Notes: Alcantara's ace potential; Sierra's role

July 15th, 2020

MIAMI -- When the Marlins look at right-hander , they see a rising star with as much pure talent as any frontline starter in the Majors.

“His stuff is as good as anyone,” manager Don Mattingly said on Wednesday in a Zoom call. “I don’t care who you want to put out there. His stuff is as good as anyone’s.”

To reach the level of established ace -- like Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander -- Mattingly said that Alcantara needs to continue his progression.

“Those are the kinds of guys that he can become," Mattingly said. "But he has to progress to get there.”

The Marlins are giving the 24-year-old every opportunity to establish himself as a true ace. On Tuesday night, Alcantara was named Miami’s Opening Day starter for the July 24 game against the Phillies in Philadelphia.

Alcantara was Miami’s lone All-Star last year, pacing the club in starts (32) and innings (197 1/3).

On a team that finished 57-105, Alcantara was 6-14 with a 3.88 ERA. What was telling was how he got better late in the year, posting a 2.59 ERA in six starts and 41 2/3 innings in September.

“The ace needs to be 'that guy,'" Mattingly said. “Out of that guy, you want to know what you’re going to get. When he pitches, your team should feel like you’re going to win. You know that he’s going to give you a good outing.”

Figuring out the rotation
With Alcantara officially set for Opening Day, what about the rest of the rotation? The next three are pretty much set, but the order has not been announced.

The fifth spot, meanwhile, is up in the air.

“It’s pretty much set up,” Mattingly said of rounding out the rotation. “We haven’t talked to those guys exactly. So that’s something we’re going to need to do. It’s fairly easy to figure out, but we haven’t set it in stone yet. We feel like there still is some time that we can make some small adjustments.”

In no particular order, José Ureña, Pablo López and Caleb Smith are expected to fill the second, third and fourth spots. Smith is the lone left-hander in the group.

The front-runners for the fifth spot are Elieser Hernandez and Jordan Yamamoto, with prospects Nick Neidert and Robert Dugger also in consideration.

“The five is kind of up for grabs,” Mattingly said. “It’s where we spot those other guys. We can still maneuver a little bit.”

Draft pick Nicolas agrees
Pitcher Kyle Nicolas, a Competitive Balance Round B pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, has come to terms with the club. According to MLB Pipeline's Jim Callis, Nicolas will get the full recommended slot bonus for the 61st overall pick -- $1,129,700. Nicolas is a hard-throwing right-hander who attended Ball State University. He is the nephew of former NFL quarterback and current college football TV analyst Todd Blackledge. A few weeks ago, the Marlins announced the signing of right-hander and No. 3 overall pick Max Meyer, who is currently in Miami's 60-man player pool.

Spot for a speedster?
Outfielder Magneuris Sierra is out of options, so the Marlins must decide if the 24-year-old should make the Opening Day roster as a bench player. If not, they risk losing him through the waiver process.

Working in Sierra’s favor in the 60-game season are the expanded rosters and the new extra-innings rule.

“We think there is a role for a guy who can steal a bag on this club right now,” Mattingly said. “A defensive replacement.”

For 2020, MLB has implemented a new rule for extra innings -- each half-inning will start with a runner on second base.

As for the rosters, each team will carry 30 players for the first two weeks, and that number will be reduced to 28 for the following two weeks.

“You’ll see teams in pennant races going down the stretch [looking for speed],” Mattingly said.

According to Statcast, Sierra ranked in the 98th percentile in Sprint Speed in 2019. He averaged 29.8 feet per second. The MLB average is 27 feet per second.

As manager of the Dodgers years back, Mattingly recalled the organization searching its system and elsewhere for a player who could change the game on the bases.

“That creates a different role, not just for him, but a few other guys as well,” Mattingly said.

Injury update
Shortstop Miguel Rojas and infielder Eddy Alvarez were both shaken up in Tuesday’s intrasquad game. Both are expected to be fine, and they could return to scrimmage games on Thursday.

Rojas jammed his left pinkie and wrist while making a diving play on a ground ball. And Alvarez, a non-roster invitee, jarred his shoulder diving back to first base.

“Miggy came out of that pretty good,” Mattingly said. “If he had to play today, he would be able to.”