Ah, the sweet sounds and sights of spring, signalling the inevitable arrival of real, tangible baseball. Mitts popping and fielders stopping. Hitters swatting and catchers squatting. Pitchers firing and officials umpiring. I've run out of rhymes but you get the gist. With actual spring training games on the horizon, it's time for us to take a closer look at the potential battles shaping up. You may believe, as this writer argues, that roster spots are largely set before spring training even gets going. Which you should, because it's true. Nevertheless, there are always decisions on the fringes of the roster to be made and the Marlins are no exception. First, though, let's eliminate the spots that aren't up for grabs.
There are six catchers in camp: Francisco Arcia, Jeff Mathis, Adrian Nieto, Sharif Othman, J.T. Realmuto, Tomas Telis. Realmuto and Mathis are the Marlins catchers in 2016. There are many who think Telis should've been the back-up this season, but the Fish re-signed Mathis, and thus Telis will at least start the 2016 season with New Orleans. The other three catchers are in Jupiter to serve as much needed back-stops to the 30 pitchers also in camp.
The starting line-up is pretty much set in stone. You may see platoon situations pop up at first base with Justin Bour and Chris Johnson, and at third base with Martin Prado and Derek Dietrich, but the rest of the regulars will play...regularly. Brady Shoemaker is not going to beat out Christian Yelich in left field. Robert Andino is not going to supplant Dee Gordon at second base. Many of these various outfielders and middle infielders are in camp for one of two reason: They're a vet whom the organization feels can serve as valuable depth should the need arise, or they're a youngster the organization feels is interesting and could use the additional exposure to quality competition.
Now that we've gotten those out of the way, we can now turn to the groups where there is a little competition taking place.
This is the big one, as far as the Marlins' chances go in 2016. Jose Fernandez, Wei-Yin Chen and Tom Koehler are the clear #1, #2 and #3 starters, respectively (whether you believe Koehler is actually the third best starting pitcher on the roster is another question, but I digress). With the specter of Fernandez's innings count looming over the club and taking into account his injury history in general, determining who gets the #4 and #5 spots in the rotation becomes and even more critical, game-changing decision.
Kendry Flores, Brad Hand, Dustin McGowan, Justin Nicolino, David Phelps...these men are all on the outside looking in. The real battle comes down to Adam Conley, Jarred Cosart, and Edwin Jackson. I get the sense that the club wants Cosart to win the fourth spot, but as Scott wrote, they haven't guaranteed him a spot. Nor should they, after last year's performance. That being said, Cosart arguably has the best stuff of any starter not named Fernandez, so it would be in everyone's best interests if he excelled this spring, laid his troubles to rest and took a commanding hold of position #4 in the rotation. That would leave Conley and Jackson for the fifth spot. John already told the story of why it would be a mistake to make Edwin Jackson the fifth starter here. He has excelled as a reliever, and you have a young man on hand in Conley who pitched reasonably well in his time here last season, why not see if he can continue? The other pitchers mentioned only sneak into the picture if the top trio battling it out struggle mightily whilst they excel.
Let us presume that, as they did last year, the Marlins come out of the gate with seven pen arms. You have the closer battle with A.J. Ramos and Carter Capps, with the "loser" being the righty set-up man and forever Marlin Mike Dunn being the lefty set-up man. Bryan Morris is also assured a spot here in middle-relief, leaving three spots "available."
It's my belief that if Conley doesn't win a rotation spot he will start the season in AAA to keep him stretched out. Ditto Justin Nicolino, Kendry Flores and José Ureña. David Phelps is a natural candidate to remain in the pen as a long man and as immediate insurance if one of the starters should falter/become injured. In an ideal world, Conley does make the rotation and Jackson is back in the pen where he belongs. With Phelps and Jackson taking up two spots, you have one spot remaining for the likes of Kyle Barraclough, Brian Ellington, Nefi Ogando and a slew of others. The Marlins seems reluctant to part with a certain Brad Hand, and being out of options the Fish will probably go with Hand out of the gate as another long arm/second lefty out of the pen.
Final Bench Spots
If the Marlins do go with seven pen arms which seems likely, that gives them five spots for the bench. We know Ichiro Suzuki will be the primary back-up outfielder/most likely person to reach 3,000 hits this season. There's one.
Derek Dietrich, by virtue of his plus bat and forced versatility, will occupy a second spot. It seems that instead of carrying a second legitimate outfielder, like Cole Gillespie, they will rely upon Dietrich to spot start in left again (shifting over Yelich as needed to cover the others spots, depending on who has the day off).
Jeff Mathis will sit in the dug out primly sipping Gatorade and making catching observations to anyone who will listen, that's three.
With Donovan Solano finally out of the picture, Miguel Rojas is the presumed favorite for being the primary back up at second and short, playing that role admirably last season. He is unlikely to be pressed by the likes of Andino and Austin Nola. That's four.
Chris Johnson signed a major league contract, so he'd have to really be terrible to be unseated by Don Kelly. That's five.
Huh. Not much of a battle after all. There is always the chance that an injury crops up during camp and changes the over-all picture, but as of now, this is likely how the Marlins roster shakes out.