MIAMI -- After being MLB’s biggest surprise story last year, the Marlins aim to build on their momentum in 2021.
Through years of strong drafting and developing, Miami has one of the top farm systems in the league. That foundation of high-end prospects has put the organization in an enviable position moving forward.
With Spring Training on the horizon, MLB.com addressed five questions the club faces before players report to the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex in Jupiter in mid-February.
1) How will they patch up the bullpen?
General manager Kim Ng calls the bullpen the top offseason priority. The hope is to add at least two proven relievers via free agency or trade. The Marlins have already added a few candidates in Rule 5 picks Paul Campbell and Zach Pop. They also acquired right-hander Adam Cimber from the Indians for cash.
The bullpen in 2020 ranked 26th in the Majors in ERA (5.50), and tied for fifth with the Astros for the most walks (118).
2) Can they add an impact bat?
More offensive productivity is a necessity if the Marlins hope to return to playing in October. The offense in 2020 ranked 21st in runs (263), 25th in slugging percentage (.384) and 25th in home runs (60). The question is, at what position? Right field and second base are up for grabs. The Marlins have pitching depth which could be used in potential trades to generate more offense.
3) Who will be the starting catcher?
Catching became unsettled late in the 2020 season and in the playoffs when Chad Wallach became the starter over Jorge Alfaro. The hope was that Alfaro would have secured the starting spot, but it didn’t play out that way. Veteran Francisco Cervelli retired in August after sustaining a concussion, and his absence was felt.
With a young pitching staff, the Marlins have prioritized effective handling of the pitching staff in their catchers. Cervelli, according to Statcast, was effective in the framing category. Cervelli’s strike percentage was 47.6, compared to Wallach’s 45.8 percent and Alfaro’s 41.3 percent. Alfaro and Wallach will compete for the starting job in Spring Training, and adding a veteran remains an option.
4) Who's on first?
The Marlins have shown commitment to two first basemen, but they will eventually have to decide who gets the most time at the position. Jesús Aguilar and Garrett Cooper each avoided arbitration by signing one-year deals in early December. Assuming the National League doesn't have the designated hitter in 2021, the Marlins will have to choose which direction they want to go. Aguilar played in 51 games (31 at first, 20 at DH) in 2020 with eight homers, 34 RBIs and an .809 OPS. Cooper played in 34 games (18 at DH, 15 at first) with six homers, 20 RBIs and an .853 OPS. Cooper also has played corner outfield.
5) Making the right call?
Right field is perhaps the most wide open of all the positions. Harold Ramirez was projected to play the spot, but he played in just three games and had 10 at-bats in 2020. Ramirez tested positive for COVID-19 early in the season, and he strained his left hamstring upon his return in early September.
Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison and Jesús Sánchez will each compete for the spot. Harrison is immensely talented and has game-changing speed, but he hit .170 in 47 at-bats. Brinson made strides and showed improvement from previous years but he still hit just .226 with three homers and 12 RBIs. Harrison and Brinson had the two hardest-hit balls by Miami players in '20; Harrison's top exit speed was 112.6 mph, and Brinson’s 112.2. Sánchez had one hit in 25 at-bats. It was a small sample size, but he’s a touted prospect who has plenty of power potential.