Inbox: Will Chisholm start at second base?

Beat reporter Christina De Nicola answers Marlins fans' questions

January 7th, 2021

MIAMI -- Hello, Marlins fans!

Allow me to quickly introduce myself. I was born and raised in Miami, where I grew up playing soccer and softball. I have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and I appeared in several Quidditch World Cups. Yes, you read that correctly. Since 2011, I've provided endless Lady Gaga updates to Joe Frisaro, whom I've worked alongside since my time as an intern at Needless to say it's surreal writing a Marlins Inbox because my friends and I once submitted a question that he answered in 2005.

Who wins the second-base job? Is it Jazz Chisholm's for the taking?

-- @ShaneKatz73

At The Players Alliance's Pull Up Neighbor tour stop on Tuesday, I asked Chisholm, the Marlins' No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, whether his mindset this offseason was to be the starting second baseman in 2021.

"I don't think specifically about competition, honestly," said Chisholm, who turns 23 next month. "I just think I'm going to go out there and bust myself out there because it's not about making the position. You're just trying to be on the team to help it win. It's not all about me. It's basically about us, and you have a family out there where even if I don't make the job, if I'm coming off the bench as a bench bat, I have to be the best bench bat I can be. If I'm coming in there starting, I'm going to be the best player I can be out there as well. That's what I'm looking forward to."

Chisholm, whom the Marlins acquired from the D-backs in the Zac Gallen trade, saw his first taste of the big leagues in 2020. He slashed .161/.242/.321 with two homers and six RBIs across 62 plate appearances while adding two stolen bases. In Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Braves, Chisholm got the start, and he doubled and walked.

His main competition will be , who elected not to play in 2020 after Miami's early-season COVID-19 outbreak. When Díaz rejoined the roster in mid-September, he strained his left groin. Over the past two seasons since his callup, the left-handed hitter has slashed .174/.251/.294 with five homers and a .545 OPS in 56 games. Now is the time for Díaz to back up his former top prospect billing.

This question ties into another I received from @Marlins2021, who asked my thoughts on a breakout player for 2021. I'm going with Chisholm. The natural shortstop admitted to being overanxious during the early stages of his first stint in the Majors, something I found surprising because he exudes confidence and isn't afraid to be himself.

According to MLB Pipeline's scouting report, Chisholm has 20-20 potential, with explosive bat speed and natural loft in his left-handed swing -- something that would be greatly appreciated in Miami's right-handed-heavy lineup. Like many young players, toning down the aggressiveness will be key. Despite just one game at second base in the Minors, he flashed range and completed highlight-reel plays in The Show.

If Chisholm doesn't turn out to be the breakout player, he will certainly be one of the most exciting to watch.

"Just work hard and get super strong, to just keep the length of the season," Chisholm said of his offseason goal. "Be ready for the 162 [games]. You're not playing to 140 anymore [like in the Minors]. I've been staying in shape and getting ready for Spring Training."

What's the plan for the front office in 2021? Will it push for another playoff run or is it satisfied with just having players develop this season?
-- sixlo45

Many outside the organization would say the Marlins were ahead of schedule on their build by making the postseason for the first time since 2003. How Miami follows that up in '21 will be interesting to see.

Several factors will come into play in a National League East division with five teams that believe they are contenders. There's the return of a 162-game season and all that comes with it -- from pitchers' innings limits to the marathon pace. Will new Mets owner Steve Cohen spend big? How will Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg bounce back from carpal tunnel surgery? Is free-agent catcher J.T. Realmuto returning to the Phillies?

One thing to keep in mind is the differing contending windows and farm systems for the clubs. Miami doesn't have many arbitration-eligible players, and its group of prospects ranks fifth. Atlanta is next at 15th, followed by New York (20th), Philadelphia (23rd) and Washington (last). But those other teams have graduated prospects to the Majors and/or boast MLB-proven talent, some even superstars.

At a Thanksgiving distribution event, Marlins CEO Derek Jeter acknowledged balancing the progress made in 2020 and keeping with the organization's plan to build from the ground up for sustainable winning. Due to the circumstances of last year -- from no Minor League season to the COVID-19 outbreak -- prospects got big league opportunities ahead of schedule.

"We're going to continue to give those kids an opportunity to play," Jeter said. "That's what we've said from Day 1. We built our Minor League system, and it gets to a point where you have to find out who's going to be here for the long run. We're going to stick to the plan we have in place, and that's having patience with our players. We need to continue to make progress. Our guys need to continue to get better, year in and year out."

Will there be growing pains should the Marlins turn to top prospects for the majority of a full season? Certainly. But these are the players the organization acquired for a reason, so why block valuable experience with stopgaps?

That's not to say a job will be handed to a top prospect just because he is one. Everyone will have to earn a spot on the roster. And the Marlins certainly would look into upgrades should they fit -- whether during the remainder of the offseason, Spring Training or midseason -- to build off 2020's momentum.

"We always look to see how we can improve as a team," Jeter went on to say. "At the same time, like I said before, we have to be careful because we've built up our system. We have a lot of players that are at the top levels of the Minor Leagues and they're knocking on the door. Who knows when they're going to be ready? But one thing you don't want to do is you don't want to block them and block their development. [You want to] give them their opportunity to come play at the Major League level. Having said that, you do sit down and say, 'Look, how are we going to get better?' And we need to get better. I know we had a little success in 2020, but by no stretch of the imagination are we where we want to be."