Marlins see Alfaro, Cervelli as potent 1-2 punch

February 15th, 2020

JUPITER, Fla. -- Spring Training is only a few days old, and already a close bond is developing between Marlins catchers and . The two are working closely together, sharing information and pointers.

Both have made it clear they are in camp preparing to play every day. But no matter how the competition plays out, Alfaro and Cervelli project to provide a one-two catcher punch the organization hasn’t had in years.

Not that the Marlins needed to split time behind the plate in recent years. The position was locked down by All-Star J.T. Realmuto, who handled the heavy workload from 2015-18.

Alfaro, 26, is regarded as the catcher of the future, while Cervelli, 33, is a veteran who brings energy, knowledge and a proven track record.

“You don’t want to limit anybody to anything,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “These guys come in and they compete, and they want to play. But [Cervelli] is definitely a guy who is a good teammate, and from that standpoint, we feel he can help Jorge.”

Cervelli signed for $2 million as a free agent to provide a more experienced backup than the organization has had the past few years. Bryan Holaday (now with the Orioles) and Chad Wallach, the third Marlins catcher on the 40-man roster, were Alfaro’s backups last year.

“This is not about Alfaro and Cervelli,” Cervelli said. “This is about the team and winning. We need to have an identity of winning catchers.”

The catching competition will be among the more compelling storylines in camp.

Alfaro is loaded with raw talent and potential.

A year ago, he played in 130 games and hit .262/.312/.425 with 18 home runs and 57 RBIs. He had some issues defensively with framing, ranking in the 34th percentile, and at the plate his strikeout percentage is high at 33.1.

When Alfaro makes contact, though, he is impactful. He has a 44.8 hard hit percentage and an average exit velocity of 90.8 mph.

“Obviously, Alfaro is extremely athletic,” Mattingly said. “He’s capable of doing a lot of things. Francisco is the guy with the experience. He has shown he has done it.”

Alfaro has trimmed down since last year, dropping about 15 pounds to take some stress off his knees.

“I’m trying to catch more games this year,” Alfaro said. “I know that we have Cervelli now, but that’s my goal -- play more games. I always want to improve every year. My goal is to do better every year, and that’s what I’m looking to do.”

Cervelli broke in with the Yankees in 2008, and he was a former teammate of Marlins chief executive officer Derek Jeter. In '19, he was with the Pirates and Braves, but he missed significant time due to a concussion. In 48 games, Cervelli hit .213 with three homers and 12 RBIs.

But in 2018 with the Pirates, Cervelli logged 104 games, slashing .259/.378/.431 with 12 home runs and 57 RBIs.

Cervelli’s previous relationship with Jeter and others in the Marlins' organization who formerly were with the Yankees helped lead him to the decision to sign with Miami.

“I was with those guys for a long time,” Cervelli said. “They were my teachers and everything. I know Derek came into this world to win. That’s how I know him. The talent here is amazing. The city is great.”

Cervelli embraces the fact he is being viewed as a team leader, a handler of pitchers and a mentor to Alfaro.

“The two things are different for me, they’re separate,” Cervelli said of his friendship with Alfaro and vying for playing time. “If you want to play or not, it has nothing to do with him.

“Through my career, I’ve had a lot of people teach me things. I have to pass on what I know to him. His talent is above everyone. It’s amazing. We’re going to talk. We’re going to share thoughts and play hard.”

If both are performing, the Marlins will have to figure out a way to keep them both involved.

“It’s all about actions,” Cervelli said. “If I do well, why not [play more]? But every day I come here, I’m grateful. Whatever the role is, I’ve got to embrace it and be happy about it. But in my mind, I always know what I want.”