Marlins seek balance with prospects, moves
MIAMI -- From ownership to the coaching staff, Marlins players repeatedly have been given a message that those who produce will get an opportunity to play.
Since the current ownership group took over after the 2017 season, players have been reminded of this in Spring Training, in Minor League camps and at the big league level.
The players, especially in Miami's farm system, have taken that to heart, and many have already had at least some MLB experience. The 60-game 2020 campaign, especially, created opportunity, as the Marlins used 61 players, including 18 who made their MLB debuts.
Now that so many of the organization’s top prospects have had at least a taste of Major League life, a new question has arisen for the front office: How much slack will be given to young players who struggle?
The Marlins are ready to contend. They reached the playoffs this year, advancing to the National League Division Series, where they were eliminated in three games by the Braves.
As general manager Kim Ng and the rest of the front office take part in MLB’s virtual Winter Meetings this week, the Marlins are looking for roster upgrades. Their challenge is finding free agent and trade targets who fit their short- and long-term goals. That means they don’t want to block prospects.
“I would say whenever we can give a prospect a chance to play, we really would like to do that,” Ng said. “The quicker they come along and develop, the better off we’re going to be as a club, for the long term.”
Miami has a strong Minor League system, and many of the club's young players are knocking on the door for big league playing time.
“Whenever they play, it’s information,” Ng said. “You’re always gaining information on what situations they can handle at this point, what situations they may not be ready to handle. But it’s all information.
“The more that they play, the better off our decisions will be, because we will have as much information as we can get.”
In terms of position players, the Marlins ideally would like to add an impactful hitter. Right field is a possibility, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Miami will explore a high-priced free agent for a corner outfield spot.
Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, Jesús Sánchez, Magneuris Sierra and Harold Ramirez are internal candidates. Waiting in the wings is JJ Bleday, the fourth overall Draft pick in 2019 by the Marlins, and their No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline.
A fallback candidate is Garrett Cooper, who avoided arbitration by signing for $1.8 million last Wednesday. Cooper and Jesús Aguilar, who signed for $4.35 million, are the leading choices to play first base. But Cooper has played right field as well.
If the NL maintains the designated hitter in 2021, then Cooper and Aguilar will likely split time at first and DH. But if there is no DH, Cooper could be in right field on occasion.
Brinson, who showed signs of improvement in 2020, ended up hitting .226 with three home runs and 12 RBIs in 47 games. Obviously, he still has more to prove, but the organization seems committed to giving him a chance. According to Statcast, Brinson’s hard-hit percentage was up to 36.8 percent from 32.9 in '19.
Harrison is a terrific athlete with game-changing speed. But in 32 games, he hit .170, while Sánchez went 1-for-25 in 10 big league games in 2020. Sánchez is Miami’s No. 5 prospect, while Harrison is 10th. Both players certainly will get plenty of opportunities.
The Marlins have other calls to make for the infield, as well. Shortstop Jazz Chisholm, their No. 4 prospect, hit .161 with two homers in 21 games. Chisholm has immense overall talent and power potential. He likely will see action at shortstop and second base next year.
In the meantime, Miguel Rojas projects as Miami's everyday shortstop in 2021. First baseman Lewin Díaz, its No. 8 prospect, had a small sample size of 14 games this year, hitting .154. Second baseman Isan Díaz, who appeared in seven games and batted .182, will go into Spring Training competing for a starting job.
The Marlins likely will look to guard themselves in case some of these prospects or young players struggle. Jon Berti is a solid option at second base and in the outfield, if needed.
The Marlins also are banking on veterans like left fielder Corey Dickerson, center fielder Starling Marte, third baseman Brian Anderson and Rojas to lead the way as the younger players become more polished.
“We do think that we have some very good veteran presence on the team,” Ng said. “Some very good veteran players.”