For the first time in a long time, there’s a relative shortage of roster drama to follow as Spring Training begins to unfold for the Marlins. Expectations might be lower than they were in 2012 or 2015, but the lack of true twenty-five man roster battles is just as comparable, if not the new standard for the franchise.
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For starters, the bench itself shows every sign of only being four deep- not the usual five most big-league teams carry. And while that would seem to foretell plenty of bullpen intrigue coming fans way this March, bullpen is arguably the deepest area of the club. The Marlins spent big on relief pitching this past offseason, turning what was already a strength into what is hoped to be an outright elite unit. Case in point, Brian Ellington and Nick Wittgren combined for a 2.79 ERA in 2016, and both are essentially resigned to opening up the year at AAA New Orleans.
So what should fans even bother to follow this spring, other than Giancarlo Stanton‘s health? That’s what our staff is going to try to answer for you in the early going, starting with…
The battle for the fifth outfielder spot.
Sixth might even be more appropriate, as Derek Dietrich would be the immediate answer if some situation necessitated Mattingly and the Marlins going more than four deep during the course of a game. But Deets is best left to infielding, and better still, best left to providing pinch-hitting power late in the game. So with even the invincible Ichiro suddenly showing a flash of being mortal, it seems as good a time as any to speculate just who the next man up will be when injury befalls Marcell Ozuna, Stanton, Christian Yelich…or yes, even Mr. Suzuki.
Will it be Brandon Barnes, the man with the sweet arm tats, both featured above and responsible for inspiring this article thanks to his collision with Ichiro? He’d certainly be the most experienced option, with well over 400 games of MLB experience. On the plus side, the Marlins know exactly what they’re getting from the career .242 hitter. On the other hand though, the Marlins know exactly what they’re getting from the career .242 hitter. Reliably mediocre at the plate, predictably average in the field, he’s the kind of depth piece you tend to see teams collect. However, that’s likely as far as he’ll ever go.
What about Destin Hood, of the last September call-up? He actually homered in his first cup of coffee last season, and with only twenty-five MLB at bats, still might have some undiscovered upside. Then again, he’s been a professional ballplayer since 2008, so a true breakthrough is a bit unlikely.
Moises Sierra could impress, and even already has a hit to his name. He’ll have his work cut out for him though, having been out of the majors since 2014. Matt den Dekker would seem a stretch after batting well below the Mendoza Line with the Nationals last season, and just above it in over 100 AAA games with Syracuse. However, he bats lefty, and that’s something I can’t say about anyone else on this list thus far. That’s worth keeping in mind if either Ichiro or Yelich are the outfielder that needs replacing.
Hopefully, a decision like that will just come down to whoever has the hottest bat down in New Orleans. Top position prospect Brian Anderson could also force the issue and push Dietrich to the outfield with a strong camp and stronger minor league campaign. But managers tend to remember fondly the players that make their job the most difficult, sticking around until those last few cuts are made.
If you want something to watch for over the next month, pay attention to which one of those extra outfielders is still around in late March.