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Year of the Rookie: Predicting 2020 Marlins debuts

With numerous talented prospects now at the top levels of the minors, just how many MLB debuts could we see for Miami in 2020?

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In 2019, the second year of a full-scale rebuild, the Miami Marlins gave ten players their major league debuts. Five of them—Isan Díaz, Robert Dugger, Zac Gallen, José Quijada, and Jordan Yamamoto—were regarded as Top 30 Marlins prospects by MLB Pipeline. With another year of growth for the farm system in the books, the bulk of Miami's most talented prospects now project to start the season at Triple-A or Double-A, meaning that plenty more debuts are penciled in for 2020. FanGraphs recently updated their Top 40 Marlins prospects list, and listed 13 players (including Dugger) with an ETA of 2020.

Potential injuries or performance setbacks aside, how accurate is their forecast?

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Four of Miami's top six prospects are projected to debut. Right-handers Sixto Sánchez and Edward Cabrera, and outfielders Jesús Sánchez and Monte Harrison are all on the 40-man roster and are scheduled to begin the year at Triple-A Wichita. That means any of these four could effectively debut at any time, although the front office will most likely be more conservative with Sixto Sánchez and Cabrera given that they have yet to pitch above Double-A. Jesus Sánchez and Harrison could force themselves into the MLB picture well before the All-Star break if they get off to hot starts and the revamped Marlins offense is not performing as well as envisioned.

Nick Neidert (FanGraphs #11 Marlins prospect) will be joining the quartet above in Triple-A after Spring Training unless he wins a starting rotation job in Miami and makes the Opening Day roster. Given his injury plagued 2019, that may be unlikely as the organization is trying to protect all of their young arms, but Neidert is the most polished pitcher in the system. He should be the first man called upon should there be any injuries to the likes of Sandy Alcántara, Caleb Smith, or Pablo López.

At #16 is Jorge Guzman, who is still expected to be run-out as a starter when he makes it to Triple-A for the first time in 2020. Guzman had his best season yet in 2019, but his continued struggles after the fourth inning suggest a relief role in the future. The bullpen figures to be an area of weakness for the Fish, so Guzman's promising skill set will likely be utilized in high-leverage situations down the stretch this season.

Salt River Rafters v. Surprise Saguaros
Alex Vesia had nine scoreless appearances in the 2019 AFL.
Photo by Buck Davidson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Jordan Holloway is a similar case to Guzman, and while he has not pitched above High-A, his electric arm and 40-man roster spot could lead to a call-up when rosters expand in September. Not on the 40-man but showing promising signs of becoming a dominant closer in the future, Alex Vesia could definitely play his way into an MLB debut in 2020 if he pitchers to a sub-2.00 ERA with a 13.5 K/9 again during the regular season. If trade deadline deals leave bullpen and roster spots open, Vesia will likely be near the front of the queue to fill one.

Right-hander Sterling Sharp is a virtual lock—the Rule 5 Draft pick has to stay on the active roster or must be offered back to the Nationals. Meanwhile, outfielders Brian Miller and Víctor Víctor Mesa don’t have clear paths. Miller has been an average contributor at Double-A for the past two seasons, and the elder Mesa brother did not adapt well at all to the minor leagues in his first season after signing that lucrative international free agent contract.

Last of the FanGraphs projected debut candidates is Humberto Mejia, a standout starter at Low-A Clinton last season. Having recently been granted a 40-man roster spot makes a call-up the more likely, but like Guzman and Holloway, Mejia's skills project a future bullpen role, which could perhaps come in September.

Other than Miller and Mesa—and the strange absence of promising first baseman Lewin Díaz—FanGraphs seems to have the nail on the head with these 2020 MLB debut projections. Unless injuries play a huge role in minor league development, this season will be a year of new faces for the Marlins as the rebuild kicks into the next gear. There will be a fair share of growing pains, but that is to be expected for such a young team.

Regardless, with the winter additions at the MLB level and the state of the farm system, the Marlins are in better shape than this time last year. That will be reflected in the standings once the season comes to an end. The cavalry is arriving.