With the real calendar switching to spring, the baseball calendar starts to switch to the regular season, with starting pitchers going deeper into Grapefruit and Cactus League games and relievers starting to work the innings they will likely be working once Opening Day comes. Teams also start to make moves, having their rosters begin to take shape and slowly but surely trimming things down to the 25 guys who will line up on the foul line and be introduced on day one.
On Tuesday, the Miami Marlins made a rash of moves, optioning relievers Kyle Barraclough and Brian Ellington to Triple-A New Orleans, along with starter Justin Nicolino and catcher Tomas Telis. The team also reassigned several players to minor league camp: pitchers Andre Rienzo and Paul Clemens, outfielders Isaac Galloway and Destin Hood, and catcher Francisco Arcia. None of the players who were reassigned were expected to make the team, but the players optioned were quite interesting in how they will shape up the Opening Day roster.
Justin Nicolino came into camp with an outside shot at claiming the fifth spot in the starting rotation. With Adam Conley and Jarred Cosart pitching well, however, Nicolino was sent down to Triple-A New Orleans in order to continue working as a starter. He will likely be the first starter to come up if any of the members of the Marlins rotation are injured or struggling. Nicolino has the potential to be a solid back of the rotation arm, but his low strikeout total severely limits his upside.
Kyle Barraclough was acquired for Steve Cishek last season and made his debut with the Marlins down the stretch. He has excellent stuff, but often has no idea where the ball is going once it leaves his hand. He has had command issues throughout his minor league career and those same issues haunted him this Spring. He too had a chance to crack the Opening Day roster but the Marlins chose to send him down to work on his control. He has some nice late inning upside, but it may never materialize unless he learns to put his pitches where he wants them.
Finally, Brian Ellington was in a similar position to Barraclough. He debuted with the Fish last season and showed some promise, but he had a rough Spring which took away any chance he had of joining the 24 others on Opening Day. Ellington can touch 100 miles per hour with his fastball, but it has little movement and his secondary pitches are below average. You can’t teach velocity, so Ellington will always be an intriguing arm, but unless he develops better secondary stuff, he may bounce up and down between the big club and Triple-A for a few seasons before flaming out.
For now, the Marlins rotation looks like some combination of Jose Fernandez, Wei-Yin Chen, Tom Koehler, Jarred Cosart, and Adam Conley. That would push both David Phelps and Edwin Jackson to the bullpen, along with Mike Dunn, Bryan Morris, Craig Breslow, and closer A.J. Ramos. While several moves remain to be made and injuries can strike at any time, things are starting to take shape for the club’s Opening Day roster.