2021 Miami Marlins Diamonds in the Rough

by Matt Wiener
2021 Miami Marlins in the Rough

Welcome to the fifteenth installment of my series, 2021 Diamonds in the Rough as we discuss the Miami Marlins. We have now reached the halfway point in the series.

In this article, I will break down four prospects--two hitting and two pitching--from the Miami Marlins farm system.

Last time out, I took a look at some of the Los Angeles Dodgers prospects.

In deep dynasty leagues, the ability to spot high-upside lower-ranked prospects before they become household names in the fantasy baseball community can make a big difference to the long-term success of your team.

To qualify as a diamond in the rough for this series, a player must be currently ranked lower than No. 15 on their team's latest MLB Pipeline Prospect Rankings.

Check out our 2021 Fantasy Baseball Dynasty Rankings to help you dominate your leagues.

2021 Miami Marlins Diamonds in the Rough


Jose Salas, SS (#19)

Bats: S | Throws: R
Tools: 50 Hit | 50 Power | 60 Run | 50 Field | 55 Arm
Age: 18
Highest Level: N/A
ETA: 2024

The Marlins signed Jose Salas out of Venezuela during the 2019 international signing period. Salas was born in Florida and grew up in Orlando but later moved back to Venezuela, where his grandfather, father, and uncle all played professionally.

Though his professional debut was delayed by the canceled 2020 Minor League season, Salas had an impressive showing during instructs last fall, where he was the youngest player at 17 years old. At instructs, Salas showed added strength and an improved swing. According to Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs, who has Salas ranked No. 7 in his 2021 Miami Marlins Top 46 Prospects, "Salas had 'the look' at 2020 instructs, filling out a uniform as well as anyone in the 2020 Jupiter/West Palm contingent even though he was only 17."

After instructs, Salas took his talents to the Venezuelan Winter League (VWL), where he was almost eleven years younger than his average competition. Unsurprisingly, the boy struggled amongst men. Salas limped to a .154/.233/.179 slash with an unsightly 3/19 walk to strikeout ratio across 43 plate appearances. However, Salas did display some speed, swiping two bags in only 19 games.

Standing at 6-foot-2, weighing 191 pounds, and barely 18 years old, Salas has a very projectable frame that should allow him to add strength and power as he matures. Salas is a switch-hitter, though his swing from the left side is currently well ahead of his swing from the right side. In addition, Salas possesses pitch recognition skills beyond his years and high-end bat speed from both sides of the plate.

While Salas does have a tendency to get a bit long in his swings, as evidenced by his strikeout issues in the VWL, scouts believe that he has a chance to hit for average with at least average power. Per MLB Pipeline, "[Salas] put on a show in batting practice at Marlins Park after he signed and has the upside of 20-25 homers per season in his prime."

In the field, Salas is a smooth mover, with plus speed, twitchy athleticism and an above-average arm. Some scouts foresee a move off shortstop as Salas fills out his projectable frame. If that is the case, Salas does have the defensive chops to play second base or center field. However, the Marlins appear intent on playing Salas at shortstop for the time being.

According to Marlins director of international operations Fernando Seguignol "[w]ith Jose Salas, the passion he has, you see he's an athletic batter right away. Besides that, it's his actions. Smooth actions, down the middle of the field. He's going to play at shortstop. And then when you start seeing [him] hit, you'll see the bat speed as well."

Salas is a certified tool shed. He's got power. He's got speed. Eric Longenhagen says he had "the look" at 2020 instructs. Yes, very hot, I know. There are many reasons to be excited about Salas as he appears set to finally make his professional debut in 2021. However, whether Salas will be able to reach his lofty ceiling will depend on the development of his hit tool.

While Salas is very raw, in my opinion, it is a matter of when, not if, he will be considered a top 100 prospect. Salas has serious breakout potential and is someone that should be a fixture on your watch list in 2021 and beyond.

Joe Dunand, SS (Unranked)

Bats: R | Throws: R
Tools: 45 Hit | 55 Power | 45 Run | 50 Field | 55 Arm
Age: 25
Highest Level: AAA
ETA: 2021

The Marlins drafted Joe Dunand out of North Carolina State University (Raleigh, NC) in the 2nd round (51 overall) of the 2017 MLB draft.

Dunand is the nephew of baseball great and my all-time favorite player, Alex Rodriguez. Dunand's father, Joe Sr., is A-Rod's half-brother. However, Dunand made a name for himself in high school, where he once hit a homer in eight consecutive at-bats during a tournament, setting a national record.

During his 2017 professional debut, Dunand came on strong, albeit in a small sample size. In 2017, Dunand hit .370/.471./.667 with one homer, five doubles and a solid 5/8 strikeout to walk ratio in only 34 plate appearances. Though Dunand saw a drop-off in average (.239) and OBP (.303) over a full season across High-A and AA in 2018, he also blasted 14 homers and racked up 64 runs and 70 RBIs.

However, Dunand also displayed some swing-and-miss issues, not atypical of a young power bat. To that effect, Dunand compiled an ugly 36/125 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Further, Dunand posted a poor nearly 25 percent strikeout percentage and a below-average seven percent walk percentage.

While Dunand posted a similar BA (.242) and OBP (.314) in 2019, he experienced a noticeable power decline. In roughly the same number of plate appearances as in 2018, Dunand hit only a third of the number of homers (5) in 2019. Further, Dunand posted a weak .091 isolated power (ISO) and his SLG was almost 50 percentage points lower than in 2018. Moreover, Dunand's swing-and-miss issues persisted. He posted a similarly poor 22.7 percent strikeout percentage and 7.2 percent walk percentage.

However, Dunand was also the victim of some bad luck in 2019. This is evidenced by his .307 BABIP, which was 65 percentage points higher than his actual average. Dunand's luck turned for the better in the 2020 Dominican Winter League, where he flat out raked, despite being more than three years younger than his average competition. In the DWL, Dunand hit .319/.398/.542 with three homers, five runs, and 12 RBI over 83 plate appearances.

In the field, Dunand has displayed solid defensive skills at shortstop. However, he has a thick base and some scouts anticipate a transition to third base (where he played exclusively in the DWL) due to his arm strength, footwork, and power profile. But according to Baseball America, "[r]egardless of whether Dunand ends up as an average defensive shortstop or an above-average defensive third baseman, it will be his bat that decides his future."

It will be important for Dunand can control the strikeouts and increase his contact percentage. If he can, he plus raw power and a big-time boomstick capable of producing highlight-reel bombs. Full disclaimer: I may be a bit biased here because of my undying love for A-Rod and let's face it, Dunand has a lot of A-Rod in his look (see below).

Ultimately, I think that Dunand has a real shot to be a difference-making power hitter at the next level. After opening the 2021 season in AAA, Dunand may only be a few injuries away from making his debut. With his primary competition in Miami at the hot corner being Brian Anderson, Dunand could have some staying power with early production.

Dunand may not hit 696 homers like Uncle A-Rod, but he does have that in his bloodlines. In all fairness, he is already 25 years old and A-Rod hit his first major league homer at age 19. But I digress. Regardless, the future is very bright for Dunand. He looks like a major leaguer both in the batter's box and on the field.

Given my affinity for A-Rod, I have had my eye on Dunand for a while now and I will surely be one of his biggest advocates as he creeps closer to his debut.


Kyle Nicolas, RHP  (#17)

Bats: R | Throws: R
Tools: 70 FB | 50 CB | 55 SL | 45 CH | 45 CNTRL
Age: 22
Highest Level: High-A
ETA: 2023

The Marlins drafted Kyle Nicolas out of Ball State University (Muncie, IN) as a competitive balance pick in the second round (61 overall) of the 2020 MLB draft. Nicolas, one of the hardest throwers in the 2020 draft, is the nephew of former NFL quarterback and the seventh overall pick of the 1983 NFL draft Todd Blackledge.

After missing part of his freshman year at Ball State with a torn meniscus in his left knee, Nicolas limped through his freshman and sophomore seasons, with ERAs of 5.21 and 6.02 respectively. Further, Nicolas struggled mightily with command, walking a hefty, hefty, hefty 95 batters over only 112.1 innings.

However, Nicolas broke out during his junior year before the 2020 college season was cut short. In four starts, Nicolas posted a neat 2.74 ERA and an elite 0.957 WHIP over 23 innings. Further, he showed much-improved command, slashing his walk rate from 8.3 walks per nine innings to 2.7. Nicolas also showed more life on his electric fastball, which sat 94-98 mph. The pièce de résistance, in his final appearance of the season, Nicolas tossed an absolute gem. Over seven innings, Nicolas allowed just one hit and one walk and racked up a jaw-dropping 17 strikeouts.

Nicolas made his professional debut at High-A Beloit on May 6. Over five innings, Nicolas allowed just one hit and one run while racking up eight strikeouts, though he did allow four walks. However, when you look closer at the numbers, Nicolas threw 52 (or 65 percent) of his 80 pitches for strikes. Though a small sample size, a 65 percent strike percentage would have placed Nicolas in the top 30 of MLB starters in 2020. For context, that was the same strike percentage produced in 2020 by notable MLB studs and dependable strike-throwers Aaron Civale and Lance Lynn.

On May 12, Nicolas followed up his first start with another impressive performance. In his second professional start, Nicolas tossed five and a third strong innings, the first four of which were perfect. He allowed just three hits and one run, raising his 2021 record to a perfect 2-0. Most notably, Nicolas struck out four and walked only one over those five-plus innings.

Nicolas has a nasty arsenal that is headlined by an electric 70-grade fastball, which reaches 100 mph. The pitch has good late life and sits in the mid-90s mph deep into games. In addition, per Baseball America, "Nicolas has a deceptive, above-average slider that can sometimes touch 90 mph." Nicolas also possesses an interesting curveball, which has flashed at least average potential and a developing changeup. According to Ball State skipper Rich Maloney, "[Nicolas'] slider grades out as better than big-league average, and his curve may be his best pitch, even though he didn't need it in college."

Evaluators are split regarding Nicolas' future as a starter or reliever. This is primarily due to his history of control issues and heavy fastball usage. In 2020, about 85 percent of pitches thrown by Nicolas were fastballs. Further, he did compile four saves serving as a closer in the 2019 Cape Cod League. I also think Nicolas has the pure stuff to close if the Marlins were to go that route.

In fact, in an article published on May 13, MLB.com named Nicolas as the prospect that could be a future closer for the Marlins. However, the article also acknowledges that the Marlins envision Nicolas staying in the rotation. In addition, I have confidence in the intriguing four-pitch mix and think that with some refinement, Nicolas can develop into a solid major league starter.

The boys at Ball State would tend to agree. According to Maloney, "I've coached six first-rounders, and [Nicolas] stacks up with all of them. I think he will be a front-end starter in the majors, and I don't think he's that far away."

There is no doubt that Nicolas possesses high strikeout upside. However, his future role will be determined by his ability to develop his secondaries and cut down on the walks. With only two professional appearances to his name, Nicolas is already 22 years old. If he can continue to improve upon his control and integrate his secondary offerings in 2021, I could see him ascending rapidly through the Marlins' system.

Eury Perez, RHP  (#25)

Bats: R | Throws: R
Tools: 60 FB | 55 CB | 50 CH | 50 CNTRL
Age: 18
Highest Level: A
ETA: 2024

The Marlins signed Eury Perez out of the Dominican Republic during the 2019 international signing period.

Since signing with the Marlins, Perez has grown a whopping four inches and 35 pounds. He currently stands at 6-foot-9 and weighs around 190 pounds. That's a big boy. Further, at only 18 years old, Perez is the youngest player in all of the minors (other than a short season).

Perez made his professional debut at Class A Jupiter on May 4. He tossed three innings and gave up four hits and one run while striking out four and walking only one. However, it was his second start on May 11 that began opening more eyes in the fantasy baseball community. Perez fired five strong innings, allowing only one hit and one walk while striking out five. I fully expect the hype train to pick up steam with each appearance. Just search his name on Twitter. We are already seeing that play out in live time.

Though Perez sat in the mid-80s mph when the Marlins first scouted him in the Dominican Republic, his velocity jumped significantly during 2020 instructs, where he sat 91-95 mph with his fastball. With the remaining projection in his frame, it is possible, if not likely, that Perez could sit in the mid-90s mph once he fills out his frame.

In Perez' second professional start, his fastball averaged 95.4 mph and a whopping spin rate of 2,627. To put that in perspective, that would have placed him second overall for spin rate amongst regular MLB starters in 2020, only behind Trevor Bauer who posted a ri-stick-ulous 2,779 spin rate. For additional context, per MLB.com, in 2019, "the MLB-wide swing-and-miss rate on 95+ four-seamers with a spin rate below 2,500 rpm was 24.8 percent. But at 2,500 rpm or higher, the whiff rate on those pitches was 30.8 percent." That is a significant difference.

In addition to his fastball, Perez possesses an impressive curveball and a solid developing changeup. In sum, Perez, the youngest player in the minors, already has three pitches that are graded 50 or higher. According to Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs, "[Perez] has a fairly advanced feel for a curveball and changeup, not just for a teenager his size but for a teenager period."

One thing that impresses me most about Perez on the mound is his advanced mechanics, especially for his size. Many tall young pitchers suffer from what I like to call "too many moving pieces syndrome". However, Perez possesses a smooth, repeatable delivery. He displays great balance and does a fantastic job controlling his body through his delivery. These traits bode well for his chances of at least average control down the road.

Perez has garnered tons of hype in dynasty fantasy baseball circles early in the 2021 season. He is an impressive specimen on the mound and has three pitches with at least average to above-average potential. Moreover, as the youngest player in the minors, he is only getting started.

There is a lot to like about Perez. Given the current state of play, it may only take a few more starts before Perez is on everyone's radar. Now could be your last chance to get in on the ground floor because Perez is on the verge of an eruption and has a one-way ticket to the moon.

To uncover more high-upside lower-ranked prospects, you can access all of the articles for other teams in my 2021 Diamonds in the Rough series here.

Make sure you bookmark our Fantasy Baseball page to consume all of our 2021 MLB content!

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