Marlins 2020: Will Caleb Smith be the Ace We Deserve?

The Miami Marlins have addressed a lot of concerns through free agency and low-level trades during the 2019-20 offseason.

Just since the start of the new year, the Marlins have signed or otherwise acquired switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, catcher Jose Estrada, shortstop Angeudis Santos, former all-star and Gold Glove outfielder Corey Dickerson, former all-star reliever Ryan Cook, outfielder Diowill Burgos, and reliever Stephen Tarpley. They also resigned reliever Adam Conley, infielder Jonathan Villar, and swing-candidate Jose Urena to one-year deals, avoiding arbitration.

On the rotational front, the Marlins have had precious little chatter through the offseason. Four of the five starters who the Marlins started their 2019 campaign with remain on the club, and three of them remain in the rotation.

Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, and Caleb Smith are set to survive the year-to-year transition from Opening Day to Opening Day. Urena also may start the year in the rotation, but is as likely to begin out of the bullpen. Jordan Yamamoto has been part of the starting five since last June, minus some IL time. The number five spot remains open to competition, with Sterling Sharp, Elieser Hernandez, Nick Neidert, Urena, Robert Dugger, and even top prospect Sixto Sanchez in the conversation.

Where’s Caleb Smith in all of this?

Miami obtained left-handed fireballer Smith in an unheralded deal with the New York Yankees after the 2017 season. They sent minor league pitcher Michael King to the Bombers for Smith and Garrett Cooper, in one of the most underrated trades in the Sherman/Jeter era.

It’s indisputable that Smith has top-notch hit-or-miss stuff. Since joining the Marlins, he’s struck out 10 batters per nine innings on the hill, while maintaining a solid 2.75 K/BB rate. Smith’s Achilles Heel has always been his propensity to surrender the long-ball. Last season, he “led” the National League by giving up 33 of them on his way to a 10-11 record and a 4.52 ERA. His long-ball weakness has resulted in him surrendering nearly half (66) of his 134 career runs allowed via the home run.


PHOENIX, ARIZONA – SEPTEMBER 17: Caleb Smith #31 of the Miami Marlins. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

MLB Statcast seems to suggest that Smith’s home run allowance probability has a lot to do with his barrel percentage. In 2019, he ranked in the bottom four percent of the N.L. by getting “barreled” on 10.9 percent of balls made contact with.

Smith is set up to begin the 2020 season as one of Miami’s top three starters. My guess is that he’ll be the number two starter, after 2019 All Star Sandy Alcantara. After a career-high 28 starts last year, can Smith make it through the whole season without a trip to the injured list? Time will tell.

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