The concept of an “offensive coordinator” might seem foreign in the game of baseball. It is a title usually reserved for football coaches. But with what James Rowson did in Minnesota last year before coming to Miami, fans will pretty quickly catch on to the importance he has to the Marlins’ rebuild.
A year before he joined the Twins staff in 2017, Minnesota was a middle-of-the-road offense. By the end of his tenure in 2019, the “Bomba Squad” had propelled the club to a division title. This nickname was born from the sheer amount of home runs they hit as a team, breaking the single-season team home run record in 2019, with 307.
This infusion of power is exactly what Marlins CEO Derek Jeter was looking for when trying to construct an effective coaching staff this offseason. He lured Rowson away from the Twins by offering him a promotion from hitting coach to bench coach/OC. Miami’s offense has been anemic since the departure of sluggers Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich in 2017. Can instilling new philosophies help their young core realize its full potential?
While people may love to see Miami’s own version of a Bomba Squad, however, Rowson said that that isn’t his approach. Rather, he wants his players to have their own identity.
“I always say, we [coaches] create the culture, but the players on this team will create their identity,” Rowson said. “And their identity will be about them. Every team has its own identity.”
Miami’s “identity” since 2018, unfortunately, has hardly had any desirable traits. The Fish finished in the bottom-six in the league in runs per game and batting average during both seasons. They have also ranked dead last in home runs over that span.
But the new identity will be created by the players themselves, Rowson said. This includes giving each individual hitter their own attack philosophy at the plate. Rowson has also told his players to not be afraid of jumping on the first pitch if they believe that’s their best pitch to hit.
“A lot of it is our mentality,” Rowson said. “What is our game plan? What is our approach? What are we trying to do? I think a lot of it has to do with getting our position players to go up to the plate with a plan every time, and have an approach for the pitching we’re going to see.”
Of course, a philosophy is only as good as the players within that system. With Brian Anderson and Jorge Alfaro already showing their offensive potential last year, the Marlins have also added veteran bats in Corey Dickerson, Jesús Aguilar, and Jonathan Villar.
“Our lineup is much improved with the additions of Corey Dickerson and Villar and Aguilar, and the development of our young players,” president of baseball operations Michael Hill said on a conference call last week. “The growth that they’ve had—the Brian Andersons and Alfaros. We feel as confident as anyone when we start this thing, as I said, we’re trying to keep playing into October.”
It did not take long for fans across baseball to notice that the Marlins have some pop in their lineup. In their first exhibition game against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night, Jorge Alfaro, Miguel Rojas and Jonathan Villar hit three consecutive home runs in the third inning on their way to a 10-9 loss. Despite the heartbreaking defeat, the Marlins showed that their lineup won’t be a pushover this year like they had been in the past. They followed it up the next day with an impressive 6-2 win, which included a Harold Ramirez home run. Through two exhibition games, the Fish scored 15 runs, collected 28 hits, and hit five home runs.
With James Rowson, hitting coach Eric Duncan, and assistant coach Robert Rodriguez providing a collective effort in developing the combination of young prospects and seasoned veterans, it is clear that the culture change in Miami is happening. The late-breaking announcement Thursday afternoon that the 2020 playoff field is expanding from 10 teams to 16 means that even mild improvement from last season could legitimately put the Marlins in the competitive mix.