The Miami Marlins just aren’t getting any luck these days.
With the team on the eve of beginning their Grapefruit League schedule, the team lost Justin Ruggiano, who had been projected to be the team’s starting center fielder, to back tightness. Worse, it’s been a recurring issue since 2012.
The injury is expected to keep the 30-year old out Ruggiano for the next few days, but should the same issues that bothered him down the stretch last season be a recurring theme in 2013, the already-down Marlins are going to be that much more difficult to watch, by having to run the defensive-minded Gorkys Hernandez out there.
Luckily, help is on the way in the form of the team’s top position prospect, Christian Yelich, who is considered a top-15 prospect in the game according to Baseball America. The team’s center-fielder of the future is just 20-years old, and possesses five-tool skills that could help lead the Marlins’ return to relevance down the line.
The problem, of course, is that it won’t happen down the line.
Having never advanced beyond advanced A-ball, Yelich is destined to start the season in AA when the 2013 season starts. If he continues to succeed there, the optimistic hope is that the Marlins will make him a September call-up by the end of the season.
But could it happen sooner?
It’s a remote possibility, but if Ruggiano’s issues are persistent throughout 2013, it could also be a distinct possibility.
To be fair, Ruggiano, at 30-years old, isn’t likely to be in the team’s long-term picture to begin with. If he ends up on the DL in 2013, Hernandez will be able to take over for center field, but he seems destined to be a defensive backup rather than a starter.
If Yelich gets off to a roaring start in AA for the first two months, and the team moves him up to AAA, could he potentially force his way up to the bigs?
It’s not as though the team is going to be shying away from inexperience and youth in 2012, with Adeiny Hechavarria slated as the primary shortstop.
On top of that, it’s not as though the team has too much to lose. Calling up a red-hot Yelich before the All-Star break at least gives the impression that the team may not be mailing it in all year, and if he happens to struggle, the experience could still be a positive, as Yelich could be competing for the center field job in earnest in 2014.
The Marlins are one of a handful of teams who could have something to gain by getting a better look at the their top prospects at the major league level in 2013. Yelich is eventually going to be part of that future, but if Ruggiano’s back is going to be an issue all year, that future might come a little sooner.