The Miami Marlins have split their 60-man player pool workouts between Marlins Park and their facility in Jupiter, FL. While there’s been some movement back-and-forth by a few players, for the most part, players expected to be on the 30-man Opening Day roster are practicing at Marlins Park. There’s nothing set in stone yet, but there’s certainly growing clarity for the Marlins roster.
Here’s a look at five tidbits from recent media availabilities that are clues to the Marlins roster on Opening Day.
Jonathan Villar’s Versatility
The Marlins roster received a significant upgrade when the team landed Jonathan Villar this offseason.
In 2019, Villar slashed .273/.339/.453 and posted a 4.0 WAR over 162 games for Baltimore. He started 158 of them at either second base or at shortstop. Villar brings durability, defensive acumen and consistent offensive production.
“When you trade for Jonathan, that’s one of those moves as a manager that you’re like ‘Yes’ right away,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He gives you a guy up top. He’s a switch-hitter, power and average, steals bags. A guy that’s exciting up top.”
Defensively, though, it’s unclear what position Villar will man day-to-day.
According to Mattingly, Villar could bounce “back and forth between centerfield, second base, shortstop and DH.” He also has experience playing third base.
Villar said he’s “here for the team” and the possibility of playing multiple positions is one he’s ready for.
“You have to prepare mentally and physically every day. I’m prepared for whatever comes.”
Villar admitted some discomfort working in centerfield and said judging line drives has been particularly difficult early on. However, his spot in the lineup is all but assured.
“I still like him up top in the order,” Mattingly said, citing Villar’s combination of power and speed. The addition of the DH to the National League simplifies things for the Marlins, as Villar is an option there.
Marlins Roster: Fifth Starter Competition
Prior to Spring Training’s COVID-19 shut down, the frontend of Miami’s pitching rotation seemed set. While he hasn’t announced the Opening Day starter, Mattingly admitted they’ve settled on one.
The assumption at this point is that 2019 All-Star Sandy Alcantara will get the Opening Day nod in Philadelphia. From there, it’s likely that Caleb Smith, Pablo Lopez and José Ureña will follow in some order.
Mattingly mentioned the team leans toward a regular five-man rotation. They’ve kicked around the idea of piggybacking but have ruled out a six-man set.
“I think we will probably try to settle on five [pitchers] and feel good about that, knowing that we have depth moving forward with the other guys,” Mattingly said of the staff.
While most seemed to view it as a two-man race, Mattingly was quick to add the 23-year-old righty into the mix. He said Neidert’s in a “position to stay.”
In five minor league seasons, Neidert sports a 3.20 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and an 8.1 K/9 rate over 460.2 innings pitched. He features a 90-93 mph sinking fastball that pounds the bottom of the zone. His deceptive delivery can fool hitters.
In six innings pitched this spring, Neidert gave up only one earned run. Yamamoto surrendered three earned runs over eight innings pitched. Hernandez gave up six earned runs in his 11 innings. Dugger was the best of the bunch this Spring, not giving up any runs over 9.2 innings of work.
Don Mattingly came out on Wednesday in support of Isan Díaz as not only the Marlins current second baseman, but also the second baseman of the future.
“He’s the guy,” Matting said. That’s reassuring for the 24-year-old Puerto Rico native, especially considering his struggles in 2019.
After a rousing debut that saw Diaz connect on a home run against Jacob DeGrom, much to the delight of his father in the stands, hitting didn’t come as easily for him as it did in Triple-A. Diaz finished his 2019 stint with the Marlins with a .173 batting average and .259 on-base percentage in 201 plate appearances.
The struggles continued this spring, as he managed to slash just .103/.235/.103 over 34 plate appearances.
“We look at Isan as our second baseman,” said Mattingly. “Not only now, but we think he’s going to be the second baseman of the future.”
This vote of confidence comes after the Marlins brought in a productive offensive force in Villar that could play Diaz’s position.
“His track record shows that he’s gonna hit” Mattingly said. The manager acknowledged that it wasn’t great for Diaz last year, but that he “had spurts, had moments.”
Mattingly likened Diaz to Brian Anderson as some who “sees the ball well, gets himself good pitches to hit. Sometimes maybe a little too passive, but knows the strike zone, is capable of using the whole field, has got a clean swing.”
Learning from these experiences will be key for Diaz. He’s viewed as the second baseman right now, but an extended struggle may force Mattingly’s hand in a truncated season.
Marlins Roster: Bullpen Shakeup
Last season, the Marlins featured one of the worst bullpens in MLB. Miami relievers posted the fifth-worst ERA (4.97), strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.11) and save percentage (55.1). Their WHIP (1.45) was seventh worst. Relievers blew 22 save opportunities and surrendered a .235 batting-average-against and .343 on-base percentage.
“You look at our overall bullpen performance, and it was not good,” said Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill in December.
The biggest addition for the bullpen in 2020 was 35-year-old Brandon Kintzler. The 11-year MLB veteran signed a one-year, $3.25 million deal with the Marlins.
Kintzler has taken a mentor role with this young group. He’s stressed value of routines and expressed that “this generation throws way too much” and that they’ll have to “figure out how to be a bullpen guy the big leagues.”
The bullpen turnover has also seen the addition of 31-year-old Brad Boxberger. Boxberger has 77 career saves, 3.59 ERA and 1.30 WHIP over MLB eight seasons, including a league-leading 41 with Tampa Bay in 2015. In 2018 with Arizona, he registered 32 saves.
Among the other additions stands Yimi Garcia. The 29-year-old five-year MLB vet posted a 3.61 ERA and 0.87 WHIP over 62.1 innings pitched with the Los Angeles Dodgers. A power arm, Garcia throws strikes and avoids walks, two things that will help this bullpen.
These veterans will help the development of younger arms like newcomers Stephen Tarpley, Sterling Sharp, Alex Vesia and Nick Vincent. They’ll join incumbent relievers Jeff Brigham, Adam Conley, Ryne Stanek and Drew Steckenrider.
Kintzler is the presumptive closer come Opening Day. Mattingly also heralded Boxberger as one of the experienced arms in the ‘pen. Garcia impressed this spring, and Sharp is a Rule 5 pick who will need to be on the Marlins roster to be kept.
Mattingly also seems high on Vesia, the left prospect who sported a 41 scoreless inning streak recently.
“There’s plenty to like. Everywhere he went he had success.” Mattingly said Vesia “pitched with confidence” & “has some moxie about him,” noting “He’s on the attack. He’s not afraid. He’s a strike thrower.”
Over 27 plate appearances before the COVID-19 shut down, Harrison swung the bat well. He slashed .364/.481/.500, had six RBI, three doubles and a team-leading six stolen bases.
“Monte looks good,” Mattingly said. “He’s swung the bat good here. Plays with energy, plays fast. He’s aggressive.”
Mattingly called Harrison a “mega-talented kid.” The 24-year-old came to Miami as part of the Christian Yelichdeal and has a lofty ceiling. His combination of speed and strength reinforce his all-around tools. He has an 84 percent success rate with stolen bases over his minor league career and could be a 30-30 guy at the Major League level.
“Monte’s worked really hard to continue to improve,” Mattingly said. “And he’s going to continue to improve and get better. We’re happy with the strides he’s been making. Obviously, the new summer camp puts him back in the equation.”