Here are 4 Marlins storylines heading into camp

June 30th, 2020

MIAMI -- With report day on Wednesday and the first scheduled workouts on Friday, the Marlins are sending a clear message that they intend to seriously compete for a playoff spot in 2020.

“The message to our guys is, 'Why not us?’" president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. “Why can't the Miami Marlins be a team that is competing for a division title and the playoffs as we restart this thing?”

Optimism was running high in Spring Training before MLB shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now that the Marlins are set to open Summer Camp in preparation for a 60-game season, the organization sees 2020 as an opportunity to make some noise.

“We feel as confident as anyone as we start this thing,” Hill said. “We're trying to play into October.”

After two straight last-place finishes during their building process, the Marlins feel they’ve improved their offense, upgraded their pitching and have a strong pipeline of prospects that gives them organizational depth.

Now it is a matter of making the necessary strides on the field.

As the Marlins reset and get ready to play, is revisiting four storylines to follow during this unprecedented season.

1. Rounding out the rotation
In March, manager Don Mattingly never officially announced the Opening Day starter or the rest of the rotation. Still, the club had a pretty good indication, and in no particular order the five front-runners were Sandy Alcantara, José Ureña, Caleb Smith, Pablo López and Jordan Yamamoto. Alcantara, an All-Star in 2019, is the projected Opening Day starter.

While the Marlins anticipate going with five starters, they also could get creative and use other starting candidates in relief roles.

The rosters will start off at 30, and after two weeks go to 28, settling at 26 two weeks after that. This enables the club to carry more bullpen candidates. Elieser Hernandez, Robert Dugger and Nick Neidert, ranked by MLB Pipeline as Miami’s No. 10 prospect, are starters who could be used in relief roles.

“When the season starts, we are going to be mindful, first and foremost, to keep [all our starters] healthy and not put anyone at an injury risk,” Hill said.

Throughout the shutdown, several Marlins starters remained in Miami and threw regularly. Most of them are already built up to about 75 pitches.

“Our guys were built up pretty good before we finalized the restart,” Hill said.

2. Adjusting to the DH
Perhaps the biggest change in restarting the 2020 season is the universal designated hitter. Figuring out who to use at DH wasn’t a consideration for the organization when MLB shut down on March 12.

Now the DH opens up many possibilities for Mattingly and the organization. The Marlins anticipate using several players, although Garrett Cooper appears to be the most logical choice. Even infielder/outfielder Jonathan Villar, projected to play center field, could be a DH option.

“I think we’re in a very good spot, because we do have versatile pieces,” Hill said. “You talk about Jonathan Villar, we’re going to continue to have him in center field, but as we look through 60 games, and [look to] keep everyone fresh and everyone healthy, I think we’ll look at our versatility.”

First baseman Jesús Aguilar could also DH when he is not at first.

“We can cycle guys through the DH spot and keep guys fresh,” Hill said.

3. Prospect watch
The top 11 Marlins prospects ranked by MLB Pipeline are all part of the team's 60-man player pool. Of the group, outfielder Monte Harrison, shortstop Jazz Chisholm and Neidert are the only three who will be working out at Marlins Park with the rest of the expected 2020 big league roster. The others will be training with mostly prospects at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla.

This indicates, in the eyes of the organization, that Harrison, Chisholm and Neidert are considered the most big league-ready prospects. Even if they don’t make the Opening Day roster, they could get a callup at any time.

“Those guys are on our 40-man roster,” Hill said. “They’re an injury or something from being called to the big leagues.”

Chisholm is ranked as the team’s No. 3 prospect. Harrison is ninth.

“We wanted to make sure that all of those players are getting the necessary work, because you don’t know how this is going to unfold,” Hill said. “You want to make sure they are continuing to get what they need, because if and when they are called upon, they’ll be able to help us win ballgames.”

4. Injury update
For the most part, the Marlins are in good shape on the injury front. The three players sidelined in March -- catcher Jorge Alfaro (abdominal strain), and right-handers Ryne Stanek (tight back) and Jeff Brigham (right biceps) -- could be ready for the start of the season.

“Alfaro has participated in our voluntary workouts, and he looks great,” Hill said. “Stanek has been throwing off the mound, as has Brigham. We’re excited to get everybody back to Miami and get a feel for exactly what they’re capable of doing when we resume. At this point, we’re healthy and ready to get after it.”