Why Marlins future feels bleak. And a look at Miami’s newest batch of top prospects

David Santiago/dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Part 2 of a 6-part series on the Marlins’ rebuild, which has stalled, and the franchise’s future.

A Marlins employee recently was sizing up where the franchise stands - as it finishes up its 12th losing season in 13 years and its fourth non-COVID season in a row with 90 or more losses - and made this depressing admission:

Even for a team that has made the playoffs only twice in 30 years, the future has never seemed more bleak.

Why so?

The Marlins no longer can hope-traffic with the promise of a new stadium, or the revenue generated by a new television deal or a new stadium naming rights deal, or the promise of a new owner to replace Jeffrey Loria.

The Marlins have all four of those things, and none have made a difference in the on-field product.

The organization’s new revenue from the TV contract with Bally Sports and the loanDepot ballpark deal has increased the Marlins’ overall annual revenue by nearly $40 million. And the team’s payroll has jumped from $31.5 million in 2020 to $80 million this season.

But the disparity between the payrolls of the Marlins and the other National League East teams also has continued to grow, making it increasingly difficult for the Marlins to be competitive.

The Mets, who are leading the division, have a $266 million payroll. Philadelphia is at $244 million, Atlanta $185 million and Washington $135 million. The Marlins are $186 million behind the Mets, a seemingly insurmountable gulf.

Owner Bruce Sherman won’t commit publicly to a $90 million payroll, let alone $100 million, though we hear he’s open to increasing it somewhat this offseason.

So forget the notion of spending on a $100 million free agent. Instead, expect the team to try to trade for a bat using its surplus of starting pitching, and perhaps add a reasonably priced free agent.

The good news: The rotation is good enough to compete for a playoff berth, according to a big league scout who has watched the Marlins closely.

But here’s the problem, beyond the payroll: Is there a single position player, beyond Jazz Chisholm, on the roster that can be projected as a 2023 starter on a playoff-caliber team?

Perhaps Avisail Garcia or Jorge Soler, if they bounce back from disappointing first seasons here. Perhaps catcher Jacob Stallings, if he can boost his average from the .220s.

In the meantime, the Marlins must hope that some of their position prospects begin to work out.

Excluding Jazz Chisholm and Brian Anderson, Miami so far has extracted nothing at the big league level from MLB.com’s top 33 Marlins position prospects from 2018 through 2020, as detailed here in part 1 of the series.

But mlb.com’s 2022 list of top Marlins prospects offers hope -- years from now -- for a bunch of players who are very early in their pro careers and can’t yet be fully judged.

Over the next two days, we will take a look at the 19 position players on the Marlins’ top 30 list and where they stand, listed in order of how MLB.com ranks them.

Here are the top eight:

Third baseman Jacob Berry, the first-round pick from LSU who ranks third on the Marlins’ top 30 list behind pitchers Eury Perez and Max Meyer:

Berry, a polished college hitter, looked good offensively at Jupiter this summer: .264, 3 homers, 24 RBI in 33 games at Jupiter. But he committed four errors in 24 games at third base; he was a designated hitter in the nine other games.

Infielder Jose Salas: It’s way too soon to judge the 19-year-old infielder, who can play second, third and short. He hit .267 in 61 games at Low A Jupiter, .230 and 17 RBI in 48 games at High A Beloit.

Per MLB.com, the switch-hitting Salas “has a quick swing from both sides and recognizes pitches better than most hitters his age. He has gotten stronger since signing and could produce 20-25 homers per season once he adds some polish at the plate. He... presently makes more ground-ball contact than is optimal.”

Shortstop Yiddi Cappe: The 6-3 shortstop/third base prospect, signed on the international market, is well-regarded. Only 19, he has looked very good at Single A Jupiter, hitting .279, with three homers, 15 RBI and seven steals in 37 games. But he walked only six times.

He played 21 games at shortstop (making two errors) and nine at third base (with three errors).

MLB.com assesses him this way: “A 6-foot-3 shortstop with a ton of projection remaining, Cappe drew comparisons to Carlos Correa as an amateur. He has already begun to add strength and makes repeated hard contact while also showing the ability to launch balls in the air. Presently a solid runner, Cappe could lose some quickness as he fills out and may outgrow shortstop.”

Shortstop Kahlil Watson: The former first-round pick was sent home for several weeks this summer after gesturing his bat in an aggressive manner toward an umpire. The Marlins have been candid about his maturity issues.

Like many Marlins prospects in the past half decade, Watson has struggled to hit for average or make enough contact. He hit .232 (.296 on-base average), 9 homers, 43 RBI in 83 games at Jupiter, with 127 strikeouts in 358 at bats.

MLB.com’s take: “Listed at just 5-foot-9 and 178 pounds, Watson plays much bigger than that at the plate thanks to an abundance of bat speed and a take-no-prisoners left-handed stroke. But after he had a history of making consistent hard contact as an amateur despite his aggressive mentality, his approach has been exploited by Single-A pitchers and he has yet to show he can make adjustments. He has plus raw power that could produce 20 or more homers per season if he can improve his hittability and turn on more pitches.”

Outfielder JJ Bleday: Though the power has developed and the plate discipline is good, the question is what happened to the high-average guy who hit .368 and .347 in his final two years at Vanderbilt. Bleday hit .225 in 233 minor league games for the Marlins and is at .168 (.289 on base percentage) in 179 plate appearances in the big leagues.

Manager Don Mattingly said Bleday fouls back pitches that he should be able to drive for hits. That means he must shorten his swing to have a chance for a productive big league career.

We hear the Marlins aren’t as high on him as they were a few months, because of the difficulty consistently hitting good pitches.

The Marlins are unlikely to go into next season with Bleday penciled in as their center fielder; they’re expected to add a veteran starter.

Catcher Joe Mack: The former second-round pick with the sweet left-handed swing is hitting .231, 3, 12 in 35 games at Jupiter. But he had 29 walks, giving him a solid .382 on-base percentage.

At 19, he’s still in early stages of his development. The Marlins are desperate to develop an offensively-skilled catcher, and Mack is the internal candidate most likely to achieve that.

Per MLB.com: “Despite his early career struggles, Mack is equipped to hit for average and power. He slumped at the start of his high school senior season when he dropped his hands too low in his left-handed swing, but he corrected that flaw and displays a disciplined, gap-to-gap approach. His bat speed and projectable strength give him plus raw power and the potential to provide 20 or more homers on an annual basis.”

Infielder Jordan Groshans: Acquired at the trade deadline from Toronto for Anthony Bass and Zach Pop, Groshans played very well at Triple A Jacksonville (hitting .301), earning a call-up two weeks ago.

Groshans has hit .286 in his first 37 plate appearances. He’s most comfortable at shortstop but can also play second and third. Some see him ending up at third. But his lack of power doesn’t profile well for a third baseman.

“I like the way Jordan has looked,” Mattingly said. “For a guy that hasn’t played a ton of third base, he does a nice job over there. He’s got plenty of arm for third. His at bats have been good. He shows he’s a guy who’s going to be a gap to gap guy with some power as he keeps growing into that body. I think he’s been fine. He doesn’t seem overmatched.”

Per MLB.com, “A foot injury in 2019, the pandemic shutdown in 2020 and a sore back in 2021 limited Groshans to just 146 games in his first four years as a pro. He hasn’t hit for much power in the last two seasons, and the Marlins bought low on him by acquiring him in August for Anthony Bass, Zach Pop and a player to be named.

“Projected as a power-over-hit guy coming out of the Draft, Groshans has seen his profile flip the last two seasons. He continues to make regular contact to all fields while controlling the strike zone.”

Outfielder Peyton Burdick: Struggled in a Marlins cameo this season (.171 in 92 plate appearances). Potentially a fourth or fifth outfielder if he improves.

“He’s got to shorten the route,” Mattingly said. “He’s going to have to get his body lower. The lower half, where he can cover the outer half of the plate. The swing is in and out of the zone pretty quick.

“The things I liked about Peyton - [one is] just the unwillingness to give in. He kept working every day. I think he’s going to be fine. Obviously, he took his lumps here. He’s a guy that I like a lot, tough kid. He seems like the kind of guy who’s not going to be denied.”

MLB.com says: “He takes an aggressive hack from the right side of the plate, which results in extremely loud contact when he connects but also led to a 30 percent whiff rate last year because his swing can be long and his approach can get pull-heavy.”

Here’s part 1 of the series.

Next up: Where the back half of the Marlins’ top 20 position prospects stand.