One of the few advantages of being a rebuilding team like the Marlins is it lowers the expectations for the major league roster, freeing them to experiment with a bunch of different things, situations, players, and game strategies. Your success won’t come overnight, but in the middle, you can welcome players who had “expendable” status on their previous teams. It’s extremely fulfilling when an unheralded addition overachieves.
That’s what Miami has done with several of its 26-man roster members during the rebuilding process. Let’s take a look at four of them.
Back in 2017, Cooper was far from the Marlins. He made his MLB debut with the New York Yankees, with a short 13-game stint. Looking forward, though, the Bombers didn’t see a long-term fit for him considering their crowded, talented outfield and a young man called Greg Bird who was supposed to take over at first base. When it was time to do housekeeping on their 40-man roster following the season, they sent Cooper to the Marlins along with LHP Caleb Smith in exchange for righty Mike King.
Cooper had a breakout season in 2019, slashing .281/.344/.446 across 107 games. He registered 16 doubles, 15 home runs, and 50 runs batted in. He’s slated to see plenty of action whenever the 2020 season starts, thanks in part to the acceptance of a universal DH spot.
Meanwhile, Bird was a failure in four years with the Yanks, suffering injury after injury. King arrived in the bigs last September, but it’s too soon to tell whether he will ever have a substantial role.
2. Caleb Smith
The Yankees packaged Smith with Cooper in the aforementioned trade. Having come so close to an American League pennant in 2017, they didn’t have the time to wait for the final stages of Smith’s development and had other talent in the minors that needed protection on the roster. He hadn’t been impressive in nine career regular season appearances, anyway.
Smith stepped up as the Marlins’ ace last year through the first half of the season (1.01 WHIP, 11.0 K/9, 72.0 IP). Unfortunately, his numbers took an ugly turn during the final two months of the campaign. Health permitting, he will continue to hold a regular spot in their rotation.
3. Pablo López
López is the only one of this group who had not played in the bigs at the time of his Marlins acquisition. The Venezuelan was having a tremendous minor league career before struggling in 2017. The Mariners didn’t consider him as a high-end prospect and they included along with minor leaguers Brayan Hernández, Brandon Miller, and Lukas Schiraldi in a trade for RHP David Phelps.
The righty, only 24, has two major league seasons under his belt and notched a 4.76 ERA after his first 31 starts with the Marlins. He doesn’t accept lots of home runs (1.2 HR/9 lifetime), rarely gives up walks (2.4 BB/9), and has decent strikeout numbers (7.5 K/9). With those encouraging peripherals, López seems to have what it takes to be a solid third or fourth starter.
4. Miguel Rojas
Yes! This is the guy that has become the Marlins’ new leader after Martín Prado’s departure. “Miggy Ro” began his MLB career with the Dodgers with great defensive abilities, though with a questionable bat. His struggles in the early going (.181/.242/.221 in 162 PA) made the Dodgers think that they could find a better, more offensive utility man.
Rojas has exceeded his expectations. He’s given the Marlins a new captain, a great leadership, above-average defense at shortstop, and a bat that has gotten better year by year.