Here are the key roster battles facing the Marlins

Puk contending for rotation job; Mancini fighting for a spot as bench bat

February 23rd, 2024

JUPITER, Fla. -- Grapefruit League play begins on Saturday for the Marlins, when they visit the Cardinals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET.

While most roles are pretty much set on Miami’s roster, manager Skip Schumaker and his staff will use the club’s 30 exhibitions to help decide who makes the cut for Opening Day.

“There's going to be some infield competition, some bench spot competition, and then obviously some bullpen rotation questions,” Schumaker said. “As much as I can see bullpens and what guys’ stuff looks like, and then the [live sessions] are super important to me -- not so much on the offensive side, because guys are behind a little bit as far as catching up to velo -- but I think watching arms and how their ball moves and everything. And then my brain works with how you would match up guys with their stuff around the league. It's just kind of how I envision things.”

Here are three roster battles to monitor this spring:

Left-handers Jesús Luzardo and Braxton Garrett and right-hander Eury Pérez should be locks for the Opening Day rotation, though Garrett is a bit behind schedule after dealing with left shoulder soreness. He was expected to throw his first bullpen on Friday, so he is on the right track. Righty Edward Cabrera might have the best stuff on the staff, but he must prove his 2023 command issues are behind him to win a job.

Then there’s a trio of southpaws hoping to fill out the rotation: , Trevor Rogers and Ryan Weathers. The 2021 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up, Rogers has been limited to 27 starts and a 5.26 ERA ever since because of injuries. Puk came up as a starter through the Minors, but he has yet to make a start in the Majors. The Marlins have spoken highly of how he has looked so far this spring, and his strong showing continued in Friday’s dominant live batting practice session. Weathers, whom Miami acquired ahead of the 2023 Trade Deadline, will start Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener. He called the feedback from teammates following Monday’s live BP a “confidence booster.”

Shortstop Tim Anderson’s imminent arrival will have a domino effect on the position-player group. Jon Berti, who would have received the bulk of the shortstop reps, can return to his utility role, making appearances both around the infield -- at second, short and third -- and in left field.

Nick Fortes and Christian Bethancourt are the catchers. Non-roster invitee Trey Mancini seems like a logical choice to make the club because he can fill the role Yuli Gurriel did in 2023 as backup first baseman/veteran right-handed bat off the bench. Should Miami go in a different direction, the club would rely on Luis Arraez and Jake Burger as backup first basemen behind Josh Bell.

Taking into account the backup catcher, if Mancini is added to the 40-man roster, joining outfielders Jazz Chisholm Jr., Bryan De La Cruz, Jesús Sánchez and Avisaíl García (each of whom could also see time as part of a rotation at DH), that leaves just one bench spot remaining between Nick Gordon, Vidal Bruján and Xavier Edwards. Offseason trade acquisitions Gordon and Bruján are out of Minor League options, so they must be named to the Opening Day roster or else another organization can pick them up. Gordon is expected to mainly play in the outfield, likely as the backup center fielder behind Chisholm.

Closer Tanner Scott and setup man Andrew Nardi are sure things, barring injuries. Right-hander Huascar Brazoban has yet to report due to visa issues, and there’s no timetable for his arrival. With Steven Okert (traded to Minnesota) gone, if Puk joins the rotation, that leaves the Marlins with two fewer lefties in the bullpen than they had last season. One arm that could step up is Miami’s No. 25 prospect Josh Simpson, someone the organization has said could break out like Nardi did in 2023.

Right-hander JT Chargois is back as a middle-inning reliever, and righty Bryan Hoeing could be a multi-inning option. Righty George Soriano is being built up to start, but his stuff might play better in relief. Right-hander Anthony Bender has looked sharp coming back from Tommy John surgery and could be a high-leverage guy again. And then there’s the group of righties -- Calvin Faucher, Declan Cronin, Darren McCaughan and Roddery Muñoz -- who have had little to no big league success.

The wild card in all this is former top prospect Sixto Sánchez, who threw to hitters on Wednesday. Since he has no Minor League options remaining, he must show the club enough to make the roster. It would be easier in a relief role because of how much it takes to build up as a starter.