What we’re hearing on Marlins’ roster moves. And Cooper future, Alcantara jersey and more
What we’re hearing as the Marlins near next week’s deadline to set the 26-man roster:
▪ The Marlins have 14 position players who can make a case for a roster spot, but they prefer to keep an even 13/13 split of pitchers and position players.
So what position player goes?
There’s very strong sentiment toward keeping both young outfielders --- Jesus Sanchez (who’s out of minor league options) and Bryan De La Cruz (who has one minor league option left).
That means the Marlins are leaning toward keeping either first baseman Yuli Gurriel or shortstop Jose Iglesias, but not both. One must go if Sanchez and De La Cruz both make the 26-man roster and if none of the other players assured roster spots is injured or traded in the days ahead.
With Sanchez, the Marlins’ only alternative to keeping him is trading him, and Miami has been disinclined to do that because of his upside and because he would be the team’s only left-handed bat off in the bench in games that he does not start. He also has had a good spring (.300, three RBI in 40 at bats).
The Marlins, in evaluating advanced metrics last season, believe De La Cruz was among the unluckiest players in baseball with some of his outs. They believe he can be an above average corner outfielder and a potential breakout player this year.
After hitting .209 in 202 plate appearances before the All Star break, De La Cruz hit .310 in 153 plate appearances after the All Star break. Thirteen games in Jacksonville - where he hit .320 - helped get him back on track last summer. He’s hitting .244 with one homer and four RBI in 44 at-bats this spring.
De La Cruz is candid about his struggles early last season: “I wasn’t giving full attention to what I was doing… You have to focus on what you’re doing when you’re hitting and field when you field.”
He said Miguel Rojas, last season, “called me [over] and told me that I needed to make sure to separate some of these things [offense/defense] and have fun.”
He finished at .252, with 13 homers and 43 RBI in 115 games. Sanchez and De La Cruz, a right-handed hitter, could end up platooning in left field.
▪ As for Gurriel and Iglesias, they’ve both struggled since signing as non-roster players on March 9. Gurriel is hitting .125 (2 for 16). Iglesias is hitting .182 (2 for 11).
Under MLB rule for non-roster invitees, both can opt out of their deals and pursue other options on Saturday, if they choose.
Both could make a case for a roster spot, because of Marlins’ needs.
If Iglesias is released, the Marlins would be gambling that Joey Wendle, who has played only 89 of his 583 games at shortstop, can be a productive every day player at that position. Wendle has struggled this spring, hitting .114 (4 for 35).
The case to keep Iglesias: He could be part of a natural platoon with Wendle. The right-handed hitting Iglesias is a career .291 hitter against left-handers (compared with .274 against right-handers); last year, he hit .295 against lefties.
The left-handed hitting Wendle is a career .281 hitter against right-handers, .232 vs. lefties; last year, the splits were .266 against right-handers, .230 against lefties.
But Iglesias hasn’t looked great this spring, and the Marlins could opt for Jon Berti to back up Wendle, and hope that Jacob Amaya or Jordan Groshans plays well enough in Triple A to emerge as options, if needed, later this season.
Amaya, acquired from the Dodgers for Rojas, has played 379 of his 469 minor league games at shortstop, and the Marlins believe he’s ready defensively, but not offensively. He batted .259, with eight homers and 45 RBI, in 84 games at Triple A Oklahoma City last season. But he hit just 1 for 19, with 10 strikeouts, this spring.
Groshans, who hit .262 in 17 games for the Marlins last season, can play shortstop, second and third, and the Marlins tried him at first base earlier in camp, with mixed results. Groshans had five hits (all singles) in 15 at-bats this spring. He has been out two weeks because of a shoulder issue.
▪ Gurriel, who turns 39 in June, won the American League batting title in 2021, at .319 (with 15 homers and 81 RBI in 143 games), before dropping to .242, 8, 53 in 146 games last season. His on-base percentage plunged from .388 to .283.
Expecting anything close to his 2021 production isn’t realistic. Keep in mind that he struggled in 2020 (.232 batting average, .274 on-base).
But at least he still makes contact; he struck out 12.5 percent of the time last season, well below the league average of 22 percent. Though he’s 2 for 16 this spring, he has only one strikeout. He’s still a good defender, and he provides insurance if Garrett Cooper misses time with injury, as he has in each of his five seasons as a Marlin.
Johnny Cueto, who had arm soreness initially after returning from the World Baseball Classic, completed a bullpen session on Wednesday without any issues. The tentative plan is for Cueto to throw against Friday.
If that session goes well, he should be able to make his first turn through the rotation. Cueto, 37, has struggled this spring, allowing 11 runs and 11 hits in 3 2/3 innings in two games.
The Marlins have not announced their starting rotation, but Sandy Alcantara will start opening day next Thursday at home against the Mets, with a 4:10 p.m. first pitch.
Cooper, who led the team in on-base percentage and several offensive categories last year, will be a free agent after the 2023 season and the Marlins haven’t spoken to him about a new deal.
If he hits well and plays 130 to 140 games, he could be looking at a contract similar to the two-year, $33 million deal that Cleveland gave Josh Bell in December. Cooper said he would love to remain with the Marlins.
Cooper has hit .273 over five seasons with Miami but has been on the injured list eight times.
THIS AND THAT
▪ Defense remains a concern -- not surprising considering Jazz Chisholm is adjusting to a new position (center field) and Jean Segura is playing third base, a position that he has played only 24 of 1,328 career games.
Segura has made three errors at third base this spring.
▪ Among the Marlins’ internal changes is a more hands-on approach from their hitting coach (newcomer Brant Brown). So far, it hasn’t reaped benefits.
Though it’s too soon to make any definitive conclusions, the Marlins’ hitting has been awful this spring. Miami has hit .227 (second worst in baseball), is last in OPS (at .615) and has scored 64 runs in 23 games - 28 runs less than the second-worst team in runs scored, through Wednesday’s games.
It’s not for lack of preparation.
“Brownie is great, as eager a hitting coach, as ready to go as I’ve seen in my time here,” Cooper said.
“He texted me every other day” during the offseason, sent hitting video and asked Cooper “if I have any questions, if I want to break down new stuff.
“It’s a very hands on approach that we haven’t had,” Cooper said. “We haven’t had that in the past few years where we’re breaking down video after almost every swing and in batting practice, where we were breaking down swings; I mean I’ve not done that in a long time.
“The willingness to change hitters, to help hitters is at a level that I haven’t seen here before. It’s something fresh and new and exciting to be a part of.”
The Marlins hope that approach pays dividends when the season opens next Thursday.
▪ When Dominican Republic played Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, why was Alcantara wearing 20 and not his customary 22?
We’re told that Alcantara requested 22, but so did Dominican teammate and Padres outfield Juan Soto.
Outfielder Nelson Cruz, who played for the Dominican Republic and served as the team’s general manager, granted Soto’s request and denied Alcantara’s request to wear 22. That’s not shocking, considering Cruz signed with the Padres in January and is now Soto’s big-league teammate.
Alcantara was surprised he was forced to give up the number, considering Miami was hosting WBC games and Alcantara won the National League Cy Young last season.
Herald senior baseball correspondent Craig Mish hosts Fantasy Sports Today from 11 a.m. to noon and Newswire from 2 to 3 p.m. weekdays on Sportsgrid. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigMish. Follow Barry Jackson at @flasportsbuzz