Christian Yelich got exactly what he wanted: out. At the end of the offseason, Yelich became the last victim (or, if you ask Christian himself, benefactor) of the Marlins’ latest firesale, getting shipped off to Milwaukee for a package of prospects.
Yelich’s relationship with his new bosses started off rocky and quickly deteriorated. After the Giancarlo Stanton trade, Yelich publicly stated that the relationship between he and the team was “irrevocably damaged“. He even threatened to miss a fan-friendly event to which he was contractually obligated. The lay of the land being what it was, there was a very good possibility the Marlins — even though they controlled Yelich until 2023 — were going to be forced to settle for improper value, especially after Yelich, who was expected to compete for last season’s batting title, had a bit of an off year, slashing .282/.369/.439 and posting a 3.9 WAR, down from 5.3 in 2016. Not only did that not happen but Yelich fetched the Marlins a better haul than each of Stanton, Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna.
Lewis Brinson – OF
2017: AAA – .331/.400/.562, 13 HR, 39 XBH, 62/32 K/BB, 11 SB
The centerpiece of the return is former Brewers’ top prospect, 2017’s #13 overall prospect and undoubtedly new Marlins’ number one prospect, Lewis Brinson. In being traded to the Fish, Brinson returns to his childhood home where he will play for the team he grew up watching. When he wasn’t at Sun Life Stadium, Brinson spent his days at Coral Springs High School where he quickly made his name well known, hitting .473/.623/.872 in his junior year, numbers which earned him district Player Of The Year honors in 2011. At the time, head coach Frank Bumbales saw in his center fielder what has since become evident to the entire baseball world.
“He leads by example,” Bumbales said. “He gives 100%. He’s a really special kid.”
Brinson continued to lead by example in his senior year, hitting .394/.516/.732 in 91 plate appearances, once again leading the Colts to their third straight district title. He graduated with four school records which still stand today: career runs (92), career RBI (95), doubles in a season (13) and RBI in a game (8).
Talking with Brinson’s former teammates, they echo their coach’s sentiments, saying their center fielder was a leader both on and off the field.
“Even though I only played with him for one year, I can honestly say he was one of the best players I’ve ever played with because he knew how to hit homers but he also knew how to find gaps and get around the bases,” Joseph DeMicco said. “But as good as a hitter that he was, he was even better on defense. With he speed, he could get to anything, no matter where it was hit. Anything. And his arm was explosive. Definitely a five tool type guy. I really think Marlins fans are going to like him.”
Dylan Ebel who has known Brinson since middle school praises him for his positive attitude and what he is capable of bringing to a team’s intangibles.
“I first played with him in 8th grade so to see how far he progressed has really been spectacular,” Ebel said. “He always kept his head down and put the work in to get better each and every day. That type of grind and work ethic rubbed off on others on the team, made people just want to be better, play harder and always doing it with a smile.”
Upon graduating as the 16th best overall player and sixth best center field draft prospect nationally as well as the fifth best overall and third best positionally statewide and garnering first team All-American and All-Region honors in 2012, Brinson forwent a four-year commitment to the University Of Florida when he was selected 29th overall by the Texas Rangers.
“I’ve been a Marlins fan growing up, and I still am, but I’m a bigger Texas Rangers fan now,” Brinson said at the time.
Now, Brinson and his fandom are coming home, just in time for his first full Major League season.
Brinson comes to the Marlins after hitting .287/.354/.502 over 2,134 minor league ABs, including .331/.401/.562 in 300 AAA chances last year before making his Major League debut. Once described by scouts as projectible but very raw, Brinson jumped at least one level in each of his minor league seasons and enters spring training as MLB’s 27th best prospect and as a shoe-in candidate to start for the Marlins in center field.
Standing 6’3″, 170, the Tamarac native used to swing from a straight front leg upright stance which caused him to fall off to his left side, limited his plate coverage and made him succeptible to pitches on the outer half. After a 96/33 K/BB season in 2014, Brinson made the adjustment to his current stance, a much more closed approach in which he stays much farther back in the box, his back foot nearly touching the back of it. Since the adjustment, Brinson’s K rate has fallen from 25% to 18% last year. His swing will still get a bit long on quality pitches on a low and outer black but his new stance has improved his plate vision and extension.
What Brinson is yet to acquire in body mass he makes up for with his superior bat speed which allows him to generate easy power. He will occasionally find the fences but will more frequently hit the gaps and from there, let his speed — grade 60 on the 20-80 scale and alotting him a 4.25 second-to-home-to-first time — go to work for him. Brinson still has some work to do, especially in the swing-and-miss department, in order to realize his full potential but recent production has alotted him to surpass boom-or-bust status and enter elite prospect maturation. Place Brinson’s ceiling at Andrew McCutchen-lite and his floor somewhere around Shane Victorino. This year’s PECOTA rankings favor the latter that assessment. Where McCutchen was a 2.5 WAR player last year (and a career 2.5 WAR player), they predict Brinson to hold a 2.8 WAR this season, highest among rookie outfielders. Needless to say, this hometown hero should be a fun player to watch and should be leaned on heavily by the franchise.
Monte Harrison – OF
2017 (A-A+) – .272/.350/.481, 21 HR, 51 XBH, 139/43 K/BB, 27 SB
The main accompanyment to Brinson is Monte Harrison. While being two levels lower than Brinson, a fellow outfielder, Harrison proved last year that he is also a potential fellow 20-20 threat and quite possibly is a threat for even more power. Playing between A and A+, Harrison slashed .272/.350/.481 with 21 long balls and 51 total XBHs. He also tore it up on the basepaths to the tune of 27 swiped bags. Much more the physical specimen than Brinson, Harrison stands 6’3″, 220. Still, with a career 87-15 SB/CS (85%), 27 of which came this past year, Harrison manages to be quite nimble on his feet. As phsyically imposing yet still athletic as he is, with a career 28.55 K% and 3.08 K/BB, there’s a lot of work to be done in the upper levels of the minors here. With an inconsistent timing trigger, poor pitch recognition and equally poor plate discipline, he needs to improve top down in his approach. While it’s conceded that he will never be a for-average hitter, Harrison has plenty of projectible talent in his raw power and superb bat speed. If he can learn the zone, improve his vision and gain the ability to hit to his opposite side more often, negating the shift and improving plate coverage, there’s realistic potential for Harrison to become a member of the 30/30 club someday.
Harrison translates his power profile at the plate into a power arm in the outfield. He runs good routes via good reads and a good first step to the ball off the bat and he has more than enough speed to cover any outfield position, disallowing bloop hits and holding virtually anything hit in front of him to a single base. While he’s been a center fielder most frequently in his MiLB career, Harrison projects best as a future every day right fielder. For a ceiling comparison, look somwhere between Yasiel Puig and Justin Upton. Needless to say, Monte Harrison will be the man to watch in Jacksonville this season.
Isan Diaz – SS/2B
2017 (A+) – .222/.234/.376, 13 HR, 33 XBH, 121/62 K/BB, 54 RBI
Diaz is a 2017 second round prep draft pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Springfield, Massachusetts. Diaz moved to the Division I high school to garner more draft attention in his junior season. In his senior year, he did that and more. After a .492/.625/.898 campgaign, he was named Western Massachusetts’ baseball Player of the Year for 2017. Infinitely humble, Diaz gives credence to those closest to him for allowing him to burst onto the national scene that year and take a huge step closer to making his childhood imagery come to life.
“I have to give credit to my supporting cast: my family, my teachers and everyone who helped me. Without them, I wouldn’t have continued to strive to get too where I wanted to get to,” Diaz said. “The constant reminder of making my dream come true and what was in front of me helped a ton.”
After breaking into pro ball as a 17-year-old, Diaz had similar immediate success, charging out of the gate his first three seasons, hitting a combined .291/.377/.515 between the Arizona Fall League and Pioneer League. He then parlayed that into a .264/.359/.469 first full pro season with the Wisconson Timber Rattlers, Milwaukee’s low A affiliate in 2016, his first with the Brewers’ organizaion after he was involved in a trade. These accollades, combined with a total 36 homers and 129 RBI allotted Diaz to climb up to the fifth ranked prospect in the Brewers’ deep system entering 2017, just his age 21 season. That was when Diaz, for the first time in his baseball career, failed to exceed expectations, hitting just .222/.334/.376 with a career hih 26.48 K rate. However, Diaz doesn’t look on last season with feelings of failure. Rather, he chalks it up to a positive part of the maturation process.
“I honestly believe last year was a great learning experience for me, knowing how it feels to have success and how it feels to fail. It’s always fun to succeed but when you fail that’s when you have too still be the same player and still be a great teammate as you were when you were having success,” Diaz said. “I believe I’ll be ready for this season and whatever comes to the table, trying to help the team and be the best teammate I can be both on and off the field.”
You wouldn’t guess it by looking at his 5’10”, 185 pound frame but one of Diaz’s best tools is his power capacity. By getting his entire body involved in his swing, showing good repetition in balancing his load and getting his barrel extended, Diaz has a career 3.12 home run percentage and a career 43.02 XBH percentage. According to Diaz, extra bases aren’t at the forefront of his mind when he’s in the box; it’s just something that occurs on its own.
“I believe that the power is something that comes out naturally,” Diaz said. “I don’t ever try to hit home runs; my main focus is always to reach base and hit the ball hard wherever it’s pitched.”
Unfortunately for Diaz, the good power numbers have come at the cost of a lot of K’s. In each of his last two seasons, he’s racked up over 100 strikeouts. This issue stems from a hole in his approach common to hitters like Diaz who thrive when they can get their arms fully extended and struggle when they get jammed and their eyes are taken away: the inability to cover the up-and-in pitch. Though he concedes strikeouts are something he needs to work on, Diaz still plans on being himself at the plate and keeping his game simple.
“I know it’s something I have to try my best bring down, but I’ve learned that by thinking about strikeouts and trying to not strikeout that’s when you strike out more,” Diaz said. “So my approach stays the same, the only difference now is knowing with two strikes I’m still trying to driving the ball.”
Even though he does have some work to do in the K department, the high numbers in that category shouldn’t be indicative of his plate vision. Instead, refer to Diaz’s nearly equally high walk totals and career walk rate of 12.3%. A good pitch identifier with equally good vision and timing, if Diaz can get his K total in check and continue to improve against lefties (he hit .255 and OPSed .734 against same-side pitching last year despite hitting it at just a .245 BA, .696 OPS in 2016, figures which were aided by a .386 BABIP), there will be nothing working against him reaching his 20/20 type ceiling.
Just four years into his professional baseball career, this is the second time Diaz has been involved in a trade and had his offseason interrupted in order to relocate. However, this time, it’s a small price to pay in exchange for him being much, much closer to his east-coast based support system.
“I’m very excited to be a Marlin and I can’t wait to see this team in a few years to come,” Diaz said. “Playing on the same coast is great you know closer to home, closer to family and just excited to be here and excited for all those who came over in trades as well.”
Overall, Diaz is a very sought after commodity — a power first middle infielder who has above average speed and plays at least average defense. While there is some question as to how Diaz is going to perform after suffering a hamate bone fracture that ended his season last year prematurely and while he will have to repeat single A advanced in Jupiter this season, if he comes back 100%, his swing is unaltered and he learns to cover the upper inside half of the plate a bit better or at least lay off of it and continue to improve against same-side pitching, Diaz could reach his ceiling of Dan Uggla — a player of extremes in the K/BB department but also in the power categories and cornerstone starting second baseman (and fellow jersey number 6) — by 2021, his age 23 season. He will be an interesting prospect to follow.
Jordan Yamamoto – RHP
2017 (A+) – 111 IP, 9-4, 2.51 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 113/30 K/BB, 3.77 K/BB, .280 BABIP
The final return piece in the Yelich trade is righty Jordan Yammamoto, a Hawaiian native, the second in Marlins history after Charlie Hough. He was also the second Hawaiian selected by the Brewers in the 2014 MLB Draft. In the first round that year, Milwaukee selected Yamamoto’s island mate and highly touted lefty Kodi Mederios who at the time of his selection, was already drawing comparisons to Madison Bumgarner. However, when the two met in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I baseball tournament, it was the northerner and Honolulu native Yamamoto who shined brighter.
“It was a high-tension game because Kodi is a great pitcher and I was up for the challenge,” says Yamamoto who threw a two-hit complete game shutout. “It was a game that I think I will hold against him as a friendly joke.”
Through the pair’s first three years in professional ball, despite being drafted eleven rounds later than Mederios, the story has been the same: it’s been Yammamoto who has grown up quicker. Where Mederios has mustered a 5.19 ERA, a 1.51 WHIP and a in 324.1 IP, Yamamoto has held down a 4.19 ERA, a 1.33 WHIP and a 3.60 K/BB in his first 329 IP. However, for Yamamoto, his career hasn’t been trying to outdo anybody. Rather, it has been about learning from his squadmates, letting them learn off of him and most importantly, beinh himself.
“When [Mederios and I] got drafted, it became a helping situation and all we did was push each other to be better. We were roommates for many years and we would try to help each other through it all.” Yamamoto said. “It’s all about staying within myself and not overdoing anything. Be the same pitcher. As in the last years and letting my defense back me up because I believe in my teammates that they will have my back through thick and thin.”
After cutting his teeth in rookie ball in 2015, Yammamoto entered his first full pro season with the low A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in 2016. After coming out of the pen in six of his first nine appearances, Yammamoto transitioned to the rotation full time in mid June. Rather than being snakebitten (pun intended) by the increased workload and amount of innings, a common downfall for many young players in their first full season, Yammamoto didn’t seem to be bothered by either factor. In fact, some of his best work was done in his final four starts of the season, three of which were quality starts and amounted to a total of 23 IP, a 0.78 ERA and a 0.57 WHIP. Collectively that year, Yammamoto held opponents to a minuscule .223 BA and .661 OPS by way of the second most Ks in the Midwest League (152) and its best K/BB% (21.8). His ERA wound up at 3.82, 12th best in his league and his WHIP at 1.20, 7th best. All of this occurred while he was working against the league’s second highest BABIP, a very tough-luck .342.
This past year, Yamamoto jumped up to A+. As his BABIP normalized down to .286, his ERA not only shrunk down to what it should have been last year — proven by his 2.53 FIP in 2016 –, he was even slightly better in disallowing runs, as it came to rest at 2.51, lowest in the Carolina League by more than half a point. Once again, Yamamoto relied heavily on the strikeout, fanning 111 (or 25.2% of his opponents) and his excellent control and command as he gave up walks to just 30 (or 6.7% of his hitters). As much as the strikeout has been a key to his success so far, Yamamoto says he doesn’t go into at-bats looking for a strikeout but rather to induce weak contact. However, if he works himself into a favorable count, Yamamoto says it’s strikeout or bust because as has been the theme throughout his pro career this far, he wants to take the chance he’s obtained through hard work and run with it.
“I do not look for strikeouts; I look for contact because my mentality is that hitters will get themselves out 7/10 times. I do not have overpowering stuff so I just pitch to contact and let my defense back me up because they got my back,” Yamamoto said. “But when I get hitter 0-2/1-2 I tell myself that the hitters can’t get a hit because I worked for this count and I will have to make the most of this opportunity.”
Last year, Yamamoto proved that he can successfully limit contact and damage, his a-priori when a hitter steps into the box. Along with a WHIP that stood at 1.09, third lowest in his league, he stranded 79% of the runners he allowed to reach base, another top mark amongst Carolina League hurlers.
Yamamoto’s arsenal consists of a 92-94 MPH fastball that he can ramp up a bit higher when necessary. It is by far the crux of his arsenal and his most frequently used pitch. It shows good run to both sides of the plate, especially to Yamamoto’s glove side where he flashes his best command. Despite limited size, Yamamoto planes dthe pitch well and can get some sink on it. His first breaker is a 85-88 mph power slider which has good late movement and gives hitters fits when he’s spotting it on the outside corner and. He piggybacks it off his fastball well and will throw both pitches in any count, keeping the opposition guessing. His distant third pitch is an 84-86 MPH changeup. The pitch flashes plus at times with late fade low in the zone. However, Yamamoto will need to develop a better feel and his command over the pitch as he gets ready to enter the upper minors.
Even though it seems Yamamoto was thriving in the Milwaukee system, he finds himself as the receiver of a change of scenery, relocating to South Florida, about as far away as he could possibly be from his home in northern Hawaii. Though he admits that some things will be different now, Yamamoto expresses good understanding for the industrial side of the game and that he can only control what he can control. Despite the relocation, Yamamoto says his effort and drive to improve will be the same in a Marlins’ uniform as it was in both his high school and Brewers uniforms.
“Nothing will be easy from here on out but I will do my best to make the most of the opportunity that has been presented to me,” Yamamoto said. “It is a great place for me. It is a business and like any other jobs, the boss will do what he/she thinks is best for the company. And if they have the belief in me that I can help this organization, then I will do everything in my power to help this organization.”
Look for Yamamoto to begin 2018 in A+ with the Jupiter Hammerheads and possibly be a quick promotee to AA Jacksonville.
Despite the situation with Yelich going bad to worse to getting to the point where they were insufferable from Yelich’s perspective, a fact which he wasn’t afraid to point out to the media, Mike Hill, Derek Jeter and the Marlins surface from the debacle not only getting all they could out of Yelich (especially after a down year statistically), they got an even better return out of him than they got out of the Stanton and Ozuna trades. For coming away with a surefire fan-favorite MLB ready five tool center fielder, a not-too-distant-future 30/30 professional threat, a powerful middle infielder and a ceiling 3-5 starter, this trade passes the grade with flying colors.