Will the Marlins show enough promise in 2020 to move out of fifth place in the National League East?
As an offensive team this season, the Miami Marlins were awful. It’s hard to believe how a team that wanted to move past 64 wins from the 2018 version of this roster could have taken a step backward, but that’s what happened.
"According to MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro, “Miami finished 29th in runs scored, 29th in on-base percentage and last in the Majors in homers and slugging percentage.“In an age of an unprecedented number of homers being hit, the Marlins aren’t necessarily targeting home run hitters moving forward. They are searching for hitters who show bat-to-ball skills and are considered pure hitters with power.”"
It’s a struggle to find that balance when you start from scratch once again. The organization is still building this foundation, one that will continue to add layers as players develop in their minor league system and move up the ladder to the Majors. Michael Hill, the team’s president of baseball operations is aware of the team’s need to find players who can put the ball in play. He and Derek Jeter face many decisions over the winter.
"“We’ve talked about what we hunted in the Draft and what we looked out [for] in our trades — contact hitters first, hitters with power,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. “I think we’ll look for guys who fit that mold.”"
The 57 wins the Marlins “achieved” in 2019 were shocking given the lack of runs and the lack of the long ball to support the pitching staff. Things should change in 2020 and beyond, but it may not be more than a 10-15 game improvement.
Unless this team catches lightning in a bottle and shocks the baseball world.
If the Marlins are going to move out of the bottom of the National League East next year, they must answer these three questions.
What happens in the outfield? I take a swing at this one off the bat. The Marlins outfield is complicated, to say the least with many potential fits and plenty of unused potential waiting for Don Mattingly and his coaching staff.
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We know the team will keep both Garrett Cooper and Jon Berti. Both showed plenty of promise. Cooper needs a healthy season and he could approach 30 home runs and 80 RBI. He can also play first base, which could be important if the Marlins aren’t able to sign a free agent power hitter at the position.
Berti was one of the better finds for this team and showed versatility in the outfield and at shortstop. Berti’s speed is intriguing and he should be used more from the leadoff spot next season.
After that, there is plenty to unpack. Lewis Brinson should be given one more opportunity to play on the Major League level. He has become an enigma of sorts, showing no consistency at the plate in the Majors, but belting 16 home runs this past season at Triple-A New Orleans.
Harold Ramirez showed some pop in his bat and should remain on the roster as well. He was another solid callup from Triple-A early in the season who paid off nicely for the Marlins front office.
The three players I’m intrigued to watch in Spring Training are Austin Dean, Monte Harrison, and Jesus Sanchez. Sanchez almost guaranteed will start the season in Wichita. Harrison has a chance to win the starting centerfield job and Dean is a player when given the chance, can swing for the fences.
Someone is going to be unhappy and one or more might become trade candidates.
Is Sandy Alcantara a Cy Young Candidate? It’s too early to jump on that bandwagon just yet but was there a better bad-luck pitcher in Major League Baseball last season than Sandy Alcantara? The 6-14 record didn’t tell the story Marlins fans should have read about.
Alcantara was as dominant as any pitcher in baseball over the last month of the season and deserved a better fate than he received in most of his outings in the second half of 2019. In other words, the lineup let him down without scoring runs. The bullpen could not hold leads when the 23-year-old was on fire.
Most of the best pitching performances of the season came from Alcantara, which is a good sign since he was questioned many times by Mattingly about his ability to challenge batters and become more aggressive on the mound.
The Marlins coaching staff worked to help Alcantara with his control. It has paid off. His fastball is one of the best in baseball. And from a starting standpoint, he was fourth in the rotation to begin the season – right in front of Caleb Smith. The Marlins are in good shape for the No. 1 and No. 2 starter for 2020.
I’m curious to see what happens behind these two as the Marlins have plenty of arms and a lot of decisions to make.
Can Pablo Lopez become the No. 3 guy, or will Jordan Yamamoto take that spot? Does Nick Neidert take a spot in the rotation from Triple-A? Can Robert Dugger continue to work through his struggles on the Major League level? Above everything, will this team seek a veteran to balance this rotation?
Are the Marlins on the right path? Yes. But the plan is not as simple as many of us thought it might be at the beginning of this past season.
In a year where the Marlins looked to go younger with their pitching staff and then could not hit the baseball to back the staff up, it became a long process. We knew it would take at least to 2020 before the results would begin to show. Now, it might take longer than 2021 for it to happen.
The front office did a good job of acquiring young talent in trades and through the MLB Draft. Those players – Sanchez, Jazz Chisholm, and Lewin Diaz, along with Brian Anderson and Isan Diaz who are already on the parent roster, are the future of this team.
Jeter and his staff did a good job of scouting college talent and bringing them into the minor league system. J.J. Bleday, Kameron Misner and Peyton Burdick already show promise. I don’t need to talk about the pitching prospects who are knocking on the door to Marlins Park.
The Marlins need to worry about hitting and everything will fall into place.
My hope is they continue to make moves to get better without sacrificing the franchise to do it. Patience is still the watchword for this organization. And the minor league system must continue to get better. I have the pleasure of watching the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, the Double-A affiliate and have seen the future in Sixto Sanchez, Jorge Guzman and Edward Cabrera on the mound.
My only question now is where do they fit and which players move elsewhere to accommodate them? It’s a good problem to have – one this organization did not face three seasons ago.