The Marlins still have a long way to go in order to compete in a very tough and stacked NL East. However, their improvements through the last offseasons have been impressive. Major League Baseball might be on hold but internal battles are still the theme of the 2020 Marlins.
Miami finished 2019 with a 57-105 record, by far the worst in the East. A busy signing period brought well-known players like Jonathan Villar, Jesus Aguilar, Corey Dickerson and Brandon Kintzler to the Sunshine State. Combine that with one of the National League’s most talented rotations and you have the perfect breakout candidate of 2020. It will be difficult for them to accomplish a feat different from the 5th place last year. However, that team and that farm system are capable of big things in the future.
Even the short-lived Spring Training stint didn’t go without surprises. Marlins manager Don Mattingly moved Jonathan Villar from second base to center field and it’s looking more and more likely for him to start there come Opening Day. Whenever that is.
That move makes the decision regarding the outfield, and the 26-man roster as a whole, even harder than it already was. The same goes for the monstrous battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation, as well as the remainder of the bullpen.
So who makes the final 26-man roster for the Marlins? With the start of the MLB season delayed, Mattingly will have more time to decide that than usual so surprises are not to be left out. Here are our projections:
*The 26-man roster includes a 13-pitcher minimum
Starting Rotation (5)
The status of the Opening Day starter in Miami is only of the least clear in the league. Yet, Alcantara looks like the frontrunner to be the ace of the Marlins staff, coming off a 3.88 ERA in 32 starts last year. Smith and Yamamoto, returning after forming a dominant 1-2-3 with Alcantara, are also not a subject of any questioning.
The fifth spot provides a great deal of drama. It could be anyone ranging from Urena, to Elieser Hernandez, to Robbert Dugger. Urena had a down year after starting Opening Day the last two seasons. He’ll be looking to bounce back in 2020. If Urena doesn’t get traded, which could become impossible for months if MLB freezes the rosters, he would be the favorite for the final spot.
Kintzler was among the few bright spots for the Cubs. He posted a 2.68 ERA in 61 innings and accepted a one-year, $3.25-million offer from Miami. Expect him to be the closer.
Most of the other selections wouldn’t be a shock. Some, like Conley, need a big turnaround season to resurrect their place in Miami. Garcia and Brigham were thoroughly solid in 2019 and need to provide the depth. Sharp barely makes it instead of Stephen Tarpley following a strong spring.
The Marlins bullpen might still prove to be their liability but that statement alone doesn’t say much. It’s a lot deeper than last year and a lot more effective at the front end.
Alfaro played 130 games during 2019, 118 of which he started at catcher, which is a fascinating number. That season also included an increase in his stats at the plate compared to 2018, when he played less. This effectively means 2019 was the best out of his four MLB seasons.
The Marlins will rely on him as much as ever throughout the 2020 campaign. Cervelli, who is a 12-year veteran in the majors, participated in only 42 games for Pittsburgh and Atlanta and batted .213.
Aguilar has to be the starting first baseman, with him being superior to Cooper at bat. Garrett being flexible enough to play the outfield keeps him as an important asset. Rojas at shortstop and Diaz at second base are locks. Since Villar is off to centerfield, Anderson most probably stays at third.
The infield is easily the most talented place on the field not only defensively but as individuals who could deliver in the lineup. Rojas is an efficient contact hitter who could play his way through the top of the lineup but could also be vital at the bottom. Despite a quiet spring, Diaz is making progress. Anderson and Aguilar are the power bats that belong in the heart of the order.
Everything that the Marlins are vibrant about is on heavy display in the outfield. Their leadoff hitter. A jackpot signing. Competition. Youth.
Villar was dealt from the Orioles to the Marlins in November an immediately joined the Marlins lineup as the most reliable hitter. His .339 on-base percentage was just over the league average of .323. Spring Training treated him to a surprising change of positions when he moved to CF. He insisted that his techniques needed more time to develop, but with the delayed start, his place there is a no-brainer.
Dickerson has been a greatly underestimated hitter entering free agency. He has posted an average over .300 in each of his last two seasons – one with Tampa Bay and one with the Pirates/Phillies.
Enter rightfield. Lewis Brinson came to Miami two years ago in the Christian Yelich trade as a highly-valued prospect. He has put up two null-and-void seasons since then but he’s easily the best they have that they can put in right. It’s unclear whether he or Matt Joyce, entering his age-36 season, will start in right, but the competition in both the major-league team and in AAA will likely put pressure on them.
Monte Harrison also makes the squad alongside super utilityman Jon Berti over Marneurris Sierra after exploding for .364 with 4 RBI during the spring.
Who Missed the Cut?
Elieser Hernandez isn’t necessarily a lock to go down to Triple-A Wichita. He could join the bullpen despite not being a reliever. Even the margin between him and Urena for the fifth spot isn’t that big. Robert Duggar is slightly off that conversation but also out of the bullpen talk to continue his development as a starter in the minors.
With Harrison (possibly) making the Opening Day roster, he would be the only top 10 prospect to make it. Jazz Chisholm, No. 4 in the Marlins farm system, was the only other high-profile youngster on the 40-man roster.
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