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Joyce may have edge in 'open' OF competition

Dickerson (LF), Villar (CF) appear set, but several could split time in RF
@JoeFrisaro
March 3, 2020

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Halfway through Spring Training, the Marlins’ outfield competition is gaining some clarity, but playing time in right field remains up for grabs.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Halfway through Spring Training, the Marlins’ outfield competition is gaining some clarity, but playing time in right field remains up for grabs.

Manager Don Mattingly stated on Tuesday morning that Corey Dickerson is slated to be Miami’s everyday left fielder, while Jonathan Villar, a natural middle infielder, has every opportunity to be the regular in center.

Mattingly added that the left-handed-hitting Matt Joyce, an offseason free-agent signee, projects to be in the lineup for at least two or three games per week. Most of that could be in right field.

“Obviously, Corey is in left,” Mattingly said. “As long as Jonathan continues to pick it up and keeps it going, we like him in center. We think that’s the best for our club. Right field is kind of open for a number of guys we’re going to try to look at.”

Lewis Brinson, Harold Ramirez, Garrett Cooper, Monte Harrison and Jesús Sánchez are all candidates to fill that corner spot.

Brinson started there in Tuesday’s 6-1 win over the Mets at Clover Park, with Cooper at first base and Ramirez in left field. Brinson and Ramirez each went hitless in two at-bats, but both scored a run.

In the first inning, Cooper connected on an opposite-field home run to right field off Noah Syndergaard. Mets outfielder Michael Conforto tried to make the catch at the wall, but his glove popped off and landed on the other side of the fence.

“You’re just trying to get your footing back,” Cooper said. “It feels good to put a charge into one.”

Cooper is working on elevating the ball this season. A year ago, his average launch angle was 4.5 degrees, according to Statcast.

“You hit a 105-mph ground ball, and you’re not doing too much damage,” Cooper said. “I’m concentrating on getting underneath the ball. [There are] a lot of sinkerball pitchers in our division. It’s a daily thing. You work to figure some things out early in spring and see what works and what doesn’t.”

In the outfield mix, there are also players like Matt Kemp, a non-roster invitee, and Magneuris Sierra, who is out of options. But they are both more likely to be bench options than regulars.

“We’re trying to see a lot of guys, and then when we get down to the wire or get a little closer [to Opening Day], then you’re making your judgment,” Mattingly said. “You ask, ‘Is this guy better off being here and not playing? Or is he better off continuing playing?’ So then you’ve got to weigh those factors.”

Sánchez and Harrison, two of the organization’s top prospects, could both reach the big leagues in 2020. Both are on the 40-man roster, but they will probably start off the year at Triple-A Wichita.

Brinson and Ramirez have one option remaining, while Cooper has two. So there is some roster flexibility for all three.

Brinson, the Opening Day starting center fielder for the past two years, has struggled with the Marlins, hitting .173 with no home runs and 15 RBIs last year in 75 big league games.

Cooper appeared in 107 games last year and hit .281 with 15 home runs and 50 RBIs, while Ramirez hit .276 with 11 homers and 50 RBIs in 119 big league games.

Joyce, 35, appeared in 129 games with the Braves last year and hit .295 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs. Mattingly envisions him in a “semi-platoon” role.

“I see him playing basically more than he’s probably played in the last couple of years,” Mattingly said. “I see this guy with a good swing. He’s left-handed.

“We don’t think he’s six days a week, but it’s not going to be one or two days a week, either. We think there’s going to be some at-bats there for him, as everything shapes right now.”

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.