It’s not a secret that the Marlins have fallen short of their goals for this season. Even so, their remaining games are important for the development of many of their players. Taking into account their long rebuilding process and the fact that they want to be better in 2022 and beyond, Miami needs to clarify some huge spots thinking about next season.
Starter Jesús Luzardo and outfielder Bryan De La Cruz are two main examples. Both are young, talented, and were recently acquired by the Marlins before the trade deadline from the Athletics (for Starling Marté) and the Astros (for Yimi García), respectively.
Luzardo hasn’t been good at all for the Fish in three outings since the trade. Despite collecting two wins, the 23-year-old surrendered 17 hits (three home runs) and 15 earned runs with 11 walks and 13 strikeouts over 14 2⁄3 innings against the Mets, the Rockies, and the Cubs. That led to a high 9.20 ERA while his opponents registered a monster 1.012 OPS.
Luzardo has walked 15.3% of all the hitters he’s faced so far as a Marlin, notably higher than the 9.2% he put up with the Athletics this year (and more than doubled his 6.9% in 2020). He’s been smashed with nine extra-base hits: five doubles, one triple, three home runs.
But—and this is a big one—Luzardo is talented enough to recapture his best form and realizes all his potential. He’s got big-league stuff, was brilliant in his minors career, and did show flashes of greatness in his other seasons in the majors with the A’s. There’s no reason to panic yet about a guy who will turn 24 on September 30.
With a little bit of patience, work, effort, and more adjustments, Luzardo can be a highly important, deadly weapon for the Marlins, giving the starting rotation quality depth behind Sandy Alcántara, Pablo López, and Trevor Rogers.
In regard to De La Cruz, he’s looked great in August, a month in which he’s started 14 of his 15 games (through Monday), with 18 hits in 53 at-bats, with two doubles, two home runs, seven RBIs, and a .340/.364/.491 slash line. It’s been so rare during this rebuild to see a Marlins position player look this comfortable in the big leagues so immediately.
If De La Cruz proves this early success is sustainable for him in the long run and can be a solid piece in the lineup, manager Don Mattingly will get to Spring Training with plenty of options for the outfield corners. The 24-year-old does not have the same prospect pedigree as JJ Bleday or Jesús Sánchez, but that won’t hold him back from playing opportunities if he keeps impressing.
The main thing to watch right now is his 31.8% strikeout rate (MLB average is 22.9% for non-pitchers).
One assumes that the Marlins will go after an outfielder over the winter—well, they definitely should—who has accomplished more than De La Cruz at the highest level. But that wouldn’t be as much of a priority if he proves that he has what it takes to be an everyday option.
With De La Cruz and Luzardo, the Marlins have two potentially valuable pieces of their future who just need to be guided and developed properly.