Opportunity beckons young Marlins prospects
JUPITER, Fla. – Upon entering the Miami Marlins spring clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium, one sees a rectangle-shaped room outlined with wooden lockers against the walls.
A group of temporary cubicles resides in the middle. Walk to the far side of the black metal section, and there are three consecutive lockers assigned to players wearing Nos. 76-77-78.
Don't be fooled by the high digits. They likely add up to a key part of the Marlins' future.
Pitcher Jose Fernandez (No. 78) and outfielders Christian Yelich (No. 76) and Jake Marisnick (No. 77) — ranked in that order — generally are considered the organization's top three prospects. All are projected to begin the 2013 season at Double-A, possibly reaching the majors by late in the season.
Then again, perhaps their time is sooner than later. Miami has become the land of opportunity following an offseason in which management traded away veteran stars and recommitted itself to building a foundation with promising young players.
Topping the list is Fernandez, who at 20 is being touted as the future ace of the Marlins. The right-hander was born and raised in Cuba before defecting as a 15-year-old.
The 2011 first-round pick relies on a 93- to 97-mph fastball, a change-up and curve, which he throws at different speeds.
"This is the best I've felt in my life," Fernandez said Monday, after throwing to hitters for the first time this spring.
Many Marlins fans have heard the buzz about Fernandez. Following his live batting practice outing, the young gun signed about 20 autographs while walking between fields.
Slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who jumped from Double-A to Miami in 2010, was among those who faced Fernandez.
"He's got some bite to his fastball, which is good," Stanton said. "He'll be next to us (in the clubhouse) pretty soon."
Yelich, 21, was Miami's first-round pick in 2010. The 6-foot-4, 189-pound left-handed hitter grew up in Thousand Oaks, Calif., idolizing New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
Primarily a corner infielder in high school, Yelich has focused on playing the outfield (center and left) since turning pro.
"Being a young guy, this is like the best organization you could be in," Yelich said. "They're going to use their young guys and give you a shot. That's really all you can ask for."
Standing in the batter’s box on Sunday, Yelich bore a slight resemblance to a former Yankees star who’s now the Marlins' hitting coach.
“He’s got more talent than I did,” said a grinning Tino Martinez, who has compared Yelich to former Cleveland Indians star Grady Sizemore.
Yelich’s laid-back personality makes an interview seem more like a casual conversation. In saying he was more concerned with having a good season than making The Show this year, Yelich cited advice he received from former major league infielder David Lamb.
"He said, 'Don't be rushed to get there. Just make sure you're ready when you do,'" Yelich said.
Marisnick was acquired in the blockbuster offseason trade with Toronto. The 6-4, 200-pounder from Riverside, Calif., was a third-round pick in 2009 and is considered a talented, but raw, five-tool prospect.
Although he's a natural center fielder whose favorite player as a youngster was Torii Hunter, Marisnick could move to left field if Yelich were to claim center.
Marisnick has something other Marlins do not — experience playing for new Miami manager Mike Redmond in Toronto's minor-league system.
"He has given me the same talk that he gave me in the minors — just come out, play my game and not get caught up in trying to do too much," said Marisnick, who will turn 22 on March 30. "He gave me that same talk at times when I was with the Blue Jays and struggling."
Facing righty John Maine on Monday, the righty-swinging Marisnick broke his bat on his first spring swing against live pitching.
“I said, ‘Hey man, this isn’t A ball now. This is big-league pitching. You’re gonna have to get that thing started a little earlier,’ ” Redmond said
While Fernandez, Yelich and Marisnick appear destined to start 2013 in the minors, the clock is ticking on their arrivals in Miami.
"That's the plan," Fernandez said. "That's what we're here for."
Charlie McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mccarthy_chas