The 2021 MLB season is rapidly approaching. This time around, it seems like there is a significant chance that a full 162-game campaign gets underway in April. In other words, the hopes for a normal season are running in full force. However, after a historically slow offseason, there are still a plethora of questions for most teams in the league. One of these teams, the 2021 Miami Marlins, still has some important decisions to make ahead of Opening Day.
After reaching the postseason and the NLDS in 2020, the Marlins will be looking to replicate their most successful season in 17 years again. However, if the club is to do that in a full season, they will have to make some serious improvements. Miami will have to be much more consistent in a 162-game scenario. Meanwhile, the lineup and the bullpen aren’t a source of such positivity. Both units finished in the bottom part of the league rankings, with MIA’s relief group ending up as the fifth-least reliable.
Therefore, the Marlins’ needs remain the same as they were back in December, and at the same severity. However, it looks like the active part of the offseason for general manager Kim Ng has passed. Miami’s “extended” roster has, in all likeliness, undergone its completion as far as the 2021 season is concerned.
The team’s weaknesses now also happen to feature some of the most competitive position battles. But that’s not all. Furthermore, a rotation spot is also up for grabs while the same could apply for first and second base. The pool of candidates for the 26-man roster might be determined but the roster itself is anything but decided.
Here is how those decisions could develop between now and April 1st, as well as the rest of the 2021 Miami Marlins’ potential Opening Day roster.
2021 Miami Marlins: Starting Rotation (5)
The starting rotation was the cornerstone of Miami’s success throughout 2020. The unit finished 14th within Major League Baseball and 8th in the NL with 4.31 ERA. Although it has undergone some changes from last July on, the core is set to return with high hopes for the 2021 season.
Alcantara, the staff’s ace, had no problem playing up to his usual level, despite missing some time. The Dominican starter averaged 8.4 K/9 and less than a home run per nine innings. Those figures were accompanied by a solid 3.00 ERA in seven starts.
Sandy Alcantara is going to be at the top of the rotation no matter what happens this upcoming Spring Training. However, the stakes will be much higher for his fellow high-profile pitcher Pablo Lopez.
Lopez broke through during the shortened 2020 campaign, posting his best numbers in his three years at the MLB level. Furthermore, he was better than even Alcantara, striking out over nine batters per nine innings and allowing merely 0.6 HR/9. Both of those were the best amongst the rotation’s top four starters.
As already noted, 2020 numbers could be deceiving and Don Mattingly should definitely be wary of him declining. Yet, those figures are not all that far from his previous standard, excluding the long ball, which dropped by half in season-shortened conditions. Therefore, Pablo Lopez could even be good enough to even overtake Alcantara if he keeps a consistent level above his 2019 and 2018 numbers.
There’s also little debate as to who takes the next two spots. Sixto Sanchez was the Marlins’ No.1 prospect before his call-up in August. In his short stint in Miami in 2020, he didn’t fail to impress. In addition to his mind-blowing 0.7 HR/9, Sanchez walked just two and a half batters per nine innings. That way, he beat out all except one pitcher who made at least six starts for the 2020 Marlins.
That exception turned out to be the 2021 Miami Marlins’ potential No.4 starter in Elieser Hernandez. He made just six starts due to an injury but became the only regular starter to allow fewer than two bases on balls. Moreover, only he and Trevor Rogers struck out an average of more than ten hitters. Unlike Lopez, although he had gradually been improving, Hernandez’s three-true-outcome numbers in 2020 were in sharp contrast with those in his first two seasons.
This is a good example of how there’s a significant risk in both Sanchez and Hernandez (and even perhaps Lopez). However, with Caleb Smith and Jose Urena now gone to Arizona and Detriot, respectively, those are the two best options. Neither has played more than three seasons, so the ceilings are certainly high for both starters.
The situation as regards the fifth spot is much more dramatic. As Spring Training approaches, the competition is likely down to Rogers, Daniel Castano, Nick Neidert, as well as others who could stand out as the camp carries on.
Trevor Rogers and Daniel Castano are set to have the biggest chances of making the unit. The former has over 12 K/9 but that was surrounded by more than four walks and over 1.5 homers per nine innings. This resulted in an ugly 6.11 ERA. On the other hand, the latter averaged just 3.6 strikeouts but kept his control and big-fly figures steady, at 3.3 and 0.9, respectively. This perhaps makes the Orlando native Castano the frontrunner to snatch the job but only by a hair and a subject to change.
2021 Miami Marlins: Bullpen (8)
New GM Kim Ng needed to make a lot of changes in this department. Despite reaching the postseason, the 2021 Miami Marlins bullpen posted a disappointing ERA of 5.50, the fifth-worst in the league and the third-worst within the National League.
Now, the better part of the offseason has passed and Ng has even prioritized the unit. However, things are only looking slightly better than they were after the Marlins’ NLDS exit to the Braves in October. Moreover, even that statement is dependent on Yimi Garcia managing to appropriately replace Brandon Kintzler as the closer.
Ng took addressing those departures as her top order of business, seemingly to mixed success. Anthony Bass, who has got pleasing results with Toronto, Seattle, and the Chicago Cubs over the last three years, was her biggest signing. Over those last three years, Bass has managed to put on almost eight K/9, allowing just under a home run and three walks per nine innings. He has the potential to be an excellent long reliever and one of the best on the Marlins roster.
Furthermore, the Marlins brought in Adam Cimber, Dylan Floro, and John Curtiss in three separate trades. All three have been significantly reliable in the near past for their respective clubs. Also, all three represent a low-risk style of pitching. For instance, none of them allowed more than 1.1 HR/9 over the course of the 2020 season.
Meanwhile, Richard Bleier and James Hoyt return for the team while prospect Braxton Garrett rounds off the squad.
The 2021 Miami Marlins bullpen is still bound to struggle, more or less. However, improvements are expected to be in the books, whether to a limited or a surprisingly big extent.
2021 Miami Marlins: Catcher (2)
The Marlins only have two catchers on their 40-man roster. Jorge Alfaro will take the majority of the workload as the starting catcher. Alfaro has been on the downward spiral since his sensational 2017 campaign that saw him post a .360 on-base percentage. For comparison, the next year this decreased to .324, while in 2019 it was under the league average for the first time in three campaigns.
His resurgence, in the meantime, in the slugging department is the lone bright spot in his form. However, this season could prove to be a make-or-brake one for Alfaro, from whom the 2021 Miami Marlins could move on if his downturn continues.
2021 Miami Marlins: Infield (6)
Aguilar, Rojas, and Anderson were all very impressive during the past season. This guarantees all of them a starting spot at first base, shortstop, and third base. The only one who could be a subject to a split of workload could be Jesus Aguilar. With the designated hitter likely gone from the NL, Aguilar will return to his primary position at first. There the 2021 Miami Marlins also have Garrett Cooper available.
Cooper turned in a terrific season in 2020, posting a .353 OBP with a slugging number of .500 in 133 at-bats. It should be a smart move to keep him at the plate as regularly as possible, both at first and in the outfield, where he also has experience.
The same goes for Isan Diaz and Jazz Chisholm, who will compete for the job at second base. Isan Diaz’s slow start to his career has put a huge question mark next to his name. Furthermore, this opens the door for former top-five prospect Chisholm. Yet, it seems like Diaz will get the nod until he fails in a full season. He has only played 56 games so far in his career – 49 after his 2019 call-up and 7 in 2020 after initially opting out.
2021 Miami Marlins: Outfield (5)
In the first of two seasons with the Marlins, Corey Dickerson registered a down year with a .311 on-base figure. Of course, that was no way near Starling Marte’s struggles after the deal that brought him in on July 31st. During the second half of the season, his OBP amounted to .286.
However, adding his success in Arizona, the expectations during a 162-game campaign look very clear. Starling Marte has posted an on-base percentage north of .330 in each season since 2013, apart from 2018. The outfield contains many holes for the 2021 Miami Marlins as regards batting capabilities. However, the centerfielder Marte represents the only source of positivity.
The third spot, likely in right field, has been up for grabs. Since the Marlins signed Adam Duvall to a minor-league deal, nobody else has stood out as a contender for the RF job. As of now, it doesn’t seem like Sierra or Berti will be anything else than depth pieces.
Adam Duvall has been quite underwhelming during his seven-year stretch in Major League Baseball. However, his best season overlapped with his most recent full campaign. The 30-year-old posted a .315 OBP and a slugging percentage of .567, which is very close to partly filling Miami’s outfield hole.
The 2021 Miami Marlins would have been much better off bringing in an extra outfielder in free agency. However, it seems like the severity of the financial circumstances hasn’t allowed that. In these conditions, Adam Duvall and Corey Dickerson are the most promising pieces with no real alternatives.
2021 Miami Marlins: Other Candidates
Jeff Brigham was supposed to be a part of the 2021 Miami Marlins’ bullpen but he remains on the 60-day injured list. Meanwhile, prospect Edward Cabrera is in a similar boat, battling an inflamed nerve in his right biceps. A timeline for his return is not available yet but he won’t be throwing to start Spring Training. Both could look to join the bullpen depending on their health and the state of Miami’s relief pitching if the campaign has started. Another factor is the direction the Marlins might want to take with their 22-year-old prospect.
Lewin Diaz, Lewis Brinson, and Jesus Sanchez could all compete for a roster job. All three have been linked to starting the year in the minors. In the meantime, outfielder Monte Harrison was ruled out long ago after his unconvincing 2020 debut stint.
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