Editor’s note: This is the continuation of the Fish Stripes series I debuted in April. The plan is to do NL Rookie of the Year updates for all eligible Marlins around the middle of each month. Just a coincidence that the Supreme Court decision to overturn the federal ban on sports gambling happened the same day that I was finalizing this draft. These custom odds probably differ from those being offered at real sportsbooks (seriously doubt that anybody accepts “Tayron Guerrero for NL ROY” bets, anyway).
The 2018 Marlins have 100 duck-sized horses competing against one horse-sized duck for the NL Rookie of the Year award. Well, not quite 100—entering Tuesday, they had used 12 rookie-eligible players in regular season games (MLB average: 6.6). But there should be at least a dozen more who earn a call-up from Double-A Jacksonville or Triple-A New Orleans as the year progresses, either due to injury or to fill a roster spot that opens via trade.
The duck is outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., who played in Miami this past weekend for the first time as a major leaguer. Despite a recent slump, the sport’s former No. 1 prospect is poised to build up huge counting stats by batting near the top of a deep Braves lineup. No Marlins player can compare to his special skill set.
Acuña makes for a mighty frontrunner, but with so many horses in this race, the Fish still have hope. With the right adjustments during the season, one of their own could prove to be a worthy challenger.
Since we first handicapped their odds, a hot starting pitcher has risen dramatically, while several others completely fell out of contention. In addition to the 12 who you’ve already seen in Marlins uniforms, a couple notable New Orleans prospects are included in this write-up. Here’s the full group of 14: Sandy Alcántara, Brian Anderson, Lewis Brinson, Garrett Cooper, Merandy González, Tayron Guerrero, Elieser Hernández, Braxton Lee, Chris O’Grady, Dillon Peters, Trevor Richards, Magneuris Sierra, Caleb Smith and Chad Wallach.
With three-quarters of the season remaining, I put the overall odds of a Marlins candidate receiving the award at about 20 percent.
OF Garrett Cooper, RHP Merandy González, OF Braxton Lee, LHP Chris O’Grady, RHP Dillon Peters, OF Magneuris Sierra, C Chad Wallach: 0 percent
Four of these players are dealing with various injuries, two are buried deep on the starting pitching depth chart, and the last one is Chad Wallach. Their biggest obstacle won’t be talent, but simply a lack of opportunity.
On the bright side, rookie eligibility could carry over into 2019 in a few of these cases.
RHP Tayron Guerrero, RHP Elieser Hernández: <1 percent
Not ready to give up on Guerrero or Hernández quite yet. There is some fairly recent precedent for relievers being selected as Rookie of the Year in their respective leagues: Andrew Bailey (2009, AL), Neftali Feliz (2010, AL) and Craig Kimbrel (2011, NL).
However, leverage matters and saves matter. Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) who comprise the voting body rarely give serious consideration to relievers if they aren’t closing games.
Guerrero has impressed in a setup role (2.32 FIP, 36.5 K%, 0.4 fWAR). Hernández should be able to pad his innings total in mop-up situations. That being said, both look like extreme longshots.
RHP Sandy Alcántara, RHP Trevor Richards: 1 percent each
My understanding is that Alcántara or Richards would be next in line to address an opening in the Marlins rotation. The former doesn’t have any experience at the highest level in 2018, while the latter was squeezed off the active roster when starters Wei-Yin Chen and Dan Straily returned from the disabled list.
For either of them, building a case for NL ROY would require a call-up soon and sticking around for the remainder of the summer. They need quality to compensate for the quantity of production from major league fixtures like San Diego’s Joey Lucchesi (and that’s before even worrying about what Acuña does).
Richards logged 23 2⁄3 innings before his demotion. Alcántara has the upside to make up for lost time (when he commands his fastball).
OF Lewis Brinson: 3 percent
Brinson’s glove is keeping him alive in the race. All of those highlight catches have added up to 3 Outs Above Average and 5 Defensive Runs Saved. The South Florida native continues to establish himself as a plus defensive center fielder.
But I won’t even try to sugarcoat the other aspects of his game. Brinson owned a pitiful .316 OPS at the time of the first rookie update; he has slashed .205/.256/.438 since then. That raised him to a .522 OPS overall...which is still dead last among National League qualifiers.
It would take a sustained hot streak for Brinson to get back into the award conversation.
RF/3B Brian Anderson: 6 percent
If you focused on batting average and only batting average, then you’d mistakenly think that Anderson is the same player we saw last September. Also, such a person might have trouble understanding this article, because the Marlins didn’t even exist in 1978 (buuuuuuuurn).
Dig deeper and we see Anderson emerging as a well-rounded contributor with much-improved plate discipline. He’s even running faster, according to Statcast’s Sprint Speed.
Brian Anderson MLB Stats, 2017-2018
Perhaps the biggest factor working to Anderson’s advantage? Availability. His 356 defensive innings are the most of any NL rookie. The versatility to handle corner infield and corner outfield assignments means that Don Mattingly rarely has an excuse to keep him out of the starting lineup.
The concern continues to be whether or not the soon-to-be 25-year-old will find a consistent power stroke. Chris Coghlan held off the 2009 rookie class for NL ROY honors with only nine home runs, but that was the exception, not the norm. Even accounting for the challenges of Marlins Park, Anderson must put more balls over the fence.
LHP Caleb Smith: 8 percent
I’m disagreeing with the Twitter majority on this: Caleb Smith has leapfrogged Anderson as the most legitimate Marlins NL Rookie of the Year threat.
He’s on pace to rack up more strikeouts than José Fernández did in 2013. Although Smith won’t match him in the run prevention department (Fernández had a 2.19 ERA), he has job security in the Marlins rotation during a non-competitive season. In his sixth year as a professional pitcher, the Huntsville, Texas native is not being overprotected due to workload concerns. If the team does shut him down prematurely as dictated by an innings limit, we’re talking about losing a couple weeks, not months.
Smith’s two worst performances—at the Phillies (4/5) and at the Yankees (4/16)—were affected by cold, windy conditions. He issued 11 walks in those starts compared to only eight in his other six games combined, throwing 68.7 percent of pitches for strikes. With help from Marlins Park’s retractable roof and improving weather across the United States, it’s reasonable to assume that there’s more “KKKKKaleb” than “CaleBBBB” in his future.
The surprising left-hander isn’t making Acuña sweat...yet. If the race comes down to the wire, though, head-to-head competition could be a tiebreaker.