In the past few weeks, Marlins fans have gone through the full gauntlet of emotions when it comes to reading prospects reports on their favorite team. After The Athletic’s Keith Law controversially did not include Max Meyer in his Top 100 Prospects (or his just missed list), he then ranked the Marlins system as just the fourteenth best in the sport. This came after a fourth place ranking last season, so Law sees this system as taking a step back from where they were. Of course, that was partially due to hyped prospects like Trevor Rogers and Jazz Chisholm Jr. graduating out of prospect eligibility.
Shortly after Law’s list was published, ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel released his own Top 100 Prospects rankings. His list was far more Marlins-friendly, with seven Marlins included in it. That interestingly included Meyer as his top Marlins prospect, showing the lack of consensus that exists among experts on this pitcher. Furthermore, McDaniel ranked the Marlins system as the fourth best in the league, citing the elite talent at the top of their system.
Law and McDaniel are not the only two experts to diverge in their opinions of the Marlins entire system. Baseball America recently ranked the system even lower than Law did, at twentieth best in the Majors. Baseball Prospects, on the other hand, was more aligned with McDaniel’s thinking in ranking the Marlins system as the sixth best. This is not to say that one expert is right, while another is wrong, but instead to show just how different opinions are and how volatile prospect rankings can be.
Still, there is quite a bit of consensus in the way the experts stack up most team’s farm systems. For instance, Law and McDaniel had seven of the same ten teams in their respective top ten, albeit in different orders. Ultimately, the scouts seem to agree on which teams have the most high end talent and depth in their system, and can then differ on their opinions in exactly how good some of the top-end players are. So, what gives with the Marlins? Why is this system being viewed so differently by a variety of sources?
The answer comes down to pitching. Much has been made of how unique this Marlins system is; few teams have ever had this hoard of pitching depth, but the Marlins do not possess the hitting talent to match it. That explains why there have been various rumors surrounding Miami potentially swapping some of that pitching for hitting. Trading Zac Gallen to Arizona for Chisholm Jr. a few seasons ago was the kind of deal that many view as being mutually beneficial for the Marlins and a potential trade partner again. We will see if that ultimately comes to fruition, but the point here is that the Marlins are well known around the league right now for having so many exciting pitching prospects in their minor leagues.
Look no further for the answer to why there is such a difference of opinions regarding the Marlins system. Pitching is notoriously volatile, and not easy to predict. McDaniel wrote in his 2020 book, co-authored with Eric Longenhagan of Fangraphs, titled Future Value, about the difficulty in projecting young pitchers:
While we think pitching is a little easier to scout, it’s harder to predict. Who will get hurt? Who will throw harder as they enter their physical prime? Who will retain that velocity into advanced age? Whose command or secondary pitches will improve? These are slippery central questions for which we still only have vague, perhaps apocryphal answers that apply across the pitching population as a whole, partially because, now more than ever, so many of those answers are dependent on player development.
While McDaniel and Longenhagan do not go so far as to agree with the old adage that “pitchers are not prospects,” they do recognize that the lack of certainty with pitchers still leads many to value hitters over them. In his recent Top 100 rankings, McDaniel seemed to be leaning even more in this direction, with his top six prospects all being hitters. He even noted in his blurb about the top pitching prospect, Baltimore’s Grayson Rodriguez, that the industry has struggled in ranking pitchers in recent years.
Looking at Baseball Prospectus’ top pitching prospect for the last decade, one can see that McDaniel is on to something here:
This exercise was simply done not to show that the top pitching prospects are not often successful; after all, the traits that get one ranked this high are inherently good. Throwing hard, having multiple plus breaking pitches, and quality command get a pitching prospect up to the top ranking. Instead, this just shows what McDaniel and Longenhagan were saying a few years ago: pitching is nearly impossible to predict. Cole and Giolito are star-level pitchers now, but for each of those there is a Matt Moore or Taijuan Walker who just cannot put all of the pieces together. Health seems to be one of the main reasons for that, although Julio Teheran was a highly durable pitcher for the entire decade and never lived up to the hype either. Compared to the top hitting prospects, the pitchers do not compare in projectability.
Even looking at the last two names from that table, Whitley and Gore, one sees the danger in overvaluing pitching prospects. Both pitchers were drafted in the first round out of high school. High school pitching is the most risky demographic to select from, an issue that has been researched extensively by Law and others. Many of the Marlins top pitching prospects come from the international signing market, as opposed to the amateur draft, but many are still around the same age as these draft picks right out of high school stateside. Eury Perez would have only just been eligible for last year’s draft, and would have certainly been a top pick, hypothetically, based on his talent. However, he is no more easily predictable just because he has already been in the Marlins system for a few years. The Marlins feature an impressive treasure chest of pitching spread across various levels, but the young pitchers are exceptionally hard to expect any particular thing out of.
Therefore, it is not surprising that we are seeing such different opinions on the Marlins system. Some still have the mindset, and justifiably so, that pitching prospects are harder to project and therefore not as valuable as hitters. The Marlins could counter that by saying that their pitching prospects are so talented that at least a few of them will end up being top line starters. The result is a lack of consensus in how certain pitchers, like Meyer and Edward Cabrera, are viewed. Since these guys make up the top of the Marlins system, the system as a whole can be viewed quite differently depending on who you are listening to.