Around the Horn: Marlins face closer decision
Bullpen posted league-worst 5.34 ERA in 2018; relief prospects may make jump
Marlins pitchers and catchers get Spring Training going with their first workouts on Feb. 13, and position players follow on Feb. 18. With Spring Training three weeks away, Marlins.com is going around the horn with a series of position-by-position breakdowns leading into camp. Up next: Bullpen.
MIAMI -- Last season, preserving leads was a major problem for the Marlins, and shoring up the bullpen will be a priority for manager Don Mattingly, his staff and the club's front office before Opening Day.
Miami was second to last in the Majors in total saves (30) across 53 save opportunities in 2018. The team's bullpen ERA was the highest in the big leagues (5.34), and it logged 606 1/3 innings (24th most).
Here's a look at how the bullpen is shaping up.
Closer by committee?
When Kyle Barraclough was traded to the Nationals in October, the bullpen lost its most experienced closer candidate. Barraclough, the National League Reliever of the Month last June, struggled from July through the end of the season. Still, he was a veteran with a track record.
Now, the two primary options are right-hander Drew Steckenrider, who appeared in 71 games as a rookie last year, and lefty Adam Conley, a converted starter.
At the Winter Meetings in December, Mattingly didn't rule out using matchups to determine who will close. So, say, in a save situation, if an opponent has its top left-handed hitters lined up in the ninth inning, Conley may get the call. If not, Steckenrider may handle the role.
Bringing the heat
Tayron Guerrero was one of the pleasant surprises for the Marlins last season. The lanky 6-foot-8 right-hander from Colombia is one of the hardest throwers in the game. One of his fastballs was tracked by Statcast™ at 104 mph, and his four-seam fastball average is 98.8 mph.
Guerrero struck out 68 in 58 innings, and he has the explosive fastball and swing-and-miss stuff to be a closer. But control is a problem, as he walked 30 and hit three batters. To be a reliable high-leverage reliever, Guerrero will need to improve at least another pitch, most likely his slider.
The southpaw situation
The organization is thin on lefty relievers, especially if Conley closes. On those occasions, matching up lefties in the earlier innings will be a challenge. Jarlin García is a candidate, but his role has changed the past two years. After a solid 2017 season, when he made 68 relief appearances, Garcia was given a chance to start in '18. The 25-year-old made seven starts, but he spent most of the time in the bullpen (22 appearances). With the starting depth the Marlins have, he projects to be a reliever.
A prospect to keep an eye on is Jose Quijada, a 23-year-old from Venezuela. At Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A New Orleans last year, Quijada combined to strike out 81 in 63 innings. He was added to the 40-man roster on Nov. 20.
The Marlins selected right-hander Riley Ferrell in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft in December. Once a promising prospect in the Astros' system, he will get every opportunity to make the Marlins. With a 96-98 mph fastball, he could emerge as a closer candidate at some point in the season.
Tyler Kinley, 27, is a South Florida native who made nine relief appearances late in the season for Miami. His average fastball average was 96.7 mph last year, well above the league average (93.2 mph).
Prospect to watch
Right-hander Jorge Guzman was added to the 40-man roster on Nov. 20. Armed with a fastball that routinely reaches 100 mph, he will get a chance to showcase himself in front of the big league staff in Spring Training.
Guzman was acquired by Miami from the Yankees prior to the 2018 season in the Giancarlo Stanton trade. Although he is being groomed as a starter, he could wind up in the bullpen. Initially, the hard-throwing right-hander is expected to start off at Double-A Jacksonville.