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Can Brinson take hold of Marlins' CF job?

@JoeFrisaro
February 7, 2020

MIAMI -- When the Marlins open full-squad workouts on Feb. 17, all eyes will be on center field. The position has the makings of being the center of attention throughout Spring Training because there is no clear front-runner. That’s not exactly what the organization envisioned when it acquired Lewis Brinson

MIAMI -- When the Marlins open full-squad workouts on Feb. 17, all eyes will be on center field.

The position has the makings of being the center of attention throughout Spring Training because there is no clear front-runner.

That’s not exactly what the organization envisioned when it acquired Lewis Brinson from the Brewers as part of the Christian Yelich trade before the 2018 season.

The hope had been that Brinson, once regarded as one of the top prospects in the sport, would establish himself as a Major League regular. The 25-year-old has had two seasons to separate himself from the field, but entering Spring Training, there's still plenty of questions as to whether he's the answer for the short and long term.

In 75 big league games in 2019, the Coral Springs, Fla., native slashed .173/.236/.221 with no home runs and 15 RBIs. Brinson split the season with the Marlins and at Triple-A New Orleans, where he put up solid numbers -- .270/.361/.510 with 16 home runs and 56 RBIs.

For Brinson, no one needs to remind him how important Spring Training will be.

“I’ve got to perform,” Brinson said in an interview in late November. “That’s the name of the game up here. I’ve got to contribute to the team more. To be on this team, and where we’re going, and where everything is going for us, so far, I’ve got to contribute.”

If he doesn’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean his tenure with the Marlins is over. Brinson does have one more option left, which gives the organization the luxury of being able to send him down to Triple-A Wichita (Miami’s new affiliate).

The organization has maintained patience with the athletic center fielder, who has the raw talent to be a big league standout. In 640 Minor League games, Brinson is a .283/.352/.499 hitter with 106 home runs and 382 RBIs.

But potential only goes so far.

If Brinson isn’t the answer, perhaps another player who was part of the Yelich trade could fill the role.

Monte Harrison, ranked by MLB Pipeline as Miami’s No. 5 prospect, is knocking on the door to reach the big leagues. If not for a right wrist injury, which required surgery, Harrison was in line to be a September callup last season.

Instead, Harrison appeared in 58 games, mostly at Triple-A, and hit .270/.351/.441 with 23 stolen bases.

Making consistent contact has been a concern for Harrison, and the 24-year-old made strides in that area in 2019, with a strikeout rate of 29.9 percent (at Triple-A). It dropped from 36.9 percent in '18.

“What I love about Monte is he's always trying to make a play,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said at the Winter Meetings. “He's either trying to steal a bag or go from first-to-third, or throw somebody out, or trying to square somebody up, or hit a ball hard. It's just like he's always trying to do something. I love his energy and just the confidence that he brings.”

The Marlins may want to ease Harrison into a regular big league spot and start him off at Triple-A because he missed so much time last season.

Left-handed-hitting Magneuris Sierra, acquired from the Cardinals in the Marcell Ozuna trade, is out of options and faces an important Spring Training. He either has to make the team or risk being traded or designated for assignment.

Sierra is a speedster who showed promise in 15 games with the Marlins last year, batting .350 with three stolen bases. In the Minors, he hit .275 with 33 steals.

Other candidates are Harold Ramirez (who played 27 games in center field last year), Jon Berti (who was in center in 21 games) and Jesús Sánchez (Miami's No. 3 prospect).

A possible last resort is Jonathan Villar, who projects to lead off and play either third base or second. Villar is athletic, and he has eight games of MLB experience in center field, but he last played there in 2017.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.