‘Our guys need to play’: Marlins hope prospects still get reps without minor-league season

The news wasn’t unexpected, but it became official Tuesday that there would be no minor-league baseball season this summer, a first since the league formed in 1901.

“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization,” Minor League Baseball president and CEO Pat O’Conner said in a statement.

And that hurts for a team like the Miami Marlins at a critical juncture of its rebuild. Miami has focused the past two seasons on building up their farm system, bringing it from one of the worst in Major League Baseball to a consensus top-five group.

Now, as MLB gets ready to start training camp this week ahead of its shortened 60-game season, the Marlins are hoping the lost season at the minor-league level isn’t completely lost for the hundreds of prospects who won’t see live action.

“That’s the unfortunate thing,” Marlins CEO and part-owner Derek Jeter said Tuesday in an interview with Marlins’ radio host Kyle Sielaff and broadcaster Glenn Geffner. “I think a lot of times from the public perception, you look at the major-league team and fail to recognize what we’re building in the minor leagues. Our guys need to play.”

Luckily, the bulk of Miami’s top prospects will have an opportunity to get organized practices in for the duration of the condensed MLB season. Miami has 19 of its top-30 prospects according to MLB Pipeline as part of its 60-man roster pool. Pitcher Max Meyer, the team’s 2020 first-round pick, will be added to the pool once he signs his contract, which is expected to happen this week.

They will take part in the second round of spring training — summer camp, as MLB is calling it — when it begins Friday, marking the first organized team activities since March 12 when the coronavirus pandemic put the league on hold. Most will be stationed at the team’s normal spring training complex in Jupiter, but a handful of prospects will be among the 40-plus players practicing at Marlins Park who expect to contend to be part of the 30-man Opening Day roster. Those who don’t make the active roster will be based in Jupiter, where they will continue organized practices and intrasquad games while being available to be called up to the big-league team.

“A lot of our upper-level prospects, they get an opportunity to come down and be ready,” Jeter said. “We had a lot of guys that were close [to being MLB ready].”

With all that in mind — a shortened season, no live games otherwise and a crop of top prospects nearly ready for big-league action — could that give the Marlins some more urgency to call prospects up for their big-league debuts this year?

“It shouldn’t change,” Jeter said. “The mind-set I always tried to have when I was playing and the mind-set that I tried to instill in our young guys coming up is every game counts. It doesn’t make a difference. If you play a game April 15, it means just as much as playing a game September 15, and every single time you take the field, you’re planning to win. Now, we’re getting into 60 games left. I think it’s going to be great for the experience of our young guys coming up that you’re in the middle of a pennant race no matter how you look at it. With 60 games, you have to hit the ground running. So, our guys are going to be ready.”

But what about those who didn’t crack the 60-man roster pool? MLB doesn’t have set-in-stone protocols yet for those prospects, making it difficult for clubs to come up with an appropriate game plan to ensure proper player development.

“As it pertains to the players who weren’t able to break our 60-man roster, we’re hopeful that’s what’s next on MLB’s list,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said Monday. “Obviously, they’ve been quite busy and trying to get us back on the field and restart the major-league season. So, hopefully, now that we’re on the eve of restarting at the major-league level, that we can turn our focus to getting our minor-leaguers continued work and development.

“For an organization like us who feel like we had as many or more than most organizations when it comes to prospects, we want to get them back on the field and continue their development towards getting to the big leagues,” Hill continued. “Hopefully, we will have some type of development camp or instructional league or fall league where we can get players who haven’t participated or aren’t a part of the 60 work. But at this point, it’s to be determined.”

Jeter said the Marlins have been in “constant communication with our guys through our trainers, through strength coaches, our managers, our coaches and we’re making sure that they continue to take care of themselves.”

“But look, there’s no way you can replicate a major- or minor-league season,” he added. “You have to get out there and you have to play, and we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to figure out ways that our guys can get the experience they need to continue their development.”