2021 Miami Marlins Spring Training: Important Roster Battles To Watch

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MLB’s Spring Training is starting this week and will run all the way through the planned start of the regular season on April 1st. As is often the case, Spring Training doesn’t just turn out to be a warm-up for the teams’ certain starters. Moreover, they tend to provide a platform for roster battles to conclude. The Miami Marlins Spring Training will have plenty of these this March.

After a rather quiet free agency period, the Marlins’ offseason work seems finished. Therefore, the team will be good to go once the pool of players on the club’s official roster gets narrowed down to 26 men. New additions are unlikely to come in the next month or at any time between now and Opening Day.

There is still more drama to go down in Miami’s camp before the Marlins face the Rays at home to open the 2021 campaign. As frequently mentioned, a spot in the starting rotation is still up for grabs. That battle could potentially be decided way into the Marlins’ spring camp in Jupiter. The same probably goes for rightfield and second base. Meanwhile, there are still some players on the outside looking in eager to snatch their place to start the 2021 MLB season on the major-league level. Miami’s extended roster might be beyond determined but the 26-man squad doesn’t lack competition.

Here is a preview of what to watch for in full.

Marlins Spring Training: Fifth Rotation Spot

As things stand currently, four of the five starters in Miami’s rotation are undisputed. Sandy AlcantaraPablo LopezSixto Sanchez, and Elieser Hernandez are much more reliable to join the staff than anyone the Marlins have on the mound. So, fittingly, all of them will retain the status they held for the majority of the 2020 campaign.

The fifth spot has no clear frontrunner with at least three pitchers in contention during the Marlins Spring Training. Besides the four remaining members of the rotation, only Trevor Rogers and Daniel Castano made more than six starts last summer. Now, they are likely the two biggest candidates to begin the season as the club’s fifth starter on the mound.

There are some outlets with quite different opinions. For example, MLB-dot-com has projected Nick Neidert to come out on top in a shocking fashion. Niedert, who made his debut last year, appeared in just four games and has yet to start a baseball game on the MLB level. On the other hand, Neidert had a very satisfying three-year span in the minor leagues between the A and Double-A levels.

Between 2016 and 2018, Nick Neidert allowed less than one homerun and two walks per nine innings in each of those campaigns. Furthermore, he averaged 8.4 K/9, peaking in the final of those seasons with 9.1 K/9. All in all, the majority of his MiLB career provided many reasons for positivity and raised his value and ceiling sky high.

This is all great from a long-term perspective. However, as far as the 2021 season goes, the experience gained by Rogers and Castano during the past season is likely to give them an advantage. Therefore, it is much more likely for the battle to go down between these two in the Marlins Spring Training.

If this is indeed the case, it will be a close call and their performance over the month of March could very well end up mattering. Last summer, Trevor Rogers was very successful in the strikeout department. He racked up 12.4 K/9, more than any other Miami starter, but was mightily unstable. Rogers conceded an average of over four bases on balls and 1.5 homers every nine innings.

Castano, on the other hand, wasn’t that dominant in terms of punchouts. The Orlando native only struck out less than four batters per nine. Despite that, his pitching outcomes were much cleaner than Rogers’s. At the end of the day, Castano only conceded 0.9 big flies and 3.3 walks. That compares well even with the team’s primary starters due to the lighter workload some of them dealt with. Still, even if he declines in the circumstances of a full season, staying near that level seems exactly what Don Mattingly would be looking for in a No.5 starter.

Daniel Castano certainly looks more impressive heading into the 2021 Marlins Spring Training. However, nothing has indicated yet that either one has any formal advantage ahead of the camp. Therefore, it could be a long while until the fifth member of Miami’s starting rotation gets officialized.

Marlins Spring Training: Right Field

The roster battles during the 2021 Marlins Spring Training don’t end with the pitching staff. Although the competition is very slim, Adam Duvall could also be forced to lock up his job during the Marlins’ camp this March.

The Marlins acquired Adam Duvall in mid-February to take over the opening left behind by the departing veteran outfielder Matt Joyce. Moreover, Duvall would find it hard to replicate Joyce’s strong 2020 display, especially considering his unimpressive track record.

Adam Duvall has certainly had a less-than-stellar career. In seven seasons with the Giants, the Reds, and the Braves, he averaged an abysmal .293 on-base percentage, accompanied by a slugging figure of .468. Furthermore, his career-high OBP was merely .315 in 2019. That was also the only season that saw him post a slugging percentage north of .500. If this is the best the Marlins were capable of on the market, it doesn’t do much to fill in a hole in the Marlins’ already imperfect lineup.

Last year, the continuous failure of the highly-ranked Marlins prospect outfielders was a glaring topic. Lewis Brinson put on another terrible campaign at the plate while Monte Harrison was just as disappointing in his rookie season. This has left them off the pre-Marlins Spring Training roster predictions. At the same time, Jon Berti won’t be anything other than a depth piece in the outfield and the infield. That leaves only one player to challenge Duvall’s position if that’s even possible – Magneuris Sierra.

Sierra recorded just 53 plate appearances over the course of the 2020 season but still managed to show some potential. He posted an OBP of .333, slightly over the MLB league average. In four seasons with St. Louis and Miami though, he has crossed the 100-PA mark just once. That was in 2018 when he had a terrible season with a .222 on-base figure and .211 slugging percentage amongst his most staggering statistical accomplishments.

Magneuris Sierra will have to prove himself in more appearances at the plate before he can be reliable as a starter. He isn’t likely to offer Duvall much of a competition. Nonetheless, a strong performance in the 2021 Marlins Spring Training could win some leverage for Sierra over Duvall, whose career ceiling has always been quite low as his numbers serve as evidence for that.

Marlins Spring Training: Second Base

The second half of the 2020 season also saw the debut of another highly-ranked Marlins prospect. Jazz Chisholm played 21 games, registering unpleasant numbers throughout his 62 plate appearances.

Still, as the 2021 MLB season looms, the Marlins keep on believing in the potential of Chisholm, who started last year’s Marlins Spring Training as the organization’s No.4 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Now that he has made his debut with Miami, he is very close to competing for a starting spot in the team’s lineup. Meanwhile, many think he is even capable of doing that this upcoming season.

Over four MiLB campaigns, Chisholm averaged a .327 OBP and a slugging percentage of .462. Moreover, his career-best numbers were during the 2018 season, when, still within the Diamondbacks farm system, he posted an on-base figure of .329 and a .513 slugging percentage. This marked the only year he turned in a slugging figure north of .500. The Marlins acquired Chisholm in a deal with Arizona on trade-deadline day in 2019.

While these numbers are subpar and could further decline on the major-league level, it justifies the faith the Marlins have in him for the time being. Especially since Miami’s farm system isn’t very rich on hitters successful when promoted to the majors, which meant the likes of Monte Harrison and Jesus Sanchez are bound to begin the 2021 campaign down in Triple-A.

While Chisholm has been said to be able to take over the job at second base, the Marlins are expected to give that post to Isan Diaz for the third year in a row.

Diaz was a very high-profile prospect within the Marlins after the team added him in the infamous Christian Yelich trade in 2018. None of the pieces that arrived in South Florida via that deal have been wildly or otherwise successful with the Marlins. Diaz is no exception.

He has only seen a limited workload in both of the last two seasons due to various factors. Firstly, he only took part in 49 games in 2019 as he was promoted late into the Marlins’ campaign. Then, a year later, he opted out of the 2020 season, only to return when the Marlins were going strong and play eight games. Either way, these two campaigns combined represent 223 plate appearances for an OBP of .251 and a slugging percentage of .294.

Diaz has certainly disappointed during his shortened time in the majors with Miami. Yet, the team looks likely to give him a full season before declaring him a failed experiment. In addition, a strong showing by Chisholm in the Marlins Spring Training could change that mindset to an extent and ensure a spot at second for the Nassau native in 2021.

The margin of the two players’ performances has to be very big, and in Chisholm’s favor, for him to have any chance of changing Mattingly’s mind, though.

Marlins Spring Training: A Roster Spot on the Line

In a previous article, we laid down the possible full 26-man roster for the Marlins’ Opening Day game against Tampa Bay. While there is some room for competition within those 26 players, as already noted, there isn’t much on the outside with chances to break into that group during the Marlins Spring Training.

Currently, there seems to be only one player whose projected place could be up in the air. That may turn out to be outfielder Magneuris Sierra. As stated earlier, he has only been subpar during his four-year career in the majors and 2020 was close to his average shape.

Now that Jesus Sanchez and Monte Harrison have already been ruled out of that competition after disappointing stints last summer, this virtually only leaves Lewis Brinson in the mix. And even regarding Brinson, there should be a huge asterisk following that statement, if that competition is possible at all.

The overarching issue here is that Brinson has been given chances. Unsurprisingly, he has failed to live up to the expectations every single time. In four seasons and over 800 PA, Brinson has never registered an OBP higher than .268 and a slugging percentage higher than .368. His prolonged “audition” with the Marlins has been a disaster, and that’s quite an understatement.

Therefore, earning a new chance won’t be easy for Brinson after all those years of underwhelming outcomes at the plate. Even putting up the performance of his life during the Marlins Spring Training might not be enough to beat out Sierra. Nonetheless, he remains one of the few outside the obvious projections who could make it to a roster spot during the upcoming month of games.

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Teodor Tsenov is a writer in the NFL Department of Overtime Heroics. Teodor joined the media in March 2020, previously writing for Franchise Sports UK. Also a second-year International Sport Management student at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in Den Haag, the Netherlands. Originally from Sofia, Bulgaria.