Entering spring training games, here’s what Ethan Budowsky expects the Marlins roster to look like.
We’ve always heard the phrase “dog days” used to refer to the middle of the baseball season, the long summer months where it just seems to draaaaag along. But I’ll offer this counter: the real dog days are Spring Training.
Even though hope is always in the air every February as guys roll into camp, those workouts and exhibition games feel like a crawl towards the magic of Opening Day. There’s a ton of work that needs to be done in the spring that often gets overlooked by fans eagerly awaiting the start of “real games.” Guys need to get back into shape and comfortable seeing live pitching again, and get acquainted with newcomers to the clubhouse. Most importantly, the roster needs to be sorted out.
The Marlins come into 2021 Spring Training with a few key competitions that could change the complexion of their Opening Day roster. Of the 70-plus players participating in major league camp, only 26 can be active once the dust settles. The most anticipated competition among Marlins fans is between 2nd base candidates Isan Díaz and Jazz Chisholm Jr. The Marlins will also have to figure out how to get both at-bats for both Garrett Cooper and Jesús Aguilar, and which young pitcher deserves the 5th rotation spot.
Let’s break down all of these key roster competitions before turning our attention to the full roster.
2nd Base: Jazz or Isan?
This is setting up to be the most intense and intriguing competition of the spring because of the implications it has for the Marlins’ future. Both players are headline young guys in the organization as Isan was one of the pieces in the Yelich trade and Jazz is a consensus Top 100 prospect in baseball.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) February 25, 2021
Isan won MiLB Player of the Year for the Marlins in 2019 after dominating in AAA, and his overall numbers in the minors were really solid as he posted an .828 OPS and 125 wRC+ over 6 seasons. However it’s been a real struggle in the bigs for Isan (.545 OPS and 48 wRC+ in 56 games).
It’s rare to see guys recover from those type of numbers early in their careers and blossom into everyday-caliber players, but I also think it’s really difficult to judge Isan’s time in the bigs so far, especially 2020. Like I mentioned he’s only played 56 games, and only 7 of them were in 2020. Isan opted out of the season during the Marlins COVID outbreak, then opted back in only to suffer a season-ending injury in just his 5th game back.
I’m a big fan of Isan’s approach at the plate but I think he’s had a problem with being too patient. He’s shown the ability to drive the ball so I think with a little more aggression he can start producing results, but he needs to start doing it fast. Isan will turn 25 midseason. If his production doesn’t noticeably improve early in 2021, it will be hard to maintain a starting spot and he could fall out of the future plans fast.
The main reason it will be hard for Isan to maintain a starting spot is because of the guy that’s behind him right now, Jazz Chisholm Jr. Jazz is the #4 prospect in the Marlins system and many believe he has the most star potential of any bat in the Marlins system. He played in parts of 21 games last year and didn’t put up good numbers (similar to Isan’s actually), but showed flashes of greatness on both sides of the ball.
After getting a taste of the big leagues last season, the #Marlins‘ Jazz Chisholm is the top ROY candidate on our new Top 10 Shortstop Prospects list: https://t.co/t1Ug3NeTX5 pic.twitter.com/73Gp2mHdQX
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) January 27, 2021
Jazz had a double and a home run in the Marlins regular season finale and made some great plays on defense as well that got fans very excited about next season. Some believe Jazz has Gold Glove potential defensively and Don Mattingly reiterated this week that the Marlins see him as a shortstop long term. For now though, shortstop is locked down by the Marlins captain Miguel Rojas, so to try and find Jazz immediate playing time, they’re working with him at 2nd.
JAZZ CHISHOLM!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/ChkJv7yQZQ
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) September 27, 2020
Both guys should see playing time this year but I think Jazz has more to work on in AAA and Isan has nothing left to prove down there (Mattingly implied that whoever loses the job this spring will start in AAA). It’s do-or-die time for Isan in his career and the Marlins are going to give him every single chance they can to prove it. Unless Jazz blows the Marlins away in upcoming exhibition games, I think Isan’s experience and need to prove himself will force the Marlins’ hand.
Prediction: Isan Díaz is the Marlins starting 2B on Opening Day, Jazz goes to AAA
Garrett Cooper: Utility Guy?
If I started writing this article a week ago, this would’ve been a serious discussion about who should start at first base between Jesús Aguilar and Garrett Cooper. However, after hearing Cooper’s first (virtual) press conference, it seems like he’s preparing to play a lot of outfield this year. Cooper said his entire workout regiment this offseason was about building up speed and flexibility, the skills needed to run balls down in the outfield.
With the signing of Adam Duvall, Miami’s usual starting outfield will be Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte and Duvall. With the DH not coming back to the NL this year, it’s now even more difficult for Coop to get ABs. Obviously Cooper will get his fair share of starts at 1st—Aguilar is not gonna play 162 games—and he’ll be a really nice weapon off the bench in pinch-hit situations.
The problem if you’re the Marlins is that you want more than that from Cooper. He has been one of their best hitters since coming over from the Yankees posting a .793 OPS and 114 wRC+ in parts of three seasons. The issue is Cooper has struggled with injuries in a Marlins uniform playing just 155 games, so a more limited role could help keep him healthy.
Garrett Cooper takes Yu Darvish deep and the Marlins are one step closer to advancing to the NLDS
Catch the finish on ABC! pic.twitter.com/PjKFQtQoTr
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 2, 2020
Craig Mish of the Miami Herald reported earlier this month there were teams interested in trading for Cooper, but I can’t see the Marlins moving him right now. The truth is the Marlins got the short end of the stick when it comes to the DH fiasco, and now have one too many hitters in their lineup. They’ll certainly be creative in trying to find ABs for Cooper, with one solution being platooning him and Corey Dickerson, with Duvall playing his natural left and Cooper in right on those days. I think that’s possible to start the year or if Dickerson struggles, but they sure would be paying Dickerson a lot of money to be a platoon bat.
Prediction: Cooper gets spot starts at 1B, Marlins try out platoon and evaluate results
5th Spot: Rogers, Neidert, or the Italian Stallion
The Marlins finally parted ways with José Ureña this offseason and opted not to sign a cheap, veteran starting pitcher to fill his shoes. Instead, the choice really boils down to internal candidates—two top prospects and a guy that was considered a throw-in in the Marcell Ozuna trade. I don’t really think there’s a wrong answer.
The first option is going with young lefty Trevor Rogers. The Marlins #9 prospect made a shocking appearance at the big league level last year, starting seven games and impressing along the way. While Rogers’ 6.11 ERA doesn’t look good, the numbers suggest he had some bad luck. Hitters had an unsustainably high .380 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) off Rogers, and his 3.86 SIERA (a similar stat to FIP but more advanced) also suggests he deserved better than his results.
One thing Rogers did struggle with was the walk and I think that has to do with realizing how hard it is to get guys to chase outside the zone at this level. Despite that, Rogers posted great strikeout numbers with 12.54 K/9 and 30.0 K% showing that his stuff is good enough to generate swings-and-misses.
That being said, Rogers was only had five AA starts in his career prior to his call-up and skipped AAA entirely. Because of this I think there are still things Rogers can work on, and I think the Marlins are trying to avoid another Jordan Yamamoto situation. I’d start Rogers in the minors until he forces you to bring him back up.
The other big-name prospect in contention is Nick Neidert, who is ranked 11th in the Marlins Top 30 by MLB Pipeline. Neidert made just four appearances out of the ‘pen last year due to COVID. He also dealt with injury trouble in 2019 so it’s been very difficult to judge him recently. The good news is the last time we saw a healthy Neidert for a full season he was pretty outstanding, posting a 3.48 FIP and 9.08 K/9 in 26 starts at the AA level in 2018.
Marlins rookie Nick Neidert picked up his first three big league strikeouts over two scoreless frames. pic.twitter.com/FBExKPkAH0
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) September 17, 2020
Neidert will be 24 for all of this season and the Marlins believed in him enough to make the Opening Day roster last season, although in a bullpen role. I have written and talked a lot about Neidert and am a huge fan of how he controls and moves his pitches, generating swing and miss despite not having top end stuff. The Marlins have shown a desire to build a fully homegrown rotation and I don’t think Neidert has anything left to prove in AAA. He’ll be on the Opening Day roster, what role he’ll fill remains the question.
The final option the Marlins have is lefty Daniel Castano. Castano was considered a throw-in in the Ozuna trade but he was pretty valuable in eating innings when the Marlins needed it most last year. He didn’t really strike anybody out (only 3.64 K/9) but he limited damage and kept runs off the board posting a very respectable 3.03 ERA in 7 appearances (6 starts).
I don’t see a ton of potential with Castano but he’s definitely a guy that can fill a role on the team. I think he fits better in a swing role either in long relief or making spot starts, but when you talk to Castano, it’s clear he is going to fight for that last rotation spot—whether he earns it or not remains to be seen. There’s also a chance that Castano starts in AAA due to roster space, because Rule 5 pick Paul Campbell needs a spot.
“I earned it” says Daniel Castano about what he did this spring if he’s in the Opening Day rotation.
Says everybody wants to have a competitive camp, not here just to go to the beach and enjoy the sunshine.
— Ethan Budowsky (@ethanbudowsky) February 22, 2021
Castano will get the ball in the Marlins spring opener followed by Neidert which suggests those two are the main contenders for the spot. I would opt for potential with Neidert but it’s clear both will have to prove they deserve the 5th spot, and Rogers will get a chance as well.
Prediction: Neidert gets the 5th spot, Castano is next man up at AAA, Rogers starts in AA or AAA.
There are other things that need sorting out as well thanks to the extra active roster spot (MLB traditionally has had only 25 spots, but there will be 26 this season). How does the bullpen shape up? I’ve predicted the Marlins to open with a nine-man ‘pen here, but it’s tempting to swap one of those arms for a dynamic athlete like Lewis Brinson or Monte Harrison. Paul Campbell’s Rule 5 status complicates things for them.
Here’s my full prediction for the Marlins Opening Day roster come April 1 against the Rays:
2B Isan Díaz
SS Miguel Rojas
RF Adam Duvall
1B/OF Garrett Cooper
UTIL Jon Berti
RHP Sandy Alcantara
RHP Pablo López
RHP Sixto Sánchez
RHP Nick Neidert
LHP Ross Detwiler
LHP Richard Bleier
RHP Paul Campbell
RHP James Hoyt
RHP Adam Cimber
RHP John Curtiss
RHP Dylan Floro
RHP Yimi García
RHP Anthony Bass
Predicted Injured List: RHP Jeff Brigham (undisclosed injury), RHP Edward Cabrera (inflamed nerve in right biceps), RHP Zach Pop (Tommy John surgery recovery)