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Early returns on Christian Yelich deal not good for Marlins

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Lewis Brinson, Isan Diaz and Monte Harrison all struggling

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017-2018 MLB off-season was one for the books for the Miami Marlins. Under new ownership, Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman went to great lengths to cut costs and obliterate the payroll.

It’s been done before, by plenty of small market teams, but the Marlins have the art of blowing up a team perfected.

After underwhelming deals that sent away franchise stars Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon, I thought the team did better when they traded their most valuable player of all: Christian Yelich.

I thought they could have done better, I’m sure we all did, as Yelich possesses one of the league’s friendliest contracts to go along with an all-star skill set from a player who is only entering the prime years of his career.

Alas, bringing in the Miami-born top prospect Lewis Brinson was a great start. The Brewers had plenty of position player prospects for the Marlins to select from, and along with Brinson, they elected fellow outfielder Monte Harrison, infielder Isan Diaz and pitcher Jordan Yamamoto.

This trade, like the other three, was extremely important for the future of the Miami franchise. Especially dealing a cost-controlled, uber-talented player like Yelich, it was extremely important the Marlins not strike out in the trade.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike the Miguel Cabrera deal in 2007, which netted the team Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, neither of which would develop in south beach.

Or five years later when the Marlins gutted their newly built roster in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. They managed to clear the contracts of Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and others, but the prospects received —Adeiny Hechavarria, Justin Nicolino, Henderson Alvarez and Anthony DeSclafani— all flamed out for the fish.

Another five years later came the Yelich blockbuster. The Marlins have the unfortunate habit of being on the selling side of these trades. (I suppose they did go all in in 2003 for Ugeth Urbina, but sacrificed Adrian Gonzalez.)

Speaking of unfortunate events, the three top prospects acquired in the January trade are all off to disconcerting starts. Our friends at Fish Stripes recently went into detail on Lewis Brinson’s 2018 season. Always touted for his defense, you don’t become one of the game’s best prospects without some sort of hitting ability.

To the Marlins’ credit, the 24-year old has been given a proper leash at the big league level to develop, not facing a demotion after early struggles, but the Miami native simply hasn’t been able to turn anything around. Except forward K’s into backward K’s.

His defense is as advertised, but his projectable stick is not projecting. Through June 5th, the rookie phenom was slashing .161/.209/.281, which is historically putrid. No player in the last millennium has struggled that badly.

Fortunately, on June 6th, Brinson exploded for two home runs in a three-hit game. The Marlins are laughable on paper and in person, which affords Brinson nigh unlimited opportunities to get things on track.

However, even those are running out. If he doesn’t at least start flirting with the Mendoza Line in the near future, a detour to Triple-A New Orleans with the Baby Cakes will be a must.

The other three players the Marlins received in the trade are all currently housed at Double-A or High-A. Monte Harrison is the second-rated prospect in the deal at 110th overall, according to John (Brinson was 35th), and he is currently teammates with Isan Diaz (124th) at Double-A Jacksonville.

It’s the first taste at the level for the two after they were teammates at High-A Carolina last year in the Milwaukee system. Harrison, 22, is one of minor league ball’s best athletes and like Brinson, a plus-defender. He stole 32 bases in rookie ball in 2014, a number that has settled down as he’s filled out, but he’s still running, having stolen nine out of ten bags so far this season.

He also has seven home runs through his first 57 games, but is hitting just .233 and has struck out a hearty 94 times. 2017 was his breakout campaign across the A levels, where his power-speed combination earned national acclaim, but Double-A has been tough on him early.

Same with Diaz, originally acquired by Milwaukee in 2016 from the Arizona Diamondbacks with Chase Anderson for shortstop Jean Segura. Diaz just turned 22 on May 27th and rose dramatically amongst prospect rankings between 2016 and 2017.

Picked 20 slots after Harrison in 2014’s second round, the Puerto Rican was one of the more dominant players in rookie ball during the 2015 season. He hit .360 with 13 home runs and 12 stolen bases while playing shortstop. He was a bit error-prone there and played a lot more second base in 2016, but still primarily manned short.

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros at Miami Marlins Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Nowadays, he’s exclusively playing second base and the Marlins are grooming him to replace the departed Dee Gordon at the position through their flurry of moves over the off-season.

Diaz had another excellent season in 2016 for Low-A Wisconsin, but hasn’t hit much since. He managed 62 walks, but struck out 121 times, while hitting .222 last season in High-A.

His Double-A assignment was a tougher sell than Harrison’s, but the Marlins were aggressive across the board, including debuting Brinson on the opening day roster. In 47 games so far this year, Diaz is still getting on base at a good clip (30 walks, .341 OBP), but has duplicated his undesirable .222 batting average from a year ago.

As with Brinson, Harrison, Diaz and anyone in the Marlins organization, patience is quite affordable right now as the team crawls back into relevance. Diaz rightfully garnered a lot of attention with his impressive 2015, but hasn’t reached that level of production since. Still, he’s barely 22, and hopefully he figures it out at the pivotal Double-A level rather than needing a High-A refresher course.

The fourth and final prospect Miami acquired for Yelich was pitcher Jordan Yamamoto. Arriving with the least fanfare of the four, he has nevertheless been the fairest to the fans.

Like Diaz, he turned 22 in May and the Hawaii native was a Brewers 12th round selection in the same draft of 2014. All new Marlins sans Brinson (29th overall by the Texas Rangers in 2012) were 2014 draftees.

The lone pitcher of the bunch, Yamamoto went from a Brewers organization that has solid pitching depth, at best, to a Marlins farm system that has perhaps the least in baseball.

Primarily a reliever in pro debut, Yamamoto started 18 games in both 2016 and 2017, the latter giving him the recognition to be a part of a big deal like this one.

In 2017 for High-A Carolina (where he was teammates with Harrison and Diaz), his first dose of the level was superb. In 22 total appearances, he posted a 2.51 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 111.1 innings.

He struck out 113 batters, over nine per nine innings, with an above-average fastball. Like the others, the Marlins bumped him up upon arrival. His 2018 season has only just begun in High-A Jupiter. In two starts and 11.2 innings, he’s allowed three earned runs and three walks with 11 strikeouts.

MLB: Spring Training-Miami Marlins at St. Louis Cardinals Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

His future outlook looks like the bullpen, especially if his secondary pitches don’t develop as planned. He will get every possible look at the rotation, however, as the organization practices a (very) long-term approach with all four prospects, and especially the three 22-year olds.

Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, Christian Yelich has been everything the Brewers could have hoped for. Yelich is hitting a career-high .301 (he hit an even .300 in 2015), supplying Gold Glove defense to all three outfield spots, and is helping to spearhead the Brewers first-place season.

Things aren’t as fresh for the fish in Miami, but there’s a long way to go with this trade. The Marlins really lost any Christian Yelich trade before it was ever made, as there was no good reason to possibly deal him. But it is the Marlins, and they did trade him. And they did acquire four prospects worth reserving hope for. Just make sure the reserves are running high.