’s draft, has participated in 22 games with an anemic .496 OPS. 19-year-old Marcos Rivera has a .510 OPS in his first season stateside.
Meanwhile, the pitching staff has been in such a constant state of flux as to make any comments on individuals nearly worthless. 32 pitchers have made an appearance on the mound for the Marlins, including Andre Rienzo and Jarred Cosart on rehab assignments. That being said, the only four pitchers who have pitched at least 19 innings – Manuel Rodriguez, Edward Cabrera, Alberto Guerrero, and Humberto Mejia – are all teenagers. This alone may be a silver lining for this ball club.
The Worst Team in America
In New York, the Marlins’ NYPL affiliate has made losing a daily occurrence. In 38 games, the Batavia Muckdogs have been so disastrous at winning, they are a full 17 games out of first place. The Muckdogs have found no rhythm at home, winning only a quartet of their 18 contests. There has been no dancing on the road either, with only four wins in 20 games. Their 8-30 record, an atrocious 21.1 winning percentage, puts the poor records of some other clubs in perspective. The aforementioned Portland Sea Dogs have a 35.9 winning percentage. The worst team in MLB, the Atlanta Braves, have won 34.7% of their games. Even the worst team in modern MLB history, the 1962 New York Mets, won 25% of their games.
The problem with the Muckdogs lies largely in their inefficient pitching staff. While the average squad in the New York-Penn has an ERA of 3.49, the Batavia squad has put up a bloated 5.22.
Much like the GCL squad, Batavia has had no consistency in their pitching staff. 30 different hurlers have come to the mound, only four have pitched more than 20 innings. 22-year-old Reilly Hovis leads the squad with 29 1/3 innings pitched, but with a 7.98 ERA and a 1.636 WHIP. At least he can say he leads the team with 23 strikeouts. 23-year-old Jose Diaz hasn’t done much better for the Muckdogs, with a 7.07 ERA and a 1.500 WHIP in seven starts. 21-year-old Travis Neubeck has been the best of the starting squad, with a 4.15 ERA and a 1.192 WHIP in 26 innings. Unfortunately, it comes with no pizzazz, as Neubeck has struck out only eleven. 19-year-old Ryan McKay has at least been blessed with good luck, his 4.03 ERA leading the starting rotation. However, with a team-leading 16 walks in 29 innings and ten unearned runs to his name, his season has not been the hope Marlins’ fans are looking for.
The offensive side of the coin has been little better, second to only the Aberdeen Ironbirds in fewest runs scored in the NYPL with 135. Only one player – 22-year-old infielder JJ Gould (.276/.356/.448) – who has played in as many as six games, has an OPS above .725, and the team’s combined triple slash lurks at .209/.291/.274. 21-year-old Aaron Knapp and 20-year-old Corey Bird, like Gould drafted in the 2016 Rule 4 Draft, have struggled in their first taste of professional baseball. Outfielder Bird has batted .204/.281/.223 in his first 26 games, while Knapp, also an outfielder, has put up a line of .248/.341/.303 with 30 strikeouts in 109 at-bats.
The Worst Affiliate in Baseball
While it is hard to believe that the Marlins could do worse than getting stuck in the muck in Batavia, the Dominican Summer League Marlins prove otherwise. The DSL Marlins, entering Thursday’s tilt, had claimed victory only seven times while tasting defeat 37 times. An absolutely atrocious .159 winning percentage and 25 1/2 games behind the Northwest Division leading Red Sox. Even in the 43-team DSL where nine teams have won fewer than 40% of their games, the Marlins stand alone. They are 7 1/2 games behind the DSL Athletics for second worst in their own division, an Athletics team that is 15-30.
The DSL Fish have nothing going right. While their 4.90 ERA – on 207 earned runs – is only the second-worst on the circuit, the defense has allowed an additional 98 unearned runs, increasing their RA to 7.22. To realize how badly their defense has hurt them with their 118 errors, compare them to the DSL Royals, who have allowed 44 unearned out of 126 total runs, or the DSL Red Sox 1, who have allowed 100 earned runs and only 21 unearned runs. Of course, the pitching has also walked 188 batters and thrown an amazing 133 wild pitches. The offense is bad as well, with the fewest runs scored in the circuit (145) and also the worst BA (.205), OBP (.297), and SLG (.256).
The only offensive player who has shown any real MLB possibilities is Rosandel Reyna, a 19-year-old outfielder playing in his first season. Reyna has batted .395/.520/.658 in 11 games for the Marlins. Felix Arosemena, Jhon Garcia, and David Sacaria are the only other players on the team to OPS above .600 in 20 games played. Even former Red Sox prospect Albert Guaimaro, set free by MLB, has struggled in the land that wins forgot; batting .147/.256/.176 in nine games after putting up a line of .250/.302/.420 with the DSL Red Sox 2.
The pitching staff may have some hidden talent, however, if one can look past the wildness. Gabriel Baez is the only pitcher to record multiple wins, going 2-3 with a 3.44 ERA and a 1.309 WHIP. Baez has struck out 35 in 36 1/3 innings, but has also walked 14 and uncorked 15 wild pitches. Miguel De Los Santos leads the team with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.273 WHIP, but has an 0-3 record to show for it. Edin Liriano has an 0-5 record despite an ERA of 3.80. The best prospect may be Edison Suriel, who has struck out 36 in only 30 1/3 innings and has put up a 3.86 ERA. However, Suriel has also walked 25 and unleashed 14 wild pitches; he still has some work to do.
With a total of 27 wins between their three short-season affiliates, the Miami Marlins would be hard-pressed to argue that their lower minor-league system is not in shambles. The 27 wins is fewer than either of the Red Sox DSL affiliates has garnered by themselves this season. Given the lack of production from both their 2016 draft class and their 2015 international free agency class, the Miami Marlins may very well want to spend their minor league assets to shore up the parent club for a wild card run this season, for the future of the Marlins is currently very dim.
Brandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.