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2020 Marlins Season Preview: Lewis Brinson

After two seasons below the Mendoza line, can the former top prospect turn it around?

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

The annual tradition has returned. Leading up to Opening Day, Fish Stripes will be previewing the 2020 Marlins season, one player at a time. Find every article of the series here.

Where Did He Come From? Brinson was the main prize in the Christian Yelich deal with the Brewers in January of 2018. Monte Harrison, Isan Diaz and Jordan Yamamoto also joined the Marlins as part of the trade.

2019 Performance

Majors: .173/.236/.221 | 10 XBH | 25 wRC+ | 24 OPS+ | .205 wOBA | 75 games

Triple-A: .270/.361/.510 | 35 XBH | 110 wRC+ | .368 wOBA | 81 games

After coming over as the highest-rated piece in the Yelich trade, Brinson was slated to be the next face of the franchise. Unfortunately, he batted .199 with 11 home runs over 409 plate appearances in 2018. Patience was preached with the young prospect. The Fort Lauderdale native proceeded to restore some faith the following Spring Training, launching five homers, but he still struck out in 18 of 54 PA.

Brinson started 2019 as the Marlins’ Opening Day leadoff hitter but played his way out of a job and back to the minors by the end of April. He batted .197 with no home runs in 82 plate appearances before heading to New Orleans, where he would spend the next three-plus months.

While with the Baby Cakes, the product of Coral Springs High School would show he had nothing left to prove at Triple-A, swatting 16 long balls while also stealing 16 bases in 81 games. That didn’t mean he didn’t still have room to improve, however, as he continued to strike out in over 29 percent of his at-bats.

The 25-year-old would be recalled to the big leagues on Aug. 5 and was even worse than in April, batting just .160 across 48 games and 150 at-bats. He never hit a home run (although he came close). Add it all up, and Brinson was the worst hitter in baseball last season (and legitimately has been since he entered the league), as FanGraphs’ Paul Sporer points out.

Off the field

Given his struggles on the diamond, it’s not too surprising that Brinson elected to stay off social media for most of this offseason so he could reset. Unfortunately, that leaves us largely in the dark as to what he’s been up to this winter.

The 2012 first-round pick surfaced briefly as winner of this year’s Don’t Blink Home Run Derby in Paradise, with several current, former, and future major-league players in early January. He also made a cameo at the Super Bowl, mostly in the background of Miguel Rojas interviewing Chiefs players leading up to the game.

We also learned that Brinson is changing his number from 9 to 25. He had worn the former number as a tribute to Juan Pierre, one of his boyhood idols, but surely he believes the change will help him create a new identity at the plate.

Now that Spring Training has started, hopefully he’ll be more active heading into the season. If you’d like to follow him, he’s @lewisbrins on Instagram and @LewisBrinson on Twitter.

2020 Expectations

First, Brinson has to win the center field job. Considering that he’s a lifetime .310 hitter with 10 home runs in 177 Spring Training at-bats, there is a good chance he will do enough to get it. The Marlins have so much invested in him, it makes sense that he should get at least another shot.

If he struggles in the spring or in April, Monte Harrison, Jon Berti or possibly even Magneuris Sierra will be waiting in the wings. Harrison is the Marlins’ no. 5 prospect according to MLB Pipeline and hit nine home runs while swiping 20 bags in 56 games at New Orleans last season. He should begin at AAA again in 2020 but could clamor for a call-up with a hot start to the season, especially if Brinson isn’t performing.

Berti scored 52 runs and stole 17 bases in 73 games for the Marlins last season as super-utility man and is ticketed for a similar role this year. Sierra also performed well in a 15-game sample with the Fish. If either continues to produce while Brinson does not, one of them could find his way into an every day job.

To hold on to the gig, Brinson will need to continue to make adjustments. He has always had groundball tendencies, and while he did raise his launch angle from 6.9 to nine percent in 2019, that was still well below league average. And he continued to hit virtually half of his batted balls on the ground. He’ll need to keep lifting the ball in March, April, and beyond.

Brinson’s pitch recognition will also need to improve. He only hit .080 on breaking pitches last season and .179 on the off-speed variety at the major-league level last year.

If we see improvement in those areas during in camp and into the season, be on the lookout for a breakout and a new local hero. If things stay the same, I don’t think Brinson gets much more slack than he did in 2019, so even a 35-game projection might be a stretch. There is a lot more competition this time around.

2020 Steamer projection: .217/.276/.372, wRC+ 62, -0.3 fWAR, 94 games