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The “Up The Middle” Dilemma

JT Riddle and Miguel Rojas are making their cases for more playing time at shortstop.

MLB: Miami Marlins at St. Louis Cardinals Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

One of baseball’s oldest tenets is building your team strength “up the middle.” It is imperative to have strong talent at second base, shortstop, center field and catcher. The Marlins prioritized those positions in the 2018 MLB draft.

When we look at the current Fish, we see some pieces “up the middle” in Starlin Castro, Lewis Brinson, and J.T. Realmuto (for now). One position that’s in flux is short and this is no little deal. Let’s look at the organization positionally at SS:

Potential MLB Shortstops in Marlins Farm System

Level Players
Level Players
Triple-A Cito Culver, Chris Diaz, Peter Mooney
Double-A Mason Davis, Luis Pintor
High-A Joe Dunand
Low-A Jose Devers, Marcos Rivera
Short Season A Chris Torres
Rookie Leagues Dalvy Rosario

Examining the group listed above, we can clearly see a lack of high-potential talents. Only three of these prospects crack the organization’s top 30, according to MLB Pipeline. This, my friends, is a pool of mediocrity.

Some key notes to be cognizant of:

  1. None of those Triple-A shortstops have ever slugged .400 in extended at-bats.
  2. The Double-A shortstops have a combined .130 batting average.
  3. Joe Dunand is showing moderate plate discipline and solid pop, but because of his lack of dominance, he will take a considerable amount of time to develop. He is also 22, so some real growth will have to occur moving forward this season if he wants to show that he has the chops to be the answer at short.
  4. Jose Devers shows a very handsy swing, which leads me to believe in limited power potential. His lower half doesn’t look like it is very much in sync and that can be rectified. He has the actions to play short serviceably.

Those younger options will try to unseat Miguel Rojas and JT Riddle. They have each seen considerable time at shortstop this season, producing at a very similar level.

Does either one represent the Marlins’ future at this critical position? Let’s delve into their skills some.


Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

First is his age. He is already 29—future and 29 don’t really go well together. Even so, Miguel has shown some nice things this season.

His strike zone management has been strong and he has 7 home runs. In the field, Rojas only has one error in 48 games. He does have limited range and mobility, though, so he is more a safe defender than a true play-making, run-saving monster in the field.

That being said, Rojas looks like that evil M word: MEDIOCRE. In the midst of a brutal slump, he’s batting .233/.300/.356 this season, not far off his career averages. Hey, but that’s where we are in the rebuild.


Working in his favor, JT Riddle is only 26. That has more of that “future” ring to it, doesn’t it? And then we look at the numbers...

Riddle is showing really poor plate discipline. I mean really poor. Entering Saturday’s game, he had struck out 14 times in 42 at-bats. That’s compared to only one walk.

Funny thing is his minor league stats show a different guy. Riddle was a much more respectable player in the area of plate discipline. Never did he reach 100 K’s in a year. That helped him maintain a .278 career average, including .310 at Triple-A. Translate that to the majors and he’d be something special.

While viewing Riddle’s numbers at Brooks Baseball, he is hitting the fastball and the slider well (albeit in extremely limited at-bats). He is struggling with the change and the curve, pitches that generally aren’t thrown as frequently (again, small sample size).

Combine Riddle’s youth with a tendency to hit produce against common pitches, you have a solid shortstop option for the time being. More importantly, there’s potential for him to ascend above mediocrity. On-the-job learning could make him even better than he’s shown.

Our Conclusion

After assessing the shortstop situation, Riddle is a worthwhile endeavor as he shows the makings and makeup of a guy who could make himself a solid regular. He screams Jordy Mercer and Mercer is one consistent dude. Consistent and reliable is a necessary and welcome asset at this point in a rebuild.

Like I said earlier, mediocrity will not get it done! Championships are won with strong talent up the middle.

But, for now, our dilemma is solved: Riddle over Rojas. For now...