These are the Marlins' undecided roster battles

When baseball resumes, decisions await on RF, bullpen, fifth starter

March 17th, 2020

MIAMI -- The way the competition for roster spots was shaping up, the Marlins were prepared to make some tough decisions in the days leading up to the originally scheduled Opening Day, which was to be March 26 against the Phillies.

Those plans, obviously, changed when MLB cancelled the final two weeks of Spring Training and delayed Opening Day due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Sunday, the Marlins announced they were closing their Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex. For now, the organization is in a holding pattern.

But whenever teams are cleared to get back onto the field, the Marlins still will have some unsettled business to take care of in finalizing their Opening Day roster. takes a look at the Miami position battles still up for grabs.

Right field
Whoever winds up in this corner of the outfield likely will be splitting his time there. Marlins manager Don Mattingly already is on record as saying left-handed-hitting free-agent signee is expected to play about three days a week. So that leaves about four days a week for a right-handed counterpart to start.

In the mix are , , and Monte Harrison, Miami’s No. 9 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, who remains in big league camp but may wind up at Triple-A Wichita to start the season. If non-roster invitee makes the club, he would be used more as a bat off the bench, and just an occasional outfielder. Speedster , a left-handed hitter who is out of options, projects more as a fourth or fifth outfielder than a regular.

With MLB rosters expanded to 26 players, each club can carry no more than 13 pitchers, five of whom will be starters, leaving eight as relievers. That number is just about the only certainty the club currently has in regards to the bullpen, with at least half the spots yet to be decided. Free-agent addition is the front-runner to be the closer, and , formerly with the Dodgers, has had an excellent camp. Left-hander is signed for $1.525 million.

The remaining five spots are still to be determined. Ryne Stanek has dealt with lower back stiffness. Drew Steckenrider, recovering from a right elbow injury, had his velocity drop to 90-91 mph in his final Spring Training appearance. Jeff Brigham (right biceps strain) didn’t pitch this spring. The layoff, obviously, will help the recovery of any ailing reliever.

Sterling Sharp, a Rule 5 Draft pickup from the Nationals organization, has impressed and could make the club. Stephen Tarpley is another left-handed option. Non-roster invitees Brad Boxberger, Josh A. Smith, Aaron Northcraft, Tommy Eveld and Pat Venditte also remained in camp. Boxberger was tracking toward making the club, and Smith has impressed. Ryan Cook, another non-roster invitee, hasn’t pitched in games due to a toe injury, but he threw well in his last bullpen session.

The sleeper could be lefty Alex Vesia, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the organization’s No. 27 prospect. A non-roster invitee, Vesia didn’t allow a run in six Grapefruit League innings, with two saves and five strikeouts.

Fifth starter
Even though the club never announced the order, the projected first four in the rotation are expected to be Sandy Alcantara, José Ureña, Caleb Smith and Pablo López. That leaves only the fifth starter unresolved.

, who made 15 big league starts last year, may be the front-runner, based on experience. In eight Spring Training innings, he had a 3.38 ERA. He also pitched on the back fields in scrimmages, so more than stats will factor into the club’s decision.

, Robert Dugger (No. 30 prospect) and Nick Neidert (No. 10 prospect) also are in the mix. Hernandez, 24, probably is making the club, either as a starter or long reliever. He has logged 148 innings in the big leagues and he was throwing well in Spring Training, especially in his last appearance.

Dugger, 24, made seven big league starts last year. He has done his part this spring, with 9 2/3 shutout innings, and his velocity has been around 94-95 mph.

Neidert, 23, has a 1.50 ERA in six innings this spring. If he starts off at Triple-A Wichita, he could be the first Minor League pitching prospect the Marlins call up in the regular season.