The Marlins have been active this offseason following the second-worst season in franchise history. The Marlins won just 57 games in 2019, the lowest total since 1998 when the Fish were only victorious 54 times.
The Marlins moves were more understated, drowned out by other teams’ multi-hundred million dollar signings and big-name trades. While the Marlins did not bring in an MVP candidate, they added a couple former All-Stars in Corey Dickerson and Jesús Aguilar as well as Jonathan Villar, who was the most productive of them all in 2019 (4 WAR). Dickerson and Villar have been consistently solid the last several seasons. Aguilar is a bit of a differently story—he enjoyed his coming out party in 2018 when he hit 35 home runs and an .890 for the Brewers, then came back down to earth in 2019 posting a .714 OPS and leaving the yard just 12 times. The Marlins higher-ups have reiterated their confidence that Aguilar will rebound in 2020 and hold down the first base position, but should he struggle, the team has more options and depth than previous seasons.
Garret Cooper, who will likely see time in the outfield and first base could see additional time in the infield if Aguilar’s struggles continue. Lewin Díaz, who was just rated MLB’s 6th-best first base prospect, will likely make is big league debut this season and could make a push for regular at-bats at first as well.
These are refreshing upgrades after watching the team rotate Cooper, Neil Walker, Martin Prado and Austin Dean in the spot last year.
The Marlins outfield is undergoing the most dramatic upgrade from 2019 to 2020. Dickerson will slide in seamlessly, contributing more offensively than any of the pre-existing outfielders could. Villar, coveted for his defensively versatility, could end up in the infield, but has the ability to play all three outfield positions as well. Cooper should get frequent reps in the outfield corners when Aguilar is occupying first, and Brian Anderson can serve as the right fielder if Villar or somebody else is handling third base. The Marlins will also have Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison as outfield options.
Consider that in 2019, the Marlins had 14 different players make starts in the outfield. Among them—Cesar Puello, JT Riddle, Rosell Herrera and Peter O’Brien, none of whom are with the organization anymore.
As for the infield, the improvement may not be as dramatic, but there are more formidable options at every spot should a starter struggle. Garrett Cooper or Lewin Díaz sliding in if Aguilar’s struggles continue is one example. Perhaps reigning Marlins Minor League Player of the Year Isan Díaz does not settle in next season as hoped. Then, Villar can slide over to second with Anderson replacing him at third. That of course would open up a spot in the outfield which would give Brinson, Harrison or Jesús Sánchez a crack.
I could continue all day going over every possible permutation. They would all have one thing in common: the replacement option will be better than a majority of the 14 outfielders we saw walk through the revolving door that was the Marlins outfield last year.
Miguel Rojas is coming off of a career best season and earned himself a two-year, $10.25 million contract extension. He will obviously slide in at shortstop and look to build on his strong 2019 campaign. Top prospect Jazz Chisholm is knocking on the door of the big leagues and could make his debut in 2020 as well, especially if Rojas goes down with an injury. Chisholm, while polarizing, has the potential to be a perennial All-Star.
As for the pitching, that is where the Marlins can make big gains. Sandy Alcantara looked like he figured things out last season, representing the Marlins in the All-Star Game, tossing a pair of shutouts and eating nearly 200 innings. While the strikeout numbers left a little to be desired (18 K%), Alcantara made up for it by inducing weak contact early in counts. A good recipe for going deep into games.
Caleb Smith is another arm returning to the Marlins rotation. Smith was dazzling in the first half, pitching to a 3.50 ERA and punching out 88 batters in 72 innings. The southpaw hit a brick wall in the second half, struggling to keep the ball in the yard and seeing his swing-and-miss stuff diminish. Smith led the league with 33 home runs allowed, despite playing in a pitcher-friendly park.
With the teams of the NL East loading up their lineups with power and the fences moving in at Marlins Park, keeping the ball in the yard will be a big focus for Smith in 2020. Should Smith be able to recapture his first-half performance, the Marlins will have a nice one-two punch at the top of the rotation.
Right hander Pablo López is expected to be ready for the season after battling some shoulder trouble in 2019. He has flashed good stuff and better command, but has only pitched 170 innings since 2018. His 4.28 FIP indicates that Lopez was the victim of some bad luck.
Every time López builds some momentum and puts together solid starts, it seems he goes down with another injury. It is easy to forget López is only 23 years old because of his maturity on and off the field, but he still has plenty of room to grow. The Marlins are hopeful about him emerging as the productive, middle-of-the-rotation arm many believe he can be in 2020.
The rest of Miami’s rotation could shake out several different ways. Jordan Yamamoto and Elieser Hernandez will likely begin the season with starting jobs. The pair have each dominated the minor leagues and shown some flashes in the Majors, but also have been knocked around at times at the highest level.
Should Yamamoto or Hernandez not meet expectations or another arm in the rotation goes down with an injury, the Marlins can go to the minors for some promising, polished arms. Top prospect Sixto Sánchez is expected to make his much-anticipated debut in 2020. Sanchez has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation arm and franchise centerpiece. The electrifying right-hander boasts a rare combination of elite stuff and command that translates well to the next level whenever the Marlins decide to unleash him.
An underrated option for the Fish in 2020 who could even have a chance to crack the Opening Day Roster is Nick Neidert. Neidert was tabbed the California League Pitcher of the Year in 2017, then was even better in Double-A earning Marlins Organizational Pitcher of the Year in 2018.
Neidert’s raw stuff does not compare to Sixto’s, but he has top-notch command to make up for it. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but plays faster thanks to his plus changeup. The right hander missed most of 2019 due to a knee injury, but was dominant in the Arizona Fall League, pitching to a 1.25 ERA across five starts.
Caesars Sportsbook set their over/under for the Marlins’ win total at 63.5. Based on the aforementioned improvements to the starting lineup and dramatic increase in depth, it seems like Vegas might be underselling the Marlins a bit.
It would be nothing short of shocking if the Marlins do not improve in 2020, but one thing is almost certain: they will not start 14 different outfielders next season. That is a sign of a core solidifying.