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Marlins top prospects 2021: JJ Bleday and Sixto Sanchez are at the top of Miami’s farm system

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The arrival of the offseason means that it’s time to rank stuff. Already this winter, we’ve sized up the 60 best free agents, both on an overall and positional basis. There’s no law that prevents us from ranking minor-league players in addition to their big-league counterparts. As such, we’re going to spend the winter evaluating every team’s farm system. 

The lack of a minor-league season makes that more of a challenge this year. It doesn’t help that some teams opted against sharing video and data from their alternate-site camps with the rest of the league. As such, we’ve opted against overthinking this. Our rankings will essentially be the same as they were last winter with a few changes. First, we’ll exclude anyone who graduated by exhausting their rookie eligibility; second, we’ll replace them with draftees or other worthy prospects; and third, and lastly, we’ll present the information in a new format.

In every article in this series, you’ll find a team’s top five prospects as well as five others we felt like including, either because of their promise or some other reason. For those top five prospects, you’ll find a quick summation of their pros (their saving grace, if one will) and their cons (their fault line), as well as beefier report and our attempt to peg their “likeliest outcome.”

These rankings were compiled by talking to industry folks — scouts, analysts, and other evaluators — and include a touch of our own evaluative biases. Remember, that this is more of an art than a science, and that the write-ups matter more than the rankings themselves.


Now, let’s get on to the top five prospects in the Miami Marlins system.

1. JJ Bleday, OF

Age (as of 4/1/2021): 23

Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 205 pounds

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Acquired: Fourth pick in the 2019 draft (Vanderbilt)

Highest level: High-A

Saving grace: Well-rounded game

Fault line: Not much

Scouting report: There isn’t a ton to nitpick here. Bleday performed at a high level against top-level competition in college. He has all the tools (bat, feel for hit, arm strength) to suggest he’s going to be a quality two-way contributor at the big-league level, likely out in right field. And so on. Perhaps the biggest problem with Bleday is the thing that’s out of his control: the pandemic delayed his arrival to the upper-minors, which, in turn, will likely delay his big-league debut. Don’t forget about Bleday, though: he has a chance to be a good one.

Likeliest outcome: First-division corner outfielder

Age (as of 4/1/2021): 22

Height/Weight: 6-foot, 234 pounds

Acquired: Part of the J.T. Realmuto trade (Phillies)

Highest level: MLB

Saving grace: Well-rounded game

Fault line: Past size, fastball concerns

Scouting report: Sanchez was arguably the most exciting individual aspect of the Marlins’ season. He started seven times, amassing a 3.46 ERA and a 3.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 39 innings. The biggest concerns with Sanchez’s game entering the year were his size and his fastball’s effectiveness — despite good velocity, he’d never missed bats as expected. Sanchez will have to string together some 30-start seasons to fully put the former to concern; he did miss bats with his heat in the seven-game stretch, though opponents batted .368 against his sinker. In other words, the jury might still be out. Given the topline results, it might not matter.

Likeliest outcome: No. 2 starter

3. Max Meyer, RHP

Age (as of 4/1/2021): 22

Height/Weight: 6-foot, 196 pounds

Acquired: Third pick in the 2020 draft (Minnesota)

Highest level: NCAA

Saving grace: Fastball-slider combination

Fault line: Changeup

Scouting report: Meyer was the first pitcher off the board in June, a surprise given that he seemed likely to go after Asa Lacy and Emerson Hancock — or, two taller pitchers from more prestigious programs. Meyer deserves the flowers: he has a big-time fastball-slider combination and more than enough athleticism to stick in a rotation despite his modest frame. He’ll just need to work on his changeup to ensure that remains the case.

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Likeliest outcome: No. 3 starter

Age (as of 4/1/2021): 23

Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 222 pounds

Acquired: Part of the Nick Anderson trade (Rays)

Highest level: MLB

Saving grace: Offensive potential

Fault line: Track record

Scouting report: Sanchez has been on prospect radars for years because of his middle-of-the-order promise. It makes sense. He walks, he hits the ball hard, and with a tweak to his launch angle he could turn his above-average power potential into above-average power production. Unfortunately, Sanchez hasn’t been able to make that tweak; instead, he’s been a subpar hitter since reaching Triple-A. He’s still young enough to merit paying attention to, but time is beginning to run low if he’s going to live up to his promise.

Likeliest outcome: The new Avisail Garcia

Age (as of 4/1/2021): 23

Height/Weight: 5-foot-11, 184 pounds

Acquired: Part of the Zac Gallen trade (Diamondbacks)

Highest level: MLB

Saving grace: Upside

Fault line: Hit tool

Scouting report: Chisholm has star qualities. He has a good glove; above-average strength and speed; and a track record of hitting. The catch is that Chisholm also has a history of striking out too frequently to feel great about his chances of posting a decent average. He punched out in more than 30 percent of his big-league plate appearances in 2020, which would be concerning … except it was several percentage points better than what he managed at Double-A in 2019. If Chisholm can keep his K rate in check, even a little more, he could become a core piece. 

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Likeliest outcome: Starting shortstop

Five others to know

Cabrera closed out the 2019 season with a strong nine-start run at Double-A, suggesting he has a chance to make his big-league debut this upcoming year. He has a starter’s frame as well as enough arm strength to pitch into the upper-90s and a developing breaking ball. Cabrera should be able to stick as a mid-rotation starter at his maturation. 

Garrett, the seventh pick in the 2016 draft, made his big-league debut in 2020. He looks a little like Jon Lester, both physically and mechanically, and is a three-pitch lefty who relies upon command and pitching wherewithal himself. Garrett should make more big-league appearances heading forward, likely as a No. 4 starter. 

Fulton is a large left-hander who underwent Tommy John surgery in September 2019. The Marlins nonetheless handed him more than $2 million to buy out his commitment to Oklahoma. Fulton has a good fastball and a promising breaking ball, suggesting that he could grow into a mid-rotation starter if he returns hearty and hale and develops like desired.

Part of the return on Giancarlo Stanton — remember that trade? — Guzman made his big-league debut in 2020. He showed off a mid-90s fastball in a single relief outing, and that’s a role he should get accustomed to since he has well-below-average command. 

The Marlins netted Diaz as part of the Sergio Romo trade with the Twins in 2019. He made the leap from Double-A to the majors in 2020, though he failed to have much success in 14 games. Diaz has the chance to be an above-average hitter thanks to his raw strength. He’s regarded as a quality defender, too, giving him enough two-way value to project as a regular. 

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