In a non-pandemic world, we’d be running through the third month of the regular season. But we do live in the same world that has been hit hard by COVID-19. Because of that and unproductive negotiations between baseball players and owners, there has not even been a single minute of meaningful MLB action.
Commissioner Rob Manfred said last week that he was 100% sure that there will be baseball in 2020. We were all relieved to hear that, but the truth is an eventual season will probably be shorter than ever. Combined with the presumed cancellation of minor league games, that leaves the Marlins with tons of questions about how to balance playing time between veterans and top prospects.
Below, we examine several key positions on the depth chart that will be especially tricky to figure out.
How many starters will manager Don Mattingly rely on during a regular season of only 50-70 games?
Under normal circumstances, Sandy Alcántara, Caleb Smith, Pablo López, and José Ureña would’ve probably had the first four spots. There was a fascinating battle brewing between Jordan Yamamoto and Eliéser Hernández for the final chance to start every fifth day.
But at the same time, an intriguing factor will be on Mattingly’s hands: the highly touted promise Sixto Sánchez. The 22nd-best prospect in the bigs, according to MLB Pipeline, could have been ready to make his majors debut later this year. Is there any reason for holding the young Dominican back now that everybody’s workload has been reduced? Another control artist eager and qualified to launch his major league career is right-hander Nick Neidert.
It’s well known that the Marlins will use Corey Dickerson in left and Jonathan Villar in center. Right is much more complicated with Garrett Cooper, Harold Ramírez, and Matt Joyce each demonstrating potential at the plate.
Mattingly would need to consider giving one last chance to Lewis Brinson and see whether he can turn his career around or not. Brinson is a .183/.238/.293 career hitter across 205 games (709 PA), though he had a great spring showing (6 XBH, .345/.355/.793, 31 PA).
Besides, the team will be tempted to give Matt Kemp some at-bats to try to build up his trade value. That will only happen if they decide to hand the 35-year-old a roster spot in the first place. At the time spring training was stopped due to COVID-19, Kemp didn’t flash any of his old All-Star form.
As if it wasn’t enough, prospects Monte Harrison and Jesús Sánchez will be waiting to come up. They seem to be ready for Major League action and both have 2020 as estimated time of arrival on their MLB Pipeline’s profiles.
Oh, man. Mattingly will have such a challenge here. Brandon Kintzler, Ryne Stanek and Yimi Garcia have late-inning roles waiting for them. Rule 5 Draft selection Sterling Sharp will have to be on the active roster all year to remain a Marlin. Drew Steckenrider, Jeff Brigham and Stephen Tarpley each have premium stuff but mixed results in The Show.
Mattingly could give Adam Conley the chance to rebound after a rough year and see if he can recover his old form. Besides, there’s switch-pitching Pat Venditte, who provides the Fish an edge when it comes to the new 3-batter rule.
But there’s more. If Donnie decides to carry a traditional 5-man rotation, then he’ll probably need to utilize one of his conventional starters out of the ‘pen. And what about flame-throwing prospects like Jorge Guzman and Jordan Holloway, who are already on the 40-man roster and might see an uptick in their stuff if limited to one inning at a time? How much longer can left-hander Alex Vesia be held back despite dominance at every MiLB level?
Despite its shortened length, a 2020 baseball season would actually be more hard work than ever for Miami’s decision-makers.