The Miami Marlins don’t start official Grapefruit League play until Thursday, but they will be facing the University of Miami baseball team, as they have for years now, on Tuesday. It will be the first game action of 2016 for the Fish, and there are already some interesting things to look at in regards to new Marlins manager Don Mattingly‘s lineup.
The pitchers for the first game tend to be prospects and fringe bullpen arms, and that holds true this year as well. Jake Esch will draw the start and likely go two innings. He’ll be followed by Kendry Flores, Tim Berry, Brian Ellington, Scott McGough, Austin Brice, Nick Wittgren, and Cody Ege. Not much stands out there, as Flores, Ellington, and McGough are the only ones with major league experience, as limited as it may be.
The starting lineup is where some of the interesting surprises begin, setting up as follows:
Dee Gordon 2B
Justin Bour 1B
Martin Prado 3B
At the top is Dee Gordon, where he will be all season, but already at number two, we see a surprise. Marcell Ozuna is projected to be a middle of the order guy, perhaps fifth or sixth in the lineup. The number two spot was supposed to be a competition between sophomore catcher J.T. Realmuto and veteran third baseman Martin Prado. The three and four spots set up as the Marlins hope they will for several years to come. Christian Yelich in left batting third and Giancarlo Stanton in right batting fourth. Given Stanton’s slow recovery from a broken hamate bone, it’s good to see him immediately in the lineup. The Marlins hope Yelich can develop a bit more power and, more importantly, be on base for Giancarlo’s laser beam home runs. The fifth spot, thought to belong to Ozuna, seemingly belongs to Bour instead. Bour has plenty of power and should be able to handle the slot, protecting Stanton in the batting order. Next comes the veteran Martin Prado, who could realistically hit almost anywhere in the lineup. He should be a solid base clearer for when the big bats of Stanton and Bour are unable to drive guys in. Ichiro will DH for this game, which is not a huge deal since the Marlins play in the National League, but it should serve as a warning: Ichiro, despite his vast ineffectiveness last season, is going to get a lot of plate appearances this season. Hitting eighth is catcher J.T. Realmuto who, like Prado, could probably hit anywhere else in the lineup as well. Finally, the last batter is shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. The nicest thing we can say about his bat is that he’s a really, really good fielder.
More surprised surface when looking at the second lineup, a uniquely Spring Training phenomenon. Along with the standard starting lineup, Mattingly has paired each starter with a backup who will come in to replace the starter presumably after one at bat and a few innings in the field. That second lineup means nothing in terms of batting order since the order is determined by the starters, but some of the positions and the choices of players spark a bit of intrigue. The secondary lineup is as follows:
Don Kelly DH
Miguel Rojas SS
The Marlins recently reunited with Robert Andino, who played for the Fish from 2005-2008. He’s competing for a utility role in the infield and will get the first crack at it. The next three straight hitters are all likely competing for the same role: fifth outfielder. With Ichiro locked in as the fourth outfielder, the Fish will presumably have a competition for the fifth. Cole Gillespie played in a career high 67 games last season and fared well, hitting .290/.333/.428. He was helped by a bit of luck on batted balls, though, and his defense was sub par. Xavier Scruggs has appeared in all of 26 games in the majors, but has shown some promise in the minor leagues in the past. From 2011-2014, he blasted at least 21 home runs each year while playing in the St. Louis Cardinals system. He can play first base and corner outfield, but his lack of experience will probably keep him in Triple-A unless someone gets hurt. Justin Maxwell has always had some upside according to scouts, but his best season came in 2012 when he hit 18 home runs and stole 9 bases. The bad news? He only hit .229 and struck out 114 times in 315 at bats. Like Scruggs, he’ll likely start in Triple-A and wait for someone to hit the disabled list. The next batter in the secondary lineup is intriguing. Derek Dietrich has mashed the ball whenever given a chance, hitting 10 home runs in only 250 at bats in 2015. He played a few games in the outfield last season, but has mostly played second base and third base in his career. He spent 2.1 innings at first base in 2015, but may be given a chance to earn more playing time as a super utility type guy going forward. Following Dietrich is Chris Johnson, over at third base. When Johnson was signed, everyone assumed he would be Justin Bour‘s platoon partner at first base. Bour struggled against lefties in 2015 and Johnson has hit lefties well throughout his career. However, Mattingly has already stated that he would like to give Bour a chance to be the everyday first baseman, so Johnson may end up more as the backup for Bour and Prado and less as the platoon partner at first base. Don Kelly will take Ichiro’s DH spot after an at bat or two. Kelly has never had a great bat, but his positional versatility makes him a decent 25th man on a roster. He has some long odds, but it wouldn’t be an outright shock to see him as part of the Opening Day roster. Jeff Mathis will be J.T. Realmuto’s backup in 2016, but his value shows much more in the dugout and clubhouse than on the field. Finally, Miguel Rojas is trying to earn his first Opening Day roster nod. The 27-year-old is amazing defensively, but has struggled to get things going with the bat at the big league level. He has the fact that he’s one of the few backups who can handle shortstop going for him, so he may wind up making the team when the Fish break camp as well.
Overall, it is of course far too early to start analyzing the lineup decisions, but we can’t help but give them a look with a critical eye. The talk for weeks now has been, “who will hit second” and opinions were split between Realmuto and Prado. No one thought of Ozuna as a two hitter, but apparently Mattingly did and will see how it goes. Perhaps Thursday’s first official Grapefruit League game will give us even more to think about. At the very least, it is nice to have baseball back and have something to think about besides facial hair policies and qualifying offers.