If Opening Day is the equivalent of receiving gifts during the holidays, then the beginning of Spring Training is the first time you hear holiday music played on the radio. The crack of the catcher’s mitt, the sound of the ball coming off the bat...it is a sweet melody to any baseball-lovers’ ears. For individuals like myself, it is the best time of the year.
At Fish Stripes, Spring Training also means we begin looking forward to the upcoming season. Most—not all!—of the key transactions have already been completed. How will the Marlins front office and coaching staff use all their talent in 2019?
The following article will fast-forward to Opening Day, predicting who will comprise the 25-man roster and what their roles will be.
Going position by position, there are several “sure things” heading into spring, and some wild card players, including a few who may not even be in the Marlins organization as we speak. They all share a common goal: hearing their names called in front of the Opening Day crowd.
Catcher—Jorge Alfaro and Chad Wallach (2)
The Marlins have two catchers on the 40-man roster, and those two will almost assuredly be the catchers announced over the loud speaker on Opening Day.
The Starter: Jorge Alfaro, recently acquired in the J.T. Realmuto haul, gets the starting assignment for the Miami Marlins on March 28, and on many season openers to follow. Alfaro has a cannon for an arm, and when he makes contact, the ball fires like a cannon ball from his bat. Alfaro owned the highest average exit velocity of any catcher in 2018. Furthermore, even outside of the catching position, he was ahead of the likes of Mike Trout, Manny Machado, and more impressive company.
Marlins C Jorge Alfaro owns the hardest average Exit Velocity of any catcher in the game. He also hit the 14th hardest ball in 2018— Danny (@all_right_Miami) February 10, 2019
Players (not just C) that trail Alfaro in average exit velo:
With that being said, Alfaro needs to bring his K% to below 30% if he ever wants to reach his massive ceiling.
The Backup: Chad Wallach is a defensive-minded catcher, who is known for calling an excellent game and being a backstop that young pitchers are comfortable pitching to. The perfect complement to Alfaro.
First Base—Peter O’Brien and Neil Walker (2)
The Starter: The answer here is not as linear as the backstop position. While it remains possible that Peter O’Brien excels in Spring Training and places his clamps on the starting job, the more likely outcome is that Don Mattingly uses a true platoon at first base.
The reasoning here is relatively simple: O’Brien has an impressive career slash against LHP (.270/.341/.730) and Walker shares the same level of success—albeit with less power—against RHP (.271/.344/.450). If both players continue with their career splits, then the Marlins first base position may produce one of its more productive seasons over the last decade.
The Backup: The Marlins have a myriad of options to play first on days where Walker or O’Brien are either off or playing other positions. Some of these include Garrett Cooper, Miguel Rojas, Martín Prado, and others. Deven Marrero, a non-roster invitee who is known for his defensive versatility, may also get a look at first during spring camp.
Update: Reports indicate that the Marlins are looking to utilize Peter O’Brien in the Outfield, which leaves First Base as a platoon situation for Neil Walker and Martin Prado.
Second Base—Starlin Castro (1)
The Starter: No surprises here! Barring an injury or trade of Castro, he will man the 4-hole against the Rockies. Castro posted a 3.3 WAR for the 2018 Marlins, and in a lineup which should present more of a challenge to pitchers this year, the expectations for him are similar in 2019. A candidate to be dealt midseason, particularly if the highly touted Isan Díaz continues on his current trajectory, Castro is a valuable placeholder in the meantime.
The Backup: The Marlins have added two veteran pieces that will likely man second base while Castro is off. Though new to the franchise, both Neil Walker and Rosell Herrera are experienced at the position, and should fill in fine for Starlin the Marlin. Others that could transition to second are JT Riddle, Rojas and Prado.
Shortstop—JT Riddle and Miguel Rojas (2)
The Starter: As president of baseball operations Michael Hill has acknowledged multiple times this offseason, shortstop is a true competition. Both Riddle and Rojas have shown glimpses of being able to hold down the fort, but they lack the offensive consistency to firmly seize the position for themselves. Ironically, it is Rojas’ extra trait of versatility that may work against him earning the Opening Day nod. Mattingly may determine that his most valuable role on the team is as a super-utility player. As for Riddle, who’s more specialized at short, he showed an increase in his power production in 2018, a trend that Miami would like to see continue.
The Backup: The “loser” of the Spring Training battle still makes the roster as the backup.
However, I’ll add the first of two wrinkles: who is to say that Starlin Castro cannot be thrown into the mix at SS? Castro has logged 844 career games at short, and if he comes into Spring Training in good physical shape, it remains possible he could get a look. It’s a creative way to get one of their most dependable bats into the lineup. With that being said, I highly doubt the Marlins go this route.
The second wrinkle is one I would personally pursue. Watch out for the potentially valuable free agent signing of José Iglesias. The Marlins could utilize the 2019 payroll saved in the Realmuto trade to bring in a quality veteran.
Third Base—Brian Anderson and Martín Prado (2)
The Starter: The biggest on-field news from FanFest was Mattingly’s statement regarding Brian Anderson—the Marlins manager clarified that he views “Andy” as a third baseman moving forward. Although Anderson was more than respectable in right field (91 games there last season), the organization—correctly—views him as the future at third base. Anderson was considered a National League Rookie of the Year finalist for a reason. He posted a 4-win (WAR) season, demonstrating more consistent on-base skills than anybody else returning from the 2018 roster.
The Backup: You can do significantly worse as a backup than the veteran Martín Prado. Unfortunately, injuries will remain a concern. At FanFest, Prado couldn’t offer any assurances that he’d be ready for Opening Day. Look for Rojas, Herrera, and Walker to be tertiary options at third base this upcoming season.
Outfield—Lewis Brinson, Curtis Granderson, Garrett Cooper, and Rosell Herrera (4)
Don Mattingly says there is no set starters in the outfield going into Spring Training #Marlins— Ian Smith (@FlaSmitty) February 9, 2019
The Starters: I’ll begin by stating that this will be the position battle to watch during Spring Training. There is a logjam developing in the outfield, with all positions up for grabs. From left the right, my prediction is an Opening Day outfield of Curtis Granderson, Lewis Brinson, and Garrett Cooper.
The Backup: Newly acquired Rosell Herrera seems to be the forgotten signing of this offseason. Yet, I believe the primary reason he solidifies a spot on the active roster is his versatility, an element of his game that is considered highly valuable for a “building” team such as the Marlins. Herrera has logged career games at every position except catcher, first base, and shortstop. Briefly put, he can play everywhere. We saw how loyal Mattingly was to Yadiel Rivera last season, and Herrera figures to be an upgrade over him.
Tee up your opinions in the comments section—I know how controversial this outfield selection can be. In selecting these four players, it would mean that the Marlins are passing on Austin Dean (personal favorite of mine), Magneuris Sierra, and non-roster invitees Harold Ramírez and Gabriel Guerrero.
Similar to my wrinkle regarding Jose Iglesias and the shortstop position, the Marlins could mix up this competition by looking to bring in free agent Adam Jones. In the same mold of Walker and Granderson, the ex-Oriole would bring immediate off-the-field leadership combined with able-ability on the diamond.
Update: The Marlins have indicated that Peter O’Brien is a likely candidate for the Right Field position. Keeping his bat in the lineup seems to be a priority for Mattingly, and by playing him at right, it allows for a full platoon of Neil Walker and Martin Prado to occur at First Base.
Starting Pitching—José Ureña, Dan Straily, Sandy Alcántara, Pablo López, Caleb Smith, and Trevor Richards (6)
Similar to the outfield position; there seems to be a predicament for innings on the mound. The Marlins find themselves in an unusual position where there are too many major league-caliber pitchers when everybody is healthy. Furthermore, they have the difficult decision of how to balance their rotation of veterans and young pitchers.
Do they make a move to unload some of the veteran rotation pieces, allotting for more youth development? Do they delay the major league growth of players such as Smith, Alcántara, López, and Richards even though they have nothing left to prove at Triple-A? Or is there another option that is not yet obvious?
For the moment, I have kept the staff at six, while moving Wei-Yin Chen to the bullpen. The five-man rotation will be decided via health or a trade from one of the vets up at the top, with Straily being the most likely of the two to be moved (some teams may still view him as a positive asset).
In the Waiting: There are a good amount of prospects who I have pegged as 2019 ETAs, capable of earning their first career call-ups throughout the season. Nick Neidert, Zac Gallen, Jordan Yamamoto, Robert Dugger and others are hungry for the opportunity.
Hialeah native Gio González is one particular free agent who I would inquire about. This would require some additional creativity from the Fish in terms of distributing innings, but González is a prime “deadline flip” candidate, who would also bring a nice flavor of local talent to Marlins Park.
Bullpen—Drew Steckenrider (CL), Adam Conley, Riley Ferrell, Julian Fernández (DL), Wei-Yin Chen, Jarlin García, Tayron Guerrero, and Free Agent Veteran (7)
The Marlins bullpen situation is rather volatile. On one end, you can look at the group above and see the high upside arms (Steckenrider, Conley, Ferrell, Fernández). That being said, the group is inexperienced as a whole, and carries significant risk of not realizing the projected upside.
The bullpen would benefit from a veteran signing—or two—and is something I envision occurring prior to pitchers and catchers reporting. Some names that would peak my interest: Bud Norris, Tony Sipp, and Jake Diekman.
Update: The Marlins have fulfilled “Free Agent Veteran” by signing RP Sergio Romo on 2/12/2019. Still be on the lookout for the Marlins to bring in another veteran bullpen piece for Spring Training.
Predicted Opening Day 25-Man Roster
*Straily is a wild card. I can’t see him being on the roster and not in the rotation, so I’m slightly cheating here with a six-man rotation. In this scenario I consider him the alternate for a young starter that may struggle with regression or injury in Spring Training. Julian Fernandez likely starts on the injured list—previously known as disabled list—with Tayron Guerrero moving into his spot.
Let me know what your 25-man roster looks like on Opening Day, and how you would organize the Marlins lineup and pitching staff. As always: I’ll see you in the comments section!