MLB

Braves-Marlins Preview

MIAMI -- The secret to success for small-budget teams such as the Miami Marlins and the Atlanta Braves -- who wrap up their abbreviated two-game series on Wednesday afternoon -- is often in the scouting department.

The Braves beat the Marlins 3-2 in 10 innings Tuesday and have won six of seven in the matchup between the teams this season. The Braves are also on a season-high six-game win streak.

But that's the small picture for a Braves franchise that is 24-46 and way out of playoff contention. Here is the larger view for both teams:

In Tuesday's editions of the Miami Herald, staff writer Clark Spencer -- through anonymous sources -- reported that the Marlins in 2012 had a choice between three Toronto Blue Jays prospects as part of the massive Jose Reyes trade.

The Marlins could have had Noah "Thor" Syndergaard, who is now the ace of the New York Mets staff with a 7-2 record and a 1.91 ERA; or Aaron Sanchez, who is 7-1 with a 3.35 ERA for Toronto.

Instead, Miami asked for and received Justin Nicolino, who on Sunday was sent down to the minors and is looking more and more like a bust with a 2-4 record and a 5.17 ERA.

Syndergaard, who lights up radar guns at 100 mph and beyond, would have seemed to be the obvious choice. But Nicolino was the lone left-hander of the trio and was seen as very "polished" at the time.

Baseball America had Nicolino ranked as Toronto's fifth-best prospect at the time. Sanchez was ranked sixth, and Syndergaard was seventh.

How this is relevant now is simple: The Marlins and Braves can't afford to miss on too many of their player evaluations.

They play in an NL East division that includes the front-running Washington Nationals and the defending National League champion Mets.

Catching them won't be easy.

The Phillies are also in the division, of course, and while Philadelphia is down at the moment, the franchise is loading up on prospects and has traditionally spent big when the time is right.

Atlanta long ago surrendered this season. They are hoping that the prospects they have acquired in a flurry of recent trades as well as the players they have drafted and signed internationally all come together soon to form a winning nucleus.

It's a long shot, frankly, but the Braves are banking on their scouts being right.

The situation is brighter in Miami, where the Marlins are in contention for one of the two wild-card berths. But the farm system is barren at the moment, ranked dead last in the majors.

Miami is thin on depth with few options in the minors. We saw that play out on Monday, when the Marlins, after having sent down Nicolino, could do no better than 28-year-old retread Paul Clemens, who gave up three homers to Colorado in his Miami debut.

For a team with as little margin for error such as the Marlins, they simply have to find a better solution.

And, for the moment at least, that solution would have to be in a trade. But with few quality prospects to exchange, even that could prove to be difficult.

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