Once again, Miami has become the most opportunistic place for a young player to call home. After a busy offseason in which they sold off nearly all of their biggest names (again), the club is in the midst of a spring campaign in which multiple starting and bench positions still needing filling. With just 19 locks for the 25 man roster, of the 53 players remaining in camp, many of them still have a good chance at cracking the Opening Day roster.

The last time the franchise re-branded, the careers of players such as Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and Scott Olsen were jump-started. Who will it be this time? Halfway into spring training and after the first round of cuts, favorites have begun to emerge. In this installment of Spring Training Power Rankings, we take a look at those who have made a good first impression upon Mike Hill, Don Mattingly and the rest of the Marlins brass as well as those who in some cases are surprisingly facing an uphill battle.

Final Bench Spot

Peter Mooney 17 G, 9-26, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 2/2 K/BB, .320/.393/.360

Despite a rough full season in AAA last year that amounted to a lowly .213/.290/.308 slash line, Peter Mooney has showed up at camp this year, hit in eight of his first 17 games including a string of four straight and reached base in nine of them. Looking at Mooney’s career walk rate of 11% including 9.5% last year and his career 1.11 K/BB including 1.44 last year, its easy to see Mooney is an extremely patient hitter and an annoyingly pesky guy for opposing pitchers to face. Standing just 5’6″, the left-handed Mooney cuts down on an already small strike zone by getting low in his stance and makes his living fighting off tough pitches and waiting out others in route to wearing you down and forcing you into making a mistake. It is the perfect resume for a guy at the back of the bench you can throw in many situations whether it be to jump-start a rally, wear down a cruising starting pitcher or finish off a game. The biggest hitch in Mooney’s game has been poor bat-to-ball skills a hinderance made possible by subpar bat speed. Despite almost always swinging at good pitches to hit, Mooney misses barrels and instead hits the ball off the ends of the bat, leading to weakly hit ground balls. Without the speed to beat them out, Mooney has most often been a ground out victim. This is made relevant by his career 1.13 ground out/air out ratio and a BABIP that has never failed to fall short of .300 and stood at a career low .243 in AAA last season. However, last season in the Arizona Fall League against some of the league’s top young pitching talent, Mooney hit .278 over 80 ABs and has continued that type of production into Marlins’ camp this spring so it is also evident that Mooney has made some type of positive adjustment.

Mooney, a Lake Worth, FL native, is also a versatile infielder who does his best work at second base due to just average range at shortstop but with a strong arm, can also slot in at third base. His glove would be good insurance for Starlin Castro, who has a career -12 defensive runs saved, including -6 last season at second.

Cristhian Adames 15 G, 6-21, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2/4 K/BB, .286/.348/.333

With starting shortstop JT Riddle still on the shelf recovering from the same shoulder injury that ended his 2017 season and Miguel Rojas struggling out of the gate, Cristhian Adames has jumped on the chance the Marlins gave him when they signed him as depth and insurance as a minor league free agent out of Colorado this past December and the opportunity they continue to give him as he has become a familiar face in in-game action this spring. Adames comes to the Marlins looking to shake the audacious title of AAAA player, a moniker he has unfortunately spent the past three seasons earning. Despite slashing an impressive .299/.351/.447 with 23 homers and 117 RBIs from 2014-present, Adames has only managed a meager .206/.283/.278 line in 166 MLB contests over that same span. However, sample size aside, Adames, who has reached base in six of his first 13 games and flashed some nice leather at multiple infield positions, has so far looked like the Marlins’ best bet to come off the bench late in games and slot in on days off for starters.

Scouted as an instictive fielder with good versatility and eligibility at three infield spots and quite possibly in the outfield (though he has yet to play there yet in his career), plus-plus glovework, a standout arm and average range, Adames spent most his career in Colorado’s system on the heels of their now superstar shortstop Trevor Story level for level up the promotional ladder. In his most lengthy MLB look in 2016, a look he earned after winning a primary bench spot out of camp, despite preseason Steamer (.279/.324/.375) and PECOTA (.273/.313/.379) projections expecting him to be quite the contributor, Adames appears to have hit a major snag managing just a .218/.304/.302 line. However, judging by his 9.4% walk rate, the highest he’s posted since rookie ball, and .267 BABIP despite hitting at Coors Field, it appears as though Adames made the mistake of drinking Jobu’s rum just before the season began. Only that could explain such an unlucky anomoly campaign at the plate. Judging by reports and the rest of the wiry 6’0″, 185 Adames’ career numbers, he’s not a guy who will blow you away with power (though, judging by last year’s 11 homers and .461 SLG, he may have found some hidden muscle) but rather a guy who will do just enough to get by offensively, posting Mendoza line type numbers via average bat-to-ball skills, a shortened approach and swing and a pesky hitter’s eye while he anchors his defensive position (wherever that may be) and then some. Look at Adames as a Adeiny Hechavarria-light: little offensive production but a viable late inning defensive replacement off the bench. Over the course of a full season, I like what his ZiPS projections are saying for him this year: .232/.287/.341, 30 BB, 89 K, 4.0 dWAR.

Yadiel Rivera 16 G, 6-23, 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 3/4 K/BB, .261/.370/.391

Rivera is another free-agent depth signee from this offseason who like Adames, has managed to turn some heads early in camp. Though he is not known for his offensive exports, Rivera has shown good plate discipline and an extremely quick bat, hitting in five of his 16 appearances including at one point three straight. A guy who struck out an egregious 106 times to walking just 30 times last year between AA and AAA, he has even managed to walk more times than he has K’d which at any sample size, is an accomplishment for a career 4.21 K/BB guy. What Rivera is known for is his fantastic work in the field. Able to play any spot in the infield, Rivera exhibits great vision off the bat and an almost natural correct first step to the ball. Rarely the victim of a misplay, can get equally high and low on anything hit in his direction and has equally great range to both his left and right. Rivera’s arm is similarly impressive as he has proven he can go across his body and range deep into holes and still get the ball to his decisive base, a decision which is almost always the correct one. As good as all his tools are, Rivera’s best asset may be his athleticism. He isn’t afraid to put his body on the line to get to his spot on the field and he quite frequently dazzles with his ability to make any play. An innings eater and a guy who can be called upon to preserve small leads, Rivera is perfect bench material. If he doesn’t make the team out of camp, he will definitely be keeping his phone charged while in AAA.

Off: Eric Campbell, Isan Diaz
Cuts: 
Johnny Giovatella, Jonathan Rodriguez

Fourth Outfielder

Isaac Galloway 13 G, 8-20, 2 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 1/3 K/BB, 2 SB, .400/.429/.600

A Marlins draftee from 2008, Galloway is one of the longest tenured members in the Marlins’ organization. Despite some pretty disappointing seasons over that stretch including a 2016 campaign in which he slashed just .254/.312/.374 with a 112/31 K/BB in 129 games and an injury-hampered 2017 season in which he only appeared in a total of 49 games between AAA and rookie ball, the Marlins have stayed committed to the now 28-year-old outfielder. This spring, Galloway is proving he still has something of value to give back to the organization in return for their confidence in him. Over his first 20 spring ABs, Galloway is the best hitting player in camp among those who have gotten that many chances in the box. He’s also one of just two players in camp to have stolen multiple bases thus far.

A 6’2″, 205 specimen, Galloway’s biggest hitch has always been his plate discipline and his struggles with the strikeout. In his 10 year minor league career, he owns a hideous 5.76 K/BB. However, when Galloway does put bat to ball which he has done so more often than not this spring, he’s a threat for extra bases every time, whether it be by reading the ball well off his bat or whether it be by using his still plus-plus-plus jets to swipe bases. A stolen base threat that has a career 70% success rate in 201 attempts, Galloway is nearly impossible to contain when he doesn’t contain himself. When he barrels up, Galloway quite surprisingly has some plus pop and the ability to reach the fences. However, he could use to find a more happy medium and learn to trust his tools more. Galloway can do this by learning to swing with less of an upper-cut stroke that can more often than not get extremely long. This is evidenced by Galloway’s 0.90 GO/AO rate. Watching him this spring, Galloway’s cut has been much more lateral through the zone which has been a catalyst in his early success. If he can continue to be coached to swing with more of a straight through line drive cut, get on base any way and let his feet go to work for him from there, Galloway is perfect fourth outfielder material and a huge weapon off the bench.

J.B. Shuck 14 G, 8-22, 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 2/2 K/BB, .364/.417/.545

Shuck is a long-time minor league journeyman who comes to Miami, his fifth organisation seven years, as a minor league free agent. The latest exports from the 30-year-old Shuck were 123 games worth of a .259/.325/.368 slash line and a 43/41 K/BB in AAA. His latest MLB product was a .205/.248/.299 line over 80 ABs with the White Sox in 2016. Always a good performer in spring training (career .298/.334/.395), Shuck has gotten off to a similar start in his career as a Marlin. Mr. March as it were, Shuck has hit in six of his first 14 games and reached in eight of them. He’s also doubled and homered. If there were ever a prime example for why a lot of stock should not be put into spring training stats, Shuck is it. Despite his somewhat respectable career .729 OPS in the preseason, Shuck, drafted in 2008, is a lifetime .627 MLB OPS in 363 career appearances. However, with the depth-poor Marlins, Shuck may have found the perfect place to revive his career as a pro. A 5’1″, 195 hitter, Shuck is a lefty who has seen same-side pitching well in his short big league career (117 AB, .289/.345/.358) and who, last season in AAA, slugged .403 against right handed pitching with 30 XBH. A good gap finder when he finds advantageous wood and a good enough eye to make his pitcher work as well as an average defender at all three outfield spots, Shuck is the kind of guy who could make the roster in allowance of the further development of the Marlins’ top prospects.

Braxton Lee 14 G, 7-22, 1 RBI, 3/5 K/BB, 4 SB, .318/.400/.318

The top prospects spoken of above start with Braxton Lee. 24 years old, Lee came to the Marlins in the trade that sent Adeiny Hechavarria to the Rays. Lee, hitting .321/.391/.401 at the time of the trade, took the change of scenery in stride and didn’t miss a beat as he hit .294/.398/.364 in his first 60 Marlins’ affiliated games with the Jumbo Shrimp. A lock to make the Opening Day roster as well as the Opening Day lineup all the way up until last month, Lee was pushed out of the starting lineup when the Marlins re-acquired Cameron Maybin. At this point, as well as Lee has been performing in spring training, it doesn’t make much sense to relegate him to a bench role and makes much more sense to continue to feed him innings in the minors in order to iron out the rest of his game. Look for Lee, a future top of the order bat, to return to the minors and perfect virtually the only hiccup in his performance last year: a 1.6 K/BB made possible by his ability to over-pursue early in counts. That said, this will definitely not be the last we have heard of Lee in a Marlins’ uniform this season and in the future.

Scott Van Slyke 15 G, 8-28, 1 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 3/8 K/BB, .286/.355/.607

Van Slyke made quite the first impression on the Marlins, homering twice in the club’s first spring game. However, since that day and the two following it which all in all amounted to a 4-6, 2 HR, 4 XBH, 7 RBI start to his campaign, the gargantuan 6’4″, 215 Van Slyke, son of former Dodger Andy Van Slyke, has fizzled out, going just 2 for his last 21. Unfortunately for Van Slyke, fizzling out has been exactly what his career has been doing since 2016. After an incredible 60 game performance in AAA in 2013, he cracked the Majors for the first time with the Dodgers and made an immediate impact, slamming six homers in his first 19 games. In 2014, Van Slyke, in his age 27 season, made the Dodgers’ 25-man roster out of camp and posted an impressive .910 OPS in 98 games while platooning with Carl Crawford and filling in for Andre Ethier. Van Slyke easily made the Dodgers roster in 2015 and appeared in another 96 games. However, that’s when his injury troubles began. In June, he first hit the shelf with a sore back. Despite returning two weeks later, he was never quite the same and it showed in his performance. After a .239/.317/.383 2015, Van Slyke hit the shelf again with the same back injury in early 2016. This time, he missed nearly two months. At the end of the 2016 season, Van Slyke took another trip to the DL with a wrist injury. He ended the year on the 60-day DL. Last year, Van Slyke hit a combined .222/.317/.365 with the Dodgers and Reds, whom he was traded to in the deal that brought Tony Cingrani to LA. The Marlins signed him after he elected for free agency upon being DFA’d in August. He comes to the Fish as a boom-or-bust option off the bench.

So far this spring, he has been a little bit of both. What will hurt Van Slyke in his crusade to make the Opening Day roster is his injury history and positional inflexibility (he can only play LF and 1B). Despite the hot start, the 31-year-old will really need to turn it on again in the second half to avoid another trip to AAA.

Cuts: Monte Harrison

Starting Rotation (2 spots)

 

Sandy Alcantara 4 G, 12 IP, 7 H, 4 R (3 ER), 2 HR, 3 BB, 7 K, 2.25 ERA, 0.83 WHIP

Alcantara is the other prime piece in the trade with the Cardinals for Marcell Ozuna. A tall and slender 6’4″, 170 specimen, Alcantara gets the most out of his body, throwing from an extremely high downward plane, hiding the ball well, and sneaking up on hitters with his drop into the zone. He is free and easy in his repeatable delivery generates simple velocity on his heat which usually sits in the 94-95 MPH range but which he can ramp all the way up near triple digits when necessary. Sierra’s second pitch is a sinker that sits on average at 93 but can reach 98. The late arm-side run on it is downright filthy when he is commanding it. However, it is very hittable when he isn’t commanding and it floats over the heart of the plate. Alcantara’s third pitch is an 86-90 MPH change which has a lot of effort to it. He throws it with the same arm speed and action as the fastball allowing him to mask it and mix it in advantageously but he also has the tendency to overthrow it, in which case hitters are able to tip and anticipate the break. The rest of his arsenal, an 82-84 MPH power curve and a 83-87 MPH slider, are not much more than get-me-over mix ins right now and as some scouts have mentioned, it would probably be wise for him to pick one to develop and let the other go.

Early this spring, Alcantara has similar command issues, hitting two batters, walking three and giving up two homers but has been equally impressive when he has been on. At this point for the 22-year-old on a Marlins team without much to lose, the thing that is going to help him the most is innings pitched while being coached professionally. With perfected command and with even more velo possible as his body fills out as well as a perfected arsenal of secondaries, this could be a future ace of the Marlins’ staff.

Justin Nicolino 3 G, 6 IP, 5 H, 3 R (2 ER), 1 HR, 2 BB, 6 K, 3.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

For Florida native Justin Nicolino, his first four years in the Miami organization have been a bit of a see-saw battle. After three dominant years in the minors in his first three years with the club which amounted to a 3.12 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 3.03 K/BB in 427.1 IP, Nicolino’s career as a big leaguer began. All in all, it’s been… well… disappointing. As the command artist has struggled with on-and-off command, he’s been hit to the tune of a .297 BAA, a 4.65 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP. Last year, things hit an all-time low for Nicolino as he battled injury and spent the bulk of his season in AAA. Such adversity affected Nicolino greatly and, as Craig Davis writes, despite being the father of a newborn, he never stopped working even if it meant taping a baseball to his hand in order to improve his grip. He’s also resurrected a fourth pitch slider, a pitch he hasn’t thrown since 2013. He’s used it regularly this spring and it plays well off of his running fastball and further sets up the to-contact slow curve.

Out of options, Nicolino realizes this is his make-it-or-break-it window with the Fish. Currently, he’s doing enough to earn a roster spot and at least a handful of regular season starts, but if he falters at all, there’s a ton of depth behind him and a DFA with his name on it.

Elieser Hernandez 4 G, 10 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 1 HR, 0 BB, 9 K, 2.70 ERA, 0.80 WHIP

The depth I speak of starts right here. Elisier Hernandez is a Marlins’ Rule 5 draft pick formerly of the Astros and will need to remain on Miami’s 25-man all season long or be returned to Houston. Hernandez is an interesting guy in that he doesn’t have any one single pitch that really stands out. Rather, he has four average offerings that he gets away with due to a good feel for the game and a head for his craft. A master of mixing pitches even though he lacks much of a velo mix (everything sits between 86-92), Hernandez is a to-contact thrower who owns a rising four seamer which generates weak contact and a ton of weak can-of-corn pop outs. He balances that out with a sinking two seamer that garner him routine ground outs and he turns in swings and misses and the frequent K on a nice out-pitch changeup with arm-side fade. A 3.98 ERA (3.52 FIP) via a 10.52 K/9 and 2.98 walk rate in 63 innings in AA last year despite a slightly high .310 BABIP, Hernandez also stranded 73.0% of his runners, proving he has the composure and command structure to get the job done in any situation. At this point, I foresee Hernandez starting the year in the pen and being the first man to get a shot in the rotation in the not-so-unlikely event of a member of the rotation struggling.

Off: Chris O’Grady, Dillon Peters
Cuts: Merandy Gonzalez, Pablo Lopez, James Needy

Projected Opening Day Roster:

LF Derek Dietrich
CF Lewis Brinson
RF Cameron Maybin
3B Martin Prado *
3B Brian Anderson
1B Justin Bour
1B Garrett Cooper
SS J.T. Riddle
2B Starlin Castro
C J.T. Realmuto
C Tomas Telis
UT Miguel Rojas
BN Peter Mooney
BN Isaac Galloway

RP Brad Ziegler
RP Kyle Barraclough
RP Junichi Tazawa
RP Drew Steckenrider
RP Nick Wittgren
RP Brian Ellington
RP Elieser Hernandez

SP Jose Urena
SP Jarlin Garcia
SP Dan Straily
SP Sandy Alcantara
SP Justin Nicolino

* = player will begin season on DL