The Miami Marlins enter their 29thseason of existence in 2021. A year after a surprising postseason run that saw the Marlins sweep the Cubs in the Wild Card Round, fans are eager to see their team again.
Miami sports one of MLB’s top farm systems and the young talent runs deep, but the team finds itself stuck in one of the strongest divisions in baseball. Prognosticators and pundits peg the Fish to finish last, but the players will certainly have something to say about that.
So here’s a look at 21 quotes to serve as the season preview from Swings and Mishes!
1. “We’ve still got a lot to prove, and obviously this division has stacked up,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.
Mattingly is referencing the improvements of the Mets, Braves, Nationals and Phillies, but the team remains confident they’ll compete. Miami brought in Adam Duvall, whose 113 homeruns add pop to the lineup, and overhauled the bullpen.
2. “The Marlins might be an 80-win team in the NL Central,” Keith Law wrote in his 2021 Season Prediction column for The Athletic.
It’s really too bad the Marlins aren’t in the NL Central because they’d absolutely contend for the Division crown in 2021.
3. “The pitching depth we have in this organization is scary,” Trevor Rogerssaid.
Miami’s strength last season, and the seeming strength this season, is the starting pitching. The projected staff of Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López, Elieser Hernandez,Sixto Sánchezand Rogers are all 25-years-old or younger with a combined 128 MLB starts. Behind them, the Marlins have Nick Neidert, Daniel Castano, Edward Cabrera, Braxton Garrett, Max Meyerand more waiting in the wings.
4. “Sorry I’m late, I put Marlins Park in my GPS and it couldn’t find it,” said shortstop Miguel Rojas.
On Wednesday, Miami announced a partnership with loanDepotto be the exclusive naming rights partner for “loanDepot park,” formerly Marlins Park. The name stretches grammar conventions, sure, but this partnership will help Miami remain competitive for years to come.
5. “I think this year, we’re going to be better, because we’re [going] to have some fans at the field. We can’t wait to see that,” said Alcantara.
Thursday’s game at loanDepot park is a sellout with an adjusted capacity crowd around 27 percent.
6. “We said that we have a plan moving forward. We’re gonna stick to that plan and we’ve done a pretty good job of loading up our minor-league system with a lot of prospects,” Jeter said. “We’re gonna give them an opportunity to play. So, when we get to the point where we’re trying to fill some holes, like we said from Day One, we’ll do that.”
The new naming rights deal and the recent TV deal have set up the Marlins for the future. The organization will have revenue streams more consistent with other MLB clubs, which hasn’t always been the case. Once this team is ready to compete for a World Series title, they’ll also be ready to support the roster financially.
7. “I would say I personally would like to see how this year goes before we ventured down that road, just so I have a better understanding of who he is as a player, and I just get a better sense of the situation,” Marlins new general manager Kim Ngsaid back in December of a potential Brian Andersonextension.
The influx of cash from both the naming rights and TV deals should put the Marlins in position to extend home-grown talent like Anderson and their staff ace Alcantara.
8. “I want to be here for the rest of my career,” said Rojas.
For that matter, they can lock up Rojas, too, whose recent two-year extension runs through 2021. Miami holds a team option for 2022 for their leader, and they should seriously consider extending the neo-Mr. Marlin to help develop the young talent behind him.
9. “I’m excited for Marlins fans to see [Jazz Chisholm] again this year,” Ng said. “His defense is great. He has great speed. This guy, he’s a really exciting player.”
Jazz won the second base battle over Isan Diaz, who’s been optioned to Triple-A Jacksonville. Chisholm adds an electric talent to this clubhouse, and he’s poised for a breakout season in 2021.
10.“We look forward to seeing Isan back [in the majors] at some point this year,” Ng said on the team’s radio broadcast last Sunday after announcing Chisholm had won the job.
“There are many players that have come up to the big leagues, struggled, gone down to Triple-A and just prepare themselves,” Ng continued. Players like Diaz and others will eventually make their way up to the Marlins, and they’ll need to be ready to contribute.
11.“That pickup last year was huge for us,” Mattingly said of Starling Marte. “It solidified our lineup, gave us some stability up through the middle of the field. A guy that’s just a quality player.”
The Marlins started the offseason by picking up Marte’s $12.5 million option, settling an uncertain centerfield. Marte’s returning from a postseason wrist injury, but he’s the odds-on favorite to be the team MVP in 2021.
12.“It’s the best I’ve felt since you know my early 20s,” said Marlins 1B/RF Garrett Cooper. “I think the changes that I did this offseason hopefully continue to show.”
A dark horse candidate for 2021 team MVP will be Cooper. The loss of the Universal DH hurts the Marlins, as Cooper and Jesus Aguilarwill have to split time at first, but heading into the season, Cooper raked in Grapefruit League play. He posted a slash line of .425/.452/.700 with five doubles and two homers in 16 games.
13.“We put a plan together that we’re going to try to keep these guys on the field,” Mattingly said of the innings limit for his young starting pitchers.
There are concerns about overworking these arms, and Mattingly mentioned the possibility of missed starts in an effort to control innings but said they “don’t want to shut anybody down.”
With this in mind, Sixto will start at the alternate site in Jacksonville while he builds his arm. He’ll miss at least one turn in the rotation, but the Marlins won’t need more than four starters early on because of some off days.
14.“It hasn’t been with the high-profile big names, but we think we got a good mixture of guys and added some different looks,” said Mattingly of the revamped bullpen.
Ng said the bullpen’s construction was a matter of “trying to balance the different looks as well as allocate our resources as well as just preparing for the future and roster spots.”
Miami’s bullpen struggled at times in 2020. But, true to their intention, the organization has cobbled together a potentially potent set of relief pitchers, with a few surprises among them.
15.“He has definitely been a surprise,” Mattingly said of new reliever Anthony Benderrecently. “His stuff has been as good as anyone in camp. Power stuff.”
Mattingly assured reporters that Bender will be with the club even if he doesn’t break camp with the Marlins. “If he’s this good now, he will be this good during season, and we’re going to need him.”
Bender won’t open on the 26-man roster to start the season, but there’s little doubt he’ll be there at some point soon. The trade of James Hoytopens space for Bender on the 40-man roster and everyone in the organization is eager to see his heat blazing from the bullpen.
16.“He’s got good stuff. This is legit stuff,” Mattingly said of Zach Pop last week. “This is not some guy on the borderline. His stuff is Major League stuff.”
Another surprise in the bullpen was Zach Pop. Coming off Tommy John, Miami picked up Pop in the Rule 5 Draft and his stuff was electric this Spring. Pop’ll be part of the Opening Day roster and provides a power arm with great swing-and-miss potential who profiles as a late-inning, high-leverage reliever.
17.“We love our young players and we think they’re going to get better and even though our payroll may not be on online with some other clubs it’s really about your talent,” Mattingly said recently.
With the talent on the roster, plus the talent teeming in the farm system, the future looks bright for Miami. And it’s not only the young starting pitchers, but also guys like JJ Bleday.
18.“Really, I think he’s just at-bats away,” Mattingly said of JJ Bleday. “Getting enough at-bats, seeing more styles, different guys. It’s hard to say that he needs to do this, this or this. I think it’s just a matter of getting at-bats and putting the rest of it together.”
Bleday posted solid numbers throughout the Spring and impressed both the coaching staff and front office with his professionalism and approach. It’s only a matter of time until Marlins fans see this on the regular:
19.“[People think] last year was a little bit of a fluke with 60 games,” Mattingly said. “I think none of that matters, really. It’s more about us. We feel we have a good club.”
20.“It helps me stay motivated,” Anderson said of the team’s doubters. “Other clubs are definitely going to be looking at us and preparing for us. Now, it’s going out, trusting ourselves, trusting the talent we have.”
21.Miami’s offensive coordinator James Rowson says: “sky’s the limit. I hate to put ceilings on anything. I think these guys are a good group of guys as long as they continue to stay consistent and know what they want to do at the plate.”
This season will be all about development and competitiveness for the Miami Marlins, and there’s no doubt they’re ready to go.