How does the bullpen compare to last year?
Statistically, the only place the bullpen can go is up, because it ranked either at or near the bottom in many significant statistical categories in 2019. According to Fangraphs' WAR, the Marlins’ bullpen was -2.2, ranking last in the Majors. Miami was the only team to finish with a negative bullpen WAR. The ‘pen ERA was 4.97, which was the sixth highest, and it averaged 4.37 walks per nine innings, tied with the Pirates for the second highest.
Add this all up, and you see why the bullpen has been overhauled. On Wednesday, a trade was made with the Yankees for lefty Stephen Tarpley, who projects to be a factor in the late innings. Sterling Sharp was a Rule 5 Draft claim off the Nationals’ roster, and Yimi García was added after pitching last year with the Dodgers. Having Drew Steckenrider healthy will be huge, because he will factor into the closer-role picture. Ryne Stanek also is a high-leverage option, as is lefty Adam Conley, and José Ureña is moving to the bullpen after being the Opening Day starter the past two years. The key to this bullpen may end up being the starters going deeper into games to ease its overall usage.
Does Monte Harrison steal the center-field job from Lewis Brinson?
I’m not sure “steal” is the right word here. But Harrison definitely will have the opportunity to win a big league roster spot in Spring Training, and the 24-year-old is certainly a candidate to play center field. We all know that it is time for Brinson to step up. We also know he has one more option left, so he can start off at Triple-A Wichita, if he doesn’t win the job in Spring Training.
Harrison is already on the 40-man roster, so creating roster space for him isn’t an issue. My only concern with Harrison is whether he is completely ready, especially after being limited to 56 games at Triple-A last year. He missed time due to a right wrist injury that led to surgery. Still, Harrison performed at Triple-A, hitting .274 with nine home runs and 20 stolen bases.
Who is your favorite under-the-radar prospect that has not been talked about a lot, but you feel could make an impact down the line?
I think people have given up too quickly on Jorge Guzman, the Marlins’ No. 16-ranked prospect. The hard-throwing right-hander turns 24 on Jan. 28, and he made big strides at Double-A Jacksonville last year. In the second half of 2019, Guzman had a 3.26 ERA in 12 appearances (11 starts). In 66 1/3 innings, he struck out 66 and opponents hit just .171. Miami is keeping Guzman in the rotation and he likely will start off at Triple-A Wichita. I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes a bullpen option at some point this year.
Do you see Nick Neidert having a chance at the fifth rotation spot?
No, I don’t see a leap that quickly for Neidert, who missed most of last year due to a right meniscus tear. The 23-year-old is Miami’s No. 11 prospect, and he projects to be part of Triple-A Wichita's rotation, along with top prospect Sixto Sanchez, Edward Cabrera and Guzman. But I do believe Neidert is closer to being big league ready than those other three. So don’t be surprised if he is the first starter called up from Triple-A, should he not win a rotation spot.
How do you feel about Sterling Sharp winning the fifth spot in the rotation? He tore it up in the Arizona Fall League while starting. Other than the grand slam to Jerar Encarnacion.
Very perceptive to know that it was Sharp, then a prospect with the Nationals, who surrendered the grand slam to Encarnacion in the Arizona Fall League championship game. Encarnacion is the Marlins' No. 17-ranked prospect, and he is an intriguing power-hitting outfielder. Now, the two have a chance to become teammates in Miami. Sharp has upside, but even though he has started, look for him to be in the bullpen, where he can pitch multiple innings. At this point, he basically relies on a fastball and a changeup, while his slider is a work in progress. So without a three-pitch mix, the bullpen is more realistic. I do look forward to seeing what he has to offer in Spring Training, and what role he may wind up with.