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2021 Marlins Season Preview: Sandy Alcantara

Sandy Alcantara is poised to lead the Marlins rotation in 2021.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Miami Marlins Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

There comes a point in every player’s career where they’re no longer the young guy, the hot prospect, the next big thing. At a certain point, they transition from being the newcomer with no expectations to the veteran that sets the tone for the next generation. For some guys that veteran title comes earlier than most, and for the Marlins, that guy is right-hander Sandy Alcantara.

Alcantara will pitch most of the 2021 season at age 25, but there is no disputing that he is already the veteran presence in the Marlins rotation. The 2021 season will be Alcantara’s 5th in the majors, making him Miami’s most experienced starter (he has 54 13 more career major league innings than Pablo López.)

Sandy has been forced to grow up very quickly and his place at the top of the Marlins rotation has made him assume the role of the veteran on staff. On most pitching staffs Sandy would still be the young guy, surrounding by veterans with longer track records. However, the Marlins organization has trusted its prospects to fill rotation vacancies rather than invest in old arms on the free agent market, so Alcantara is the one taking his colleagues under his wing. Sandy is aware of his leadership responsibilities, and when you talk to him it’s clear he’s embracing it.

In his first press conference of the spring Sandy was asked what the next step would be for him in 2021:

“Being a leader. That’s what the Marlins are looking for from me and that’s what I want to do...Because there’s a lot of young guys coming behind me and they gotta follow me, and keep building a great thing, and keep showing them they can be like me too.”

Don Mattingly had high praise for Alcantara’s role at the top of this staff, saying “Sandy is a leader without having to say a word.” Mattingly said the Marlins didn’t have to push Sandy to become one and they want him talking to all the guys about his experience as a frontline starter.

When asked if there was one young guy in particular Alcantara was really looking to mentor, it was no surprise to hear him discuss his Dominican compatriot Sixto Sánchez:

“[The Marlins] have been talking to me about Sixto, I gotta take him in my pocket and show him how we do it here and try to teach him what he can do to get better. Because they want him to be in the big leagues for a long time, and I gotta help him to be there.”

Along with a more mature Sandy, we saw an extremely focused Sandy in his first press appearance as well. Alcantara had clear goals in mind when discussing this season and also knows what will make him successful this year.

What has worked for him in the past has been the sinker. August 10, 2019 was the first start Sandy more using his sinker as his primary pitch, rather than his four-seam fastball. Alcantara’s sinker usage since that start is 40.6%, while his 4-seamer’s usage is just 21% and his results have improved significantly, posting a 2.83 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 7.84 K/9, and 1.10 WHIP.

Alcantara’s makeup has never really matched the way he gets results, but he’s found a way to make it work. Sandy’s high-90s fastball, good slider and rapidly improving changeup suggest he should be a high strikeout guy. He’s been able to miss bats throughout his Marlins career—10.7% swinging strike rate since 2018 is slightly better than the MLB average for starting pitchers. It’s just been a question of putting away opponents (7.35 K/9). Encouraging for Marlins fans, his strikeout rate has improved since he increased his sinker usage, and that contributed to excellent numbers in 2020. Alcantara only made 7 starts last year after missing time with COVID-19, but across the board, his effectiveness made a leap:

3.00 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 8.36 K/9, 3.21 BB/9, 1.19 WHIP, 22.7 K%, 14.0 K-BB%

Alcantara knows that the sinker will continue to be a huge part of his success going forward:

“When I am on the mound I just try to look for which pitch is working for me that day, and everybody knows I have a really good sinker and I gotta keep throwing it...and I’m working a lot on it because I know I’m gonna need it.”

If that sinker continues to work and Alcantara continues to develop, then he should be able to put together a really nice season, but the projections aren’t super confident in that.

2021 ZiPS projection: 4.51 ERA, 4.69 FIP, 7.44 K/9, 1.40 WHIP

I can see why projections would expect some regression from Sandy—as I mentioned earlier his success hasn’t made a ton of sense to this point—but his 2020 peripherals bode well for him going forward. He got more ground balls than ever, gave up less fly balls than ever, generated the most soft contact of his career, and his hard hit percentage was down more than six points from 2019. Combine all of that with his increased strikeout rate and that’s a really promising formula.

Despite his veteran presence on this staff, Sandy Alcantara is still only 25 years old and has plenty of room to grow as a starter. He is far from a finished product and this year is another chance for him to take a big step in his career development and show once again he can be sustainably great at preventing runs.

Sandy is focused, committed, passionate, and ready to try and lead this Marlins team back to the Postseason. My favorite thing about Sandy is that not only is he unafraid to lead, he is unafraid to set the bar high for himself either. When asked how many innings he thinks he can pitch this year, Sandy flashed his big, contagious smile and said without hesitation: “I’m looking for 200-plus.”