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Rotation battle sets tone for Marlins' rebuild

Several prospects among candidates to become starters
@JoeFrisaro
February 13, 2020

JUPITER, Fla. -- A message was delivered on Wednesday afternoon, before the Marlins' pitchers and catchers took the field to open Spring Training. At a team meeting, management made it clear that jobs are on the line in camp, and being inexperienced is no longer an excuse.

JUPITER, Fla. -- A message was delivered on Wednesday afternoon, before the Marlins' pitchers and catchers took the field to open Spring Training.

At a team meeting, management made it clear that jobs are on the line in camp, and being inexperienced is no longer an excuse.

“This is a competition,” said right-hander Pablo López. “They made it clear today that it's going to be a tough competition. But competition brings the best out of ourselves. It's going to be a very competitive camp. It's very exciting.”

More is expected from the franchise that finished 57-105 last season, and has a combined 120-203 mark over the previous two years.

How quickly the Marlins transition from being a franchise building for the future to actually contending largely hangs on how swiftly their youthful rotation progresses.

“You can have the best hitters in the league, but it's about the pitching,” López said. “Pitching and defense, that's what I've been told ever since I signed in professional baseball. Pitching and defense will take you a long way.”

In the eyes of the organization, the rotation is an area of strength with promising starters already at the big league-level and a wave of prospects knocking on the door.

Sandy Alcantara, an All-Star in 2019, is the front-runner to be the Opening Day starter.

For the record, manager Don Mattingly joked on Wednesday that the starter for Opening Day is “TBD.” Miami starts its regular season on March 26 against the Phillies at 4:10 p.m. ET at Marlins Park.

Alcantara, who made 32 starts and logged 197 1/3 innings with a 3.88 ERA last year, is the safe prediction to start Game 1.

“Everybody knows that we have a lot of young guys on the team,” Alcantara said. “But that doesn't matter. The only thing we have to do is to get outside, [perform] and surprise people. We're going to surprise a lot of people this year.”

José Ureña, who missed a few months in 2019 with a herniated disc, was the Opening Day starter in both '18 and '19. Now, the right-hander, who had a 5.21 ERA last season, is competing for a rotation spot after the organization considered using him in relief.

López and left-hander Caleb Smith are regarded as safe picks to be in the rotation.

The battle for the fifth spot will include Jordan Yamamoto, Elieser Hernandez and Robert Dugger.

Sixto Sanchez (Miami’s No. 1 prospect), Edward Cabrera (No. 6), Nick Neidert (No. 11) and Jorge Guzman (No. 16) are each knocking on the door to reaching the big leagues.

In 2019, the Marlins’ collective ERA for the starters was 4.59, which was in the middle of the MLB pack at 16th.

Miami used 10 starters over the course of the season, and they logged 888 innings, tied for seventh most in the Majors.

To become a truly elite group, however, they have to reduce the number of walks. Their 3.50 BB/9 innings was 29th of 30 clubs. And their K/9 was 8.19, 22nd overall.

The competition for rotation spots could very well come down to which candidates command the zone the best.

“We'll just see,” Mattingly said. “There's a lot of guys to look at. Really let spring play itself out. Obviously, Sandy is a guy who really established himself last year. We'll be working José in the rotation, getting him ready.”

Worth noting
Catcher Santiago Chavez, a non-roster invitee, was not at Day 1 of camp due to a travel visa issue. He is expected back on Thursday.

Up next
On Thursday, the Marlins are expected to be on the field about 9:30 a.m. ET on the back fields at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex. Practices are open to the public.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.