JUPITER, Fla. -- Though a month may be a small sample size, the Marlins have been able to get a good look at many prospects who project to be part of the organization’s future. But as Spring Training reaches the time when tough roster decisions need to be made, the Marlins on Tuesday morning opted to send down a half dozen of their top prospects, with outfielder JJ Bleday and shortstop Jazz Chisholm heading the list.
Optioned to Triple-A Wichita were Chisholm, outfielder Jesús Sánchez and first baseman Lewin Díaz. The club also reassigned to Minor League camp Bleday, infielder José Devers and outfielder Jerar Encarnacion.
In addition, left-hander Dylan Lee was granted a leave of absence to participate on Team Brazil’s World Baseball Classic team. The seven moves leave 48 players in camp.
• Marlins system now No. 4 in Pipeline rankings
“These kids are all good kids, that work hard,” manager Don Mattingly said. “They have good habits. Some of them are a lot closer than the other ones, but even those are not that far away. They’re right on the door. Some of them seem like they’re trying to knock it down.”
With Opening Day set for March 26 against the Phillies at Marlins Park, the Marlins have a little more than two weeks to finalize their 26-man roster.
The timing of sending the six prospects down was expected, and these players now will get ready with their respective Minor League clubs. Chisholm, Sánchez and Díaz are on the 40-man roster, and all three could reach the big leagues this season.
Bleday, Devers and Encarnacion are not on the 40-man roster.
All six are in the top portion of the Marlins’ Top 30 list as ranked by MLB Pipeline -- Bleday (2), Chisholm (3), Sánchez (4), Díaz (7), Devers (11) and Encarnacion (15).
Chisholm is regarded as the shortstop of the future. A left-handed hitter with tremendous home run power, he hit .308 with a .500 on-base percentage and a home run in nine Grapefruit League games.
Sánchez and Díaz were acquired in trades last July. Sánchez was part of the deal that sent relievers Nick Anderson and Trevor Richards to the Rays. Díaz came to Miami in the deal with the Twins for Sergio Romo.
Sánchez played in nine spring games, and he hit .500 (6-for-12) with a triple and home run.
Díaz raised his stock early in camp and continued to impress throughout, hitting .304 (7-for-23) with a triple and home run.
Bleday, the No. 4 pick in the 2019 Draft, got his first taste of big league camp, hitting .231 in 13 at-bats. He is expected to start off at Class A Advanced Jupiter or Double-A Jacksonville.
Devers, the youngest player in camp, turned 20 in December. He hit .200 in limited at-bats. He likely will open the season at Jupiter.
Encarnacion, who demonstrated as much power as anyone in camp, hit .429 (6-for-14) with two home runs and a double. The slugger could start off at Double-A.
Smith more in command
Caleb Smith was more like himself on Tuesday in the Marlins’ 3-2 win over the Nationals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. The left-hander gave up two runs in four innings with four strikeouts and a walk. Of his 64 pitches, 44 were strikes.
Smith bounced back after a spotty start on March 4 against the Orioles, when he walked four in three innings.
“I like the fact that we saw a lot more strikes with his fastball, to both sides [of the plate],” Mattingly said. “The breaking ball and the change were both there. In general, a lot better.”
Smith projects to be one of the top three starters, and he is the lone lefty expected to be in the rotation.
“I have two outings left,” Smith said of his number of Spring Training starts. “As it gets closer, the next outing I’ll be ramping it up a lot more. That one, and then the last one. It should be Opening Day form.”
Kemp gets work at first
Matt Kemp, a non-roster invitee trying to make the squad as a bench player, saw action on Tuesday for the first time at first base. The veteran outfielder is open to playing some first, just in case.
The need was there because first base prospect Lewin Díaz was optioned to Triple-A Wichita on Tuesday, and the club wanted to work Garrett Cooper in right field. Cooper also can play first.
“It’s something he wanted to try in spring,” Mattingly said. “It’s not super serious with us, but today we needed a guy there. So it was good to be able to get him over there.”
If Kemp makes the team, it will be more as a pinch-hit option, with some time in the outfield.
Kemp is hitting .160 in Spring Training, but the 35-year-old came into camp in shape, and the organization knows he has a history of production.
In 2018, he was an All-Star, but in 2019, he saw action in just 20 games with the Reds.
“He’s been OK,” Mattingly said. “I don’t think he’s found his groove yet, that’s for sure.”
Mattingly reminds that more than just spring numbers go into deciding if a player like Kemp will make the club.
“There’s a lot of factors that go into decisions in spring,” Mattingly said. “All those things. We’ll continue to talk about, and go through things with our people, and get opinions. Then, we’ll make some decisions.”
The Marlins face the Yankees at 1:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Sandy Alcántara, who has struggled with control this spring (nine walks in seven innings), gets the start for Miami. The Yankees are going with right-hander Deivi García (their No. 3 prospect). Watch the game live on MLB.TV.
Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.