For the Miami Marlins, the 2020 season arrives with new faces and renewed hope. While not the normal spring beginning by any means, this optimism feels real and is largely tied to a number of potential Marlins breakout candidates.
The 2020 MLB season arrived last night in rainy Washington, D.C. For the Marlins, they’re a few hours north in Philadelphia awaiting their first tilt of the truncated season. The landscape of MLB transformed this year thanks to COVID-19, new rules and an eleventh-hour agreement to expand the playoffs. Everyone has a chance, and for Miami, their opportunity to break a 17-year postseason drought could be decided by a handful of players.
So here’s a look at five Marlins breakout candidates for the 2020 season.
Marlins Breakout Candidates: Sandy Alcantara
Miami’s Opening Day starter is 24-year-old Sandy Alcantara. A first-time all-star in 2019, Alcantara finished 6-14 with a 3.88 ERA, 151 strikeouts, 81 walks and two complete-game shutouts. His best work came over an 11-game stretch to end the season. Over his final 74.1 innings, Alcantara posted a 2.74 ERA and 1.05 WHIP with 62 strikeouts. He hit seven innings in seven of his last 11 starts.
“I think that’s the biggest thing in my life, being the Opening Day starter. I feel great about that,” Alcantara said. “I’m ready to go.”
In 2019, Alcantara went 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA versus Philadelphia. He sports a five-pitch arsenal which includes a solid fastball-sinker-slider combo. His changeup and curve are weapons versus lefties.
“His stuff is as good as anyone,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said recently. “I don’t care who you want to put out there. His stuff is as good as anyone’s.”
For the Marlins, if Alcantara can ascend to top-line starter level, the 2020 season will be a success.
“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” Alcantara said. “They want me to be a leader. That’s what I’m trying to do. Keep preparing myself. Keep getting better. Become an ace.”
Marlins Breakout Candidates: Pablo Lopez
If the Marlins are going to contend for a playoff spot, they’ll need Pablo Lopez to make a leap. In 2019, Lopez sported a 4.23 ERA through mid-June, allowing four earned-runs or less in 13 of his 14 starts. But after he went down with strained right shoulder, he wasn’t the same pitcher.
Marlins pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. has been impressed by Lopez throughout the spring and summer, particularly considering the tragic passing of Lopez’s father recently. He said Lopez is the pitcher he’s “most excited about.” And Lopez has worked tirelessly to develop his game, adding a cutter to his arsenal, which already includes a top-level changeup.
Following an impressive performance during a simulated game last Thursday, Mattingly noted that it was “the best I’ve ever seen Pablo look as far as being that aggressive guy.”
Lopez also looked good against the Braves. He dispatched Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman on six pitches in the first inning of that game. Lopez will start the home opener versus the Baltimore Orioles next week.
Starting him in Marlins Park is a nod to Lopez’s struggles on the road in 2019, where he went 2-5 with a 7.36 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. At home, Lopez was much better, going 3-3 with a 3.39 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.
Marlins Breakout Candidates: Isan Díaz
The hype surrounding Isan Díaz seemed well worth it when he took Jacob DeGrom deep in his MLB debut. That memorable moment, though, was followed by uncharacteristic struggles at the plate for the 24-year-old. Díaz finished his first year in the Majors with a .173 batting average, five home runs and 23 RBI.
“There were a lot of things going on mentally,” Díaz said of the struggles. “I wasn’t allowing my ability to evolve in the game. Those are things that happen.
“I had a great group of guys here who told me to take it as a learning curve and come back ready for next year,” he said. “Here we are for this 2020 season and already there’s a big difference with how I’m mentally feeling and how I’m going at this. I think that last year’s failure actually is going to help me for this year.”
Mattingly sees Díaz as the team’s second baseman now and of the future. He said Díaz’s “track record show that he’s gonna hit.”
Díaz should find the addition of new bench coach/offensive coordinator James Rowson hugely beneficial. Díaz has raw power but was too patient as a rookie, falling behind often. He’s already demonstrated strides at the plate in the exhibitions versus Atlanta. Although he only had one hit and one walk, there were productive at-bats.
Marlins Breakout Candidates: Jorge Alfaro
The player who could enjoy the most gains from the addition of Rowson is Jorge Alfaro. The 27-year-old catcher flashed his potential with the bat in 2019, connecting on 18 home runs, 14 doubles and 57 RBI. What hurt Alfaro was a 38.4-percent swing-and-miss rate, a 48-percent chase rate and a 33.1-percent strikeout rate.
Rowson says he wants Marlins hitters to take “swings to do damage,” and Alfaro can certainly do that. He sported a 44.8 percent hard-hit rate (a ball with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph) last season.
Alfaro demonstrated the new aggressive approach on Tuesday when he punched the first pitch he saw over the leftfield fence at Truist Park. In the two games, Alfaro went 3-for-5 with a homer and two RBI.
He’ll also need to improve defensively. Alfaro posted the fourth-most errors by a catcher (11) and the third-most passed balls (11). He’ll be mentored this year by Francisco Cervelli, who’s well known for his defensive acumen.
Marlins Breakout Candidates: Brian Anderson
Although the Marlins added higher profile names to their lineup (Jesus Aguilar, Corey Dickersonand Jonathan Villar), Brian Anderson remains a key component to this offense. Anderson’s second year ended in August after a hit-by-pitch fractured his left hand. He slashed .261/.341/.468 with 20 home runs, 33 doubles and 66 RBI.
“I think he’s been getting better and better,” Mattingly said. “I think he’s got all the attributes. I’ve talked about him a lot from the standpoint of he sees the ball good and controls the strike zone. He’s got a good swing. He uses the whole field. Everything’s there in place.”
Anderson does have the tendency to get frustrated at the plate, evidenced by his 0-for-4 performance in the first exhibition versus the Braves. But Anderson bounced back with a solid 2-for-3 outing, including a double and run scored.
Adding Villar, Dickerson and Aguilar around Anderson should also provide the 27-year-old third baseman with lineup protection he’s never received in Miami.
“Those types of guys are definitely gonna make our lineup just more well-rounded and just tougher to pitch to,” Anderson said. “For me, I’m hoping that means I get more pitches to hit. It’s my job to make sure that I get those good pitches and I hit them.”
Recent reports indicate that Miami and Anderson have discussed a long-term contract extension.
“They’ve obviously given me an incredible opportunity here so I would love to stay here,” said Anderson, who the Marlins drafted in 2014 (third round).
“I love the direction that we’re going. I love getting to hear Derek talk about expecting to win,” he said. “That’s something that can grow and build and we can start making something special here.”