With a month still remaining until 2020 kicks off for Major League Baseball Spring Training, the Marlins have a question mark at first base.
Last season, the Marlins employed a combination of Garrett Cooper (73 games), Neil Walker (69), and Martin Prado (40) to hold down the not-hot-corner on game-day. Miguel Rojas (six), Austin Dean (5), Yadiel Rivera (4), Jorge Alfaro (1), and Peter O’Brien (1) also spent some time at first base.
Walker is currently a free agent, and will no doubt wind up in some major league spring training camp. Prado completed his five-year deal, and it’s rumored he’s set to retire. Rojas is set to man shortstop most days, Dean was recently designated for assignment, Rivera is signed with the Texas Rangers, Alfaro is set to be the everyday catcher, and O’Brien has yet to find employment.
That leaves only Cooper, a right-hander, in the mix from last season, but he’s not alone by a long shot. Four days prior to the 2019 trade deadline, the Marlins brought in first baseman Lewin Diaz in a deal with the Minnesota Twins. They gave up Marlins closer Sergio Romo and minor league pitcher Chris Vallimont.
Diaz, a left-handed hitter and fielder, was in his sixth professional season in the Twins system when dealt away. Between the High-A Fort Myers Miracle and the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos, in the Florida State League and the Southern League, respectively, Diaz had hit .294/.336/.553 in 90 contests. He collected 19 homers with 62 RBI between the two affiliates. After the deal, he hit just .200/.279/.461 in 31 games for the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, with eight long-balls and 14 RBI.
Of particular note with Diaz is his lifetime strikeout rate of 17.6 percent, well below the “danger zone” that so many Marlins prospects find themselves in. In particular, the assets gained in the Christian Yelich deal. Lewis Brinson whiffs 29.8 percent of the time, Isan Diaz 29.4 percent, and Monte Harrison at 30.8 percent.
Diaz had to be stoked to learn that he was essentially second on the Marlins organizational depth chart, behind only Cooper, a part-time outfielder. Right-handed slugger Jesus Aguilar then arrived, throwing the first base picture into a bit of a logjam.
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Aguilar was gained from the Tampa Bay Rays off waivers on December 2nd, and recently filed for arbitration versus the Marlins. To wit, they’re offering $2.325 million, and he’s countered with $2.575 million.
Whatever is eventually ruled, Aguilar is a dangerous hitter and a proven veteran at first base. In 2018, he made the National League All Star team when he hit .274/.352/.539 with 35 home runs and 108 RBI.
The question that remains with these three in mind is which two will open the campaign with the parent club. Lefty Diaz would mesh well with either in a platoon situation, and Cooper can fill in either at first, in left field, or in right, as needed. This leaves Aguilar with the most to prove, despite his track record.