Thirty-eight pitchers of varying levels of experience have begun preparing for the 2021 season on the Marlins' side of the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla. Will Banfield, Miami's No. 30 prospect per MLB Pipeline, and the other backstops are tasked with being the eyes and ears of the organization.
On Sunday morning, Banfield caught sidearmer Adam Cimber, whom Miami acquired over the offseason from Cleveland to be part of the big league bullpen. He has also worked with last year's third overall pick Max Meyer and left-hander Braxton Garrett, a longtime batterymate, so far this spring. When those side sessions are done, the catchers hold daily meetings with the pitching coaches to provide reports on each pitcher. The range of feedback includes how the pitcher looked to his preference of setting up a pitch.
"Catchers are extremely important to me and the whole pitching process," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said on Zoom. "I know we're talking about Will, but it will be all our catchers, you know, through the Minor Leagues wherever they're working with whatever staff they're working with. That is something that we will be working with all the catchers on, and their feedback is extremely important."
When the Marlins selected Banfield, the backstop with the highest defensive ceiling in the 2018 Draft, according to MLB Pipeline's scouting report, they knew what he brought behind the dish. Though Banfield, who turned 21 in November, has been younger than his competition, he still exudes leadership skills at an important position.
After reaching the Class A level in 2019, Banfield went to the alternate training site as part of last year's 60-man player pool. Despite the lost Minor League season, he made strides in his development alongside fellow prospects. Banfield picked the minds of older players, began learning more about game-planning for a series and built a rapport with the pitchers.
"It's really exciting being here and being able to catch guys that are up and coming for us and prospects, and older vet guys, too, in the bullpens, and just seeing how they go about their work and everything like that," Banfield said. "It's just like, kind of seeing what some pitchers do a bit different than other pitchers and just kind of taking that and just building on that [from] a catcher standpoint."
Length of Spring Training games
The Marlins, who open Grapefruit League action at 1:05 p.m. ET next Sunday against the Astros in West Palm Beach, Fla., will play seven innings for their first three spring contests. Mattingly went on to say that the club will probably schedule more nine-inning games than seven-inning ones.
Per the 2021 Operations Manual, games that occur from the start of Spring Training through and including March 13 will be scheduled as seven-inning games, but upon mutual agreement of both managers, may be shortened to five-inning games or lengthened to nine-inning games. Games that occur on or after March 14 shall be nine-inning games, but upon mutual agreement of both managers, can be shortened to seven-inning games. Clubs that want to modify their scheduled game lengths will have to notify MLB on or before 5 p.m. ET the day before the game.
Shorter games will help the Marlins early on as they bring along pitchers slowly following a truncated 2020 season. Others, like top prospect Sixto Sánchez, were delayed getting to camp.
"Everything kind of depends on your pitching and how they're ready, how we're kind of building guys," Mattingly said. "We've got a pretty decent veteran mix in the bullpen, and those guys all have an idea how they want to work. Do they want two [live batting practices] and two 'pens before they get out there and get their feet underneath them?"
One downside to shorter and fewer games is the amount of playing time for young talent. Twenty-three of Miami's Top 30 Prospects will be at Spring Training. Still, Mattingly believes there will be enough at-bats and innings to get players what they need before Opening Day, which is scheduled for April 1 against the Rays.
"Even though we're not playing as many games, there's going be plenty of live at-bats," Mattingly said. "There's been guys already getting live at-bats before spring even started. Guys are starting earlier and earlier nowadays, so guys have already been starting to get some live [at-bats]. But anybody that needs it, we feel like we're going to have plenty of innings. There's going to be some young guys that are not necessarily going to pitch in the A games or on the main fields that will be in scrimmage-type games and B games if we play those. We feel like there's going to be plenty of at-bats to get guys ready, but definitely we have to emphasize guys that we're trying to get ready for the Major League team first."
Five Marlins threw live batting practice on Sunday:
• Elieser Hernandez: 12 pitches vs. Chad Wallach, Isan Díaz
• Nick Neidert: 30 pitches vs. Corey Dickerson, Garrett Cooper
• Cody Poteet: 25 pitches vs. Lewis Brinson, Miguel Rojas
• Tommy Eveld: 25 pitches vs. Jorge Alfaro, Dickerson, Cooper, Sandy León
• Daniel Castano: 30 pitches vs. Rojas, Brinson, Alfaro