AnalysisNL East

2020 Miami Marlins Season Preview

The fish are entering the 2020 season the same way they did the 2019 one; a bottom five team in the midst of a rebuild. However, the Marlins are inching closer and closer, and this season should start to show that. If there’s one team set to benefit a lot from the shortened season, it’s the Miami Marlins. There are three main reasons that the Marlins should benefit a ton from the new rules being implemented, none of which has to do with the joke how the Marlins are used to playing games without fans, so every game will feel like a home game.

The first reason why the Marlins are set to benefit is the implementation of the universal DH for the shortened season. Unbeknownst at the time, the Marlins made two signings to bring in a bit of power to their lineup: Corey Dickerson and Jesus Aguilar. As both are better known for their bats, the two should platoon, with the left handed Dickerson starting against righties and the righty Aguilar starting against lefties. Another rule change that the fish should benefit from the shortened season is the expanded rosters. This will allow the Marlins to show off some of their young stars, and give them a wealth of experience at the big league level. With the cancellation of the minor league season, this will be the best way to evaluate their future stars. The Marlins have a ton of prospects in their initial sixty man camp, including 2019’s fourth overall pick J.J Bleday, this year’s third overall Max Meyer, and phenom pitcher Sixto Sanchez. Finally, the Marlins will also benefit simply from the season being shortened to sixty games. Anything can happen in a shortened season. It is possible that the Marlins get a hot streak going and ride it into a playoff spot. While it is still unlikely, the wildness of a shortened season will benefit the teams at the bottom of the league the most.

That said, here’s a positional breakdown for the 2020 Marlins, as well as three bold predictions for this season. Rosters are not set yet, so these are my predictions for how the thirty man roster will look.

Key Additions: Jonathan Villar, Jesus Aguilar, Corey Dickerson, Matt Joyce, Brandon Kintzler

Key Departures: Starlin Castro, Curtis Granderson

Photo Credit: Fish Stripes

Catchers (3); Jorge Alfaro, Chad Wallach, Francisco Cervelli: Jorge Alfaro should be the opening day catcher when the Marlins play their first game on July 24th. In his first season with the Marlin, Alfaro smashed 18 home runs while putting up a respectable .262 batting average. These numbers look even more impressive considering he moved away from the hitter friendly Citizens Bank Park and into a worse lineup. This didn’t stop him from putting up career highs in homers and RBIs. Alfaro is a slightly below average defender, with a -.4 UZR but that is why the Marlins will roster Wallach. Wallach served as the backup catcher for most of last season, so didn’t have many at bats, but his value shined on defense especially when it came to pitch framing. Finally, the fish should end up rostering the veteran Cervelli. He compares similarly to Wallach defensively, and put up decent numbers offensively in his final full season as a Pirate. Cervelli will also bring veteran leadership to a young catching core and team in general.

Infielders (7); Jesus Aguilar, Jonathan Villar, Brian Anderson, Miguel Rojas, Isan Diaz, Jon Berti, Garrett Cooper: If I had to guess how the Marlins will look around the horn on opening day, it would be Cooper at first, Villar at second, Rojas at short, and Anderson at third. The Marlins have the benefit that most of their infielders can play multiple positions around the horn, and three (Cooper, Anderson, and Berti) played in the outfield last season. There are even rumors that the Marlins may have Villar move to the outfield to allow Diaz to start at second. I don’t see this happening for opening day, but wouldn’t be surprised if they test this out later in the season.

Garrett Cooper played 73 out of his 107 games last season at first base, and had a strong campaign. He hit 15 home runs while batting .281, and knocked in 50 runs. Cooper put up a respectable .790 OPS and had a 111 WRC+. He was worth 1.3 WAR. While the Marlins did sign Aguilar in the off season, with the addition of the DH even in the National League, Aguilar should be better suited for that role. Aguilar had a bit of a rough 2019, but in 2018 he had an all star season, hitting 35 home runs and knocking in 108 RBIs. With the responsibility of just hitting, he could have a bounce back season. I think he may platoon with Dickerson, but Aguilar could also fill in at first base when he is not at DH. In games where Dickerson starts at DH, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Marlins have Aguilar at first.

The biggest addition for the Marlins during the off season was Jonathan Villar, who is coming off a career year. Not only did Villar play in all 162 games last year, but he set a new career high in homers at 24. This didn’t come at the expense of his speed, as he put up his second highest stolen base total, with 40, which was good for third most in the majors. This led to him scoring 111 runs, and contributing 4.0 wins above replacement. Villar has also improved defensively since the start of his career, and the Marlins are going to try to utilize his bat, legs, and glove in every game. There are plenty of rumors that Villar will play centerfield, and he was playing there before spring training got cancelled. Don Mattingly has suggested this is more than a rumor. This opens the door for rookie Isan Diaz. Diaz had a memorable debut, hitting a homer off Jacob Degrom, but it went downhill from there. He only hit four more homers and put up a measly .173 batting average. Diaz should get a second chance this year, and will probably start at second. However, if his struggles continue, Villar should take over at second instead of playing outfield.

Shortstop is a bit harder to predict since the Marlins have four players who have played games at shortstop in their careers. However, the safe pick for opening day would be Miguel Rojas. Rojas lacks power, as he only put up five home runs last year, but did make up for that with his .284 average. Additionally, Rojas is an above average defender, putting up a 7.3 UZR. This led Rojas to be worth 1.9 WAR for the Marlins last season. Jon Berti should end up being the backup shortstop, as well as just a super utility. Berti provided some speed on the bases last year, stealing 19 bases. He was worth a solid 1.7 WAR and had a 104 WRC+, so was an above average player. Berti will serve as a super utility.

Last season Brian Anderson split time at third base with Martin Prado, and played the rest of his games in the outfield. With Prado gone, Anderson should be the primary third baseman for the Marlins. Anderson has been one of the brightest spots for the Marlins over his two full seasons in the big leagues. Last season, Anderson put up a .810 OPS and 114 WRC+, leading to a career high 20 home runs. This went along with a solid 57 runs scored and 66 runs batted in. He was worth 3.1 WAR last season, and 6.5 over the past two. Anderson is locked in to the starting third base role for the upcoming season.

Outfielders (4); Magneuris Sierra, Corey Dickerson, Monte Harrison, Harold Ramirez: One of the benefits the Marlins have is that a lot of their players can play multiple positions. This will allow the fish to mix and match outfielders throughout the season, including using players labeled as infielders. However, this does make it a bit harder to properly predict the opening day outfield. I think that Joyce will start in right, Villar will move to center, and Dickerson will be the starting in left. Dickerson hasn’t had a season where he finished with a WRC+ under 104 since his rookie season. I think Dickerson will play some games at DH against righties, and in those games Harold Ramirez will play left.

The Marlins back up outfielders also carry a lot of potential. Sierra played limited reps last year, but did show promise, especially with his speed. Extra innings now start with a runner on second, which could also highlight his talents. Ramirez can play across the outfield, making him the perfect backup. He also put up solid numbers in home runs and batting average, putting up 11 homers and a .276 batting average in his rookie campaign. Monte Harrison has shown a ton of potential, especially in the continuation of spring training. Injuries will give him the opportunity to play more at the beginning of the season. Harrison is the sixth ranked prospect in the Marlins system, and had a strong season in the minors last year. He had an above .800 OPS and stole 20 bases in 56 games at the AAA level.

The Marlins also have Matt Joyce and Lewis Brinson, who just went on the injured list. The Marlins will likely start the season with an extra reliever in Joyce’s place, while Brinson may still have to prove himself to get back on the team after the injury. Like Dickerson, Joyce was also a big addition for the fish in the off season. Joyce is coming off a season in which he had a career high .295 batting average, although his other stats weren’t that great. He had a really high .408 on base percentage, which contributed to his .858 OPS. Joyce was worth 1.2 WAR last year, and is also only a couple years removed from a 25 homer/2.7 WAR season. He should provide a constant on base presence for the Marlins, and the new additions will be noticeable, especially in the outfield. Brinson has struggled in the majors, but the fish hope he can turn into the prospect they were looking for when they traded Christian Yelich. He didn’t hit a single homer in 75 games in the majors last year. If he can turn it around, Brinson still has a chance of shining in the big leagues. Joyce could be available to return as early as the second series.

Starting Pitchers (5); Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith, Jose Urena, Jordan Yamamoto, Pablo Lopez: The major bright spot for the Marlins last year was definitely their pitching. It is a young, talented pitching staff, with an incredibly high ceiling. The pitching staff produced the lone all star in Alcantara. He is coming off a season where he put up a strong a 3.88 ERA and produced 2.3 WAR. His batted ball data points to some negative regression, especially his 5.28 skill interactive ERA. However, he should still be a solid starter this year. The Marlins pitcher with the most potential in my opinion is Caleb Smith, especially because of his strikeout potential. I will talk a bit more about Smith later.

The next two probable Marlins starters have had a bit more up and down careers. Yamamoto has only played one season, and started 4-0 over his first six starts. That included his first two career starts, where he went 14.0 innings, giving up a total of five hits. He then struggled a bit, but in his last start of the 2019 season, Yamamoto threw six innings of one hit ball, striking out ten. Jose Urena struggled last year, which forced him into a reliever role midway through the year. However, in both 2018 and 2019, Urena had an ERA under 4.00. He was the opening day starter last year, and has the potential to get back there.

Finally, Pablo Lopez made it back to the majors last year, sticking this time. He didn’t shine so much, but did show a bit of potential in a stretch of four straight quality starts. His three pitches are all ranked over 50, meaning he could definitely turn into a permanent long term starter. The Marlins also have one of the top pitching prospects waiting in the minors. If Lopez or another starter struggles, it will open the door for Sixto Sanchez to make it to the majors, as he is getting close to being major league ready.

Relief Pitchers (11); Ryne Stanek, Drew Steckenrider, Adam Conley, Brandon Kintzler, Yimi Garcia, Brad Boxberger, Jeff Brigham, Sterling Sharp, Stephen Tarpley, Elieser Hernandez, Alex Vesia: The Marlins had a bit of a merry go round last year at closer, with eight different pitchers recording saves. Part of this is due to Sergio Romo being traded at the deadline, which left a hole at closer. This year, the Marlins are hoping they will have a bit more stability at the position with newcomer Brandon Kintzler expected to be the opening day closer. He hasn’t served as a closer over the past two years, as he had been the setup man. However, Kintzler was a solid closer in both 2016 and 2017, racking up 46 saves over the two years. In three of the past four seasons, Kintzler has put up an ERA of 3.15 or lower.

The setup man position is slightly more competitive, between Stanek and Boxberger. Stanek, who made a name for himself serving in the “opener” role for the Rays last year before being traded, should get the edge considering his more recent success. However, if Kintzler struggles, the fish may turn to Boxberger as the closer and keep Stanek as the set up man. Boxberger has had a couple strong seasons as a closer, saving 32 games in 2018. Conley, Steckenrider, and Garcia also have shown a lot of positives in a relief role. Overall this Marlins bullpen should be fairly solid, especially the top end of it. At the very least it should be the most stable unit in terms of knowing exactly what to expect.

3 Bold Predictions:

(1) Caleb Smith will finish in the top ten in Cy Young voting: Sandy Alcantara was the lone all star for the Marlins in 2019, so he may seem like a better candidate for this prediction. However, Smith, also known as ‘Dr. K’, strikes out a lot more batters than Alcantara. He also has lowered his walk rate over the past couple of seasons, and had a very solid BABIP against last year. The shortened season might give Smith a chance to push for the Cy Young, especially if he starts fast like he did last year.

(2) The Marlins won’t finish last in the NL East: To be honest, I was going to make this bold prediction whether or not the season was shortened. I thought the Marlins might be able to steal some games from the Phillies, and sneak up on them with an improved, but more importantly more experienced, roster. It was a bold prediction I only semi believed in, but now I fully believe it with the shortened season. While playing the Orioles and Blue Jays should help both the Marlins and the Phillies, the fish weren’t that much worse than the Phillies in division play last year. They can easily sneak up on the Phillies, and while still very bold, I think the Marlins can finish in fourth

(3) Sixto Sanchez plays for the Marlins in 2020: One of the main story lines for the Marlins this year will be whether or not phenom pitcher Sixto Sanchez plays in the big leagues this year. He had shot through the minor leagues, and was projected to make the majors at some point in 2020. His development may have been slightly halted due to the lack of a minor league season, but I still believe he will make it the majors midway through. The lack of minor leagues may serve as extra incentive to get Sanchez up this year.

PECOTA projected record: 27-33

My projected record: 28-32

Photo Credit: MLB Trade Rumors

Jonah Keehn

Jonah is a UCF AlumKnight. He is currently working as a Direct Care Professional in the behavioral health field. Jonah can be followed on Twitter @JonahKeehn

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