Throughout the 2020-21 offseason, Fish Stripes is bringing you daily articles as part of the All-Time Marlins Countdown.
Kevin Kraczkowski and Nicole Cahill have been capably leading this extensive series the past two-and-a-half months, but today and every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I will be a “pinch-hitter” for them. Enjoy...
206. Elieser Hernandez
The Marlins famously selected Johan Santana in the 1999 MLB Rule 5 draft and immediately traded him to the Twins. When it comes to pitchers they actually kept from the Rule 5, Elieser Hernandez is gradually establishing himself as one of their best pickups ever.
Hernandez was a 22-year-old Astros prospect in December 2017 when the Fish took a flier on him. Then-president of baseball operations Michael Hill mentioned his strong finish to the previous season (2.67 ERA, 1.07 WHIP in 8 GS at High-A Buies Creek following return from the injured list). “Three-pitch mix, very composed, clean delivery,” Hill continued. “We like his ability to maintain his delivery and repeat and throw strikes.”
Hernandez didn’t make the 2018 Marlins Opening Day roster due to a tooth infection. Then during his first rehab start, the Venezuelan right-hander broke a fingernail. He finally debuted on May 10 of that season with two scoreless innings of mop-up duty. He made four consecutive starts from May 16 through June 1, but spent most of his rookie campaign (26 of 32 total appearances) in the bullpen.
At the beginning of 2019, Hernandez was nothing short of dominant versus Triple-A competition. He struck out 34.3% of opposing batters while allowing zero home runs in 48 innings to merit a call-up to Miami. His improved slider led to more swing-and-miss ability in the majors, though the long ball suppression did not translate. The overall body of work was merely replacement level.
Is it possible to have a “breakout year” in only 25 2⁄3 innings? Hernandez edged out Jordan Yamamoto for the fifth and final starting rotation spot entering the shortened 2020 regular season. He validated the decision by once again taking a big leap forward in terms of WHIP and K%.
A strained lat suffered on Sept. 1 sidelined Hernandez down the stretch, but Marlins manager Don Mattingly said following the club’s playoff run that he’s expected to open 2021 in the rotation.
The Marlins signed Saltalamacchia to a three-year, $21 million free agent contract. It remains the largest financial guarantee they’ve ever made to a catcher. This infographic posted by the team’s social media accounts sums up why they thought he was worth it:
I had completely forgotten this, but Saltalamacchia made an incredible first impression. Through his first 30 games, he had a .301/.405/.570 slash line. His six home runs were second-most on the Marlins, trailing only Giancarlo Stanton. By weighted runs created-plus, Salty was the fifth-best qualified hitter in Major League Baseball! Plus the Fish were right in the thick of the NL East race (17-15 record, plus-25 run differential).
Unfortunately, his production cratered from there. Saltalamacchia’s power and contact ability deteriorated. Those six early homers accounted for most of his entire total as a Marlin.
The young Marlins pitching staff showed some promise in 2014; their performance would have been even better if Saltalamacchia wasn’t MLB’s worst pitch framer, as measured by both Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs. That deficiency combined with his slow pop time made him a defensive liability.
J.T. Realmuto supplanted Saltalamacchia as the Marlins’ primary catcher in early 2015. The club released him on May 5. Salty’s bat caught fire again in August and September with the Diamondbacks, but his career petered out soon after that.
204. Dustin McGowan
Although McGowan will be best remembered for his years with the Blue Jays, his 2016 season with the Marlins was quietly among the best of his career.
Miami bought low on the Georgia native. He had been with the 2015 Phillies, at the nadir of their rebuild, yet found himself stranded with their Triple-A affiliate for most of the summer. There were no encouraging signs from his time on the major league roster: 6.94 ERA, 7.81 FIP, 2.10 WHIP in 23.1 IP.
The Marlins don’t deserve too much credit for bringing in McGowan on a minor league deal. After his first 5 2⁄3 innings pitched (all in relief), they designated him for assignment in mid-April. Every other team had the opportunity to claim him. The 34-year-old’s $1 million salary—nearly twice the league minimum—helped him clear waivers, and then he accept a minor league assignment (rather than electing free agency). His patience paid off well for everybody involved. The front office summoned McGowan back to The Show in May 11 and he stuck around the rest of the season.
McGowan’s slider was practically untouchable in 2016. It had, on average, an extra four inches of vertical drop compared to ‘15, according to Baseball Savant, that helped him put batters away. He allowed a .058/.107/.128 slash line in plate appearances that ended with the breaking ball, giving him the confidence to trust it more often (30.6% usage).
McGowan was unable to replicate those results in 2017. The Marlins retained him on a one-year deal and he led the staff with 77 2⁄3 relief innings, but there was a drop-off in quality. Aside from some regression from the slider, his average fastball velocity plunged from 95.4 miles per hour to 93.8.
The Marlins signed McGowan again in April 2018, releasing him the following month.
Last summer, he transitioned into a coaching career.
203. Danny Bautista
The Dominican outfielder played parts of six major league seasons with the Tigers and Braves prior to signing with the 1999 Marlins in free agency. He reported to Triple-A initially and thrived (.319/.374/.570, 8 HR in 138 PA).
Upon making his June 11 debut with the big league club, Bautista became the first player in franchise history to wear uniform No. 23. His ultra-aggressive approach also made him unique. No other Marlin has ever gotten as much playing time as Bautista in a single season (211 PA) while walking at such a low rate (1.9 BB%), or batted so many times on the road (116 PA) without any bases on balls.
After a sluggish start to the 2000 campaign, the Marlins traded Bautista straight up for Diamondbacks utility man Andy Fox. Both of them would earn World Series rings with their new teams (Bautista in 2001, Fox in 2003).
It took Bautista until his 12th and final MLB season in 2004 to get consistent, everyday starter reps. He retired the next spring following an ankle injury, returning only for a 2007 indy ball stint.