Baseball. Is. Back.
It’s been a long and exciting offseason for the Marlins, but it’s finally time to talk about the play on the diamond.
Today I’m bringing you some roster and stat projections. From the 26-man roster, to the opening day starting lineup. I’ll be diving into who I’m looking at to “breakout” this season and what prospects should impact Miami in 2020. I won’t ramble. Let’s get right into it.
The 2019 Marlins were exactly who we thought they were; a team in a full rebuild mode looking for small improvements from young players. 57-105 was the final record — worst in Miami since 1998 — leading to the 3rd overall pick in the 2020 MLB draft. Sandy Alcantara was an All-Star. Brian Anderson made big strides before his unlucky HBP injury to end his campaign. Garrett Cooper was a huge surprise after winning his second straight Opening Day roster spot. Overall, I wanted to keep my thoughts on last season short because I fully believe it was the worst season we will see in Miami for a long time.
I want all of the energy in this article to look at the present and future of this Marlins squad that gets more intriguing by the day. Miami’s front office seemingly went into this offseason with a priority of “spending money” and adding left-handed bats. They achieved that in an unconventional yet effective way. The first step was a tough one, and that was eating $22 million to designate Wei-yin Chen, thus removing the final bad contract off the books. The weight of that move was felt as a relief through a good amount of Marlins fans, but I think I speak on behalf of Marlins fandom when I say I wish Chen the best with his next endeavor with Seattle.
What Miami did next came seemingly out of nowhere. Jonathan Villar was put on waivers by Baltimore coming off a career best 4.0 WAR year, strictly for payroll reasons, and the Marlins swooped in and claimed him. They followed that move by agreeing to a $8.2 million deal with Villar for 2020, avoiding arbitration and way under the $11 million number that was first reported. Villar, a switch hitter, would have been the Marlins’ best player in 2019 and greatly fills an everyday role while being the best base stealer Miami has seen since Dee Gordon (45 SBs for Villar in 2019). In a follow up waiver claim, the Fish added slugger Jesus Aguilar from Tampa Bay. Coming off a subpar 2019 — the big first baseman had 142 wRC season Milwaukee in just 2018 — Miami is betting on a bargain bounce back campaign in 2020.
Left Field was likely also to be addressed this winter, and, sure enough, it was with more left-handed bats. Corey Dickerson and Matt Joyce were added to help solidify a young and relatively unproven outfield. I fully expected Miami to be in on both players, and that came to fruition. Not to mention, the amount of non-roster invitees we will see in Spring training like Matt Kemp and Gosuke Katie, amongst other names.
Corey Dickerson is still my main target for a LH bat after today’s moves, but a super cheap, vet presence could be somebody like Matt Joyce. #Marlins
— Ian Smith (@FlaSmitty) December 3, 2019
Some veteran catching depth was added in Francisco Cervelli, and there was a complete revamping of the bullpen. With Sergio Romo, Tayron Guerrero, Kyle Keller, Chen, Jarlin Garcia and Jose Quijada all no longer on the roster, the Marlins added Brandon Kintzler, Yimi Garcia, Sterling Sharp, and Stephen Tarpley all in various ways (Free Agency, Rule 5 draft, etc). Craig and Jeremy touched on a lot of the new additions on this week’s episode of Swings and Mishes.. All in all, it was a busy and productive offseason, and once again, we can thank the boss, Craig Mish, for keeping us updated as it all went down.
Ian’s projected 26 man roster
C- Jorge Alfaro, Francisco Cervelli
1B- Jesus Aguilar, Garrett Cooper
2B- Isan Diaz
3B- Jonathan Villar
SS- Miguel Rojas, Jon Berti
OF- Corey Dickerson, Lewis Brinson, Brian Anderson, Matt Joyce, Harold Ramirez
SP- Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith, Jordan Yamamoto, Pablo Lopez, Elieser Hernandez
RP- Jeff Brigham, Yimi Garcia, Stephen Tarpley, Sterling Sharp, Adam Conley, Drew Steckenrider, Ryne Stanek, Brandon Kintzler
Ian’s projected Lineup
At first glance, I simply see a team that wins more than last year. This is not the worst team in the National League (Sorry, Pirates fans). Let’s see what Fangraphs projections look like for the starting lineup. (ATC)
Villar- 551 AB / .258/.323/.403 / 25 2B / 16 HR / 33 SB / 94 wRC+
Dickerson- 507 ABs / .279/.320/.479 / 18 HR / 31 2B / 66 RBI / 105 wRC+
Anderson- 607 AB / .266/.344/.479 / 31 2B / 23 HR / 73 RBI / 5 SB / 113 wRC+ 📈
Aguilar- 389 AB / .248/.330/.445 / 18 2B / 19 HR / 66 RBI / 104 wRC+
Diaz- 464 AB / .229/.313/.374 / 21 2B / 16 HR / 58 RBI / 89 wRC+
Rojas- 477 AB / .272/.322/.378 / 24 2B / 8 HR / 7 SB / 88 wRC+
Alfaro- 416 AB / .247/.299/.412 / 16 2B / 16 HR / 87 wRC+
Brinson- 296 AB / .212/.274/.346 / 12 2B / 7 HR / 65 wRC+
ATC projections are known to be more on the safe side, but a few of those really stick out to me. Lewis Brinson, Isan Diaz and Brian Anderson.
This is the make or break year for Lewis Brinson. The former highly-touted prospect has had a rough go of it in Miami as we all know, but it’s *how* rough that’s worrisome. Brinson was known to have double plus raw power when he was coming through the minors. Now, it’s nowhere to be found. He has an MLB worst average for flyball distance, with an .110 ISO over his MLB career. If those projections are anything close to what we end of seeing out of Sweet Lew in the competition for CF, we could be seeing his last MiLB options used rather quickly.
As I pivot to Isan Diaz, I can’t help but be excited for his 2020 season. While those Fangraphs projections aren’t ideal, I think his makeup can blow those out of the water. Diaz has been a notoriously slow starter in both of his seasons in Miami’s system, plus he was entirely too patient at the plate last season when he was called up. Mike Kurland of Fantrax.com pointed out an interesting stat this week: Isan has a Swinging strike% of just 10% last season, but his K% was an inflated 29%. That’s not normal. Diaz was caught being overly patient at the plate and got behind in the count more often than not. Some added confidence and aggression at the dish this season can do wonders for his game, and we know what he can do when he barrels up.
I said I had a breakout bat for 2020, and it’s the clear choice of Brian Anderson. Last season was a career year for BA, and if it wasn’t for a couple unlucky injuries, I think he could be everyone’s pick this season. I mentioned ATC normally being safe…well, all of those numbers would be new career highs for Anderson. The reason for that is all the stats you don’t see at first glance. He began to tee off against off-speed pitches for the first time in his career last season. He also saw a notable jump in exit velocity and barrel rate from 2018 to 2019. He finally put it all together in August before a hit-by-pitch to the wrist ended his season early. You add the work ethic that’s been on display, a solid attitude, and two quality bats now in front of him, and I believe we could see an All-Star season from Brian Anderson.
Let’s turn our attention to the Starting Rotation projections, and they are interesting.
Alcantara- 29 GS / 175 IP / 4.38 ERA / 4.63 FIP / 1.40 WHIP / 143:72 K:BB
Smith- 29 GS / 162 IP / 4.51 ERA / 4.61 FIP / 1.30 WHIP / 172:62 K:BB
Lopez- 27 GS / 145 IP / 4.23 ERA / 4.04 FIP / 1.27 WHIP / 126:39 K:BB
Yamamoto- 25 GS / 136 IP / 4.50 ERA / 4.52 FIP / 1.37 WHIP / 131:57 K:BB
Hernandez- 20 GS / 113 IP / 4.63 ERA / 4.68 FIP / 1.31 WHIP / 110:38 K:BB
At first glance, I’m not blown away by any of these numbers. There’s a slight regression to Alcantara that’s a bit concerning, but the upside he showed last season proves he can outplay those numbers. Pablo Lopez looks like an ATC darling here. He’s projected as the best SP this upcoming season at 2.2 WAR. The two names I really want to talk about, though, are Elieser Hernandez and Jordan Yamamato.
Let’s start with Yams. After a surprising call up from AA last season, the 24-year-old Hawaiian made 15 starts for the Marlins. Putting up a respectable 4.46 ERA, while striking out 82 in 78 innings, it was a fine debut, but I think there’s real potential to break out. We know the curveball can be special with its spin rates, but I think that comes with him throwing his slider a lot more in 2020.
2019 Slider: Usage- 14.8% — .109/.154 with 26 K — Spin rate- 2793 — Whiff%- 34.3 — PutAway%- 24.1 — 14th in MLB in Vertical drop
Those are numbers that have the potential to be elite. Sitting anywhere from 78-81 mph with the pitch, it becomes a solid compliment to his 50 grade fastball. If he can find a bit more velocity, with the curve and slider as put away pitches, I could see Yamamoto carving out a Marcus Stroman-esque career going forward.
The last player I’m looking for a breakout from this season is Elieser Hernandez. The 24-year-old is coming off a career best season bouncing all over from AAA to the bullpen and even starting 15 games for Miami last season. What Elieser does so well is limit hard contact.
2018 Exit Velo — 87.0
Hard Hit% — 33.3
2019 Exit Velo — 85.9 (Top 8% in ML)
Hard Hit% — 31.8
While he’s not blowing you away with gas, Hernandez knows how to control the strike zone. A slight tweak to his slider last season gave him a weapon that worked everywhere. Look at this improvement in a year
2018 Slider: Usage%- 22.9 — .259/.481 with 9 K — Exit Velo- 85.0 — Whiff%- 27.9 — PutAway%- 12.7
2019 Slider: Usage%- 33.3 — .152/.359 with 31 K — Exit Velo- 81.4 — Whiff%- 37.4 — PutAway%- 21.1
He took an average pitch in 2018 and turned it into a legit put away pitch. Combine that with lowering his line drive numbers and raising his ground balls, and all signs are pointing up for Hernandez to become the next in a line of Marlins Rule 5 successes after Dan Uggla and Justin Bour.
I wanted to close this out by bringing you a preview of the prospects who have a chance to impact Little Havana in 2020.
Sixto Sánchez and Edward Cabrera are both likely to start the year headlining the Wichita (AAA) rotation, but both have a real chance of making a handful of starts in Miami in 2020, with Sixto having a slim chance to make 15-20 starts in a Marlins uniform. Nick Neidert lost a lot of his 2019 season due to knee tendinitis and surgery, but he came back looking like a top prospect in the Arizona Fall league. I could easily see him pushing for a rotation out of camp if all goes according to plan. The dark horse who to make the team out of Spring Training is Alex Vesia. The big reliever brings premium stuff from the left side and has “future closer” written all over him. With the bullpen somewhat in flux, keep an eye out for him this spring.
On the offensive side of things, I think we’re really looking at three potential names: Monte Harrison, Jesús Sánchez and Lewin Díaz. Monte could have the best chance coming out of Spring to win an opening day spot, but I do think he would have to blow the organization away after an injury plagued 2019. He likely begins next to Jesús Sánchez in the Wichita outfield to start the year. Sanchez was my front runner to make the team out of camp at the end of last season, but with the outfield additions this winter, I think we may not see him in Miami until August. Lewin Diaz is the biggest question mark. While I don’t think he will be close to the Opening Day roster, I think he will be up sooner than we think. I don’t know how sold Miami is on its 1B position, and Diaz’s stock is trending up.
There’s lots to like going into this week when pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter for the beginning of Spring Training. This team is not a playoff team by any means, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them add 8-12 wins to their total from 2019. More seasoning for this pitching staff, adding quality vets and building from within: people are beginning to realize, This is the Way.