Who will back up Cooper at first base in 2023?

March 3rd, 2023

JUPITER, Fla. -- Who’s on first? No, really.

Garrett Cooper is the Marlins’ primary first baseman, but even he could be in uncharted territory in 2023. His career high for games at the position (73) came in ’19, equating to about 45 percent of the 162-game season.

Prior to Friday afternoon’s 8-3 loss to the Cardinals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, manager Skip Schumaker laid out the first-base situation behind Cooper.

1. Arraez will remain at second base
Luis Arraez has seen time at shortstop, second, first, third and left field during his four-year career. When Jazz Chisholm Jr. volunteered to move to center field, it paved the way for Arraez.

“Luis is going to play second right now,” Schumaker said of Arraez, who played at first 65 times in 2022. “I don't think you'll see any first base unless the WBC plans on him playing a little bit at first. But right now for us, he's learning second again. He's going to see all the reps in Spring Training at second base, so you won't see him at first. Hopefully, he's never needed at first.”

2. Fortes will remain behind the dish
Nick Fortes, who made an appearance at first for one inning in 2022, hadn’t done so since ’18 at Ole Miss. Fortes and Jacob Stallings are the only catchers on the 40-man roster.

“Right now, we're focusing him on catcher, and I told him to bring his first-base glove, but right now, with our new coaching staff, catching is the priority,” Schumaker said. “There's stuff that he's continuing to work on [defensively], so we want him there for right now.”

3. Groshans and Encarnacion are learning
Jordan Groshans solely played third base during his first MLB stint in 2022. Miami’s No. 10 prospect has seen time at first twice so far this spring after five Minor League games there from ‘21-22.

Jerar Encarnacion has a bit more experience at first, playing four games there through 2019, then 17 in ‘21 and another 17 in ’22. That trend continued with seven games during the Dominican Winter League.

He served as the starting first baseman Friday in his second chance manning the position this spring. Later in the game, the natural corner outfielder moved to right.

“We have some outfielders, so for [Encarnacion] to help us out, it's going to be multiple positions,” Schumaker said. “Him and Groshans are out there early almost every day, trying to figure out that position, along with Coop and the normal guys. He's going about it the right way. New positions take work, and it's early morning, eight o'clock, 8:30 work. And to their credit, Groshans and Jerar, they're going after it the right way, and it's not easy to learn first, especially with the new base. So we're trying to help them through that, and honestly, like the footwork around the bag, we're also learning, so it's a combination.”

4. Joe Rizzo and Troy Johnston are getting looks
Neither has made his MLB debut. Rizzo is an infielder, while Johnston is an outfielder/first baseman. Yuli Gurriel, a 2021 Gold Glove Award winner, remains available on the free-agent market. He had been linked to the Marlins, but a deal never came to fruition.

Cueto experiments with PitchCom
Right-hander Johnny Cueto became the first Marlins pitcher to call his own pitches via PitchCom, doing so for about half of his 48 offerings Friday. 

“That way you can pitch a little faster,” Cueto said via interpreter Luis Dorante Jr. “You have to pitch what you're going to throw in your mind. It's a matter of practicing which button you have to press and go about it. But I liked it.”

Stallings believes PitchCom could help him and Cueto, who will depart for the World Baseball Classic next week, be on the same page despite little time working together.

“Honestly, I think the PitchCom's a good little cheat code for us, because if he's ever feeling something, he can go to it,” Stallings said. “And if I'm ever feeling something, I can go to it. But I thought we were more on the same page today than the first outing. It takes time. It takes even more than Spring Training. So, it's just one of those things, it's going to take time, and I feel like I have a better feel for what he wants to do, probably be the same way throughout the season. Every time I catch him, it'll be the same way.”