MIAMI -- The catching position is one the Marlins will likely look to upgrade over the offseason if they hope to make a realistic push for the playoffs in 2022. Rookie backstop Nick Fortes is giving Miami something to think about as the season winds down.
Fortes and Sandy León went deep in the ninth inning, but the Marlins’ rally fell short in Wednesday night's 7-5 loss to the Nationals at loanDepot park.
Fortes' knock was his third homer in 11 plate appearances, a pinch-hit two-run shot in the ninth off a middle-middle four-seam fastball from Ryne Harper.
The 24-year-old became the 40th player in Major League history to hit three home runs in his first five career Major League games, and the first since Seattle’s Kyle Lewis in September 2019.
"Pretty good, right?" manager Don Mattingly asked. "It's hard to argue that his start's not great. It's good to see that, and it's kind of the reason that you want to get these guys here to see what it looks like. Get him some playing time, get him some experience, so your front office can make decisions. Obviously it's going to be a fairly small sample with him just because of the catcher situation that we have going. But he's still getting a look if you get some idea."
Since his callup to open the homestand on Friday, Fortes has started two games and appeared in five total. He is 6-for-10 with one walk, four runs, three homers and five RBIs.
Fortes is in a timeshare with Alex Jackson (whom the Marlins acquired in the Adam Duvall trade), fellow rookie Payton Henry and the veteran León. Jorge Alfaro, the club's Opening Day backstop two of the past three seasons, is on the 10-day injured list with a left calf strain. When Jackson joined Miami, Alfaro began playing some left field to improve his defensive versatility. It also seemed like a sign that Alfaro's time with the organization could be drawing to a close.
The plan still calls for the four catchers on the active roster to split time, unless the front office tells Mattingly otherwise. The club would like to evaluate what it has at the position before making decisions this winter. Fortes has just 100 games at the Double-A level or higher.
This season, Fortes has had the benefit of catching some of the organization's top prospects like Max Meyer and Jake Eder at Double-A Pensacola and Edward Cabrera at Triple-A Jacksonville. Plus, Fortes and NL Rookie of the Year candidate Trevor Rogers were batterymates at Class A Advanced Jupiter in 2019.
But there remains room for growth, as Fortes committed three passed balls in Tuesday's 7-1 loss. In 75 games across the two Minor League levels, he had eight passed balls to go along with nine errors. Fortes did have a caught-stealing percentage of 27, and he has thrown out two of four would-be basestealers so far in the Majors.
"Not my typical self back there today," Fortes said after his start on Tuesday. "I think I was just trying to do a little bit too much, trying to do more than what I'm used to doing and get borderline calls that I typically wouldn't. I think I was just trying to be a little too perfect today, and that kind of came back to bite me a little bit. So I need to just get back to doing what I usually do, because that's not me."
Fortes, who is not ranked among Miami’s Top 30 prospects, participated in big league Spring Training but received just four Grapefruit League at-bats. Still, he left an impression on Mattingly with his “efficient” batting practice.
“Watching him this spring, it's like he understood how to take BP,” Mattingly said. “Just get to the barrel, hit the ball where it's supposed to be hit. His front side stays in a long time, so he's less susceptible to different pitches. It's pretty solid.
“You never know if that's going to translate or not, and we didn't get to see him much in Spring Training quite honestly. We didn't see that many ABs getting other guys ready. But we're seeing it translate, so that's a good thing for him because it helps him understand that what worked down there works here, too. It's about getting good pitches to hit, getting yourself in the right position a lot, and what we've seen so far is he puts himself in a good position a lot.”