In my time covering the Miami Marlins, José Fernández and Jazz Chisholm Jr. are two of a kind. It takes a vivacious personality and loud baseball tools to transcend the South Florida fanbase while playing for a middling team. Chisholm is almost precisely the same age now that Fernández was when he tragically passed away. While there’s no comparison between their MLB résumés, Chisholm is in the midst of building a JDF-like following, drawing new fans to the league and becoming a guilty pleasure for those who ordinarily root for other MLB teams.
During Bruce Sherman’s ownership tenure, no Marlin has impacted the collectibles industry as much as Chisholm (the demand for his baseball cards, the bidding for his game-used memorabilia, etc.). Nobody else moves the needle as much on social media, getting thousands of engagements and tens of thousands of impressions on Fish Stripes tweets of their spring training highlights.
JAZZ SALAMI!!!— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) April 1, 2022
Marlins retake the lead pic.twitter.com/GkXaoZXblL
Not even Jorge Soler, the Cuban-born reigning World Series MVP who delivered a similarly important hit in that exhibition game. Soler is poised to be a star in Miami, but Chisholm is already operating on an international scale.
This week, MLB The Show 22 selected Chisholm to be featured on their Faces of the Franchise Marlins card. The Show community adores him—he’s been playing the video game for years and its developers went out of their way to recreate his signature Euro step home run celebration long before the card’s reveal. Most of us saw this coming.
One person who was taken by surprise? Jazz Chisholm Jr. himself. The Show informed him just one day prior to the card reveal.
“I was like, ‘wow, this is crazy,’” Chisholm told Fish Stripes on Wednesday. “I didn’t think I was gonna be out there already.”
Nearly half of the 30 Faces of the Franchise players are former MLB All-Stars, including surefire future Hall of Famers Mike Trout (Angels) and Joey Votto (Reds). The only player younger than the 24-year-old Chisholm is Wander Franco (Rays), who was the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball prior to debuting and quickly validated the hype.
Based on past performance, Chisholm is right to feel out of place. Through 145 career games in the majors, he has been a below-average hitter by every measure. There is a considerable amount of swing-and-miss to his game and he’s been getting on base safely less than 30% of the time. Touted as the Marlins’ long-term shortstop entering 2021, he struggled with those defensive assignments as a rookie (minus-4 Defensive Runs Saved, minus-10 Outs Above Average and 10 errors in 37 games at SS).
In reality, there is no “face of the Marlins” right now. Their homegrown talent has not achieved enough for that. The newly signed Soler and Avisaíl García are too inconsistent. Recently departed CEO Derek Jeter was sort of the interim choice for that moniker, or you could even make the case for trailblazing general manager Kim Ng, but no executive resonates with the fanbase as deeply as an active player can.
Can Jazz elevate his game to fill the void?
Chisholm has classic face-of-the-franchise intangibles. Some of the tangibles are in place as well: elite agility and competitiveness. He ranked in the 94th percentile in MLB Sprint Speed last season (29.1 ft/sec) and also placed near the top of the home-to-first leaderboard.
Yes, there were raw aspects of Chisholm’s baserunning. He was caught stealing more times than any other National League player (8 CS).
“That was just off of bad attempts,” Chisholm says. “Just not playing the game.”
However, he was making up for those mistakes with his extra bases taken. In 2021, according to Baseball-Reference, Chisholm had 28 opportunities to advance more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double. He succeeded 20 times. That 71.4 XBT% was the highest among all MLB qualifiers, followed by José Ramírez, Starling Marte and Tim Anderson.
Last week on Fish Stripes Unfiltered, I made the bold prediction that Chisholm would lead MLB in stolen bases this year. It looks like that will age poorly. He recognizes the impact of the Marlins’ winter additions and has adapted his philosophy to prioritize the team’s offensive output over individual stats:
“I don’t think about stolen bases as in just going and stealing bags—I feel like stolen bases is what you do when you’re trying to get in position to help your team win. So it’s not like I’ma go out and steal a bag every night. I’ma go out there and steal a bag if I’m on first base, one out, [Jesús Aguilar] is up to the plate and he needs me at second base to get him that RBI because I know he rakes with runners in scoring position.
“This year is more of like smart baserunning instead of running into an out. This year, I could really be on in scoring position at first base with Soler behind me and Agui and García and (Jesús) Sánchez and (Garrett) Cooper...the names are endless right there. You don’t have to produce the run yourself.”
Chisholm did not initially mention Joey Wendle among the “big boppers” on the Marlins, so I asked him separately for his reaction to that acquisition. Wendle grades out as a plus fielder at multiple positions. At least in the short term, he projects to be the main backup shortstop to Miguel Rojas, freeing Chisholm to focus on second base.
“So professional,” Chisholm says. “BP’s professional, ground balls professional, even the way he plays catch, very professional [laughs]...He rakes, too. He’s a great addition to the team as well.”
The biggest question is how much Chisholm himself will progress in the batter’s box. He enters 2022 with a lifetime 94 wRC+ and 85 DRC+. If he masters the other facets of the game but does not meaningfully improve in that department, it still won’t be enough to propel him to All-Star status.
Chisholm was on top of the world in April 2021, slashing .311/.388/.581 in 22 games prior to suffering a hamstring injury. But there were more valleys than peaks after that, extended stretches during which he chased too frequently outside the strike zone, couldn’t get his barrel to the ball on time or both. Hence a mediocre .236/.286/.395 slash line over his final 102 games.
He is ready to be held accountable for maintaining high-level results.
“Everybody saw flashes last year,” Chisholm says. “Flashes of the pop, flashes of the bat, flashes of the glove, flashes of the speed. This year is consistent work on everything: consistency of power, speed, glove, everything I do, all the time.”
I needed to ask Chisholm about Jeter. It’s doubtful that he would be part of the Marlins organization in the first place if not for the legendary shortstop’s endorsement, leading to a shocking swap at the 2019 trade deadline sending Zac Gallen to the Diamondbacks in exchange. They forged a real relationship over the following two-plus years. Jeter publicly announced the end of his Marlins tenure on February 28.
“I understand why he left,” Chisholm says. “I probably would’ve done the same thing in the same situation.”
He and Jeter share a “mentality” of putting winning above all else. Multiple reports in the immediate aftermath of Jeter’s departure suggested that Marlins ownership wasn’t giving Jeter the green light to spend sufficiently to finish assemble a contending roster.
“But after the lockout and then they sign Soler [for $36 million], then it’s like, ‘Okay, at least they’re showing us something right now.’ Showing us that they’re trying to win,” Chisholm says.
That is the other side of the “franchise player” conversation—the player could be perfect in every way, but it doesn’t matter unless they (and their agency) put enough trust in the team’s decisions moving forward to sign a long-term contract. Thankfully for Marlins fans, even in the post-Jeter era, Chisholm says he is comfortable staying in Miami.
Sandy Alcantara inked a five-year, $56 million extension with the club coming off his career year in 2021. What if Jazz has a breakout of his own in 2022?
“I would love to be a Marlin for the rest of my career,” he says. “When we get into those talks, I hope we can get to a deal. It has been in my head of getting an extension, but it’s gotta be fair at the same time.”
Chisholm is on track to reach arbitration eligibility in 2024 and test free agency after the 2026 season. He’s represented by Roc Nation Sports.