The Marlins seem destined for a second consecutive finish near the bottom of the National League, the result of a comprehensive dismantling of a talented roster following the 2017 sale of the franchise. After going 63-99 in 2018, Miami looked likely to contend for record-breaking levels of poor play following a 10-31 start this season. Since that low point, Don Mattingly’s squad has put together a 20-15 stretch - still not enough to move out of the NL basement, but enough to inspire some confidence in a fan base that will take anything it can get.
Even after a strong month, the Marlins still can’t hit. As Christian Yelich approaches 30 first-half home runs in Milwaukee, Miami sits dead last in baseball with 60 as a team. The Marlins’ .643 OPS also places last in the league. For the first time in a long time, however, the Marlins can be proud of their pitching staff. Against all odds, Miami’s starting rotation is fifth in all of baseball with a 3.71 ERA - one of the more shocking marks of the 2019 season. Even more promising is that no pitcher older than 27 has started a game for the Marlins this season, and most project to stick around long-term.
The trades of Yelich and Marcell Ozuna have not looked like a total wash, as Sandy Alcantara, acquired from the Cardinals, has posted a 3.51 ERA across 15 starts this season, while Jordan Yamamoto, acquired from the Brewers, has had a dominant start to his career. Yamamoto threw seven shutout innings in each of his first two major-league starts, allowing a grand total of five hits. In his third and most recent start, he picked up another win while allowing the first two earned runs of his career. Before making his debut earlier this month, Yamamoto, 23, had never pitched above double-a. Alcantara is only 23 years old as well.
On Thursday, Zac Gallen, also 23, delivered five innings of one-run ball for the Marlins in his debut. Yamamoto and Gallen rank as the Marlins’ No. 17 and 18 prospects, respectively. While neither may project as a top-of-the-rotation arm long-term, both have looked like they possess major-league talent, and their success both in the minors and the majors indicates that the Marlins now know how to develop young pitching, something that has long been a problem in the organization for several years.
Only two of Miami’s top-six prospects at the moment are pitchers, but the best talent in the organization happens to be one of those arms: Sixto Sanchez. Sanchez, 20, was acquired from Philadelphia in February’s J.T. Realmuto trade. He came with a bit of an injury history, but, after making two early starts in advanced-a, he has a 3.00 ERA and 44 strikeouts across eight double-a starts this season. Not only have the Marlins smartly opted to devote this season to evaluating their young arms, but they’re getting promising results from just about all of them. Alcantara, Yamamoto, Gallen, and even Caleb Smith, who wasn’t considered much of a prospect when acquired from the Yankees but has proven to be a capable starter, have all looked promising. Meanwhile, the pitcher with the most raw talent in the organization, Sanchez, is waiting in the wings and progressing well.
This is the footing the Marlins needed in such a massive rebuild. The lineup can be filled out over time; a young, productive, and (most importantly) deep arsenal of arms could give the team a chance night-in and night-out even as the rebuild progresses. If baseball finally establishes itself in Miami, as Marlins CEO Derek Jeter hopes, it could be this season and these arms — Yamamoto, Alcantara, Sanchez, and more — that begin to lay the foundation.