One might imagine that the Florida Marlins imparted a bit of their fighting spirit on the young Lewis Brinson who watched in 2003 as Josh Beckett closed out the 9th inning at Yankee Stadium. This Florida Marlins team’s success came as a Wild Card winner that rode its good young pitching and competitive hitters right over the titanic New York Yankees whose status as the most successful MLB team has been passed down through generations.
It was the last time you would see the seemingly-upstart Marlins in the playoffs until 2020. During that 17-year playoff drought, Marlins homegrown talent like Miguel Cabrera and Christian Yelich won MVP awards in the midwest, Beckett and Mike Lowell became catalysts for the Boston Red Sox en route to a championship, and even the franchise’s home run king, Giancarlo Stanton, will be best remembered for his time in pinstripes after the Fish dumped the final decade of his contract coming off his best individual season.
The Marlins were in desperate need of a reset when billionaire Bruce Sherman and former Yankee Derek Jeter entered the ownership suite in late 2017.
Lewis Brinson’s MLB career had already begun and he had already lost some of the gloss that seems to cover a graduated top prospect. The 1st round draft pick out of Coral Springs High School was developed and traded by the Texas Rangers to the Milwaukee Brewers. Promoted from AAA as an injury replacement for recent Marlin Jonathan Villar and despite top billing in the Milwaukee farm system, he would end the 2017 season with an offensive line of .106/.236/.277 in a small 47 at-bats. The Brewers knew they didn’t have an immediate hit. He had not produced well in his debut, but now he had a baseline for what exactly it is to play with the best-of-the-best. Lewis Brinson would need to develop into a better hitter if he were going to play center field in a World Series like his childhood hero Juan Pierre.
Shortly before the start of 2018 Spring Training, Brinson was traded to the Miami Marlins along with 2B Isan Díaz, OF Monte Harrison and RHP Jordan Yamamoto for the reliably good-hitting Christian Yelich.
Brinson has had a lot to live up to from a very young age. The trade added another layer to an already otherworldly pile of expectations on the #18 overall MLB prospect according to industry benchmark Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects List.
As an amateur, he was described as an “athletic, toolsy high-school outfielder who has the chance to develop into a player down the road.” As a professional, he was staunchly defended by Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs: “Some people just don’t think he’s going to hit, but Brinson has made relevant swing adjustments multiple times as a pro and his strikeout rate has dropped every season”.
Lewis Brinson has proved to be a constant with the Miami Marlins. His boyhood fandom and passion for the game has led to literal praise from Juan Pierre himself.
Brinson is just 26 and has room to grow. Statistically we can see that he has made legitimate strides at the plate as recently as last September as he closed out a regular season with career highs .226/.268/.368. Those are poor numbers, but his 0.0 Win Probability Added tells a slightly more encouraging story—when taking game situations into account, he moved the offense along at exactly the rate you’d expect if baseball players were sentient slot machines. Where you can see his growth as a player over the last several years is in his to work shorten his swing which has led to more competitive at-bats and less strikeouts.
While Lewis Brinson has always long had the tools to succeed as a Major Leaguer, his skillful ability has come along at a slower rate and as such the Marlins have made choices that have reduced his role on the roster. He’s capable of center field but that’s a position currently locked down by All-Star Starling Marte for another year. Adam Duvall was recently brought in to be the everyday right fielder. Corey Dickerson remains the designated left fielder in 2021.
Brinson will look to squeeze onto the Opening Day roster as a backup. Making even that a challenge for him are the virtual locks of strong-hitting Garrett Cooper and the out-of-options speedster Magneuris Sierra who shares a similarly poor career track record and lacks the power potential of Brinson. However, the latter has one more minor league option year on his contract and can safely refine his hitting at AAA Jacksonville this upcoming season.
This past season showed that all the hard work could be worth it as Lewis Brinson looks to complete his development and realize his potential as an athletic, toolsy center fielder who can hit. He is the sort of player you’d want as a complementary piece of a World Series-contending team if he continues to progress at the plate.
Injuries and inconsistencies are inevitable. Despite the currently crowded outfield picture in Miami, a reasonable expectation for the 2021 season is that Brinson has some meaningful at-bats on a contending team. If he works hard and capitalizes on those opportunities, he might change his outlook for 2022, filling the shoes of his soon-to-be free agent teammates as a possible everyday player and emerging as a leadership figure to the next wave of outfield talent.
With talented outfielders like JJ Bleday, Peyton Burdick and Monte Harrison on the way as long-term reinforcements, the Miami Marlins can become all the more relevant in South Florida both in baseball and as role models to youth. As a strong black voice in baseball, a member of The Players Alliance and a native of South Florida, Lewis Brinson offers a specific and timely glimpse at a better future on the field, in player development, and in the country at large. Who knows? He ultimately might grow into the same sort of Pierre-like player that helped him fall in love with the game and set his career in motion.