During the upcoming MLB season, Don Mattingly will probably have one of those problems every manager wants to have. He will have it at the position where he starred during his 14 years playing in the Majors with the Yankees: first base.
Regarding the MLB roster, the Marlins will enter the season with two men who can be trusted to handle the first bag. Those are 30-year-olds Jesús Aguilar and Garrett Cooper. They provide above-average bats and decent defense, though Aguilar has demonstrated those abilities over a much larger sample size.
BUT—and this is a big one—Miami has its eighth-best prospect (fourth-best among position players) waiting for a second chance to show why he’s considered the first baseman of the future. That young man is the powerful Lewin Díaz, who just finished his season in the Liga de Béisbol Profesional de la República Dominicana with Estrellas Orientales, where he had teammates such as Fernando Tatís Jr. and Robinson Canó.
Díaz hit for a poor .154/.195/.205 slash line across 41 plate appearances and 14 games in his Marlins debut last year, but there’s more on the way for him. If there are no surprises in Spring Training, Díaz will begin his campaign in Triple-A Jacksonville.
In the meantime, Mattingly will have to decide between Aguilar and Cooper to start at first base. In 2020, he essentially alternated them between first and the designated hitter’s spot. But MLB still hasn’t confirmed whether the DH will exist in the senior circuit this year.
At least with Cooper, there’s a chance the skipper uses him in right field, where he’s played 34 times in his MLB career. That’s not the case with Aguilar, who is a raw first baseman with only a handful of games at third base.
Then there’s another problem. The Marlins have Corey Dickerson and Starling Marte locked in left and center, respectively, with Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, and Harold Ramírez—besides prospects such as JJ Bleday and Jesús Sánchez—aspiring to get some playing time in right field. Deploying Cooper regularly at that position raises difficult questions about which of those young alternatives should adjust to bench roles, get sent down to the minors or removed from the organization altogether.
Mattingly will have plenty of options for first base (health permitting). At the end of the day, Aguilar and Cooper were two of the best hitters for the team in 2020. Luckily, this will be a long regular season loaded with 162 games where everybody can get opportunities at some point.
Who you got at first base to start the 2021 season?
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