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2018 Positional Preview: Middle Infielders

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From a position of security to a period of transition

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

This time last year, the speedy Dee Gordon and slick-fielding Adeiny Hechavarria formed a solid middle infield which would presumably roam the middle of the diamond for several years to come.

As we all know now, that’s not going to happen. In fact, it is very possible that one or more of the current Marlins middle infielders will not be on the team by the time the trade deadline arrives, if not sooner.

That said, let’s look at the prime candidates to man the middle for the Fish this season.

SECOND BASE

Starlin Castro, acquired from the Yankees in the Stanton trade, is the most obvious candidate to be dealt before season’s end.

So why isn’t he gone already? There’s not a huge demand among contenders for second basemen, particularly for ones that aren’t cheap. Castro is owed $10M this year and $11 next year, with a team option for the 2020 season.

But isn’t Castro worth it? Just look at the fan tribute video above. He was an All-Star reserve in 2017 (his fourth All-Star selection), he is only 27, and he has proven to be comfortable in big markets and in playoff situations. He hit .300 with 16 homers as a right-handed infielder in Yankee Stadium. So why the skepticism?

Well, Castro’s defense for one. His UZR/150 rating, a defensive metric that consolidates (per 150 chances) ratings for range, ability to turn two, and errors and compares this rating to an average player. His numbers have declined steadily over the past three years: -4.1, -7.7, and (gulp) -13.2 last season. Several Yankees fans I know will vouch for his fielding limitations.

Fortunately, hitting has been more sterling for Starlin. Over the past three seasons, Castro has averaged 16 homers and 67 RBI with a slash of .277/.310/.419. His 2017 offensive numbers were even better, buoying his 2.6 fWAR despite poor defensive numbers. Meanwhile his batting average was .300, his best since 2011, and his OPS+ of 115 was the best of his career.

Additionally, it seems that after being initially sour on his trade to Miami, he is now embracing his new home.

SHORTSTOPS

“Marlins manager Don Mattingly said Saturday that Rojas would receive the chance to compete with J.T. Riddle for the starting shortstop role during spring training, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports. “I think we look at Riddle and [Miguel] Rojas both as shortstops,” Mattingly said when asked about potential starters.” (Source: FanGraphs, 2/12/18)

JT Riddle certainly came off as a likable young man with a healthy attitude, winning smile and supportive family. You just couldn’t help but root for him, particularly after his first career home run—a walk-off shot against the Mets—which still stands as one of last season’s best moments.

During 2017, Riddle was the quintessential replacement-level MLB player. Yes, he had an fWAR of 0.0. In 228 at-bats, Riddle hit 3 homers, 20 RBIs and had a slash line of .250/.282/.355. He had solid defensive numbers, though he could best be described as developing on offense. His rookie season was cut short due to a left shoulder injury.

Riddle projects mostly as a backup infielder, as does the third middle infielder we will talk about, Miguel Rojas.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Rojas, a Venezuela native, turns 29 next month has remarkably similar defensive numbers to Riddle. His offensive stats were slightly better. He hit a career high .290, with an OBP of .361 and SLG of .375 in 2017. Having entered the big leagues in 2014, he is more seasoned offensively, but with only 1 homer and 26 RBI last season in 272 at bats, and an OPS+ of a thoroughly average 100, he looks to have a similar ceiling to Riddle. Both players are likely place-holders for Isan Diaz or another high-level infield prospect still to be determined.

There’s not a lot of juice about the Marlins middle infield for 2018. At least with the outfield, Lewis Brinson is an exciting prospect for fans to latch onto.

Perhaps one of these three players can exceed expectations, and Castro is a four-time All-Star after all. Overall, the Marlins’ middle infield can best be described as transitional. One can only guess who will be manning the middle for the Fish in 2019.