2019 Season Preview: Miami Marlins

Miami Marlins
by Ernesto Herrero

2018 Record: 63-98 (5th in NL East)

2018 Payroll: $91,817,860 (26th)

Projected 2019 Lineup:

  1. OF Curtis Granderson: .222 AVG/.326 OBP/.381 SLG, 0.5 WAR
  2. 2B Starlin Castro: .266 AVG/.313 OBP/.401 SLG, 1.6 WAR
  3. OF Brian Anderson: .260 AVG/.334 OBP/.407 SLG, 2.1 WAR
  4. 1B Neil Walker: .249 AVG/.329 OBP/.405 SLG, 0.8 WAR
  5. 3B Martin Prado: .261 AVG/.312 OBP/.369 SLG, 0.1 WAR
  6. SS JT Riddle: .248 AVG/.293 OBP/.370 SLG, 0.8 WAR
  7. C Jorge Alfaro: .237 AVG/.288 OBP/.376 SLG, 1.0 WAR
  8. OF Lewis Brinson: .234 AVG/.286 OBP/.396 SLG, 0.9 WAR

Projected 2019 Rotation:

  1. Jose Urena: 162.0 IP/4.43 ERA/1.38 WHIP, 1.1 WAR
  2. Dan Straily: 156.0 IP/4.86 ERA/1.40 WHIP, 0.5 WAR
  3. Sandy Alcantara: 65.0 IP/4.64 ERA/1.49 WHIP, 0.3 WAR
  4. Trevor Richards: 124.0 IP/4.12 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 1.2 WAR
  5. Wei Yin Chen: 157.0 IP/4.36 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 1.4 WAR

The vibrant, colorful cultures that make up the city of Miami are what define this town. For a very long time, these unfortunately did not reflect the sentiment around the Marlins, Miami’s promising yet briefly successful baseball club. But the change has begun.

Soon after the conclusion of the 2017 season, former owner Jeffrey Loria sold the club for $1.2 billion to a group led by Bruce Sherman and former New York Yankee icon, Derek Jeter. For the Marlins, the Loria era was defined by outstanding players such as Miguel Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez, Giancarlo Stanton, and Jose Fernandez, yet despite these elite players, the absence of winning baseball eluded Marlins fans. 2009 was the last season in which the Marlins were a winning team, and as a result, there have been numerous attempts at changing the negative perception clouding this franchise. The Marlins have gone through numerous “rebranding” experiments in addition to moving into their new stadium (which remains without a corporate partner for the naming rights), and plenty of talented players, but the results have simply not shown. Previous ownership undoubtedly drove fans away from Marlins Park as a result of negative perception to trades and financial commitments (or lack thereof) to the team on the field. Hope was on the horizon in 2013, as the likes of Jose Fernandez, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna made their debuts in addition to homegrown talent Giancarlo, back then Mike, Stanton blossoming into one of the bigger stars in the game. However, in what seems like a broken record for this franchise, trades and signings just did not pan out. Michael Morse, Wei Yin Chen, Edinson Volquez, and Matt Latos were just some of the reinforcements brought in to strengthen the core of this team, but they simply did not get the job done. The team lacked a strong farm system and depth, after trades to acquire these players essentially gutted the teams foundation, its youth in the minor leagues. Many say the Fish did not reach the playoffs due to injury bugs, but I’m sorry to tell you that’s not how it works. Injuries happen to every team, and the only way to get through those injuries is by having depth and young talent in the farm that can come up and contribute. The death of Jose Fernandez was also a critical turning point for the franchise. A Cuban pitcher who represented the Hispanic community and strived to be the best, was gone after an unfortunate incident that cost the lives of two others. With the passing of Fernandez, Miami was stunned and shocked. From that day on, the franchise would never be the same, and Jeffrey Loria’s selling of the franchise in November of 2017 was the first of many moves to come for a critically damaged organization, both on and off the field.

The light at the end of the tunnel suddenly grew, and grew fast. Jeffrey Loria accepted the $1.2 billion offer to sell the Marlins to a group led by Bruce Sherman and former MLB superstar, Derek Jeter. People knew changes needed to be made. In his first season at the helm as President of Baseball Operations, Derek Jeter traded the likes of Adeiny Hechavarria, David Phelps, and AJ Ramos to bolster a depleted farm system. The rebuild was inevitable and in purchasing a franchise which was just treading water financially, cost-cutting options were seriously considered.

Derek Jeter’s second year with the organization will be substantial for the franchise. Now it is time to see how all of the acquired players develop. Let’s take a look at what the former New York Yankee icon has done in his second offseason with the Miami Marlins:

Offseason Recap:

The Miami Marlins are the odd guy out in a stacked NL East. With every team in their division making big moves left and right, such as the Phillies acquiring Bryce Harper, the Mets getting Robinson Cano, and so on, the Marlins will try to survive with mostly internal options.

One word to describe this upcoming season for the Marlins: opportunity. As any team in the midst of a rebuild, the Marlins are excited for their prospects to set foot in the majors. Sixto Sanchez, Victor Victor Mesa, and Monte Harrison are top prospects in the organization who will be with the big league team sooner rather than later.

The Marlins made some acquisitions this offseason through the free-agent market including Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, and Sergio Romo. Curtis Granderson was signed to Minor League Contract with an invitation to the big league camp. Granderson posted a .782 OPS for two teams in 2018. His signing is mostly to hold off the spot until players such as Monte Harrison and Victor Victor Mesa arrive to the big leagues. Sergio Romo signed a one-year contract for $2.5M, and will help out the young back-end of the bullpen, composed of Drew Steckenrider and Adam Conley. Don Mattingly has stated that there will be no designated closer, instead it will be based on certain match-ups. Sergio Romo was also the first reliever to bring “The Opener” to life, and the skipper has stated that that strategy will definitely be in play for the Marlins in 2019. Neil Walker also signed a one year contract for $2M, and after a rough, injury-plagued 2018 season, the second baseman is looking to bounce back. These one year deals are key for Miami, since if these players perform and look like they could help a contender, there will be no second thought of shipping them elsewhere.

Biggest Splash:

On February 7th, the Miami Marlins sent all-star catcher JT Realmuto within the division to the Philadelphia Phillies in a 4-player trade that brought the likes of C Jorge Alfaro, RHP Sixto Sanchez, and LHP Will Stewart to South Florida. Jorge Alfaro is a young a catcher who had 10 HR in 108 games, posted a 96 WRC+ and made hard contact 37.7% of the time in his first major league season. Average defensively, Alfaro is projected to be an above average offensive catcher who can reach 25 HR a season. The only problem with Alfaro is his lack of walks and excess of strikeouts. While still young, and five years under control, Alfaro will have the opportunity to fix those issues before highly regarded prospect Will Banfield starts knocking on the door. Sixto Sanchez, a young RHP from the Dominican Republic who many compare to Pedro Martinez, was the centerpiece of this trade. While throwing high 90’s and reaching triple digits at times, Sixto has also shown great command by posting a 2.12 BB/9. He has excelled in the lower minors by posting a FIP of 2.66 in A+ in 2018. The only problem has been his health, as Sanchez only pitched around 75 innings between 2017 and 2018. The Marlins are planning on keeping his innings under control while still being able to make up for the lost time. Will Stewart was the third and final piece in the trade, an interesting LHP who had a 2.06 ERA in 113.2 innings this past season. Not a hard thrower, he mainly stays within the 91-93 MPH range with his heavy sink fastball, which has produced a 2.4 groundout/flyout ratio, fifth in the minors last year. Besides the players, the Marlins also got around $250k of international signing money.

2019 Season Preview:

The Outfield:

The Marlins have five players competing for two outfield spots. The only spot that is essentially secured is Sweet Lew in center field. Lewis Brinson, who was coveted as a top-30 prospect in the majors at the beginning of 2018, had a rough rookie year. A really low OBP, below average SLG, and a 30% strikeout ratio has lead many fans to believe Lewis is a bust. The fanbase immediately looked back at the Yelich trade, where the Fish gave a to-be MVP for Brinson. One thing the fanbase must realize is that it has only been a year; from Statcast, Brinson made hard contact on 39% of balls he put in play in 2018, 5% more than the MLB average. Also, his BABIP was around 40 points lower than the average MLB player. That shows that Lewis just hasn’t had the best of luck. The one alarming issue with LB is the strikeouts. If Brinson doesn’t improve on them this season, which I highly believe he will, the organization will have some decisions to make. An article by Joe Frisaro early in Spring Training stated that manager Don Mattingly has seen several changes with Brinson’s approach and is optimistic on what Sweet Lew can bring to the team in 2019.

The other two spots will be a battle between Peter O’Brien, Curtis Granderson, Austin Dean and Garrett Cooper. O’Brien, a 28-year-old 1B/OF, played 22 games with the Marlins at the end of the season. He posted a .530 SLG. Peter definitely has the talent to become a key part of this Marlins rebuild, but we first must see how he can endure throughout 162 games. Austin Dean won the Minor League Position Player of the Year for the Marlins in 2018, and will have every opportunity to win the starting job. Dean has a solid approach and great feel for the barrel so it will be interesting to see how it will all shape out. Garrett Cooper, off the field for almost all of the 2018 season with a right wrist sprain, will be in the outfield discussion, but I believe he will also be sharing time at first base. An interesting player with good power but still has some doubt surrounding him. He can definitely take his walks as well as hit for power, as he did in the minors, but it is still uncertain what he can bring to the big stage.

The other two guys who will be knocking on the door this season are Monte Harrison and Victor Victor Mesa. Monte, acquired from the Yelich trade, is the Marlins #3 prospect. One of the most athletic prospects in the MLB, Monte Harrison has the speed and power to be the franchise player of this organization. His past season in the minors was not as great, as he struck out 215 times in 521 ABs, but in the AFL Harrison seemed to fix some of his issues at the plate by trying different stances and changing his approach. He batted .290 with an OBP of .383, while striking out way less than in the regular season (19 times in 69 ABs.)

Victor Victor Mesa was the Marlins top target this offseason, since he was the #1 prospect in the international market. VVM was signed for $5.25M in October, and instantly became the Marlins top prospect. His speed and defense was something that caught the attention of Miami executives. He will most likely start off the year in A+, but he will surely move up the minors at a fairly fast pace. His ability to make contact with the ball is outstanding, but that leads to him not taking as many walks. His defense and speed are ready for the majors, but we will have to see how he can develop offensively.

Around The Horn:

Let’s start off with third base. The second-best player for the Marlins in 2018 will be back at his natural position. Brian Anderson was stellar for the Fish last year posting a 113 WRC+. Even though Anderson does hit his fair share of ground balls, 51% of balls in play, he has stated that he is trying to implement more launch angle into his swing. This will ultimately lead to more power from him, a department that indeed needs some help since he only had 11 home runs last year. Right behind him will be Martin Prado, a veteran presence in his contract year. Prado has played less than 100 games between 2017 and 2018, making him a player who can hit for average as long as he stays healthy. Due to his leadership and great clubhouse presence, he will be a key component to help out the younger players adapt to the big leagues more smoothly.

Former All Star Starlin Castro will be back at second base, while Jt Riddle and Miguel Rojas split time at short. At first base, I believe that Garrett Cooper and Neil Walker will be splitting time as well. If Pedro Alvarez makes the team out of camp, he can also be an option at first. Behind the plate, recently acquired Jorge Alfaro will take over, with Chad Wallach as the backup.

Starting Rotation:

The starting rotation is set at the top, with ace Jose Urena going on opening day. Urena has improved throughout the years based on FIP. In 2017, he posted a FIP of 5.20, while in 2018, he lowered that number by a whole, posting a 4.17 FIP. Not a strikeout pitcher, Jose Urena relies on his high-speed, heavy sink fastball to get hitters out. He posted a 49.6 GB%, which helped him for a 1.8 WAR.

From there on, the Marlins rotation has a lot of variables. This is a list of the pitchers fighting for a spot:

  • Dan Straily
  • Sandy Alcantara
  • Trevor Richards
  • Caleb Smith
  • Pablo Lopez
  • Wei Yin Chen

The top four on that will most likely get a spot in the starting rotation, from my point of view. Dan Straily has been a steady force for the Marlins, posting just above 4.00 ERA in the past two years. Sandy Alcantara is one of the Marlins top prospects, and he will get every opportunity to secure his job in the majors. With a high-90’s fastball, Sandy Alcantara posted a 3.40 ERA in six starts for the Marlins last year. The only thing Sandy must improve on is the walks. He gave up 23 walks in 34 IP, which translates to a 6.09 BB/9 and a 4.75 FIP. If he can lower the walks by at least half, he will be able to reach his ceiling and become a top of the rotation starter.

When you hear the name Trevor Richards, you hear “change-up.” His 80 grade change up has opened up eyes all around the league. It was the seventh most chased pitch in the majors all of last season (chased 52.3% of the time), which led to a 9.26 K/9. I am expecting for Richard’s game to take the next step this season, since he had a 4.06 FIP, but a 4.42 ERA. One thing Trevor must do to improve his game is refine his other secondary pitches. His curveball is still well below average, but if he can better it for at least a league-average pitch, the MLB should watch out.

Caleb Smith was the Marlins best pitcher last year. Acquired from the Yankees, the lefty posted a 3.96 FIP in 77.1 IP with 88 strikeouts, but ended up the year in the disabled list with left shoulder tightness. His fastball stays within the 92-96 MPH range, while hitting 97 MPH at times. The Marlins are excited to see what Smith can do over the course of a whole season, as he might end up being a core player in their rotation.

Wei Yin Chen was the story of the year… at home. He posted a 1.62 ERA at Marlins park, but a 9.27 ERA when away. Based on those results, Chen might be have a couple of spot starts in Marlins park, but from my perception I think he will start off the season in the bullpen as a long reliever. Pablo Lopez will look from the outside in; he will be next man up in the rotation and will most likely start off the year in AAA.

Record Prediction: 61-101

Player to Watch #1: 3B Brian Anderson

Many people believed Brian Anderson should have obtained a higher positioning in the ROY votes. With his 113 WRC+ and a 3.4 WAR season, AB has settled himself as an above average third baseman. With slick glove work in the hot corner, and a new approach at the plate, Brian Anderson will take the next step this upcoming season. A guy who can get on base consistently, .357 OBP in 2018, with good barrel-to-ball skills will have a great impact in this young Marlins team. I predict him to hit .280/.360/.440 and produce a 3.7-4.3 fWAR.

Player to Watch #2: 1B/OF Peter O’Brien

The 27-year-old journeyman has seemed to settle in South Florida. Posting a 135 WRC+ last year, O’Brien is looking to go above that in 2019. In 2018, Peter hit a total of 34 HR between AA, AAA, and the majors. This guy has the potential to hit 25+ HRs a year and I believe this will be his breakout season. At 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, O’Brien has the framework to be an impactful power hitter, and for the Marlins, an opportunity to have found a diamond in the rough. I predict him to hit .240/.320/.480 with 27 HRs.

Player to Watch #3: 2B Isan Diaz

A young second basemen acquired in the Yelich trade, Isan is regarded as one of the top prospects in the Marlins organization. Many people compare his swing to fellow in-division rival Robinson Cano. With natural power and outstanding plate discipline, Isan Diaz is the Marlins’ 2B of the future. One thing he must improve on before he gets to the majors is to cut down on the strikeouts and make more contact. Last year between AA and AAA he had 27.9 K% while only hitting .240, and surprisingly his OBP was not affected as it stayed above .350. Isan will come up to the majors later in the season, and I expect much to come from this young second baseman.

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