Bench roles are not the sexiest in Major League Baseball. There is a pinch-hit here, maybe a pinch-run there, mixed in with spot starts to give the real stars a rest now and again. They are also tougher than they look—bench players constantly deal with the pressure of the inevitable next top prospect call-up, having to consistently produce in order to avoid being sent back down to the minors—in some cases—for the umpteenth time.
Over the years, the Marlins have rarely sported a particularly competitive bench (1997 and 2003 being exceptions to the norm). Recently, the likes of Miguel Rojas and Derek Dietrich were impressive in a reserve role. They even played well enough to earn themselves a full-time gig. You cannot talk about all-time Marlins bench players without mentioning Ichiro, who famously hit .291 as a 42-year-old in 2016.
However, for every Rojas, Marlins fans have had to sit through sub-replacement level production from the Yadiel Riveras, JB Shucks and Magneuris Sierras of the baseball world. There have been more severe issues contributing to the franchise’s lengthy playoff drought, but don’t overlook the importance of bench depth. When the projected regulars deal with injuries and slumps, somebody must step up.
The good news is that there is an influx of talented prospects on the horizon. Miami may be able to solve the problem internally relatively soon.
As a result, both Jon Berti and Bryan Holaday might find it difficult holding onto their roster spots, which is unfortunate as they deserve all of the praise that they can get for what they have produced so far this season.
Berti has filled a super utility role for the Fish in 2019, having played all over the field when needed. He pushed his batting average above .300 last night with another multi-hit effort since returning from the IL just over a week ago.
He has been one of Miami’s best hitters and baserunners this month, forcing himself into the lineup due to his versatility. That is exactly the kind of competitiveness that you want from a bench player.
It’s a similar story for Holaday, the team's backup catcher, whose batting average of .303 is almost 100 points higher than last season, albeit over a much smaller sample size. Thrust into a more prominent role after Chad Wallach's concussion issues, Holaday is frequently getting starts behind the plate as the Marlins want to control Jorge Alfaro's innings to avoid any unnecessary wear and tear ahead of next season.
Holaday's value also lies in his defense and game management. His approach is furthering the development of the team's multiple young arms, which cannot be understated.
At 29 and 31 years old, respectively, Bryan Holaday and Jon Berti improbably rank first and second among all Marlins position players in OPS in 2019. Even though the pair may not factor into the club’s long-term plans, they are setting an example for the kind of production that should be expected from bench players from now on. Truly great teams have a next-man-up mentality, and that includes bench players as well as minor league prospects.
Miami's bench has under-performed for too long, partially to blame for the lack of wins over recent years. As the rebuild progresses, establishing competitive bench depth is as important of a hurdle to overcome as any.