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2019 BtBS Team Previews: Miami Marlins

Finally bereft of superstars, the Miami Marlins enter "make or break" 2019 needing several pieces to step up developmentally.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

By the time you reach adulthood, you’ve become well accustomed to being mislead in life, particularly when surfing around the internet as advertisements intermittently blare at you.

This one trick will grow your bank account! Six secrets to eliminating belly fat! Find your inner peace and harness the patience of Cincinnati Reds star Joey Votto (I may have clicked on that one).

Definitive statements leading into an article can quite often be taken with a grain of salt. You may be wondering, therefore:

How can 2019 be “make or break” for the Miami Marlins if they are expected to be one of the worst teams in the National League, Thomas? Huh? HUH?

Great question, so I’ll offer up a clarification. I do not quibble with the notion that the Fish are going to be bad this year. They might very well be the absolute worst team in baseball when all is said and done, record-wise.

But everyone knows that. The fans know it. The players know it. The front office knows it.

The payroll situation entering the season speaks volumes as to the true goal of this season. Nine players combine to make $63,837,143 million in 2019, including $20 million for one of the most horrid contracts in baseball with Wei-Yin Chen, and $15 million for the expiring contract of fading veteran Martin Prado.

The rest of the projected roster makes $9,200,000 million (though that number should rise slightly with the anticipated addition of Curtis Granderson to the 25-man roster). That group is comprised largely of rookies or players with a little over a year's experience who are under club control and making the league minimum.

What is going to ultimately matter for the 2019 Miami Marlins is the growth and development of these individual young players, both on the major league roster and in the minor league system. If they have any hope of being the next Chicago Cubs or Houston Astros, in the second year of a clear long-term rebuild, they’re going to need someone to turn the corner in their development. There are five players in particular on the 2019 club who Marlins’ brass would love to see take that next step:

Sandy Alcántara

The signature piece of the Marcell Ozuna trade with the St. Louis Cardinals, Alcántara is a 6’4 right-handed flamethrower out of the Dominican Republic. Though he threw as a reliever for the Redbirds, the Marlins believe him to be starting pitcher material.

In order to achieve that in the long run, he’ll need to continue showing that he can be relied upon to pitch multiple effective innings, as he largely did in a small sample size of six games in 2018 (half of which he was able to throw through seven innings). Though he relies primarily upon his plus fastball (upper 90’s), continued development of his secondary offerings should keep him on a positive path moving forward.

Jorge Alfaro

Though Sixto Sánchez was the primary prize in the long awaited J.T. Realmuto trade, Jorge Alfaro is no slouch in and of himself. The Phillies can be satisfied that they acquired a star in Realmuto, but Alfaro could become a star, with an impressive set of plus defensive tools as a catcher and an intriguing ability to smash the ball whenever he makes contact.

Of course, there are some warts that come with his game, including an eye-popping 23.4 percent swinging strike rate last season. The Marlins undoubtedly want Alfaro to find a little more balance in his aggressive approach and stop swinging at balls out of the zone with alarming frequency.

Pablo López

López came over to Miami in 2017 from the Mariners alongside three other players in exchange for David Phelps, who scintillated for a month before being shut down with elbow problems for good, a truly Mariners outcome.

Meanwhile, López produced decently in triple-A and earned a ten game run as a starter last season where he went 2-4 with a 4.14 ERA/4.49 FIP. Surface numbers were not special, but he seems on track for bigger and better things this year, particularly after an impressive spring outing a few days back where he utterly blanked the Nationals for four innings, mixing his repertoire with a proficiency beyond his years.

Given the growing enthusiasm, one would think him a lock for Miami’s rotation, but that isn’t the case. It’s a surprisingly strong group given the team’s overall trajectory, with consistent vets José Ureña and Dan Straily near the top, Trevor Richards and his disgusting changeup, and Caleb Smith being very impressive before injuries derailed his 2018 season. Whether or not the Marlins have the courage to replace Wei-Yin Chen with López remains to be seen, but it would certainly make sense from a developmental standpoint.

Austin Dean

Despite my colleague Daniel R. Epstein’s disbelief in the existence of Dean, I can assure you that he is a real player and someone the Marlins might be hoping can contribute for a while on the cheap, acting as a necessary bridge to the more touted players waiting in the wings. (Editor’s note: the existence of Dean has NOT yet been verified.)

Dean is the only homegrown player of the five listed here, being drafted by the Marlins in the 2012 draft (round 4). His mediocre performance kept him from moving up in the system, but between 2017-2018 he made significant strides.

Here is Carson Cistulli (then of FanGraphs) in May of last year regarding Dean:

The early returns at Triple-A have been promising for a player in his first exposure to a new level. In particular, Dean’s contact skills have translated well: among batters with 50 or more plate appearances, Dean’s strikeout and swinging-strike rates place in the 91st and 97th percentile. Meanwhile, he’s produced roughly league-average power numbers. While the offensive burden of a corner-outfield role remains high, Dean could probably survive with slightly less power on contact than most given his bat-to-ball skills.

Unfortunately for Dean and the Marlins, the production has yet to translate: In 122 plate appearances he’s mustered a paltry .221/.279/.363 slash line.

All signs point to him getting a chance to maintain a grip on the starting left field job, though how long he keeps it is almost certainly more dependent on the development (or lack thereof) of those below on the farm.

Lewis Brinson

Another guy who (more notoriously) has failed to pan out up to this point, Brinson has a lot of work to do to live up to being traded for last season’s NL MVP in Christian Yelich. His slash line was so hideous in 2018 that I wont post it here, because someone has to think of the children. His plus speed also mysteriously evaporated as he only attempted three stolen bases all year long.

There is still a top 20 prospect in there, somewhere, and he’s only 25, but the time is drawing near for Brinson to show the world that he is who we thought he was. If you’re looking for optimism, he has smacked five spring training home runs thus far.

To be perfectly clear, it might not be enough if the aforementioned players pan out. In order for the latest Marlins rebuild to be truly successful, some combination of the prize pieces in the Marlins farm system—Nick Neidert, Isan Díaz, Victor Victor Mesa, Sixto Sánchez, and Monte Harrison, among others—will have to step up and show they can contribute at the next level.

But if the young players on the major league club scuffle, as some did in 2018, not even Joey Votto may be able to bestow the patience required of a rightfully restless Marlins’ fan base.

Thomas Bennett is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and a former Managing Editor at Fish Stripes. He loves his terrible sports teams, even when they don’t love him back. He can be followed on twitter @Thomasmanynames.