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Biggest winners of Marlins Spring Training

Strong performances in exhibition games and hard work behind the scenes paid off.

MLB: Spring Training-Miami Marlins at Washington Nationals Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Marlins just concluded perhaps their most exciting Spring Training in several years. Seeing the progression of familiar faces and getting the first taste of new acquisitions—not to mention an 11-game winning streak—has fans hopeful about a bright future.

These three players in particular came to Jupiter prepared and exceeded the organization’s expectations.

Zac Gallen

Zac Gallen couldn’t have pulled a more extreme 180 from Spring Training 2018 to Spring Training 2019. After coming over from St. Louis in the Marcell Ozuna trade, he was one of the first players cut from major league camp last year. Gallen allowed 18 earned runs in 4 13 innings for an alarming 37.38 ERA.

After a solid year in AAA, Gallen was again invited to ST this year. Baseball America describes a control artist limited by low 90s fastball velocity, maxing out at 94 miles per hour.

But on multiple occasions this spring, Gallen threw pitches at 96 MPH and 97 MPH. In four games (one start), his final line was excellent: 9 IP, 3 ER, 12 K, 1 BB.

Although he didn’t make the Opening Day roster, president of baseball operations Mike Hill came away from the Grapefruit League expecting a contribution from him in the near future:

Garrett Cooper

With the way Garrett Cooper had been playing this spring, you wouldn’t have believed that he had missed the previous 8 12 months. Cooper was the starting right fielder on Opening Day 2018, but only lasted four games before suffering a wrist injury on a HBP against the Chicago Cubs. He returned on July 6, only to re-aggravate it while diving for a ball.

In 14 games and 38 plate appearances in 2018, he slashed .212/.316/.242.

His job was in no way guaranteed coming into spring. As recently as last weekend, he was directly competing with Peter O’Brien for a right-handed bat/corner outfield spot.

O’Brien, a South Florida native who excelled as a September call-up, always had the inside track, but Cooper simply outplayed him. The 28-year-old slashed .395/.438/.488 in 43 at-bats this spring.

With O’Brien being optioned to Triple-A New Orleans on Saturday, Cooper has (unofficially) climbed the mountain.

Simply being able to be back with his teammates was a huge milestone for him.

“You put on the uniform, you compete everyday...and hopefully I showed [the coaching staff] that I’m back and ready to go. I’ve fought through a long road to get back here. It’s definitely gratifying to move forward and be in the position I’m in.”

Not for nothing, but Cooper was also the champion of the MLB side of the 2019 Marlins Ping Pong Tournament (before being upset by minor league champ Braxton Garrett).

Caleb Smith

Caleb Smith was another player returning from a season-ending injury. After an impressive April and May in 2018, Smith went down in late June against the Colorado Rockies with a Grade 3 lat strain.

The Marlins eased him back into the mix in simulated games, seemingly on his own timeline without any concern about Opening Day availability.

Once released into the public’s view on March 13, Smith looked just as good—if not better—than last year. In his first inning back, he struck out the side on 12 pitches, utilizing his changeup, curveball, and fastball on those Ks. His fastball averaged 94 MPH and peaked at 95. Through his first nine innings of spring (two appearances), Smith allowed only one run and had 16 Ks. Legitimate dominance.

With seven initial candidates vying for the rotation, there were rumors that Dr. K would be the odd man out. But the Marlins ultimately displaced veterans Wei-Yin Chen (bullpen) and Dan Straily (released) to clear the runway and find out what Smith is capable of at the highest level.