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2018 Season Review: Outfielders

“The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.”

Miami Marlins v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

In 2018, the Marlins outfield was not good. Brian Anderson was the lone bright spot; he was six games shy of a perfect season, and in the meantime, he amassed a 3.4 fWAR.

What was the total fWAR of Marlins outfielders? 1.3. Eleven other players who played the outfield for the Fish in 2018 put together -2.1 fWAR to give the Marlins the second-worst outfield fWAR in Major League Baseball. That’s not great, folks.

Unfortunately for this article, we already covered Brian Anderson in the corner infielders review. Buckle in, because this is going to be a bumpy ride.

Looking Back

Proceeding in descending order by games played, we start with now-former Marlin, Derek Dietrich. The fan-favorite, all around great-guy great-teammate, future bodybuilding champion utility-man took one for the team when he broke out of his comfort zone and slid into in left field for the Marlins. Dietrich hadn’t played more than 53 games in the outfield before last season, but with a hole to fill, Dietrich stepped up and started in 84 games in left in 2018.

As is the case when players get consistent at-bats, Dietrich flourished as an everyday hitter, accruing a respectable .330 OBP and a wRC+ of 109. He bopped 16 home runs, good enough for third-most on the team. Not insignificant, Dietrich was hit by 21 pitches, good enough for 2nd-most in Major League Baseball. Say what you want about the sub-optimal BB/K ratio; if a walk is as good as a hit, then a HBP is as good as a walk, and no one takes the HBP like Dietrich.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Miami Marlins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, this will likely be the last set of trials in the “Derek Dietrich: Left Fielder” experiment. According to Fangraphs’ Defensive Runs Above Average, Dietrich’s defense was worth 15.2 runs below average, good enough for sixth-worst among all MLB qualified outfielders. His UZR and DRS ranked him 11th and 9th worst among outfielders with 700 innings played.

Becoming a left fielder to address a need for the Marlins was an unselfish move by Dietrich, but ultimately, the move was likely a bad deal for both sides; the Marlins were obviously hurt by the poor defense, and for Dietrich, the offense that would have pumped up his fWAR was drastically offset by the negative DEF.

Then we have Lewis Brinson. All 6’3”, 195 of the super-prospect sauntered into the #1 system prospect ranking and the starting centerfielder role after coming home in the Christian Yelich trade. With long levers, athleticism in spades, and a minor league resume longer than those of most other prospects his caliber, Marlins fans expected Brinson to be the first beacon of hope for the Jeter Era Marlins.

Unfortunately, major league pitching got the best of him in his first full season.

Lewis Brinson 2018 Season

Time Frame G PA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BB% K% 2B HR
Time Frame G PA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BB% K% 2B HR
March-May 54 203 .198 .257 .200 24 3.9 32.5 2 6
June-July 30 108 .296 .495 .327 109 5.6 25.9 4 4
July-September 28 110 .264 .314 .249 57 4.5 26.4 4 1
Total 109 406 .240 .338 .248 56 4.2 29.6 10 11
Brinson only played three games in July, so I overlapped the time frames by just those three games.

Brinson struggled out of the gate in the first two months. The 24 wRC+ is really, really bad. However, as all good major leaguers do, Brinson made an adjustment in 100 PA’s in June—rising above the 100 wRC+ threshold and smashing four home runs—before going down with a hip injury. Although he reportedly made some much needed adjustments during his rehab time in Triple-A, Brinson couldn’t get it going in the last month to salvage his season.

There are two bright spots from Brinson’s first season. The first I wrote about back in August, concerning Lewis Brinson’s Expected wOBA. You can find that article here. The TL;DR version is that despite the lackluster numbers, when Brinson’s quality of contact from 2018 is synthesized into a theoretical formulation of his wOBA—Expected wOBA—it appears that his actual wOBA could have/should have been 33 points higher than it was. That disparity between Actual and Expected wOBA was the 18th largest chasm in 2018. For Brinson to really excel in 2018, he needs to [copy; paste] cut down on strikeouts and improve his walk tendencies. But make no mistake, Brinson hit the ball really hard in 2018; he is likely just one small adjustment from taking the league by storm.

The other silver lining is Brinson’s fielding prowess. We have to look past bottom-line UZR and DRS to see Brinson’s value in the outfield. First and foremost, remember that in his first professional season, Brinson played center field in one of the largest outfields in the league, next to two converted infielders. One infielder played well, the other—as already highlighted—did not. Still, Brinson had to cover A LOT of ground, and that’s exactly what he did. Brinson’s DRS was pumped up by his ability to make a lot of plays in the outfield, while just falling short on web gems.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Miami Marlins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

More descriptive, however, is Brinson’s UZR; despite the fact that his UZR fell into the red, he tied for fourth most UZR Range Runs among MLB centerfielders with 750 innings played. Of course, he was forced to cover so much ground due to the inexperience of Brian Anderson and Derek Dietrich. Still, with experience, Brinson’s should be able to maintain his range, while cutting down on the errors that anchored his UZR. When Anderson and Dietrich are replaced with true outfielders like Monte Harrison and Víctor Víctor Mesa, Brinson won’t get tacked with the error runs that are likely charged to him on balls he has no business getting to.

Ok, now let’s speed it up. The next crew of outfielders played fewer than 100 games for the Marlins, but were more than just September call-ups:

2018 “Tier 2” Outfielder Stats

Cameron Maybin 99 287 .338 .343 .303 93 85 1.1 6 0.8
J.B. Shuck 70 142 .255 .231 .219 37 59 0.3 -3 -0.7
Magneuris Sierra 54 156 .222 .211 .192 19 37 -5.2 -3 -1.5

Maybin was a surprising Spring Training pickup made to help lighten the load in the outfield. The former Florida Marlin was expected to contribute as needed and bring a much needed veteran presence to the clubhouse. In just under 100 games, Maybin did a nice job of getting on base, although the lack of pop slightly floundered his wRC+. Overall, Maybin did his job of helping the cause before he was traded to the Seattle Mariners at the end of July.

Unlike Maybin, JB Shuck and Magneuris Sierra didn’t help the cause. In fact, Magneuris Sierra was the biggest detractor from the Marlins outfield fWAR in 2018. The same can be said for both of these guys: Shuck and Sierra were light-hitting pinch hitters and late-inning defensive replacements who couldn’t contribute on offense. As a veteran, it was easier to keep Shuck on the bench in lieu of other players.

But Sierra was one of the bigger names in the trade of Marcell Ozuna for the Cardinals, so the Marlins had/have to try and get their money’s worth. I said my peace on Sierra back in August. He may very well be the fastest player in the league, but Marlins fans may never have known because of his inability to get on-base. Cardinals fans celebrated Sierra’s breakthrough when the big league club called him up from High-A Jupiter in 2017 and he hit 19 singles in 22 games. But in his first real MLB chance, Sierra struggled mightily in making meaningful contact and drawing walks. His .15 BB/K ratio was second-worst only to that of fellow outfielder Lewis Brinson, among Marlins with 150 plate appearances.

2018 “Tier 3” Outfielder Stats

Isaac Galloway 43 74 .301 .391 .304 94 87 3 5 0.5
Rafael Ortega 41 143 .287 .271 .251 59 84 0.5 3 -0.6
Austin Dean 34 122 .279 .363 .281 79 90 -2.8 -2 -0.2

Tier 3 belongs to the cup o’ coffee guys. Again, no staggering numbers here, but a couple pleasant surprises. Isaac Galloway and Austin Dean are two guys who fought their way through the minors to make it to The Show. Dean was drafted in 2012, Galloway in 2008! Galloway was full-time in Triple-A as early as 2015/16, but he could never make the jump. Dean seemed have a more normal, just slow matriculation; he hit at almost every level in the minors, but he really forced management’s hand at the beginning of 2018 when he hit the stuffing out of Double-A pitchers in 22 games. They both made their debuts towards the end of the season, and they both hit first MLB home runs. Now they can tell their grandchildren that they had their bags carried for them in the show.

In all honesty though, Isaac Galloway really made an impressive showing in his time with the Marlins. He is about as close to the living embodiment of a replacement level player as you’ll find, but after accruing hefty advanced fielding numbers in a small sample and displaying some competency at the plate, he may have left an impression on management heading into the 2019 season. Despite the small sample, he was the fourth biggest contributor in the Marlins outfield this season. Kudos to you, Mr. Galloway.

Finally, Rafael Ortega seemed to materialize out of nowhere to hold down the leadoff and corner outfield spots in smidgeon over 40 games. The 27 year-old played for the Rockies in 2012, the Angels in 2016, and a bevy of minor league teams in between before the Marlins acquired him as a minor league free agent and called him up. He was fast and athletic, and Don Mattingly let him hit leadoff, but ultimately, he hurt the team more than he helped with just serviceable defense and lackluster offensive numbers.

Garrett Cooper, Christopher Bostick, and Braxton Lee also played outfield, and that’s all I need to say about that.

Looking Forward

Well if you’re still here, you’ve made it to the good part. Before we see what the future holds, lets take inventory.

Where are they now:

Brian Anderson—Here (Miami Marlins, under team control)

Lewis Brinson—Here (Miami Marlins, under team control)

Magneuris Sierra—Here (Miami Marlins organization, under team control)

Isaac Galloway—Here (Miami Marlins organization, under team control)

Austin Dean—Here (Miami Marlins organization, under team control)

Garrett Cooper—Here (Miami Marlins, under team control)

Derek Dietrich—Gone (Free Agent)

Cameron Maybin—Gone (Free Agent)

JB Shuck—Gone (Free Agent)

Rafael Ortega—Gone (Atlanta Braves organization, invite to MLB Spring Training)

Christopher Bostick—Gone (Baltimore Orioles organization)

Braxton Lee—Gone (New York Mets, Rule 5 Draft)

With just the pieces above, the Marlins can put together an MLB outfield. With Martin Prado set to return for his last season on contract, Brian Anderson showed that he has what it takes to defensively hold his own in right field. We’ll have to see what happens in Spring Training, but if Isaac Galloway can parlay his performance in 2018 into 2019, he may very well have a spot in the starting lineup in 2019. Lewis Brinson will definitely be back. And when Don Mattingly wants a beefy-boy lineup, he can put Peter O’Brien at first base, and play Cooper in the outfield; so Cooper may very well get a chance in the MLB.

As of now, it looks like Magneuris Sierra is going to start in Triple-A again. He has been in the Dominican Winter League since October with Los Toros del Este, but he has not shown any signs of improvement. Over 39 games, his OBP is .289, and he has walked just twice in 15 games. Again, all nine of his hits are singles. That makes Austin Dean your last guy in/first guy out; Spring Training will be crucial for him if he wants to see what Miami weather is like in April.

After that, the Marlins have added some interesting minor league free agents in Gabriel Guerrero and Harold Ramírez, who may jostle for a roster spot in spring. Guerrero, the nephew of former baseball slaughterer Vladimir, is another large 25 year-old with a long, consistent minor league resume. In 2018, he popped 17 homers to the tune of a .475 SLG in 104 games for the Louisville Bats. With a good March, Guerrero can break camp with the club. Ramírez is a smaller outfielder who has played more than 120 games for the Toronto Blue Jays Double-A squad for the past two years. With some gaudy numbers in 2018, Ramirez should start in Triple-A, with the ability to come up in a pinch.

Now let’s talk about the future. As soon as this September, Marlins fans may begin to see some of the team’s best new prospects occupy the outfield, starting with Monte Harrison. Another absolute Hoss of a man, the 6’3” 200 pound corner-outfielder checks in as the number 2 Miami Marlins prospect on Harrison hit well enough over a full season at Double-A Jacksonville, but really drew the attention of scouts after setting the Arizona Fall League on fire. Harrison reportedly re-geared his mechanics towards a more contact-oriented approach, and he racked up a .383 OBP, albeit at the expense of home runs. Ultimately, Harrison has a lot to figure out; as Prospects Live notes, he has immense power, and there is likely room for him to simplify his stroke without sacrificing the slug. But he does have a problem with strikeouts, and he hasn’t figured out how to co-mingle his hit tool with his power tool. His development in Triple-A in 2019 will be interesting to watch.

Miami Marlins News Conference Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The other big name to keep an eye on is the Marlins’ number 1 prospect, Víctor Víctor Mesa. The Marlins acquired the Cuban outfielder and his younger brother, Victor Jr., after scrounging up enough international bonus pool money to outbid the Baltimore Orioles. While the 17 year-old Junior heads to the lower levels of the Minors, Víctor Víctor is apparently slated to begin the year in Double-A Jacksonville. Fantasy Guru Ralph Lifshitz of Prospects Live expects this of Mesa: “A contact hitter that uses his speed and good baseball instincts to make an everyday impact possibly at the top of the lineup.”

Mesa’s progression through Double and Triple-A will be a much slower burn than that of Monte Harrison’s, as the Marlins take care to ensure Mesa’s skillset from international ball carries over to the professional game. But along with Harrison—barring any sudden acquisitions like, I don’t know, Kyle Tucker, Alex Verdugo, or the Reds flipping newly acquired Yasiel Puig—Mesa is an outfielder of the future for the Marlins.

After these two, some bright, younger prospects to keep tabs on for 2020 and beyond are 2017 draftee Brian Miller, and 2018 draftees Connor Scott, Tristan Pompey, and expected infield-convert Osiris Johnson.

Major League Baseball is hard, you guys. It’s easy for us to see guys like Ronald Acuña Jr. and Juan Soto and Miguel Andújar come up and hit .300 out of the gate, and think “Man Lewis Brinson, why can’t you just do that.” It is so hard to do that, and even when players do do that, the league always adjusts. Baseball is a game of ups and downs. There is still so much potential in the outfield; one season is too early to give up on guys like Lewis Brinson and Magneuris Sierra.

But make no mistake; there is room for improvement, and strides have to be taken in 2019. And the pressure isn’t coming from The Brass, it’s coming from below. Guys like Brinson, Sierra, Galloway, and Dean are at a crossroads; they can be a part of the Marlins’ bright future, or they can let it pass them by. If they claim their stake in the club this year, they will play alongside guys like Monte Harrison and Victor Victor Mesa; if they don’t, they may be looking for a job somewhere else after 2019.

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