Roster decisions loom before Opening Day

March 30th, 2021

JUPITER, Fla. -- The news of prospect Jazz Chisholm winning the second-base job isn't the end of the decisions the Marlins must make before Opening Day on Thursday against the reigning American League-champion Rays at Marlins Park.

With a source telling that Rule 5 Draft selections Paul Campbell and Zach Pop are making the club, and the Marlins having two off-days within the first nine dates on the schedule, the rotation is likely to go with four members and give the extra spot to the bullpen. Sixto Sánchez, MLB Pipeline’s No. 15 overall prospect, was delayed appearing in Grapefruit League games and is expected to be optioned to the team's alternate training site to begin the season. The Marlins have been cautious with the 22-year-old right-hander in the past, so there’s no reason to rush him now to be in the Opening Day rotation. Sánchez will also be on an innings limit in 2021.

"I think we have a pretty good idea," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said during a Zoom call. "We're not a club that had 10 decisions to make. There were a couple. I think we're close, and we just look at everybody's feedback and let everybody talk and try to make the best one."

Below is a projection before the 26-man roster is finalized this week.

Catcher (2): , 
This is a pivotal season for Alfaro, who received a vote of confidence from the organization before Spring Training began for his offseason work. He called it a wake-up call when Wallach started in the postseason over him. The 27-year-old Alfaro never got going in 2020, missing time during last spring with a left oblique strain and then the first month of the season with COVID-19. In his first year with the Marlins in '19, he was near league average with a 94 OPS+ in 130 games.

First base (2): , Garrett Cooper
When the offseason began, the Marlins had to be flexible depending on the status of the universal designated hitter. Aguilar and Cooper -- both right-handed-hitting sluggers -- play first base. In 2020, Aguilar (.809 OPS, 120 OPS+ in 51 games) and Cooper (.853 OPS, 130 OPS+ in 34 games) posted similar numbers. Aguilar will be the club's primary first baseman. Cooper, who slashed .425/.452/.700 this spring, should see time at first and the corner-outfield spots to spell Corey Dickerson and Adam Duvall. In an ideal world, Miami would have both Cooper and Aguilar in the lineup at the same time thanks to the DH, as they did on Sunday.

When asked by a reporter whether the club would need to be bowled over to trade Cooper, general manager Kim Ng had this to say.

"In terms of that situation, I think more is always better," Ng said during a Zoom call earlier this month. "Like I said, three weeks -- it sounds like we're right around the corner, but it's still a long time. Obviously, injuries can happen. I think we're always listening. We'll always listen on our players. It doesn't mean we'll do anything. You always have to have your phone on and your ear to the ground."

Second base (2): ,
Through the first two weeks of Grapefruit League play, neither Chisholm nor distanced himself from the other in the second-base competition. After kicking things off with a leadoff homer in Miami's spring opener, Chisholm then went 1-for-17 with seven strikeouts. MLB Pipeline's No. 66 overall prospect then made a strong push during the stretch run, going 9-for-23 with seven runs, two homers, four RBIs, four walks, six strikeouts and four stolen bases. Díaz, once deemed the second baseman of the future, went just 2-for-34 with seven walks during Spring Training. Berti best serves the club as a super-utility player, but he will be a nice right-handed complement to Chisholm.

Third base (1):
Anderson, who turns 28 in May, led all National League East third basemen in WAR in 2020. He was named a Gold Glove Award finalist for the first time after staying at the hot corner rather than bouncing back and forth from third base and the outfield. Over his past 185 games, Anderson has a slash line of .259/.343/.467 with 31 homers, 104 RBIs, an .810 OPS and a 115 OPS+. He has proven to be a formidable middle-of-the-order threat in Miami's lineup. Though Anderson struck out 17 times and walked just once in Grapefruit League play, the Marlins aren't concerned because his track record speaks for itself.

Shortstop (1):
The ballclub's unofficial captain enters the final year of his contract, with Chisholm waiting in the wings. Rojas, who turned 32 earlier in camp, was named a Gold Glove Award finalist in 2020 and continued to improve with the bat. He slashed .304/.392/.496 with an .888 OPS in 40 games last season. Rojas picked it up at the plate during the last week of spring, knocking two homers while finding his pull swing.

Outfield (5): , , , , Lewis Brinson
The all-veteran outfield returns Dickerson and Marte in left and center, respectively, with Duvall taking over right and likely hitting cleanup when Cooper is not in the lineup. From 2019-20, Duvall compiled an .852 OPS and a .545 slugging percentage for the Braves. The left-handed-hitting Sierra, who is out of options, can play all three outfield positions and showcases game-changing speed on the bases. Should the club turn to 13 pitchers via four starters and nine relievers, that leaves a spot for the right-handed-hitting Brinson to be the fifth natural outfielder. Berti and Cooper also will see outfield reps.

Starting pitchers (4): , , ,
Alcantara and López have been announced as the Nos. 1-2 starters, while Hernandez is the presumed third arm in the rotation. As previously mentioned, Sánchez is expected to get more time after a delayed start to spring. He appeared in just three Grapefruit League games. Nick Neidert, who had been pitching in relief on days Sánchez started, is a possibility but didn’t make a Spring Training start. Entering Monday, Rogers had recorded the second-most strikeouts (29) in Spring Training in just 19 innings. It would be hard to ignore how impressive he has looked, even with just five Double-A starts to his name before making his MLB debut in 2020.

Relievers (9): , , , , , , , Campbell, Pop
As things stand, Bass is projected as the closer, but the Marlins are confident García can step up and get the job done on nights Bass isn't available. Miami hopes to use Floro in high-leverage situations. Rule 5 Draft picks Campbell, who can pitch multiple innings, and Pop, will appear out of the bullpen. That made right-hander James Hoyt, who was dealt to the Angels on Monday night for cash considerations, the odd man out.