Rogers Outduels deGrom
Ladies and gentlemen, the real Trevor Rogers has stood up.
After a rough first inning and premature outing his first time on the hill in 2021 at loanDepot park this past week, the 2017 first round draft pick was dominant in his second start of the season today against the Mets. Going up against perennial Cy Young candidate Jacob deGrom during the opening series at Citi Field, Rogers twirled a six inning gem, limiting New York to just three hits and two walks while tying a career high in strikeouts with 10. Speaking on his outing postgame, Don Mattingly stated Rogers’ development is clear and evident.
“We’re seeing him grow up right in front of our eyes,” Mattingly said. “You can just see the focus in his work and everything that he does.”
Mattingly said a big key to Rogers’ success has been his ability to take a lot out of his experience in the majors in 2020, building off both his successes and his mistakes.
“He’s put himself in good positions because he’s got good routines now,” Mattingly said. “I think he learned a lot of lessons last year and he used them. That’s a key: the guys that can make adjustments here are the guys that are going to be really good.”
In his first inning of work of the year in his previous start, Rogers required nearly 40 pitches to get through the St. Louis Cardinals. Ultimately, he would wind up going 4.1 innings. On Saturday, Rogers didn’t reach the 40 pitch mark until the fourth inning (during one of three strikeouts by Friday’s controversial centerpiece, Michael Conforto). For Rogers, the biggest difference from last start to this one was in how he paced himself and stayed loose.
“Last start, first inning, I kind of let the emotions and the game speed up on me,” Rogers said. “I just made sure to breathe and really take my time. I wanted to make sure I was getting down the slope and not pulling off. Just really making quality pitches.”
With his emotions in line, Rogers went right after hitters, attacking them in the zone early in the count then relying on his breakers and pinpoint command to finish them off. Rogers threw a first pitch strike to each of the first 10 Mets that stepped to the plate against him and to 15 of 22 total. Rogers said that was and always has been a key to success for him.
“That’s pretty much the foundation of how I got about guys: getting that first pitch strike and then you can just build off that,” Rogers said. “You put them in a hole right away, get them in swing mode.”
On getting to go up against one one the best in the game and getting the better of him on the ledger, Rogers credited his and the team’s ability to prepare properly but not press.
“Best in baseball, Jacob deGrom is,” Rogers said. “You really have to bring your best and then some. To see me and our whole team go out and compete with the best, it just shows you how good we are.”
One big difference in Trevor’s arrival has been the very quick build of his changeup. Still a work very nascent pitch for him during spring training 1.0 in 2020, Trevor has built that pitch up this:
Here is the mapping of that pitch in this start.
Rogers utilized the changeup within five of his 10 Ks.
When he is getting ahead in the count and mixing and locating all three pitches, Rogers is a deadly combo of velo and at the very most, weak contact. An absolutely dominant outing in his second start of the season and nonetheless on the road in a day game after the team plane did not land in to New York until around 1 AM that same morning, this was a testament to Rogers’ level of focus, athleticism and maturity. In more ways than one, he has fully arrived.
Jazz Goes Yard
Coming in to Thursday’s game, Mets ace Jacob deGrom was virtually untouchable in his career in 0-2 counts, sporting a .136 BAA and 55% career strikeout rate. He had never allowed a home run in that situation in his career. Then, in the second inning, Jazz Chisholm Jr. stepped to the plate for his first career AB against deGrom and did this:
The first home run deGrom has ever allowed in his eight year major league career came on an 100 mph fastball up and out of the zone against a guy taking his 74th career major league at bat. How did Jazz get to that ball let alone hit it out, .307/.358/.471 career hitter Don Mattingly?
“It’s not necessarily a pitch you’re gonna hit that often,” Donnie said. “You’re talking about over 100 out of the box above the zone. It’s a tough pitch to get to. But today was a day that Jazz caught that one.”
“Jazz is a guy who is nice and loose, Mattingly added “I think his hands work good and he sees the ball good.”
According to Chisholm, he viewed the opportunity to go up against deGrom as an honor and a career defining moment, but he didn’t think his 100 mph heat was as intimidating as other pitchers.
“I couldn’t have been more excited to face any other pitcher in the league. Much respect to him,” Chisholm said. “Some people’s 100 is a little lighter. I felt like his was on the lighter side.”
As Jazz rounded the bases, the entire baseball world sat with their mouths agape, wondering how Jazz got to the high cheese and via a seemingly effortless swing, deposited the ball into the upper deck right field stands. Chisholm himself though wasn’t surprised one bit. In fact, according to his ex Marlins reliever Sterling Sharp, Jazz called the shot and the reactions that followed perfectly.
After the game, Jazz was asked what he was thinking while taking his trip around the basepaths after not-so-arguably the biggest hit of his young MLB career. His answer to that inquiry was even more impressive than the moonshot itself.
“I wasn’t thinking anything crazy. It was like, “Okay, I just hit a homer off deGrom; that’s cool. But now I have to try to go do it again,” Chisholm said. “I feel like my abilities should allow me to hit a homer off anybody and my hands should allow me to get to any ball that I can swing at.”
Jazz Chisholm Jr. is here in the majors, seeing 100 mph fastballs from one of the best pitchers in the game well and doing what 595 other major league players before him couldn’t do. And afterwards, his only focus is on how can he repeat it. If you weren’t sold on Jazz yet, buy in and double down immediately.
Neidert Overcomes Early Jitters
On Thursday afternoon, Marlins prospect Nick Neidert took the mound as a starting pitcher for the first time in his career. Four and a third innings later, his start would come to an end and the events to follow would overshadow his performance. However, his work should not be discounted.
After injuries to both Sixto Sanchez and Elieser Hernandez, Neidert took the hill to start a game for the first time in his MLB career and the first time to start a game since 2019 in AAA. Understandably, emotions played their part in Neidert’s outing. After allowing a leadoff double to Brandon Nimmo, Neidert walked Pete Alonso and drew a visit from Mel Stottlemyre, Jr. During that visit, Neidert said Mel got him back within himself and back on the attack.
“It was just to get back in the zone,” Neidert said of the conversation. “Stop trying to nibble at the corners and try to make the perfect pitch.”
Neidert then retired James McCann on strikes to get back to the dugout for the first time then he threw an efficient 1-2-3 second inning. He got out of similar jams as the one he escaped in the first frame in both his third and fourth inning of work, walking two guys in each but coming back to keep the Mets off the board. He pitched into the fifth inning on 85 pitches. The only run on his line came via primary reliever Ross Detwiler allowing an inherited runner to score. Overall, Neidert’s outing can best be described as bend-but-not-break.
“I just had moments where I tried to pick at corners and ended up walking a guy. When I was in attack mode and being aggressive, it turned out really well,” Neidert said. “Overall I thought it was a solid outing. My goal every time out is to put us in a position to win. Five walks isn’t great and I put myself in some bad positions but I was able to make pitches to get out of it.”
Though his command was spotty, catcher Chad Wallach was impressed with Neidert’s ability to compete.
“He’d kind of lose it for a few batters but then he’d lock it back in for a few hitters in a row,” Wallach said. “I wouldn’t say he had his best stuff today but he really battled his butt off and pitched with some aggression and went after those guys.”
For Neidert, the biggest highlight of the day was getting the opportunity to pitch in front of live fans for the first time since a very short 2019 season in which he threw just 54 innings between two minor league affiliates and the Arizona Fall League. Neidert said he took time to soak in that experience but tried not to let it negatively affect his outing.
“Pitching in front of fans is a lot of fun. I took moments before the outing just to listen to the fans when they were announcing their lineup. Hearing fans like that, it’s incredible and the adrenaline that comes with that is great,” Neidert said. “I just tried to stay as calm as I could to go out there and make pitches and to not let it rise too high to where I was off.”
While this was definitely not a lights out performance, Neidert’s ability to rise to a big occasion, make adjustments and keep the Marlins in the game despite not having his best stuff is extremely encouraging for his maturation process. The outing should serve as a good building block for his next start which should come on Wednesday in Atlanta.
Trevor Rogers Overcomes Early Jitters
It was a big night for Marlins lefty Trevor Rogers. After earning his spot in the starting rotation via lights out work in spring training, the 24-year-old took the mound at loanDepot park for the first time in 2021 in front of 4,605 fans. It was the first regular season game he’s pitched in with fans in attendance. Among them was his family who were watching him pitch for the first time as a major leaguer. In his first inning of work, Rogers really struggled to find the strike zone. After throwing nine straight balls to start the game, Rogers threw a wild pitch, walked the bases loaded, and in between a run coming across via a passed ball, allowed a two run double to Yadier Molina. It took him 38 pitches to get through the frame. After a fourth walk, he struk out Austin Dean to mercifully get back to the dugout. He threw 38 pitches, only 18 of which were strikes.
In that first inning, Trevor’s average fastball velocity was up a few ticks from where we saw it in spring training. Postgame, Rogers admitted he was overthrowing.
“I was trying to get everyone out on the first pitch,” Rogers said. “It was definitely not my intent to start the game like that.”
Trevor came back out for his second inning of work showing the velo we’ve come to get used to from him: sitting 94, up to 96. Throwing more strikes with the heat early in counts, he was able to mix the breaking stuff in more and get back to being the guy we saw in spring training. He wound up going four innings on the same aforementioned two hits and earned runs and four walks. He struck out six.
Rogers said the turning point in his outing came when Don Mattingly gave him some words of encouragement after he got back to the dugout for the first time.
“He was like, “Hey scratch that. It can’t get any worse,”” Rogers said. “He tried to make it a light moment.”
Overall, Rogers took the outing as another learning experience, saying it was another “a-ha!” moment, one that allowed him to find a better balance between emotions and competitiveness and that when his next start comes, likely this coming week in Atlanta, he will be more than ready.
“I was just getting locked in and they took me out,” Rogers said. “I’m ready to go back out there already.”
Holloway’s Encouraging Outing
The Marlins announced a group of roster moves on Monday morning: the expected call-up of Nick Neidert to replace Elieser Hernandez and a not-so-expected promotion of one Jordan Holloway. The righty came up to replace Garrett Cooper who went to the COVID-19-related IL due to experiencing reactions from his second vaccination. According to Holloway, his call-up happened very suddenly.
“I think got the call at like 10:45 (this morning),” Holloway said. “I packed pretty hastily. I got here at 4:30-5 o’clock. That Ft. Lauderdale/Miami traffic… my goodness. But we got here.
Sporting some facial hair he is not typically known for, Holloway came on in the 6th inning and showed a very unorthadox pitch selection. Usually a guy who uses a fiery 95-98 mph fastball and a 74-75 mph curveball as his main secondary, the 24-year-old came on throwing only this (save one pitch), a pitch with so much movement it fooled Statcast which originally had it labeled a changeup:
He got through the inning on nine pitches. In his second inning of work, he threw two pitches above 95 and one of his patented curveballs but of his 22 pitches overall, 16 were that slide piece. The other three fastballs he threw were well under what we are used to seeing from him in terms of velocity. According to Holloway, that was by design.
“I’ve kind of been working on that secondary pitch… a lot at the alternate site and during spring training,” Holloway said. “I just wanted to show I was able to throw that slider in the zone and out of the zone whenever I wanted to compliment my fastball and give them a couple of different looks,” I knew I was probably going to go multiple innings so I wanted to let them know that I wasn’t just going to go in there and overpower them with fastballs.”
The work Holloway did with that pitch has clearly paid off. Merely a blueprint pitch for him the last time we saw him pitch in MiLB, the slider now has both horizontal and vertical break with late downward bite. He is indeed showing the ability to place it all over and out of the zone for strikes and weak contact. This outing is proof that Holloway, like Sixto Sanchez who showed it in spring training, has grown mentally and is gaining the understanding that just because he has his fiery velo, he does not need to use it every pitch to be affective. In terms of his development and all of the time he has missed with injury and illness, this was an extremely encouraging outing. He will likely go down any day once Garrett Cooper is ready to come back from the COVID-related IL but he definitely has earned himself another look sometime this season whether it be in middle or late relief.
The excitement of Opening Day and the return of a 162 game season was diminished a bit on Wednesday morning when it was announced that top prospect Sixto Sanchez’s health was once again in jeopardy. The Marlins announced that, during his first action since being optioned, Sanchez was removed from a sim game due to experiencing discomfort in his throwing shoulder. Per reports, Sanchez was in the second inning of what was to be expected a five inning outing.
The original plan with Sixto was to build him up to at least 75 pitches before committing to him making the 26 man roster. It appeared as though Sanchez had just enough time to do so before rosters were due in. However, 24 hours before his last tuneup outing in the Tuesday sim game, the Marlins optioned Sanchez to the alternate training site. While this was the safest move for Sixto especially considering the Marlins do not need a fifth starter until April 9th, the fact he was sent down before even making his final appearance and the fact that for most of spring training, the Marlins were, according to Don Mattingly, planning on carrying five starters from the start of spring, was slightly auspicious. Now, that auspiciousness has turned to deep concern.
This morning, the Marlins reported that Sixto underwent an MRI and that it revealed “mild inflammation” in the upper right portion of his throwing shoulder. The team said Sixto will be given a few days’ rest before beginning rehabbing via a throwing program. The team did not provide a timetable on Sanchez’s return but called it a “slow progression”.
Judging by how Don Mattingly reacted to the news, it could have been much worse.
“I thought the news was pretty good. Obviously you don’t want it to be anything major,” Mattingly said. “[We’re] just going to take care of him and have this process work its way through. Feeling that you’ll get Sixto back or get him here at some point is a good thing.”
While it is a relief that Sixto avoided any serious structural damage, the continuous issues with his health are concerning and in some ways frustrating for both himself personally and the organization. For as careful and cautious as the Marlins have been with him, this sort of development at this point raises questions regarding the long-term reliability of the Marlins’ top prospect to stay on the field and how many innings he can provide, especially given his build and how hard he throws. Not only will his innings be limited this year, they probably will be next year as well.
Undoubtedly, as they have been previously, the team will be extremely wary with Sixto’s build back. His throwing program should go something like this: two weeks of rest, long toss, mound work, lives, minor league rehab starts. All things considered, it would be surprising to see Sixto back before June.
Jazz Thrives Under the Lights
For a lot young prospects who make the Opening Day roster for the first time, the emotions and attention overwhelm them and they stray from the values that got them to that point. For Jazz Chisholm Jr., that could not have been farther from the truth on Thursday. Rather than let the elements of his first Opening Day get the best of him, Jazz embraced them, stayed true to himself and his usual carefree nature and showed signs of things to come.
Jazz made his first statement via fashion when he showed up to work in a Lamello Ball Charlotte Hornets jersey and most noticeably, with his hair dyed blue. According to Jazz, he dyed his hair at the request of a teammate.
“When I came into spring training with the blonde, Sandy Alcantara was like “Hey, when you come on Opening Day, I want it to be blue,” Jazz said. “I was like, “I got you!””
Before the game started, Jazz who has always been a fantastic steward for fans, could be seen interacting (from a safe distance) with those in attendance for the first time at loanDepot park since 2019.
Jazz said pregame that despite the career milestone, he does not feel like he will have any butterflies when he gets on the field because the field is where he is at peace.
“The baseball field is what takes away my butterflies,” Chisholm Jr. said. “I’m just going to try to go out there and have fun and just enjoy the game the way it comes.”
Although he didn’t record a hit on the night, Jazz struck the ball hard twice. His first AB against Rays ace Tyler Glasnow, he grounded into the shift. The ball left the bat 100.5 mph and had an expected batting average of .510. His second at bat, he lined out. The ball left the bat at 95 mph. He’s carried the same bat to ball skill and consistency from the second half of spring into the regular season and as long as that persists, results shouldn’t be too far away.
Regarding how he thought Jazz handled the big moment, Mattingly said he believed Jazz welcomed being part of such a big moment and relished in it.
“I think he likes the energy and the lights. He handled it great today,” Mattingly said. “He sees the ball good, he quits early on balls. He’s going to have to keep working to keep shortening, but he has everything it takes to be a good player.”
When Derek Jeter says Jazz is a “different kind of athlete”, that comment is not limited to just his batting and fielding skills. Young players with a mindset such as this to let his love for the game prevail above all circumstances and challenges is something not found often. A guy who oozes and spreads happiness and joy to both fans and his teammates, there is very little not to like about him. Jazz has every quality necessary — both tangible and intangible — to be both a fan favorite and franchise cornerstone infielder.
Mattingly Preaches Continued Vigilance
As exciting as it is to have baseball back in a more normal capacity, the Marlins and the rest of the league were reminded on Thursday morning that, although circumstances are improving, COVID-19 is still a prevalent force and that following protocols needs to continue to be prioritized. A few hours before their Opening Day game against the New York Mets, it was revealed that multiple players on the Washington Nationals roster tested positive for COVID-19. The game was postponed and not long after, the entire series was called off. Don Mattingly said the situation sounds eerily familiar and that it can, has and will sneak up without notice and wreak extreme havoc on a team and staff.
“Very similar to what happened to us last year. No positive tests during [spring] 2.0 at all. Anything can happen and it seems to spread quickly,” Mattingly said. “For your club losing multiple guys at one time, that’s what could set you back.”
Mattingly mentioned that the club will breathe a sigh of relief when vaccinations are more widespread but until then, he and the team will remain on high alert.
“We are in a little bit of a tricky area right now, everybody leaving their camps and their bubbles, more travel,” Mattingly said. “It’s a time you still have to be vigilant.”
On the final day of the Grapefruit League season, the hottest and most highly contested battle in Marlins camp has come to an end. Ladies and gentlemen, your winner and starting second baseman, Jazz Chisholm Jr. Kim Ng broke the news on Marlins Radio during Miami’s 10-2 win over the Mets on Sunday.
According to Jazz, he received the news from Ng and Don Mattingly just before game time.
“Donnie and I have this sort of playful relationship every time he gives me some news so it was more of a “Hey, see you down in Miami!””, Chisholm Jr. said. “The emotions ran wild. It was like getting another call up but this time it’s an Opening Day job.”
Before an at bat was taken or a ground ball was fielded by either Chisholm Jr. or Isan Diaz, the two showed up to camp exhibiting polar opposite attitudes.
The 24-year-old Diaz who opted out due to COVID last season only to come back late in the season to fall victim to injury spoke as if winning the job was his main focus. All things considered, it’s easy to assume he was feeling pressured.
“I’m here to prove I’m the second baseman for the Miami Marlins,” Diaz could be heard saying shortly after reporting to camp.
Meanwhile, despite all of the talk surrounding it, Jazz was able to put the fact he was involved in a head-to-head battle completely aside and focus, more so than anything else, on improving.
“I wasn’t really thinking about the job, eventually,” Chisholm Jr. said Sunday. “I’m going out there and I’m a competitor. I’m going to go out there and try to help my team win, but at the same time I was thinking about how I can get better and try to help my team when they need me.”
By being able to block out the noise surrounding the contest at second base and stay levelheaded, Jazz was able to learn some very important mental lessons this spring, lessons that have allowed him to gain more confidence and lessons that he will take with him into the regular season.
“Trust yourself and trust the guy behind you. If your teammates trust in you, that helps even more.” Chisholm Jr. said when asked to name the biggest thing he extracted from this spring training. “The family atmosphere, the winning atmosphere, the “if I don’t do it, you can do it” atmosphere. Even in spring training, if I go out there and say [Brian Anderson] is hitting before me and he flies out, he will look at me and be like “Alright, you got it.” That’s what I took away and I hope everybody trusts me to do it every time.”
In terms of improving mechanically, Chisholm Jr. said he was sponging up valuable information from his veteran teammates such as Corey Dickerson, Jesus Aguilar and Starling Marte, coaches and even executives as often as possible.
“I talked to the veterans every day. Every day I would go to then and ask them another question,” Chisholm Jr. said. “We have a lot of guys on this team who has proven themselves in the big leagues… and you have a Hall of Famer as your owner. I picked everybody’s brain in every way I could and I tried to add it to my game.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be Jazz if he wasn’t having a ball every second he’s on the diamond, his “happy place” and the place where he “clears his head”.
“He’s going to have fun on the field no matter what,” Chisholm Jr. said when asked to describe himself to Marlins fans. “He could be having a bad game, he could be having the best game of his life and he’s still going to be out there smiling and having fun. That’s never going to change.”
When Jazz, who went 10-39 (including 9 for his last 24) this spring, steps on the field at Marlins Park on April 1st, he can take comfort in the fact that he earned the right to be on that stage. A young man that is a great mixture of purity, skill and soundness of mind, Jazz is not only primed to endear himself to fans in terms of on-field production but also to impart his infectious joy upon them, something that will is very much needed in the current global landscape.
Bring your smiles to Marlins Park this year, Fish faithful. When Jazz is on the field, you’ll be using them often.
Jazz Chisholm Nearing Victory in Second Base Battle
The last time we got you caught up with the top stories coming out of spring training two weeks ago, Isan Diaz was putting together quality ABs, hitting the ball hard and showing improvement on the defensive side while Jazz Chisholm wasn’t even seeing a handful of pitches per AB. At the time, he was 1 for first 16 with seven Ks and no walks. We mentioned at the time he would need to blow up in the second half of spring training to claim the spot from Diaz.
Ladies and gentleman, Jazz has gone boom.
Since March 15th, Jazz is 8 for his last 16 with two homers, four RBIs, four walks and four strikeouts. The difference for Chisholm? The removal of tepidness and just letting his ability eat.
“The last two games, me and a couple of the hitting coaches were just like, ‘All right, time to let it loose,” Chisholm said. “”The season’s almost around the corner. Let’s get it going and take some hacks, you know?'””
While Jazz has been thriving, Isan Diaz has been struggling. On Friday, Diaz went 0-2 with two strikeouts and a walk. Since Jazz’s hot streak started, Diaz hasn’t recorded a hit, his contact consistency is down and he’s seeing less pitches per at bat. Since March 15th, he is 1-22 with eight Ks.
While Mattingly is not yet ready to confirm the winner of this battle just yet, he did recently state the spot will be earned, not given.
“We are trying to take the best club out of here that we can take out. Guys that give u the best chance to win,” Mattingly said on Zoom this past Thursday. “There’s been years where we know we are developing, we’re going to give some guys some opportunities. I think we are past that point.”
Through the entirety of spring training, while the baseball world viewed this is a fierce competition, Jazz has shown the ability to be an ultimate team player, supporting a guy he has known since a young age and pushing him to improve. According to Jazz, as focused as he has been on his own game, he’s been supportive of Isan’s.
Inasmuch as nothing is official yet, with three games left in spring training and the overall message from the organization being what it is, it’s hard to imagine Jazz Chisholm, whose shown both the tangible and the things you just cannot teach, not being in the Marlins’ Opening Day lineup. If he is at shortstop on April 1st, he and the team can take comfort in knowing that he earned that opportunity in every way.
Sixto Sanchez’s Preparation
Top prospect Sixto Sanchez has had quite the spring. After being delayed arriving to camp due to visa issues in the Dominican Republic, the 24-year-old fireballer had a COVID-19 test falsely come back positive, requiring him to spend another week away from the team.
Sanchez successfully passed through COVID protocols and was back in camp on March 6th. He finally got on the mound for his first spring training appearance on March 15th. Through three outings, he’s thrown eight innings, allowed five hits, one run, struck out three and walked two. With one outing left before Opening Day rosters are due in, he’s up to 61 pitches. After that outing in which Sixto coincidentally threw 45 strikes, the same number he will wear on his back starting this year, Sanchez said he feels good but that the outing he will get this Tuesday will be advantageous for him.
“I think I need a little more time,” Sanchez said through a translator following his last start. “I’m going to have another outing. Hopefully that will get me ready for the season.”
With rosters not due in until Wednesday night, the Marlins will have some time to break down Sixto’s last outing before making the call. Although Sixto looks good and looks like he will have just enough time to show he’s ready, the Marlins, not needing a fifth starter until the second week of the season and with both Nick Neidert and Trevor Rogers pitching like they are deserving of a spot, have every reason to play it safe with their top prospect.
“We just have to keep building,” Mattingly said recently on Zoom on what he needs to see from Sixto. “We have to get him to the point where he can compete in a major league game and not be stopped at a certain point.”
As entertaining as it is to watch Sixto pump it up to triple digits, the most encouraging sign he’s shown this spring has been the fact that he doesn’t need to do so every pitch or every start to he affective. In his third spring outing on March 20th, Sixto wasn’t showing all of his velocity. He only topped 98 a handful of times, his sinker was all the way down to 94 and his breaking pitches were in the mid 80s. According to Sanchez, that was something he had been working on in his bullpens and bringing it to that game was by design.
“During this outing, I was more focused on throwing strikes than actual velocity,” Sixto said after that outing. “I was more concentrated on finding weak contact so I can use that more often”
What does this show? It shows that Sixto knows he has the velocity but that he doesn’t always need to use it and it shows that he understands that three pitch ABs that end in groundouts are just as, if not more valuable than eight pitch ABs that end in Ks. This is a big step in the right direction in terms of Sanchez’s mental maturation, a step that should allow him to pitch deep into games more often and promote better health in his arm.
All in all, whenever we see Sixto this year, whether it be when he takes the field during Opening Day intros or a week or two after that date, we will be seeing the best, most well rounded version of him yet. As he prepares to graduate from prospect status within his first few starts this season, this camp, despite being abbreviated, has Sixto Sanchez all the more ready to live up to his ace potential.
Trevor Rogers Continues Dominance
After showing flashes of his ceiling during the 2020 season, lefty Trevor Rogers came to Marlins camp this year determined to take the next step and prove he belongs at the major league level. He started making that impression before he even got on a mound. At the beginning of camp, Don Mattingly mentioned he was “taken aback” by Rogers’ physical maturation. By “crushing calories”, Trevor put on a good 20 pounds. Then he started throwing. Through five spring outings, armed with three miles per hour of added velo to his heater and a vastly improved changeup, he did this:
According to Mattingly, Rogers, who has the most strikeouts in all of baseball in spring training, couldn’t be showing out much better this spring.
“He had a mindset that he knew what he wanted to accomplish,” Mattingly said. “He came with a purpose to spring. To this point, there really is not a whole lot not to like.”
While sticking to that blueprint, Rogers has also learned from previous mistakes. That as much as anything else is proving to be a catalyst for the impression he has made.
From Tommy John to a rough start to his minor league career to the pandemic wiping out nearly a full year of production, Rogers has stayed the course, kept his head up and his eyes forward. It is exceptionally refreshing to see the former first round pick thriving. If this kind of production continues into the regular season, there is potential for Rogers to compete with the league’s best rookies.
From birth through 2018, the baseball life of one Joe Dunand had been pretty fluid self-explanatory. Then, a subpar first full season in the upper minors followed by a lost MiLB season in what was thought to be a tell-tale campaign for him led to some doubt. In 2021, Dunand, participating in his fourth spring training camp, has really turned some heads. How has he done it? By adding confidence, making the most of opportunities that have approached him and and through continuing to trust his extremely valuable support system.
Joseph Dunand Jr. is the son of Joseph Dunand Sr, the half brother of one Alex Rodriguez, the 16th best player to ever lace up a pair of cleats in terms of career WAR. According to a 2020 report by Rick Thomas, Dunand’s indoctrination to the game began early. As a child, Dunand was a regular visitor to Yankee camps and clubhouses.
Those experiences parlayed into a fantastic high school career for Dunand at local South Florida baseball factory Gulliver Prep. He rounded out his high school career by going 10-12 with eight (yes, EIGHT) home runs in the 2014 Horizon National Tournament in Arizona. Those long balls all came in each of his final eight swings. The feat by Dunand caught national attention.
MLB scouts noticed. During the 2014 Draft, Dunand had his name called in the 35th round by the Cleveland Indians. He forewent the selection to honor his commitment to the University of North Carolina. In a three year career with the Wolfpack, Dunand enjoyed a standout career. In 178 games, he hit .268/.334/.476 with 29 homers. In between his sophomore and junior seasons, he had a .326/.372/.511, five homer showing in the wood bat Cape Cod League. In his final collegiate year, Dunand hit .287/.368/.632 with 18 homers.
In 2017, Dunand came to the Marlins as a second round draft pick. He forewent his senior year of college to sign with his hometown team. In his first full pro season in 2018, Dunand performed well making it up to AA in pretty short order. Between Jupiter and Jacksonville, he hit .239/.303/.380 with 14 homers and 70 RBIs. Joe spent all of 2019 in AA where he came back down to earth a bit after the big jump. In 130 games, he hit .242/.314/.333 with five homers and a 119/38 K/BB.
Dunand was approaching a big minor league season in 2020, one in which he hoped to prove he could produce consistent results against upper minors pitching. Then, the pandemic wiped the season out and Dunand was even left off of the Marlins’ 60-man player pool. But Joe made the most of the lost season and despite no on-field reps against other teams or his own organizational teammates, still made it quite possibly the biggest year of his baseball career. Dunand took the time off as an opportunity to reflect, put things into perspective and work to become the best version of himself.
“I’ve always had power since college. It was just more of how I was working in AA in 2019,” Dunand said. “I had a more opposite field approach; not really making a lot of good contact. This last year, during COVID, I really got to know myself and work on my swing, know my game and what I can do.”
In terms of adjustments that he’s made to get to this point, Dunand wouldn’t give away “all of his secrets” but he did recognize better repeatability in his approach and mechanics.
“There were a couple things that I worked on,” Dunand said. “I have more of a leg kick now. Before, it was a toe tap. I was just unsure of what I was doing, “Dunand said. “It’s more of a confidence in what I’m doing and how I feel most comfortable at the plate. Just being able to replicate what I’m doing.”
Through that process, as always, Dunand has kept his uncle close. According to Joe, his relationship with Tio Alex and the fact he is so kindred with such a valuable resource both personally and professionally continues to be unquantifiable in the growth of his career.
“It’s amazing,” Dunand said regarding his ability to consult with his uncle regularly. “I have an encyclopedia of one of the smartest people I have ever known. It’s a great tool to have. I talk to him as much as I can and be a sponge. It’s an opportunity that not many people have.”
When it was time to get in the field again in the DR this winter, Dunand was well prepared. In 72 ABs, he hit .319/.398/.542 with three homers including this one:
Marlins prospect Joe Dunand with the walk-off GRAND SLAM for Escogido!!!— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) December 5, 2020
Dude’s been unstoppable this winter 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/GHgaOTU3Fo
Regarding his 2020-21 winter ball experience, Dunand views the fact that he able to succeed and stick in such a competitive environment as the Dominican Winter League as advantageous in building his confidence.
“The DR is a very tough league. I’m very fortunate that I got a lot of playing time down there and I did well,” Dunand said. “Very passionate fans, tough league, tough competition. The more time you get to play down there, the better you get.”
With success came rewards and opportunities. Via his exports, Dunand got to spend ample time around further advanced players such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Gregory Polanco, an experience he was determined to make the most of.
“The biggest thing I picked up from them was their work ethic. Day in and day out, they would do their work, they would go through their routine and it never faltered,” Dunand said. “That was the first thing I noticed right off the bat. Having those good habits every single day when you come to the ballpark. That’s how you progress as a ballplayer.”
Another opportunity Dunand’s winter ball tenure unlocked: gaining versatility at a new defensive position. Blocked by Brian Anderson and others in the system that should move from middle infield to third base, the Marlins have continued to give Dunand reps at first base after he got in two games there this winter. Dunand said when informed, he welcomed the challenge and has worked hard to conquer it.
“I played the majority at third and then they had Vladdy Jr come down. To keep me in the lineup, they put me at first,” Dunand said. “I’ve been working on it a lot. The more I play it, I get more comfortable.”
More focused, more versatile and with the same unparalleled network around him, Dunand has been the talk of camp with the bat and the added versatility at first opens up some new doors. He should start 2021 at the ATS followed by his third stint in Jacksonville, this time the Marlins’ AAA affiliate. If he is able to build off his strong winter and spring, Dunand, who the Marlins protected from the AAA portion of the Rule 5 draft this offseason and who also has eligibility at shortstop, should get his first major league call sometime this season.
Sixto Makes Spring Debut
After being delayed by a visa issue in the DR and by a false positive COVID test, Sixto Sanchez made his debut today in West Palm against the Astros. Sixto threw 31 pitches in 1.2 innings. He allowed two hits but induced two double plays. He didn’t strike out any and allowed one walk.
“I don’t feel like I’m behind,” Sixto said through a translator regarding his current state. “I’m pretty much there, same as everybody else; I just can’t throw as many innings right now.”
As high as Sixto is ranked and as electric as his stuff is, including today, Sixto made his first appearance in game 13 of the 25 game spring schedule. The Marlins do not need a fifth starter until mid-April. A guy that has already undergone major throwing arm injuries and surgery, it would be risky of the Marlins to rush Sixto who at best stands to get two more in-game appearances.
According to Mattingly, Sixto will only pitch in big league games when the team believes he is ready.
Mattingly says Sixto will not be rushed, they will take their time getting him ready.— Fish On The Farm (@marlinsminors) March 16, 2021
Says Sixto will pitch when prepared “whether that happens right away or whether that happens seven nine days into the season”.#Marlins
As things stand, we think the Marlins will err on the side of caution with Sixto starting at the ATS to round his preseason program out. After Sanchez’s late start, at this point, we expect the name of a swing man such as Daniel Castano or rule 5 pick Paul Campbell to be announced during introductions on April 1st.
Second Base Battle Update
Coming in to spring training, all the talk was around the Marlins open competition at second base between Isan Diaz and Jazz Chisholm. Evaluators, fans and even the Marlins themselves thought this contest was going to be red hot all camp. A game over halfway in to the 25 game spring ledger, the competition has been pretty one sided.
While the stat lines don’t do either player justice, one guy has been well ahead of the other in terms of quality of at bats and quality of contact made. Isan Diaz has just two hits in his first 16 spring ABs but those two hits were a double and a triple. On March 7th, the same day of his triple, raked what should have been his first spring homer halfway up the berm at Clover Park, but a whipping wind barely pushed the ball foul. In terms of quality of contact, Isan’s average exit velo on nine balls put in play is 92.3. He’s walked four times to five strikeouts. When it comes to length of ABs, Isan has seen 73 pitches in 19 plate appearances or an average of about four per PA. These numbers are slightly convoluted due to The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches not incorporating Statcast. Thus, all strikeouts and walks are three and four pitches respectively and each hit is one pitch. Adding in accurate data from his four ABs at BPPB, it’s easy to assume Isan is in actuality at or above five pitches per PA. His two today in Palm Beach consisted of eight and four pitches respectively. He’s also looked better defensively.
Isan Díaz with another nice swing, sending a pitch to the right-field corner for the second straight game. Ruled a double, to third on the throw. Two runners score. Had a triple yesterday. 99.9 mph exit velo here. #Marlins pic.twitter.com/xQwHqoQOwp— Christina De Nicola (@CDeNicola13) March 8, 2021
According to Diaz, who went from opting out of the season at the height of the COVID outbreak last year to trying to return for the playoff run only to suffer an injury his first game back, this spring has been about getting back to where he was in AAA in 2019 where he hit .305/.395/.478.
“That’s what I’m kind of aiming for,” Diaz said, “to get that vibe, to put those good ABs together and do damage with runners in scoring position.”
Don Mattingly has liked what he’s seen of Isan so far.
“He’s starting to get in a little bit of a rhythm,” Mattingly said after the aforementioned game in St. Lucie where Diaz tripled and nearly homered. “He looks good right now.”
On the other side of this battle, you have the Marlins’ fourth ranked prospect 23-year-old Jazz Chisholm, the return product of the Zac Gallen trade at the 2019 deadline.
Jazz started off his spring about as good as possible: leading off in the Marlins’ first game, he homered on the second pitch.
But leading in to Monday’s game back in West Palm, site of the aforementioned bomb, Chisholm had been struggling. In his next 16 ABs, Jazz recorded just one hit while striking out seven times. He has yet to walk. This Monday’s game proved to be better for Jazz. Against Jose Urquidy, he battled out a seven pitch AB and beat out an infield single. In the top of the 5th, Chisholm singled in a full count on the seventh pitch of his AB and proceeded to steal second base, his first bag of this spring.
“He looked better today,” Mattingly said after Monday’s game. “I think he’s been a little bit all over. I’m not sure if he’s pressing or not. We just need to keep Jazz steady in what he works on.”
Mattingly also stated the team is working with Jazz on his consistency, encouraging him not to change his approach in the midst of a dry spell.
“Like a lot of young guys, they don’t get a hit and start messing around and tinkering instead of just staying with what they’re doing,” Mattingly said. “Working through it and allowing it to become consistent. We’re keeping an eye on Jazz in that way.”
Mattingly and the Marlins hope this is the turning of the corner for Jazz who has seen just 55~ pitches in 20 ABs. To take our Statcast-less park into account, his only AB at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches before today was a groundout.
While the completion is still open, we believe it is going to take Jazz having a great second half of spring to claim the job over Diaz. That said, no matter if he starts with the Marlins or at the ATS/in AAA, you will see Jazz Chisholm back in a Marlins uniform sometime this season.
Braxton Garrett, Jose Devers Others Demoted
Before Monday’s game, the Marlins announced a number of roster moves: LHP Braxton Garrett was optioned to AAA and C Will Banfield, IF Luis Marte, RHP Alexander Guillen, RHP Luis Madero and SS Nasim Nunez were reassigned to Minor League camp.
Prior to Tuesday’s game, the Marlins optioned IF Jose Devers and OF Jerar Encarnacion to AAA and reassigned Cody Poteet and RHP Shawn Morimando.
While these moves were all expected, it’s worth recognizing a couple of these prospects and how they performed this spring:
First, Braxton Garrett, the Marlins’ first rounder in 2016 and our 10th ranked prospect. Not long after being drafted, Braxton underwent Tommy John in 2018 missing an entire year of development then was relegated mostly to the ATS in lieu of the lost MiLB season in 2020. Despite the lack of in game reps, Garrett showed up to his second big league camp healthy, throwing the hardest we’ve seen him throw (velo ticked up from 90 to as high as 93). His biggest crutch in past years, his command, was off in his first outing but looked much better his second time out.
“He’s been really good this spring,” Mattingly said after Garrett’s most recent spring outing, a two inning one hit, two K performance. “He has a little bit of a different body, a little more pop in his fastball. His breaking ball has always been good but it’s even tighter this year.”
Mattingly also stated Garrett is working on developing his pitch repertoire but that his success will depend on consistently being able to place the heater for strikes early in counts then pitch off of it.
“He’s adding a slider and he has the changeup he’s working on. All of a sudden you’re going to see a four pitch mix as he continues to develop,” Mattingly said. “He’s just going to get better and better. The main thing is he needs to get ahead in counts with his fastball and be able to locate it.”
With success developing his arsenal and with gaining consistent command at the ATS and in Jacksonville, Garrett will be a candidate to come back up to the majors over the course of 162 games this season. He has a back end starter floor and 2-3 rotational ceiling.
Secondly, we give a nod to Jose Devers who impressed the entire coaching staff, including hitting coach Eric Duncan.
“A guy who really stood out. He doesn’t seem fazed. … It doesn’t really matter the situation,” Duncan said “He has a really slow heartbeat and is able to put quality at-bats together. He’s been one that’s been tremendous to watch.”
Devers was leading the Florida State League in batting before going down with an injury in 2019. After showing up to camp a bit bulkier, the 21-year-old wowed with his glove (including at third base, a position he’s never played during in game action) while also showing good patience, the ability to make consistent contact and put the ball in play and while putting his above average speed to use on the basepaths. Devers went 2-9 with a triple, two RBIs, five walks to just two strikeouts and two stolen bases.
One of the youngest kids in big league camp, Devers really opened some eyes. After the ATS and minor league camp, should get the promotion to start the 2021. He should be considered at or near the head of the class among all of the Marlins’ young middle infield talent. ETA 2022/23.
As hard as the game of baseball is to play physically, it’s just as hard to maneuver mentally. Just ask Marlins first base prospect Lewin Diaz.
After his career got off to a flying start, first injury then a bout of terrible luck followed by a once-in-a-century global pandemic wiping out an entire season of production threw wrenches in his development and started giving Diaz some doubts. According to Lewin, the joy was taken out of the game. But while sharpening his tools in the Dominican this offseason, Lewin also did quite a bit of soul searching. And, if early spring results are any indication, that work has begun to pay off.
A 17-year-old international signee out of the DR by the Minnesota Twins in 2014, Lewin jumped a level with each passing season up until 2018. That year, Lewin faced his first setback fracturing his right wrist, an ailment that cost him the final two months of that season.
Lewin was able to put the injury aside in 2019, beginning the season by hitting .290/.333/.553 back in A+ before receiving the promotion to AA. The results followed Diaz to the Pensacola Blue Wahoos as he made the big jump quite fluidly. In 33 games in the panhandle, he hit .302/.341/.587. That is when the corner infield needy Marlins came calling. Just before the trade deadline, Michael Hill and the Fish sent established major league reliever Sergio Romo as well as prospect Chris Vallimont and a PTBNL to the Twins for the Florida State League All-Star’s services.
Many times in the baseball a change of scenery works wonders for a player. But there are also occasions where it works oppositely. Diaz was on the latter side of that equation. After his successes with the Blue Wahoos, Diaz hit just .200/.279/.461. The power persisted but his luck took a strong turn for the worse. After posting a slightly above average .320 BABIP with Pensacola, that number fell to an absurdly unfortunate .188 in Jacksonville. The bad luck caused Lewin to press at the plate. While his K% sat at 17% with Pensacola, it rose to 22% with the Jacksonville.
Diaz attempted to get right in the DR in the winter of 2019 and there were reasons for him to be happy with his performance. In 29 games with his hometown team Estrellas de Oriente, Diaz showed out well, hitting .276/.331/.422 with a team leading three bombs and a second best 20 RBIs.
Diaz got his second spring invite and first with the Marlins that same year. Off to a good start (7/23, 2 2B, HR, 4 RBI), another stroke of bad luck occurred when baseball as well as he rest of the world was shut down due to COVID-19. Diaz’s baseball activity was relegated mostly to the alternate training site. He did get to debut and rack up his first 39 MLB ABs late in the unique 2020 season. Diaz said making his debut, despite the circumstances, was a dream come true.
“It’s everybody’s dream who plays this game to make it to the majors,” Diaz said. “I have to continue to keep working on swinging at good pitches. I’m planning ahead this year.”
Lewin spent this offseason “planning ahead” in the DR playing for the Estrellas de Orientalles and working out with trainers near his home town. According to Don Mattingly, Lewin did suffer from what Mattingly called “a small bout” of the coronavirus. But even still, after struggling to keep his weight up in 2020, Diaz managed to noticeably improve physically.
“I was eating well I was hitting the gym a lot. I gained some muscle mass,” Diaz said. “I feel perfect right now. I feel like I’m hitting the ball a little harder. My plan is to continue doing that and to continue to get stronger.”
While on the field and with his teammates in the DR, Diaz said he took advantage of learning from his older teammates on and off the field, namely Robinson Cano.
“He taught me how to handle myself as a big leaguer,” Diaz said. “He taught me how to always aim for the center of the ball.”
In the best physical playing shape of his career, results have started to come a bit more naturally for Lewin to begin spring training. So far, he has three hits in eight games including two doubles. One of those hits came this past Monday in his first start of the spring against established big league All-Star Marcus Stroman. Diaz, who admitted he came into camp with his mental morale at less than 100%, described that moment as a big one for him.
“Those are things that boost your confidence,” Diaz said. “I saw myself in the starting lineup and knowing Stroman was pitching, I got excited. I’m very excited to get at bats against a major leaguer like Stroman.”
In addition to that at bat against Stroman, Diaz says his confidence level is improving every time he gets on the field. The Marlins are noticing. He’s the only Marlin to appear in all 10 spring games thus far and he’s made it past the first round of cuts.
“He definitely looks more comfortable”, Don Mattingly stated on the current version of Lewin. “He’s had some good swings throughout camp, but it’s good to see him looking more comfortable. He’s made some small changes. You see his hands just a touch higher. I think it’s good for him.”
Earlier in camp, Mattingly stated that he “definitely thinks it’s within the realm of possibility we see him this year over the course of 162 games.”
The fact that he was able to overcome COVID and improve his body this winter and the fact that he is embracing the opportunity presented to him this spring is admirable of the 24 year old. It speaks very well to the type of player he should become and the player we should see back in a Marlins uniform this season. When that happens, expect to see his full potential, that of a cornerstone power hitting first baseman, on full display.
In 2021, the return of spring training brings with it the return to in game action for hundreds of minor league baseball players who missed out on a full season’s worth of experience in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Among those future stars invited to big league camp is 2019 first round pick and second highest rated organizational prospect, JJ Bleday.
Despite the missed MiLB campaign, Bleday, much like he did last spring when he recorded his first hit against pro pitching in his very first game, got off to a more explosive start last Sunday in West Palm Beach. Serving as the designated hitter, Bleday stepped to the plate against Brandon Bielak, the Astros’ 22nd ranked prospect according to BaseballAmerica. After watching the Houston defense shifted him to pull to the right side, Bleday did this:
“Waaaaay back and outta here!”
JJ Bleday solo HR 🤩 pic.twitter.com/qUwEQ0lQkf
— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) February 28, 2021
While he didn’t get into any sanctioned MiLB games in 2020, Bleday was active at the Marlins’ alternate training site as well as in the team’s winter instructional league. JJ credits his experiences there, facing off against older pitchers for keeping him fresh and keeping him prepared.
“It was great seeing guys like Sixto (Sanchez), Sandy (Alcantara), Caleb Smith, (Jose) Urena… we had a bunch of guys who we were able to get quality at bats off and really grow as individuals, Bleday said. “Just like a normal season, you’d have your good weeks and your bad weeks.”
According to Don Mattingly, Bleday’s ability to be prepared for whatever approaches him in his baseball career was brought out during his collegiate career at Vanderbilt and it’s only gotten better since he turned pro.
“This is a guy that comes from a great program at Vanderbilt and those guys have been pretty solid. They’re all pretty solid fundamental guys that look like they know what they’re doing,” Mattingly said. “It’s just a matter of development. I’m feeling like he’s done different things at different levels and he’s ready to go.”
Whether it be when he was challenged at A+ to begin his pro career, last spring, at the ATS or now, in his second spring campaign, Bleday has managed to answer every call because of an extremely mature offensive mindset. Whether he grounds out or hits a home run, Bleday’s primary mission in any AB is to put the ball in play.
“I hate striking out, I hate giving up at bats. At least creating a chance for the defense to make a mistake. I think that started at a young age,” Bleday said. “Emphasizing accuracy over power. I think when you sacrifice accuracy for power, for me personally I get in a tough position where you’re wasting stuff and things don’t go your way. But if you’re aggressive and keep that accuracy first over power, you’re eventually just going to keep getting better as a hitter.”
Due to well rounded hit, power and fielding tools that hold a future value at 55 or better across the board, Bleday is primed to continue to make noise in this Marlins system, noise that should grow louder this coming season.
But Bleday is far from the only recently drafted outfield prospect invited to Marlins camp this year that has a big future. One fellow outfield prospect who is joining Bleday in big league camp this spring is Peyton Burdick. Fish On The Farm’s ninth ranked prospect and arguably the quickest rising prospect in the Marlins’ organization, Burdick earned the invite to camp after a fantastic first full season in A ball in 2019 and an impressive showing at the winter instructional league. Per reports, Burdick’s name was thrown around in trade talks this winter but the Marlins showed how high they are on Burdick’s potential by passing on the opportunity to acquire Wilson Contreras.
Burdick makes up for his stout height (6’) with an absolutely massive physique. Originally trained by Josh Elleman, the co-founder of Elite Strength and Conditioning who previously worked for the Boston Red Sox organization and who has done work training athletes at every level of development, Burdick spent the pandemic months in the professional baseball player development program at ProForce Sports Performance in Cincinnati. The newly turned 24-year-old could not be more impressive physically. He puts every bit of his body into a gorgeous power swing. He adds to that great bat-to-ball skills and above average speed, giving him 20/20 potential. He also owns a good outfield arm capable of handling right field.
Burdick went through Tommy John surgery in 2016. It was not long after, on the road back during his redshirt junior season, where he saw his biggest physical growth.
“I worked out either once a day or twice a day. I was working out 12-14 times a week. That’s when I realized I was starting to actually get after it,” Burdick said. “You see the changes in your body and you become obsessed with it. You take pride in what you look like and how you function and move. I realized that lifting weights puts more damage on the ball for you so you don’t have to swing as hard. You can just connect with a more consistent swing.”
Regarding being in camp with each other and other Marlins outfield prospects, Bleday says that around guys in the same position as they are has created camaraderie that has benefitted each of their personal growth and planted strong roots in their relationship as teammates.
“It’s a healthy competition,” Bleday said. “Obviously we all want to do well individually but at the same time you’ve got to get ready for the season and you’ve got to go out and perform for the organization. We all enjoy being around one another and we all enjoy learning from each other. It’s a great atmosphere.”
Burdick echoes Bleday’s sentiments.
“You can’t be be the best person you are if the guy next to you isn’t pushing you,”. Burdick said. “My favorite verse from the Bible is Proverbs 27:17: “The iron sharpens the iron,” meaning that each man makes every other man better. It’s good to have that friendly competition going on and it really makes every other man better.”
While it remains to be seen where each of these outfield prospects wind up to begin 2021, they have all bought in to the message surrounding this Marlins organization from top to bottom: build on your successes, learn from your failures and strive to improve every time out. They are pushing each other to be better and building their relationships as teammates. It is virtually everything you want to see in the latter stages of a rebuild. Look on this system with eyes wide open now or have them forced open by it in the very near future.
In the winter of 2014, the state of the Miami Marlins was not the strongest. The team had just lost 80+ games for the fifth straight season and its minor league system ranked in the bottom five league wide. Rather than try to build the minor league system back up, the team doubled down on Giancarlo Stanton who they signed to a 13 year deal and recently promoted prospects Christian Yelich and JT Realmuto. During the season, they traded away what little they had left in their minor league system, names such as Jake Marisnick, Colin Moran and Jacob Turner. In the offseason, they parted with Kike Hernandez (who they had acquired earlier that same year), Andrew Heaney, Anthony DeSclafani, Austin Barnes and others.
The return pieces were almost all established major leaguers. The club brought in names such as Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, Mat Latos, David Phelps and others.
Thrown in as what was thought to be a deal sweetener in a seven player deal with the Dodgers that brought the first two of those names to Miami was a 25-year-old Venezuelan Miguel Rojas, a versatile middle infielder with a questionable bat. Rojas, at the time, was not considered to hold much weight as a prospect.
Upon his arrival in Miami, another veteran trade return piece and the guy that turned out to be the honorary captain of the Marlins between the years of 2016-2019, Martin Prado took it upon himself to take Rojas under his wing in every aspect of the game. In his first year as a Marlin, Rojas hit .282/.329/.366. After Prado’s retirement two years ago, there was only one obvious choice to take up the reigns the club’s captain: Prado’s heir apparent Miguel Rojas.
Now, on his 32nd birthday and with the organization going in a completely different direction than it was going in when he came to Miami, Rojas is thriving both in his role as a leader and in his role as a player.
In terms of his play on the field and on how he was able to post a .304/.392/.496 stat line while leading the Marlins to their first playoff berth in 17 years last season, Rojas credits his younger teammates. According to Rojas, being on the field with younger guys has kept his body healthy and fresh. Rojas says heading into 2021 he is in a great place.
“I feel like all of these young players and young talent get me younger and pushing me harder to get better. I’m not getting younger, I’m getting older but the last few years I feel like I’m getting better,” Rojas said to the media on Tuesday. “My first five years in the big leagues I wasn’t an every day player so now having the opportunity to play every day. I have a task on me and I have to prepare so I prepared to play this year for 162 games.”
But Rojas’ thoughts are rarely of himself. Rather, they are on the future of this Marlins organization and how he can ensure a successful future for it.
“That’s one of my goals. Whether I’m in this organization or somewhere else, I just want to help the younger guys in understanding how they need to prepare,” Rojas said. “How they need to eat, how they need to rest. All of that kind of stuff that Prado told me when I got here in 2015 and my first time actually seeing how a big leaguer prepares for the full season. That’s what I want to take to the younger guys.”
This offseason, Rojas was seen on social media working out regularly with one of the youngest prospects in the Marlins’ organization, 19-year-old Victor Mesa Jr. According to Rojas, those workouts weren’t spontaneous or accidental but rather part of his plan to impart as much knowledge as possible on him which he hopes Victor will carry with him and share with his teammates in the lower levels of Minor League Baseball.
“My philosophy is… let’s say like I took Victor Mesa Jr. this year and Victor Mesa Jr. goes and plays in low A, high A, wherever he’s going to play, guys are going to follow him,” Rojas said. “They’re going to see how Mesa is preparing. That’s creating a culture. That’s creating a bond.”
Rojas stated that, if circumstances allot, he wants to work with a different prospect every offseason to create as many future quality big leaguers as possible both on the field and off of it.
“I’m looking forward to doing it with a different guy, hopefully every offseason if they’re local in Miami,” Rojas said. “I’m excited to keep building that culture in this organization.”
Through everything the Marlins accomplished last season and through everything the team will accomplish in the future, Rojas has and will continue to have his fingerprint on it. For that reason, Rojas and the immeasurable work he is doing in the Marlins organization as well as in the community cannot possibly be overstated.
He was already the unquestionable leader of this Marlins team at the Major League level but now, through his fingerprint at the minor league level, as selfless as Rojas is, he is making his mark throughout the rest of the organization as well as in the community and in he plans to continue to do so.
Someday, the first player jersey will rise to the rafters at Marlins Park. Although his playing career is not yet over, Miguel Rojas’ number 19 is already a very qualified candidate.