(CBSMiami)- The first two years of Derek Jeter’s Miami Marlins regime could be fairly qualified as taking the roster down to the studs. The management group traded off Giancarlo Stanton, J.T. Realmuto, Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon, and Marcell Ozuna for a large group of prospects in the hopes that those prospects would all hit the majors in a couple of years.
The 2020 season could be the year in which the Marlins begin to see the fruits of all of those trades.
“Well they certainly have a lot of candidates, and Derek Jeter is stressing that this year the Marlins have to turn the corner,” said CBS Miami sports anchor Jim Berry. “It’s been a painful two years for the Marlins ever since Derek Jeter took over, and he said we have to go through this painful process to rebuild. Finally the Marlins have the layers of talent to choose from, which is something they frankly haven’t had in the past couple of years.”
Painful is the right word for it, as the Marlins finished with the worst record in the National League and the third-worst record in baseball in both 2018 and 2019. But 2019 saw a roster with four starting position players aged 26 or younger and a starting rotation in which every player was 27 or younger. Some of the players received in those trades began to make an impact at the major league level.
Starting pitcher Sandy Alcantara, received from the Cardinals in the Ozuna deal, was the team’s ace, pitching to a 3.88 ERA and 109 ERA+ at the young age of 23. Fellow rotation mate Jordan Yammamoto came over in the Yelich trade, and while he wasn’t as successful as Alcantara (4.46 ERA 95 ERA+), he made 15 starts for the team also at just 23 years old.
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On the position-player side of things, catcher Jorge Alfaro (Realmuto trade) posted a .262 average with 18 homers and 57 RBI in 130 games. Outfielder Magneuris Sierra (Ozuna trade) saw some time late in the year, and top prospect Isan Diaz (Yelich trade) got his feet wet at the major league level, though he struggled to just a .173 average. Arguably the biggest name of any of the deals made was outfielder Lewis Brinson, who was acquired from the Brewers in the Yelich trade as the headline prospect. He has struggled to live up to potential so far, but Berry believes this is a make-or-break year for him.
“Everybody is rooting for him because he’s a nice guy, hometown product, but he just hasn’t been able to hit at the Major League level. But, I think now, Brinson realizes it is make or break,” said Berry. “He has all of the tools to be a five-tool players if he can get it together. I think he would be one candidate realizing it is now or never for him.”
Brinson has struggled mightily at the plate, producing just a .183 average and 45 OPS+ in 654 plate appearances with the Marlins. He was seen as a five-tool prospect, but his bat has not lived up to that billing in his hometown just yet. Still, entering this season at age 26, he could put it together. But, if Brinson doesn’t work out, Berry has his eye on the other outfielder acquired in the Yelich deal, Monte Harrison.
“Then another guy is Monte Harrison, a guy who has torn it up at the minor league level. A power-hitting outfielder, and power is something the Marlins desperately need,” said Berry. “They were last in the league in home runs last year, second-to-last in runs scored, so they certainly need some pop in that lineup. If Monte Harrison can step up and help provide that, I think it will be exciting for him and also Marlins fans going to the ballpark looking for some excitement.”
Harrison hit .274 with nine homers and 24 RBI in 56 games for the Triple-A New Orleans Baby Cakes last season. And, he is off to a hot start in Spring Training with eight hits in 20 at-bats adding, four RBI and five stolen bases. If Harrison and some of the other young players take a step forward, the team should as well. Getting better production out of their offense is key, says Berry, because the lack of offensive production left the team playing catchup throughout much of last season.
“The key for them is to be able to score more runs. They couldn’t score a lot of runs last year. The bullpen again, got them in trouble. But I think, if they can play with a lead more often, then I think they can be a team that will be exciting and fun to watch and frankly build some confidence,” said Berry. “They were in a lot of close games last year that they didn’t win, because I think teams knew that once they got ahead of the Marlins, they were pretty much going to win the game, because they didn’t have the power to catch up. Offense is going to be the key for the Marlins this year.”
Averaging just 3.8 runs scored per game last year (30th in MLB) is not going to get it done in a division containing the defending champion Washington Nationals and hopeful contenders in the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets. While contending for a World Series is unlikely (SportsLine has them at 500/1 odds), Berry believes the club will at least be more competitive because the challenge has been laid before them by management.
“I think that Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly the skipper have really laid down the gauntlet and said, you know what, we’re not going to be doormats again this year,” said Berry. “They’re saying ‘you know what, we got to step it up and compete this year.’ Easier said than done in a National League East where you have the Braves, Nationals, Phillies and even the Mets. Certainly going to be a challenge, but the Marlins believe they’re ready to turn the corner.”
The Marlins are listed with a win total ranging from 63.5 to 70.3, meaning the computers see it as likely that there will be improvement upon last year’s ghastly 57-105 record. Just how much? That depends on the development of their next generation.