Not even a week and a half in to the offseason, J.T. Realmuto set the hot stove afire by reportedly telling his agent that he will not sign an extension with the Marlins.
NEWS: Jeff Berry, agent with @CAA_Baseball, on @MLBNetworkRadio just now regarding client J.T. Realmuto: “I think he will definitely be wearing a different uniform by the start of spring training.” Berry made clear that Realmuto won’t sign an extension with #Marlins. @MLB
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) October 30, 2018
The decision by Realmuto comes a season after the Marlins committed to a complete rebuild by trading away top assets such as Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich and on the heels of a 98-loss season, the second worst campaign in franchise history.
While they will be losing another All-Star talent, a prospect that would even further set a fleeting fanbase astray, the decision by JT wasn’t necessarily detrimental to the Marlins, just a year in to another massive rebuild. As a standout (and arguably the standout) at a thin offensive position, there was plenty of opportunity to move and plenty of talent to be had in return for Realmuto’s services.
But as the Marlins attempted to wait until the Winter Meetings at the end of next month in the hopes of starting a bidding war between potential suitors, a quick-moving market has already seen a few of those teams finding their catcher elsewhere. This may force the Marlins into showing their own hand much earlier than they would have liked.
So where should the Marlins double down in the hopes of garnering the best prospect package? Heading in to what is sure to be an active bargaining session involving Miami and potentially multiple second parties, here are Fish On the Farm’s top three suitors for the 4.6 WAR catcher’s services as well as some trade proposals for each team, respectively.
The Houston Astros had a fantastic 2018 season, going 103-59, the second best team in all of baseball. The defending World Champions went on to sweep the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS, but came up short against the eventual World Series Champion Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. Not a bad way to go out. If there was a hole on the 2018 Houston squad, it was catching. In a contract year, Opening Day starter Brian McCann hit just .206 through the month of June before being lost for two months to a knee injury. From July 1 through August 30, the team fielded a platoon of Martin Maldonado and Max Stassi. The pair managed just a meager .227/.297/.389 line with a 99/26 K/BB. They also allowed stolen bases at a 69% rate. With most of their roster from last season returning in 2019, the addition of Realmuto who hit .277/.340/.484 in the 2018 Marlins lineup and caught base stealers at a 38% rate, puts Houston over the top and makes them an instant World Series favorite.
IF/OF Yordan Alvarez
LHP Cionel Perez
RHP J.B. Bukauskas
C J.T. Realmuto
The Astros are rightfully extremely high on the near-perfect swing of Kyle Tucker and the near-complete arm of Forrest Whitley. While those two represent the moon the Marlins have been asking for so far this offseason, this return is well among the stars.
2018 (AA/AAA) – .293/.369/.534, 20 HR, 74 RBI, 92/42 K/BB
Alvarez was an international signee by the Dodgers, selected out of Cuba where he hit .351 in his native country’s top reaches, the Serie Nacional. From there, the lefty hitter was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers for a cool $2 million as a 19-year-old in 2016. His tenure with the Dodgers barely lasted a month before he was traded to Houston in a one-for-one deal that put Josh Fields in Dodger blue. After hitting .341/.474/.500 in 44 ABs in the Dominican Summer League to round out his well-traveled 2016 season, Alvarez started his first season in stateside ball at single A Quad Cities. Nearly a year and a half younger than his average competitor, Alvarez lit Midwest League pitching up to the tune of a .360/.468/.658 line via nine homers, earning him the call to A+. Buies Creek was a bit of a learning experience for Alvarez as he saw his wall rate drop from 16.5 to 7.5, but he was still able to post a respectable .277/.329/.383 slash line against even older average competition, this time nearly three years his elder.
After impressing as a late inning replacement early on in spring training, the Astros gave Alvarez the promotion to AA to start the season, a move that had many in the Astros’ circle thinking he was being rushed. However, despite missing nearly a month and a half due to injury, Alvarez was able to honor his organization’s faith in his ability by slashing .325/.389/.615 with 12 homers and a 45/19 K/BB in 43 games. On July 6th, Alvarez was promoted to AAA Fresno. Following a bit of a slow start, Yordan made necessary adjustments and rounded out an overall fantastic 2018 campaign by hitting .290/.377/.452 with three homers, 18 RBI and a 24/13 K/BB at the highest level of the minors.
Looking at Alvarez who stands 6’5”, 225, one would venture to guess he is a pure power hitter who trades long balls for poor plate discipline. However, the 21-year-old is as imposing a disciplinary figure as he is a physical specimen. In his 176 game MiLB career, Alvarez has posted a 1.83 K/BB ratio, the product of a simplified approach that makes the most of his very natural power tool, an extremely rare commodity, especially for someone his age. At every level he’s played at, Alvarez has shown above average strike zone management and plate coverage as well as at least above average power numbers.
If there’s a knock against Alvarez, it is his outfield defense. This makes the Marlins, whose biggest hole is first base, a prime trade partner with the Astros a team that sees Alvarez blocked by Yuli Gurriel, Tony Kemp, Derek Fisher and JD Davis. Considering the Astros depth, Alvarez is a buy-low centerpiece that has a huge potential ceiling. And if the past is any indicator, that is a gamble well worth making.
2018 (AA-AAA) – 73.2 IP, 2.44 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 89/28 K/BB
Perez is a 5’11, 170 pound lefty who has quite the interesting history with the Astros. After figuring out some control issues and putting up a 2.08 ERA via a 75/32 K/BB as an 18-year-old in the Cuban National Series, Perez defected from Cuba. That September, the Astros signed Perez to a $5.5 million deal, the most the Houston franchise had ever doled out to an international free agent. However, the Astros voided the contract due to concerns with Perez’s physical. Three months later, the Astros re-signed Perez for a much lighter $2 million.
Cionel began his career in stateside ball in single A Quad Cities. After a bit of a rude welcome to Minor League Baseball including a 2.2 IP, 7 ER performance his first time out against the Clinton LumberKings (who are now the Marlins’ single A affiliate) and a similar 1.2 IP, 6 ER night in his third appearance, Perez settled in nicely. Over his next 52.1 IP, he held down a 2.42 ERA by way of a 42/10 K/BB. The highlight of that stretch was a 7 shutout inning, 10/1 K/BB outing on May 22nd. Perez rode that wave of momentum with him to the next level, A+, where he appeared in five games and posted a 2.85 ERA with an 18/5 K/BB in 25.1 IP before getting a second promotion. He lived out the rest of his breakout season with AA Corpus Christi.
Following that cup of coffee in the Texas League, Cionel returned to the Hooks this past season where he once again put his ability to positively adjust to opposing hitters‘ competition level on full display. In 16 games (11 starts) and 68.1 IP, Perez held opponents to a .213 BAA. His 1.98 ERA led the Texas League, his 22% K/BB% ranked fourth and his 1.11 WHIP ranked 10th (among pitchers with at least 60 IP). Those exports allowed Perez to first crack the uppermost level of MiLB where he tossed 5.1 IP in relief before receiving his first MLB call. He ended the year with the Astros, tossing 11 innings out of the pen and holding competition nearly seven years older than him on average to a .158 BAA and 1.15 WHIP.
A guy who barely topped out at 90 coming out of Cuba, Cionel now regularly sits in and maintains the 90-93 mph range throughout starts and he has shown the ability to hit as high as 97. In his time out of the Astros pen last year, his average fastball came in at 95.3. Perez also owns a late-fading changeup regularly reaching the mid-80s, giving him a viable 1-2 punch, a plus power curveball that comes in 77-79 that keeps hitters honest and off-balance and a recently added back-foot slider that tops at 88 and has the makings of a plus out pitch.
While there are some reservations about his size and his faulty throwing elbow that cost him upwards of $2 million when he was signed, Perez is a guy who has grown at every level he’s pitched at and rounded out his arsenal nicely. He confidence in all four of his pitches each of which he throws for strikes and commands well. About the only thing Perez hasn’t proved yet in his career is the ability to stay healthy over the course of a full season’s worth of starts as the Astros have erred on the side of caution when it comes to his IP totals. If Cionel‘s body can hold up to the rigors of 20+ starts, there is little against him becoming a viable 2-3 starter. At worst, his floor is that of a back end starter/swing man.
2018 (A-AA) – 59 IP, 2.14 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 71/24 K/BB
Ranked as the 29th best right handed pitcher and the 89th best overall player in the country by Perfect Game coming out of high school, Jacob Bukauskas was thought to be first-round draft pick material with money to match when he graduated from Stone Bridge High School in Virginia. However, after falling to the DiamondBacks in the 20th round of the 2015 draft, Bukauskas decided to honor his commitment to the University Of North Carolina, his “dream school”.
After breaking in to collegiate action with a 72.2 IP, 4.09 ERA, 67/30 K/BB freshman season, Bukauskas enjoyed a 78.1 IP, 3.10 ERA, 111/29 K/BB sophomore season in 2016. His 12.7 K/9 ratio ranked third in the country and he was named to the All-ACC Second Team. Those exports earned Bukauskas the right to pitch under the Friday night lights as UNC’s ace in 2017. There, Bukauskas had one of the best pitching seasons in the 17 year history of Tarheels baseball. In 92.2 IP, J.B. went 9-1 with a 2.53 ERA and 116 Ks — the seventh most in program history — and 37 walks. He was named the ACC Pitcher Of The year and a unanimous first team All-American.
Bukauskas’ exceptional collegiate tenure made what was possible when he entered the draft out of high school a foregone conclusion. At pick 15 of the 2017 MLB Draft, Houston sounded his name.
With the 15th pick in the 2017 #MLBDraft, the Astros select RHP J.B. Bukauskas from the University of North Carolina.
— Houston Astros (@astros) June 13, 2017
This past season in his first full year as a pro, Bukauskas started in full season A. He made two starts for Quad Cities before suffering a back injury that cost him nearly two months. Upon his activation on June 29th, he made a single start in the Gulf Coast League followed by three starts back in Quad Cities, a tenure in which he allowed a total of two earned runs (and both in his first game back in the GCL), Bukauskas rejoined Quad Cities before being quickly promoted to A+ Buies Creek. In his five starts for the BC Astros, Bukauskas went at least 5 innings in each and managed two quality starts. In total, he allowed just 5 ER in 28 IP, good for a 1.61 ERA. He limited opposing hitters to a .138 BA and had a 31/13 K/BB.
Despite being another guy whose health hasn’t been on his side to start his career, Bukauskas has been able to battle through it. The catalyst for that has been his wide arsenal which features a fiery sinking mid-90s fastball that he can ramp up to 97-98 and a plus mid-80s slider. He also owns a mid-80s changeup that he’s worked to improve in his young career as a pro. At its best, the distant third pitch shows good arm-side run. Very much a show-me pitcher who comes right after hitters, Bukauskas’ future will hinge on two things: further development of the aforementioned change and better repeatability in his delivery.
Throwing from the first base side of the rubber, the extremely upright Bukauskas owns a smooth leg kick and windup, but in stepping downhill, the 6’ 200 pounder loses fluidity when it comes to his hip torque and follow-through. While this can serve to Bukauskas tipping his pitches, it moreso leads him to employ a lot of effort, causing him to lose velo late in starts and also to fall off the mound towards his glove side, disabling his command. Although Bukauskas will need to work those kinks out and he will need to prove he can stay healthy over the course of a full season’s worth of innings if he hopes to make it as a top-end starter, he has the floor of a back end rotational piece and at the very least, a future standout closer.
In the extremely competitive NL West, the Rockies went 91-72 in 2018, finishing just one game behind the division winning Dodgers. They went on to the NL Wild Card game against the Cubs where they pulled off a win, making the postseason. However, Rocktober was short lived as Colorado was eliminated in the division series by Milwaukee in four games. They are a team that has made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons and that just had their top pitching prospect as well as another of their top infield prospects complete their first MLB seasons, but one that has little in the area of MLB-ready catchers outside of 35-year-old Chris Ianetta. The addition of Realmuto and 30+ more home runs to a diamond that already holds names like Arenado, Story and McMahon could be exactly what the Rockies need to push them over the top. The team and GM Jeff Bridich realize they are all but one small step away from reaching the top of the mountain. Bridich recently announced that none of the team’s assets will be untouchable as they search for their missing link. This would give the Marlins their pick of a pretty stacked litter that was ranked 13th by Bleacher Report earlier this midseason.
IF Brendan Rodgers
LHP Ryan Rolison
C J.T. Realmuto
2018 (AA-AAA) – .268/.330/.460, 17 HR, 67 RBI, 92/31 K/BB
A Florida native, Brendan Rodgers played high school ball at Lake Mary High School, in close proximity to Orlando. There, Rodgers made his name as a top draft talent, though some saw that ability in him at a much younger age. After watching him play as a five-year-old, one Dante Bichette had this to say to Rodgers’ parents: “Your kid is going to be a big-leaguer.” Thirteen years later, the same team that housed that former Rockies slugger and organizational Hall Of Famer selected Rodgers third overall in the 2015 MLB Draft. Rodgers, who had a () prep career, was thought by many scouts to be the best talent in that year’s draft due to how quickly he was maturing 3/5 tools. At the ripe age of 18, Rodgers already had a simplified approach at the plate that made the most of his fantastic natural plate vision and bat speed, giving him the ability to hit for both average and power as well as smooth footwork, hands, a plus-plus arm and innate infield instincts, providing him the ability to make good reads at multiple positions. Only Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman had their names called before Rodgers. Rodgers signed with the Rockies for a franchise record $5.5 million.
Since his signing, Rodgers has been pushed aggressively through the Rockies’ system. Without changing much of what he did as a high schooler, Rodgers has naturally (we are using that word a lot, aren’t we?) adapted to each jump in competition level. After hitting .273/.340/.420 in his first 143 professional ABs in short season ball to round out his draft season, Rodgers was tasked with his first full season campaign in 2016. In 442 ABs, nearly three times as many as he’d ever seen, he slashed .281/.342/.480 with 19 homers. His 137 wRC+ was good for sixth best on the circuit. Rodgers accomplished all of this as one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League, nearly three years younger than his average competition.
In 2017, Rodgers was promoted to A+ Lancaster. There, at an extremely hitter friendly park aptly named the Hangar, presumably because of how often baseballs fly out of it, Rodgers raked to the tune of a .461/.488/.809 slash line. While those figures were surely inflated by his surroundings proven by his .413 BABIP, Rodgers also hit a well respected .308/.312/.523 within the rest of the California League. His wRC+ (184) didn’t only rank within the top six circuit wide for a second straight season (among players with at least 200 ABs), it led the league. Once again, Rodgers was playing against competition nearly three years older than him.
That June, Rodgers got another well-earned promotion, this time to AA Hartford. There, as a Yard Goat and a teenager making the second-hardest jump in professional baseball to make, Rodgers got off to a rough 18-78 start, but finished the year 21-71, once again driving his wRC+ up above 100 (104). This time, he was playing against competition nearly FOUR years his elder. Rodgers used experience gained during his 41 games at the AA level in 2017 to improve his slash line to .275/.342/.493 and his wRC+ to 129 during the course of 402 plate appearances. While his BABIP hovered right around average (.301), his disciplinary numbers improved as his walk rate jumped nearly three percentage points from 4.9% to 7.5% and his K rate fell accordingly from 22% to just under 19%. At season’s end, Rodgers’ exports allotted him being named MLBPipeline’s ninth best overall prospect, league wide.
Hitting via from extremely streamlined approach with plus-plus bat speed, great present strength with plenty of more capacity for growth and solid pitch recognition skills, Rodgers is a guy who has responded to every challenge the Rockies have thrown at him even as his competition got older, wiser and more experienced by remaining confident in his inherent gifts, making his coach’s jobs extremely easy. A guy who has a very real ceiling as one of the best middle-of-the-lineup hitters while also being a middle infielder (his potential future with the Marlins would likely be at second base), Rodgers is lining up as a very rare commodity, worthy of building a franchise around and all within the next season and a half. The only knocks that could possibly go against Rodgers’ game is his overall lack of walks (though he makes enough contact to excuse it) and a slight tendency to get pull-happy, a very coachable flaw. A game changer that would take the Marlins’ system from good to one of the best in baseball, a deal with the Rockies should be Rodgers or bust.
2018 (A) – 29 IP, 1.86 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 34/8 K/BB
Rolison is the Rockies’ first round pick from this past season’s draft out of the University Of Mississippi. Rolison initially caught the eyes of scouts as a junior after he posted a 0.72 ERA with 104 Ks as a junior and made those same eyes pop after he went 9-0 with a 0.12 ERA and 108 strikeouts as a senior in 2016. The accolades came flowing in for Rolison that year, including being named the best player out of his home state of Tennessee, the 51st best prep player in the country, a top 500 draft prospect by Baseball America and a second-team All-American title. However, Rolison really wanted to honor his commitment to his dream school, Ole Miss, an understanding that all but negated his prep draft stock.
After balking at a 37th round selection by the Padres in 2016, Rolison started his collegiate career coming out of the Ole Miss bullpen before quickly earning a spot in the rotation. On the whole in his freshman season, Rolison made 19 appearances (10 starts, the most in program history by a first-year pitcher) and held down the SEC’s 13th lowest ERA (3.06) while striking out 64 and walking just 24 in 61.2 IP. After an impressive 1.84 ERA, 35 K appearance in the Cape that summer, a sophomoric Rolison had one of the better seasons in Ole Miss program history. The numbers: 97.1 IP 3.70 ERA via a .235 BAA. Not eye popping until you look at the control figures: 120/45 K/BB and just 22 XBH allowed, the equivalent of a negative 0.412 FIP. With a 10-4 record, Rolison became the 10th player in program history to post at least 10 wins and 100+ Ks. Those exports earned him a first round, 22nd overall selection by Colorado this past June.
Rolison finished his 2018 campaign by making nine appearances for the short season Grand Junction Rockies. In 29 innings, the 21-year-old had a 1.86 ERA and 0.79 WHIP via a 34/8 K/BB.
Rolison has succeeded by way of his 94-96 mph fastball that challenges his more frequently-faced opposite side hitters and via his hard-breaking wipeout curveball that dips into the high 70s and which MLBPipeline dubbed as the best in his draft class. He also owns a third pitch changeup that should play up in the future. While Rolison still needs to improve control over his long limbs, the 21-year-old has plenty of room to move, making him a more-than-advantageous complimentary piece in this potential trade.
Even though they began their offseason by re-signing free agent Brian McCann thus making in-house option Tyler Flowers, a more-than-capable backup, the Braves have been headlined as one of the top seekers for Realmuto’s services, proving they are confident their young core can carry them to the next level within the next two years. With Ronald Acuña, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and perennial All-Star candidate Freddie Freeman already at their disposal, this may be possible. And Atlanta more than has the prospect prowess in their minor league system to get a deal done.
RHP Mike Soroka
3B Austin Riley
C J.T. Realmuto
2018 (A/AAA) – 30.2 IP, 1.76 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 34/6 K/BB
Soroka is the Braves’ 2015 first round draft pick out of high school in Canada. On paper, it seemed to be quite the bold move but looking at Soroka’s 6’5”, 225 build and his ability to dictate the tempo of the game via working quickly and with a more-than-solid three pitch mix, it’s easy to see why scouts are extremely excited about Soroka’s future.
A command-first artist that makes the most of his size throwing his 92-94 mph fastball with a good downward plane creating good natural sinking action, Soroka also owns two different breaking pitches, a hard power curveball/slider hybrid with tight late break that sits between 83-86 as well as an above average changeup. While all three pitches get 55+ grades, Soroka is a guy who relies less on pure stuff and more-so on his head and feel for pitching and his smooth delivery mechanics and tried and true consistent arm action to succeed. Those attributes have allowed Soroka to play up to competition wherever he’s played. After beginning his career in the Gulf Coast League, Soroka received a quick call to short season ball. In 34 total pro innings in his draft season, he held down a collective 3.18 ERA and 1.12 ERA. His excellent command was put on display early and often as he posted a 37/5 K/BB.
In his first full pro season in 2016, Soroka went 9-9 in 24 starts for the Rome Braves. His 3.02 ERA was 8th lowest in the South Atlantic League and his 2.78 FIP was second best. The great control persisted as his 15.9 K/BB% ranked 10th best on the circuit. In 2017, those exports allowed Soroka to skip A+ and make it to AA in just his second full professional ledger. Only one word could possibly describe Soroka’s tenure in a Rome Braves uniform: dominant.
While he doesn’t command much out of the zone, Soroka controls both his pitches and his games with the ability of middle-of-the-rotation MLB starter. And he’s still only 21. With more room for growth and drawing comparisons to Adam Wainwright and Tim Hudson, Soroka has the floor of a back end starter with the potential to become ace material.
2018 (A-AAA) – .294/.360/.522, 19 HR, 70 RBI, 129/37 K/BB
Riley is another Braves’ prep pick, this time out of Mississippi in 2015. Riley was signed by the Braves after a .418/.517/.725 prep career at DeSoto Central High School where he split time between pitching and third base. While some scouts were higher on Riley’s potential as a hurler, Atlanta invested in him as an infielder. Since, they have not regretted it for a moment.
The 41st overall pick began his career in the GCL where he slugged an even .500 with his first seven pro homers before his promotion to rookie ball. He lived out 2015 by hitting .351/.443/.586 for the Danville Braves. In his first full pro season in 201), Riley showed the same power prowess, homering 20 times, part of a 61 XBH season. Those numbers were the exports of Riley’ countless hours spent with coaches that offseason, adjusting his bat grip and batter’s box placement, a pair of changes that allowed him to get extended more advantageously. In 2017, Riley showed improved recognition of breaking pitches and hit 12 homers in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League before a midseason call to AA. There, as a 20-year-old playing in his home state of Mississippi against an on-average 23-year-old, Riley slashed .315/.389/.511 with eight more bombs, affirming himself as a legitimate power-first prospect. Riley further solidified himself of that status when he participated in the Arizona Fall League that season. Against some of the top young talent MiLB has to offer, he hit .300/.364/.657 with six homers, second in the league to only his teammate Ronald Acuna and 18 RBI, third in the league. His slugging percentage ranked second on the circuit.
This past season, Riley battled injury but when he was healthy, he was raking. After hitting .333/.394/.677 in AA to start the season, Riley got a much deserved call to AAA where he went 30 for his first 100 (.300) including a 4-5, three homer, eight RBI game on May 13th before hitting the disabled listed for more than a month. On July 5th, Riley came back no worse for the wear. Following an 11-18 rehab stint in the GCL, he went 53 for his last 189 (.291) which included a 10-game hit streak from August 21st-31st. Overall, Riley showed awesome resiliency and hit .282/.346/.464 in 75 games in AAA, giving himself a very realistic shot at making an Opening Day roster in 2019, whether it be with Atlanta or elsewhere.
At the plate, in the field and on the bases, Riley looks every bit of his 6’3”, 220 build. With a long power load and even longer swing, Riley is plenty susceptible to swings and misses and will continue to be as a major leaguer. He also isn’t a guy who will cause much trouble on the basepaths nor is he likely to stick as a third baseman. However, with elite strength pronounced by even better bat speed, the ability to make plenty more than enough contact via 50-grade vision, and, as he’s proven, the ability to make positive adjustments, there isn’t much doubt that Riley, a model base jogger and still just 21, has the future of a franchise centerpiece at either first base or in left field, a future that should begin this coming season.