Since the first installment of our Spring Training updates, the Marlins have removed 20 players from Opening Day roster consideration and started allocating more playing time to those who can seriously impact the major league club this season. We are beginning to get a clearer picture of who will be in Marlins Park on March 28, but several position battles rage on.
When regular season track record, scouting evaluations and service time factors aren’t enough to establish a pecking order, the Marlins may use spring stats as a tiebreaker.
Our first review included OF Lewis Brinson, 3B Brian Anderson, RHP Pablo López and RHP Sandy Alcántara. All have remained on a positive trajectory, with three of the four being featured in Baseball America’s article on players who have been opening eyes in camp (subscription required and recommended).
Rather than updating their progress, we take a look at additional players who may not be receiving the same love, but likely should be.
SS Miguel Rojas (.462/.481/.500, 0 HR, 1 BB, 1 K in 26 AB)
The Marlins position battle at shortstop has been well documented this offseason. Currently, Rojas has done everything possible to make himself the favorite. Consistent defensive ability, a powerful arm, and surprisingly strong slash line has opened eyes around Jupiter and the rest of South Florida.
Not only has the veteran been getting on base, but he has also come through with runners in scoring position (4 RBI). His high batting average on balls in play (.480 BABIP) exaggerates the production. That being said, give Rojas credit for his ability to make contact and force the action.
Fellow shortstop JT Riddle will make the competition tough, but Rojas has clearly produced the better spring thus far.
OF/1B Garrett Cooper (.393/.452/.536, 0 HR, 3 BB, 5 K in 28 AB)
The 2018 Opening Day right fielder, Cooper has struggled with staying healthy, but his ceiling as a middle-of-the-order bat is still intact. Scouts grade his hit/power tool combo as a 50/55+, with some going as high as 60.
Accruing four extra-base hits along with 15 total bases this spring, the 28-year-old is doing his best to convince the organization that he can be a late-bloomer at the major league level. His experience at both first base and outfield should help his case, as the Marlins have consistently stated the importance of versatility to their roster.
Cooper continues to be on the outside looking in at the projected 25-man active roster, but it would assuredly not be due to performance. He has two minor league options remaining. Also, the Fish seem determined to find out what they have in local kid Peter O’Brien, who produced well in real games last September.
SP Trevor Richards (2.70 ERA, 4 BB, 14 K, 0.90 WHIP in 13.1 IP)
Joining Sandy Alcántara and Pablo López from our first column, Richards is adding to the theory that Miami’s pitching will likely be better than expected...much better.
Already known for flashing one of the best changeups in all of baseball, Richards added some more weapons to his repertoire. He came into spring with a new cutter and curveball, looking to keep hitters guessing away from his fastball/change combo. Look back on any of his starts, and you immediately know that the changes—pun intended—have yielded success.
Easily overlooked because of his below-average low 90s fastball velocity, and forced to take a detour through the independent Frontier League after being undrafted out of Drury University, Richards is accustomed to beating the odds. But at this point, he has earned the benefit of the doubt—if you put his spring production under the name of any top prospect, few would be able to tell the difference.
Look for Richards to break camp in the starting staff, and for hitters to continue whiffing at that magical change; now with the help of some other secondary offerings.
Honorable Mention: C Bryan Holaday, OF Austin Dean, RP Tayron Guerrero, SP Caleb Smith*
The Marlins enter Friday two-thirds of the way through their Grapefruit League schedule, and many of the same position battles that existed on a month ago still remain. Many of the young pitchers have been better than advertised. Multiple candidates at short and the corner outfield spots continue to make the case that they belong in the big leagues on March 28.
Which players do you think deserve more recognition? And what does your current Opening Day roster prediction look like?
See you in the comments section!