Despite COVID-19’s best efforts, the 2020 Major League Baseball season will press on and that means another season ready to go for the Miami Marlins. With new turf and new ballpark dimensions, fans of baseball will be excited to see the Fish play in 2020. A Marlins season preview shows promise in the future.
The 2020 campaign will be yet another important year under the direction of third-year Chief Executive Officer Derek Jeter and company. The planned progression of the team back to competitiveness hinges pretty heavily on how this season, and that of 2021 thanks to COVID-19, pans out. While the World Series odds for Miami in 2020 of +40,000 – last in MLB – suggest that they won’t be making a big playoff push, the groundwork laid will present a competitive team in South Florida.
While on the surface the Fish don’t look that appealing, there’s plenty of substance afoot that will improve their standings in 2020. Following last season, Miami extended Manager Don Mattingly to a two-year contract for 2020-21 with a club option for 2022. The franchise bolstered as much as possible. This includes continuing with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. and first base/infield coach Trey Hillman.
In order to bolster Miami’s near-lifeless offense from 2019, the team hired former Minnesota Twins hitting coach James Rowson. He helped boost that offense into a power-first franchise. All that keeps together what Miami hasn’t had much of in the last ten years — consistency.
A big need for the Marlins has and will be the use of skilled veteran talent. They helped out their cause in a number of ways. The first was by bringing back shortstop Miguel Rojas on a two-year deal worth $10.25 million. Rojas is a fan favorite and has helped to make a very cohesive clubhouse in South Florida.
The Fish also did themselves a solid by signing infielder Jonathan Villar. The seven-year veteran provided what Martin Prado and others couldn’t, which was production without injury. Villar was one of only five players in 2019 to play all 162 games. He also became the second Oriole since 1991 to hit 20 or more home runs (24) and 20 or more stolen bases (40) in a season. Miami helped to soften the blow of losing veterans Prado and Curtis Granderson by adding veterans — 2017 All-Star Corey Dickerson, 2018 All-Star Jesus Aguilar, veteran catcher Francisco Cervelli, and 2011 All-Star Matt Joyce.
Excitement on the Horizon Could Produce Today
Another big hinge point for Miami in 2020 will be the success or failure of their young talent. The last few years have been sore spots for Marlins fans as they’ve watched All-Star after All-Star come and go. From All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto to an All-Star outfield trio of Christian Yelich, Marcel Ozuna, and Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins have brought in a haul of prospect talent. A handful of that talent is expected to be ready to handle the big leagues in 2020.
The Christian Yelich trade alone should bear fruit that produces in 2020. This may be the make-or-break year for Lewis Brinson. The 26-year-old outfielder is a former top-ten outfield prospect. Within the same breath he gets the title of worst-hitting outfielder in the modern era through his age-25 season. Through a minimum of 600 career plate appearances, Brinson has a career wRC+ of 46.
Monte Harrison — the only piece acquired through the Yelich trade to not grace the MLB ranks yet — and second baseman Isan Diaz are also set to take big leaps forward this season. Both need to work on their strikeout rate. Harrison, despite 19 home runs, led the minors with 215 strikeouts in 2018 after his arrival in Miami’s organization. Diaz himself had a strikeout rate of nearly 30 percent, although that was in the major league ranks.
On the pitching side, Sixto Sanchez also has the potential to join the big fish. Coming from the Realmuto trade, Sanchez has widely been thought of as Miami’s top prospect with a 70-grade fastball reaching up to 99 mph according to MLB Pipeline.
Minor League Excitement
The minor league system for Miami is exciting in and of itself. The huge overhaul of major league trades has taken Miami’s minor league rank from 28th overall entering 2019 to fourth according to MLB.com. More excitement could be coming through the next few years. Miami has five prospects inside MLB.com’s top-100 prospect list. Those include Sanchez (No. 22), JJ Bleday (No. 28), Jazz Chisholm (No. 66), Jesus Sanchez (No. 80), and Nick Neidert (No. 85).
Big League Battles: Possible Starting Rotation
One of the silver linings in a 57-win season comes in the form of battle-tested players. Despite a long ballpark, the Marlins pitching staff took their lumps but should come back better than ever.
Sandy Alcantara: Alcantara showed legitimate upside last season, striking out 151 batters in a team-best 197 1/3 innings. 2019 saw Alcantara produce a career-high 1.318 WHIP. He also earned his first All-Star game trip in 2019 and led the Fish pitching staff with a 2.8 WAR.
Pablo Lopez: Lopez has shown top-tier control in walking only 27 batters through 111 innings of work in 2019.
Caleb Smith: The 28-year-old lefty struck out 168 throughout a team second-best 28 contests.
Jose Ureña: Ureña had a growing year with 13 starts and 11 appearances in relief. He struck out 62 batters in 84 2/3 innings.
Jordan Yamamoto: Yamamoto was perhaps one of the more standout pitchers for the Fish in 2019, leading the team in WHIP at 1.144 while giving up 54 hits in 78 2/3 innings. The 24-year-old struck out 82 batters on the season.
The bullpen for Miami could change drastically from the start of the season to the end. Brandon Kintzler will look to spearhead the back-end duties for the Marlins pitching staff. Ryne Stanek and Yimi Garcia will also seek to hold down late-inning duties.
When it comes to the three-batter rule, switch pitching Pat Venditte will most likely see substantial innings. Mattingly could also turn towards hard-throwing youngsters in Jorge Guzman and Jordan Holloway to eat up some innings. There’s also the option to bring out Alex Vesia, who has excelled at every MiLB level.
Outfield: Both Dickerson and Villar will most likely take up two of the three outfield spots although Villar could find playing time in the infield as well. They will most likely take up left and center field, respectively, while right field remains a question mark. That could be taken up by a number of rising prospects or from the capable trio of Garrett Cooper, Harold Ramirez, and Joyce.
First Base: As it stands right now, Aguilar leads the conversation at first base but both Dickerson and Garrett Cooper are quite capable of holding down the fort as well. Aguilar is not far removed from his 2018 campaign where he posted career highs in RBI (108), home runs (35), walks (58), total bases (265), and OPS+ (135) among other areas.
Second Base: In his second season Isan Diaz looks to be the one to hold down the position but the position is still up for discussion. He, too, was a product of the Yelich trade and has shown life in the majors.
Third Base: Third base seems to be one of the more locked-down positions with Brian Anderson. The 27-year-old is considered the best homegrown talent for the Marlins since being drafted in the third round of the 2014 draft. Anderson was fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2018 and has seen his OPS and OPS+ increase in each of his three seasons. Since arriving in MLB in 2017, Anderson is 18th among all third basemen in total WAR (6.5). He was also sixth among league third basemen in batting average on balls in play (.325).
Shortstop: From the very moment that he signed his two-year extension, Miguel Rojas has locked down the shortstop position. While he wields a solid bat, Rojas has received well-deserved praise for his defensive abilities. Rojas was fourth among MLB shortstops in 2019 with a UZR rating of 7.3. UZR puts a run value on defense, attempting to quantify how many runs a player saves or gives up.
Catcher: While this could change, the prevailing thought among Marlins circles is that Columbian-born Jorge Alfaro will spearhead the efforts behind the plate. His first full season came in 2018 with Philadelphia, striking a slash line of .262/.324/.407 with 10 home runs and 37 RBI. Early on, strikeout rate was an issue for Alfaro at 33.6 percent, but it showed slight improvement through 130 games in 2019. There the 27-year-old hit .262/.312/.425 with 18 home runs while lowering his strikeout rate to 33.1 percent.
A Progressively Bright Future
For the Marlins, determining success in a shortened season may not come from the win-loss column. While 30 wins could count as a major success for Miami, there’s more to account for. How the future stars develop might be the biggest focus for the Fish and watch the win-loss column reflect that. There’s no doubt that 2020 will still be a part of the rebuilding plan for Derek Jeter and company. The excitement comes in whether 2020 will be the year the Fish turn the corner. Only time will tell.
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