Fans learned the answer to one of the big questions for the Marlins roster in 2020 yesterday. Manager Don Mattingly revealed on the Marlins YouTube show ‘The Line Drive’ that Sandy Alcantara will be the Opening Day starter for Miami.
This decision was not unexpected, particularly considering Alcantara’s stretch to end 2019. The first-time all-star pitched lights out over his final 11 starts of the campaign. Over 74.1 innings pitched, Alcantara posted a 2.74 ERA and 1.05 WHIP with 62 strikeouts. He hit seven innings in seven of his last 11 starts, including one shutout.
With that question answered, the focus now shifts to others. Here’s a look at five questions Mattingly still needs to answer regarding the Marlins roster.
Marlins Roster – Who will be the fifth starter?
While the front end the rotation seems set, the fifth starter on the Marlins roster is a spot still up for grabs. Vying for that spot are: Jordan Yamamoto, Elieser Hernandez, Robert Dugger and Nick Neidert.
Last Sunday, Yamamoto and Hernandez faced off as the starters. According to reports, both pitchers had moments and struggles. Yams played well defensively and struck out two. Hernandez gave up a homer but struck out five over his five innings.
Dugger threw on Monday, finishing four innings with two strikeouts and two hits.
Neidert also threw Monday. Over four innings, he surrendered three hits and registered three strikeouts. Lots of weak contact, according to reports. Mattingly said Neidert, who impressed in the Arizona Fall League, is in a “position to stay.”
“There’s a good chance you could see both of those guys here, either early or at some point during this year,” Mattingly said of both Neidert and Dugger.
Yamamoto and Hernandez seem like the frontrunners for the spot. Dugger could land in the bullpen. Neidert might not break camp with the club, but he’s probably the next pitcher in line for promotion.
Who will be the centerfielder?
Heading into spring, Monte Harrison stood out among the options for centerfield. He competed with Lewis Brinson and Magneuris Sierra, among others, for the spot. Harrison built on successes last year at the Triple-A level and parlayed that into an impressive spring/summer.
“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 profiles as a potential 30-30 guy for the Marlins.
The other significant option is Jonathan Villar, who started in center on Monday for the sim game. According to Mattingly, Villar could bounce “back and forth between centerfield, second base, shortstop and DH.”
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, saying judging line drives has been particularly difficult early on. However, his spot atop the lineup is all but assured.
Other options include Sierra and Harold Ramirez. For Sierra, he’s out of minor league options. If he doesn’t make the team, he’ll need to go through waivers to remain with the team. His speed would be valuable for Mattingly off the bench.
Who will man first base?
One of the major issues for the Marlins in 2019 was a lack of power. The team was last in homers and runs scored. Miami made that a focus of their offseason acquisitions, adding Villar, Jesus Aguilar, Corey Dickerson and Matt Joyce. Among that group, Aguilar sports the most power, having hit 35 home runs during his 2018 All-Star campaign.
Mattingly has said “we like the way he looks” and he’s put Aguilar at first for the most recent scrimmages. Aguilar’s fine defensively, but he’ll need to regain his 2018 form, after struggling in 2019, in order to remain the regular first baseman.
Garrett Cooper manned first for the Marlins 73 times in 2019. During the offseason, Mattingly expressed doubt concerning Cooper’s ability to be an everyday player. Cooper has struggled with injuries during his time with the Marlins, but he does possess All-Star and 30-homer potential.
Cooper will be on this roster, and he’s likely going to be a regular fixture in the lineup. He can play first, right or DH. That versatility makes him a valuable plug-and-play option for Mattingly this season.
The dark horse candidate for the Marlins roster this year is Lewin Diaz. The 23-year-old prospect holds tantalizing power potential. Mattingly compared Diaz to former MLB All-Star Carlos Delgado, and the manager has indicated there’s a good chance Diaz could be with the club at some point this season. His left-handed power could be an integral part of this lineup.
Who will fill out the bullpen?
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.
The Marlins turned over a considerable part of this bullpen. And while Brandon Kintzler seemed locked in at closer, there are question marks throughout the rest of the ‘pen.
The other locks are probably Yimi Garcia, Ryne Stanek and Drew Steckenrider. At least one of the pitchers who don’t make the cut as fifth starter will likely slide over as a long reliever. Sterling Sharp also seems like a lock considering his Rule-5 acquisition.
Beyond that, players like Brad Boxberger, Jeff Brigham, Adam Conley, Aaron Northcraft, Josh A. Smith, Stephen Tarpley, Alex Vesia and Nick Vincent, among others, are all vying for spots.
Who are the wildcards on the Marlins roster?
One of the most interesting parts of the Marlins roster construction remains the versatility. Multiple players could slot into various positions. Most notably, Villar has been seen during summer camp working along three different positions (CF, 2B and SS), and he has experience at a fourth (3B).
Another wildcard is Vesia, the lefty rookie who sported a 41 scoreless inning streak through spring. Vesia posted a 1.62 ERA with 138 strikeouts over 100 innings while advancing to Double-A.
“Everywhere he went he had success.” Mattingly said Vesia “pitched with confidence” and “has some moxie about him,” noting “He’s on the attack; he’s not afraid; he’s a strike thrower.”
Vesia’s emergence could endanger lefty veteran Conley’s spot in the bullpen. A similar emergence from Steckenrider could make Kintzler expendable at the trading deadline should the Marlins be out of the race.
Harrison also stands a wildcard for the Marlins roster because if he can take center or right field, that will transform what the roster looks like. Joyce’s absence thus far makes Harrison’s spot with the club all the more important. Joyce, who could also be a DH, would’ve competed with Cooper and Ramirez for an everyday role in right.
Finally, former Olympian and local product Eddy Alvarez is also a Marlins roster wildcard. He’s another player with positional versatility, and he’s a switch hitter. At the Triple-A level in 2019, Alvarez hit .323 with 12 home runs and 43 RBI over 66 games.
“I like the kid,” Mattingly said of Alvarez. “I think he’s got a chance to help us depending on what happens during this this camp.”