The Marlins are back. Again. On Tuesday, for the third time in 2020, Miami’s season resumed. But this time, more so than the other two, it was tough to recognize them. After having their clubhouse ravaged by COVID-19, the team has brought in nine new faces (so far). The remaining nine spots were filled with those working out at the alternate site in Jupiter, including five of the top Marlins youngsters who are about to make their long-awaited MLB debuts or returns. What are those names and what do they bring? Herein, we examine.
OF Monte Harrison
Harrison, a return piece in the 2018 blockbuster offseason Yelich trade with the Brewers, came to the Marlins’ system and made an immediate impact. After hitting .240/.316/.399 with 19 bombs and 48 RBIs in 136 games in 2018, Harrison became the Marlins’ third ranked prospect. Despite suffering two different injuries in 2019, (one being a wrist ailment that required surgery) and missing three months of the season, Harrison had a productive 76-game AAA campaign. The slugger brought his K rate down from 39% to 29% while stagnating in the power department (nine homers) and beginning to cover the plate better (career high 36.4 oppo percentage).
After hitting .300/.397/.380 in 16 Puerto Rican Winter League games last winter, Monte entered 2020 as Fish On The Farm’s seventh-ranked Marlins prospect. He honored that title by putting on a show in spring training and summer camp where he hit a combined .360/.467/.420. Harrison appeared to be a shoe-in to make the Marlins’ expanded 30-man roster two weeks ago, but, in order to save a year of service time, the club decided to send him to the alternate training sight in Jupiter. Last Wednesday, the service time deadline passed, giving the Marlins the extra year of club control over Monte they so desired.
— Joe Frisaro (@JoeFrisaro) July 9, 2020
The time and climate are perfect. The 6’3”, 220 pound specimen owns 70 grade raw power, 60 grade speed and a 70 grade outfield arm. He’s been getting regular ABs against top Marlins prospects such as Sixto, Garrett and Meyer. Monte is here. He’s ready. And we expect him to show it immediately. With Jonathan Villar moving in from the outfield, we expect Monte to get regular time in center field.
OF Lewis Brinson
The guy who was thought to be the main return piece in the Yelich trade, Brinson, the Coral Springs native, has had a disappointing start to his big league career. Following a storied MiLB career as a Brewer which ended with him hitting .331/.400/.562 in 76 games in Colorado Springs, Lewis made his MLB debut on June 11, 2017. He homered I’m back-to-back games on July 15 and 16 that head. Unfortunately, that’s one of Brinson’s brightest big league moments.
The change of scenery to Miami has so far done little to help Brinson’s big league production. In 184 games as a Marlin, he’s slashed just .189/.238/.294 with a 29.7 K% while finding contact just 54% of the time, well below the league average 63%. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel for Lewis, light we began to see this spring.
In all the adjustments Lewis has made, these are definitely the most encouraging. Lewis’ front foot timing trigger is almost completely gone, the stance is straight through and his arms are much further away from his body, promoting better plate coverage via easier extension. Lewis is relying on improved vision. He is also not turning his back hip into the ball nearly as early which will prevent him from committing to swings before the pitch gets deep. He is also not forcing an uppercut swing to create launch but rather relying on his natural plus bat speed. These adjustments speak to improving not only Brinson lowering his high K rate but also to him improving his contact rate including his sub-40% hard contact rate and his lowly 16.9 line drive percentage. Brinson did miss time due to a battle with COVID-19, forcing him out of summer camp action, but he’s since been back at the Jupiter site working out and hitting against the same top Marlins prospects as his good friend Monte. If the Brinson we saw in spring training can continue to show up during regular season action, he is going to prove a lot of his doubters wrong. With an insurmountable work ethic and a positive attitude that never dies, no matter what, Brinson’s drive and focus should be commended. We foresee him being vindicated as a member of the Marlins lineup in the very near future.
IF Eddy Alvarez
Before he began lacing up cleats, Eddy was strapping on a different kind of footwear: skates. After falling in love with inline skating as a child, he took to the ice to compete in speed skating. As an 11-year-old, he won a skating triple crown, earning three national titles: one in rollerblading, one in long track speed skating and one in short track. Alvarez began playing baseball in high school and began to develop an affinity for it, but his dream of winning an Olympic medal quickly required him to drop it in order to focus entirely on skating. Alvarez won his first World Juniors medal in 2009 and had his sights set on making the 2010 Olympic team, but major problems with his knees caused him to miss the squad. Upon examination in the winter of 2011, it was revealed that Alvarez had done some serious damage to his knees, damage that if not treated, could’ve made him lose the use of his legs permanently. He had five plasma injections before finally opting for surgery to fix 12 (TWELVE!) patellar tendon tears.
Afterward, Alvarez had to basically learn how to walk again and it appeared as though his skating career was in serious jeopardy. But Alvarez’s fire never went out. In fact, the injury likely made it burn brighter. He was not going to be denied his dream. After winning three medals in the 2013-14 Short Track World Cup, he cracked the 2014 Winter Olympics speed skating team. His dream of standing on a podium came true when he and his teammates won a silver medal in the 5,000 meter relay. Eddy said afterwards he wouldn’t return to the ice but that his athletic journey wasn’t over. He had another mission to accomplish: playing professional baseball.
“I did quit skating at the peak of my career to try and basically start over again at a different sport,” he told MLB.com recently. “I knew that if I didn’t try that, I would regret it.”
A 24-year-old Eddy was signed by the White Sox as a free agent in 2014. Being pushed quickly through the system, Eddy fared pretty well as a Chicago farm hand showing a patient approach, a quick twitchy bat and as you may have guessed, plus speed. He stole 53 bags while hitting .296/.409/.424 between A and A+ in 2015 and hit .265/.341/.365 between AA and AAA in 2016. Eddy was eyeing his big league debut late in the 2018 season, but a bad wrist that had been bothering him much of the year and which eventually required surgery held him back.
During that offseason, Eddy got a change of scenery and undoubtedly a welcome one as he was traded to his hometown team, the Marlins.
“He’s a tremendous athlete, and that wasn’t lost on us,” Michael Hill told the Athletic. “I think we saw an opportunity to give him an opportunity. He has a passion to play the game. It’s been great to see what he’s capable of being.”
Alvarez’s time with the Marlins has been mostly extremely positive. After recovering from the aforementioned wrist surgery, he hit .323/.407/.570 (factor in a high, PCL-prevalent .375 BABIP) with a career high 12 homers for the AAA Baby Cakes. His selective nature also persisted as he held down a 54/31 K/BB. Despite the limited number of games, Eddy swiped twelve bags, the second most he has stolen in a single season. Alvarez turned that season into a strong spring/summer camp showing where he went 4-20 with a homer and played solid defense at multiple positions. Eddy also had a big spring off the field: he and his wife announced the birth of his first child, a boy, due this fall. The couple had the gender reveal outside of the Marlins offices in Jupiter.
One of the biggest feel-good stories not only in the organization and not only in all of baseball but in the entire sports landscape, Alvarez is a two-time tale of drive, focus, determination and infinite athleticism. By refusing to be denied, Eddy has crossed borders never toed: he is the first Cuban-born American to ever medal in Olympic speed skating and this week, he will become the first ever Olympic speed skating medalist to play Major League Baseball.
“I’ve been through hell and back,” Alvarez said last year. “I’ve broken bones. I have reached all successes, the whole spectrum. I’ve seen it all. I’m just excited for this opportunity. We’ll see what happens.”
A special sportsman with an even more unique work ethic and level of focus, the switch-hitting Alvarez is a fantastic role model for prospective athletes everywhere. He will join the Marlins as a catalytic utility type piece that will be extremely easy to get into games. An extremely easy guy to root for, we have no doubt he will quickly become a fan favorite.
RHP Jorge Guzman
Guzman is a right handed fireballer who came to the Marlins in the Stanton trade in 2018 after just a single season with the Yankees. Before that, he joined the professional ranks as an Astros’ international signee in 2015. He made it stateside after just 13 DSL appearances. Guzy was impressive for the GCL Astros in 2016 tossing to a 3.12 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in 17.1 IP prompting a call up to the short season Greeneville Astros. On the surface, his numbers weren’t pretty there: 4.76 ERA via a 1.41 WHIP. However, his FIP was a lowly 2.73 and his BABIP was a heightened .378. Guzy’s control numbers really improved: 29/7 K/BB.
After acquiring Guzman in the trade that sent Brian McCann to Houston, the Yankees tasked him to another season in short season ball this time in Staten Island. There, Guzy’s control from a year previous persisted (88/18 K/BB, best K/BB% in the NYPL (26.6)) and his his BABIP (.311) and ERA (2.30) normalized. The Marlins saw these results and thought it advantageous to accelerate Guzman’s progression. Upon his arrival in Miami, he was pushed very aggressively, jumping all the way up to A+ Jupiter, his first year in full season ball. What’s more is that the Marlins made it a true full season as they fed Guzy 96 innings. While Jorge fared well while within his workload comfort zone (2.44 ERA 1.42 WHIP, .221 BAA), he really struggled as the season wore on. Via ugly months of July and especially August, Guzy’s second half stat line read as follows: 5.53 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, .257 BAA, 54/34 K/BB. It’s clear: Guzman’s arm simply wasn’t ready to be pushed as hard as it was. With his velo down, Guzy lost a lot of his blow-it-by-you potential and hitters were able to take his just-average pitcher’s IQ to the bank.
Despite being ill prepared for the big push he received in 2018, the Marlins gave Guzman an even bigger shove last season with the promotion to AA. This time, by use of a much stricter conditioning and arm care program both during the off-season and between starts, Guzman’s body held up much better under the wear of 95+ innings, his average fastball velocity ticked back up and he had a great year statistically against the furthest advanced hitters he’s ever faced. The stat line: 138.2 IP, 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 127/71 K/BB. Some caveats: a really low BABIP (.241), a high FIP (4.37) and a bit too many walks, proving he still has some command issues to work out especially in longer stints, but nonetheless it was very encouraging to see some above-average numbers out of Guzy last year.
Working against Guzman’s future as an MLB starter is his negative long-term track record when it comes to stamina and ongoing issues with command in an organization chock full of starting pitching talent. That said, Guzy could enjoy a dominant big league career as a fire balling setup or closer. We will see him in that capacity as early as Tuesday night.
LHP Dan Castano
Castano, a 25-year-old left, doesn’t have the velo or the stuff that makes eyes pop. That is why he is a lesser-known prospect and a name that many casual Marlins fans won’t recognize. But don’t sleep on the Italian Stallion.
A 19th-round draftee our of Baylor University, Castano spent the first two years of his pro career in a historical pitching factory, the St Louis Cardinals’ organization. He came to the Marlins as a proverbial “throw-in piece” in the Marcell Ozuna trade. After just years in the organization, he has lived up to the challenge of being pushed extremely hard and grown to big league readiness. Castano pitcher at three different levels in 2018, spending the majority of the season with A+ Jupiter. The polar opposite of Guzman’s 2019 season, Castano had a rough looking ERA but it came by way of an extremely hard luck .355 BABIP. While his ERA was 4.74, he had a 3.51 FIP. Castano started the season back in Jupiter last year but after 33 innings worth of 3.82 ERA, 3.02 FIP (despite another high BABIP of .310) and an audacious 4.43 K/BB, he got the call to AA Jacksonville and spent the rest of the year there. The numbers: 3.35 ERA (despite yet ANOTHER high BABIP of .308) and a lowly 2.53 FIP with a 1.14 WHIP. Castano’s ground ball rate fell to a career low 49% but his command got even better. Despite the big jump, he posted a 4.56 K/BB, a mark which ranked seventh best in the Southern League. Yes, Daniel Castano struck out nearly five times as many men as he walked in his first showing in AA. Despite those figures, Castano went unprotected in the Rule 5 draft last winter but also went unselected. The Marlins are glad he is still in town, especially with the recent scope of things.
The 6’4”, 220 pounder who threw three scoreless frames with a 4/1 K/BB in spring training steps on to the big league roster at the perfect time in his growth and saves the Marlins from starting the clock on another young pitcher. Castano, an offspeed artist who has 70-grade command, owns three pitches: an 85-87 mph two seamer with sink, a 73-75 mph 12-6 curve and an 80–82 mph changeup with slow two-plane break but good fade away to his arm side and inside tk righties. From a high and almost completely over-the-top arm slot and a short stride, Castano uses his size to plane all of his pitches into the lower half, promoting either whiffs or ground balls. Daniel has some of the most consistent command in the entire organization and for that reason, he is a very welcome addition as an innings eater during a time in which every inning matters.