On Monday afternoon, the Miami Marlins made manager Don Mattingly available to local media. Touching on a number of interesting topics, Mattingly’s media availability lasted nearly 30 minutes via Zoom.
Here’s a look at 5 Takeaways from Mattingly’s Media Availability.
Mattingly’s Media Availability: COVID-19 Concerns
MLB, as well as the NBA, MLS and NHL, is trying to get games going in the safest way they can manage. Some players, like Dodgers SP David Price, Rockies OF Ian Desmond, Nationals 1B Ryan Zimmerman, and Braves SP Felix Hernandez and OF Nick Markakis, have opted out of the 2020 season, citing COVID-19 concerns among other reasons. The Marlins, who are nestled in a current COVID-19 hotspot, have been measured with their precautions and procedures.
Some of those concerns were addressed during Mattingly’s media availability.
“We see the news,” Mattingly said. “[But] we haven’t had that feel here, haven’t had that vibe that guys are nervous about playing. Maybe it’s just our age or our group.”
Mattingly went on to say the entire team had testing done for the virus Monday but noted they “feel fairly safe.”
He explained the team is taking precautions seriously, maintaining social distance and wearing masks when possible, and using hand sanitizer. Mattingly also indicated that should the test results take too long, or the results themselves show a spread, the team could shut down its facilities like the Nationals and Astros.
“I feel fairly confident,” Mattingly said about the prospect of the 2020 season. “I feel like there’s still some kinks that we’re working out with testing and getting results back. But I am confident that we’ll get that together and get this thing off the ground.”
Prospects On the Rise
The Marlins 60-man player pool featured a number of the franchise’s high-end prospects. While many of those players are still a ways away from the big leagues, some have been invited to Marlins Park for the summer training camp.
Both Jesús Sánchez and Lewin Díaz stand among Miami’s top-10 prospects and both arrived at Marlins Park on Monday. Sanchez sports a smooth left-handed swing with power potential as a right fielder. Diaz towers as a first baseman at 6-foot-4 and features serious power in his bat.
“You feel good about both of these kids,” Mattingly said of Sanchez and Diaz. “Both are physical kids that got a pretty good feel for hitting.”
During Mattingly’s media availability, the manager hedged on whether either, or both, would make their MLB debut this season.
“You know sometimes that timetable can shift a year here or here or there, but I like both of these guys. I’m pretty confident both are going to be successful.”
One prospected who’s on the short-list to make the active 30-man roster is lefty relief pitcher Alex Vesia. The 24-year-old impressed by posting a 1.62 ERA with 138 strikeouts over 100 innings while advancing to Double-A during his first two pro seasons.
“Everywhere he went he had success,” Mattingly said. Miami’s manager noted Vesia pitches “with confidence” and “has some Moxie about him. He’s on the attack, he’s not afraid, he’s a strike thrower. He’s looked really good.”
Pitching through Spring Training this March, Vesia sported a nearly 41 scoreless innings streak that caught people’s eye. He could be part of a revamped bullpen that desperately needed an upgrade.
Last season, the Marlins featured one of the worst bullpens in all of 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 in MLB.
Jonathan Villar’s role
The Marlins added utility infielder Jonathan Villar this offseason. The move came with questions, though, as Miami features regulars at all of Villar’s positions.
Villar performed at a high rate for the Orioles over the last two seasons. In 2019, he 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.
One of the major storylines heading into Spring surrounded Villar’s role with the club. The addition of the DH to the National League simplifies things.
“I still like him up top in the order,” Mattingly said, who views Villar as an offensive sparkplug. According to the manager, Villar could bounce “back and forth between centerfield, second base, shortstop and DH.”
Although the team lists Villar as an infielder, Mattingly indicated Villar continues to see work in centerfield. The team, though, had hoped to get him more reps there during Spring Training.
Marlins Park experienced renovations this offseason, with the addition of an artificial playing surface and altering the dimensions.
Mattingly noted the organization looks for players who can hit first, with power potential as a secondary concern. They team wants to avoid players with high strikeout rates and big power. They’d rather someone who is “productive in a lot of different games in different ways.”
Between the new dimensions and the new hitters, Mattingly did say they expect to more home runs this season. He referenced Villar hitting over 20 home runs last season, as well as Aguilar’s power. He also mentioned Jorge Alfaro and Brian Anderson’s development as hitters.
“I think the ballpark obviously will play just a tick smaller,” he said, noting it’s not playing like a hitter’s park during recent batting practice sessions. “I think the park plays fair.”
Mattingly’s Media Availability: The Schedule
The Marlins face one of the most difficult schedules in MLB for 2020. This gauntlet features six teams who were above .500 last season, and only two teams who were below.
“You got good teams you’re going to face with the American League East. We always deal with Tampa, who are obviously really good this moment. Yankees are always good, Boston’s always good. Toronto’s young and coming [and] Baltimore’s a little bit like us.
“Your main thing is: Get yourselves ready to play.”
Despite the difficult slate, Mattingly expressed the team’s confidence. The sprint metaphor for this season seems apt. While the best teams usually win out in a 162-game season, in a 60-game stretch, anything can happen. Even the 1993 Marlins won 30 games over a 61-game sample during their expansion season.
“In a 60-game season, there is a lot of momentum. You go 8-4 out of the gate, you’ve played 20 percent of your season, and you put pressure on teams.”
The Marlins will open the 2020 season on in Philadelphia, then play a home-and-home four-game set with Baltimore.
“I know we’re gonna be playing good teams,” Mattingly said. “Everybody has a chance to in this scenario.”
Mattingly said his staff has largely settled on an opening day starter, but he did not name the pitcher.
Most assume it will be 2019 All-Star Sandy Alcantara taking the mound on July 24th. After Alcantara, the Marlins should roll out some variation of Caleb Smith, Pablo López, José Ureña and either Jordan Yamamoto, Elieser Hernández or perhaps prospect Nick Neidert.
Mattingly mentioned the team has talked about a regular five-man rotation. They’ve also kicked around the idea of piggybacking but haven’t discussed going to a six-man set.
Piggybacking could have four starters on limited pitch-counts (maybe 75 or so), followed by three or four long relievers with a pitch-count around 50. This model is common in the lower levels of the minor leagues. The team could implement a piggybacking tandem with just the fifth slot in the rotation.
“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.
During Mattingly’s media availability, he went on to discuss how the truncated nature of the schedule limits his ability to be patient with struggling pitchers and hitters.
“You don’t have time to like try to search for it and try to milk guys along, get guys in the groove. You’re going to look for guys to get in the groove right away. And you’re going to be making some decisions based upon some early results with guys, which may be fair or unfair but that’s the way it works when you’re in a pennant race. You’re playing guys that are hot guys are getting it done.”
“We need to win every game. You got to play like you’re gonna win every game,” Mattingly said of the team’s mindset for 2020. “Every game is important, every play is important, every out is important, and just go after it in that way.”