The Marlins will sport one of the most fluid lineups in all of baseball in 2020, with the likes of Jonathan Villar, Jon Berti, Miguel Rojas, Brian Anderson, and Garrett Cooper all capable of playing different positions on any given night. That level of versatility should allow Miami to start competitive lineups on a regular basis—injuries aside—and reduce the number of sub-replacement-level player appearances compared to recent years. However, it’s still unclear how the team will address center field. As many as five candidates have a chance of winning the job in Spring Training. President of baseball operations Mike Hill identified them as Lewis Brinson, Magneuris Sierra, Monte Harrison, Berti, and Villar in his latest media availability.
Let’s quickly analyze the situation (subject to change pending any potential breakout performances in Spring Training).
Monte Harrison is simply not quite ready. Miami's number five prospect was a likely September call-up last season before he went down with injury, robbing him of what would have been an important learning experience. In fact, various ailments derailed most of what was an otherwise impressive 2019 for the 24-year-old. Upon reaching Triple-A for the first time, Harrison hit .274 over 56 games, adding nine homers and 20 stolen bases. He also lowered his strikeout rate to 29.9% after striking out more than anyone else in the minors in 2018. Expect the toolsy Harrison to make his MLB debut early in the season, but starting on Opening Day is probably too much to ask.
Jon Berti and Jonathan Villar are both dynamic and effective utility players and could plug a hole in center field at the drop of a hat. But if we're talking full-time starter, then the pair are better suited to the infield. Villar looks set to primarily split time between third base and shortstop with Miguel Rojas, while Berti will backup both positions and more.
Now we come to Lewis Brinson, who—let’s be honest—is the odds-on favorite to get the job unless he has a disaster at the plate in spring ball. Despite slashing .173/.236/.221 in 2019 and actually regressing from his painful rookie season, plus an unspectacular showing during his mid-season demotion to Triple-A, the Marlins are intent on giving the former top prospect one last chance to prove himself this season.
Barring a complete and obvious turnaround by Brinson in Jupiter, the Marlins should go with their head and give the opportunity to Magneuris Sierra.
In his only long exposure to the big leagues in 2018, the young Dominican failed to impress at the plate with a .190 batting average over 156 plate appearances. Fast-forward to last September, though, and Sierra hit .350 over 15 games before a hamstring injury ended his season prematurely. While that is too small of a sample size to say that he has figured out big league pitching, we do know that Sierra brings blazing speed and decent fielding to the table.
The Marlins have cycled thru 649 center fielders this season. Sierra has been their best defender out there. Makes it look easy. pic.twitter.com/l0vJD8vNuy— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) September 22, 2019
For a team that lacks power hitters, baserunning will be key to scoring runs in 2020. After swiping only 55 bags last season, the Marlins are in better shape with the addition of the speedy Villar. If Sierra also becomes a fixture at the top of the lineup, they could have a chance to run riot and causes problems for opposing pitchers. Sierra is only 8-for-15 in steal attempts in the majors, but a greater emphasis team-wide on coaching that aspect of the game should lead to better results. He is too fast to not be a good base-stealer.
In all honesty, the battle to start in center field is wide open heading into Spring Training as there is no standout option on the roster. In time, Monte Harrison has the potential to become the complete package. For now, Magneuris Sierra is the best fit in terms of how the Marlins are looking to generate offense in 2020.
Who do you think will lead the 2020 Marlins in games started in center field?
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