As the Miami Marlins prepare for their first full-squad workout of spring training on Monday, attention will swing toward the team’s youth — and for good reason.
With the Marlins set for another year of their continued rebuild and a roster without a big-name star, the optimism around a franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since 2009 is pinned to a group of top prospects who represent what the future might hold.
But for every Victor Victor Mesa and Monte Harrison and Nick Neidert and Isan Diaz who will take part in the Marlins’ six-week spring training in Jupiter, there’s a Martin Prado and Dan Straily and Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker and Sergio Romo — the latter three signed in the offseason to one-year deals — to provide a veteran presence for the prospects who, the Marlins hope, will eventually take over as the stars of the franchise.
“It’s really important,” Prado said. “We were losing that part of the game. I believe that ‘OK, there’s young talent. They’re really good. They have all the skills.’ But there’s something about having experience in the game and having guys who have been through a lot of stuff.”
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Some of that “stuff,” in addition to multiple years in the big leagues: The experience of being around winning cultures.
“It’s incredibly valuable to us for what we’re building,” said Michael Hill, the Marlins’ president of baseball operations. “We want a championship culture in our clubhouse. We want guys who are proven and understand what it means to be a big leaguer and the ups and downs that you endure as a major-league player and to surround our young players with as many of those players.”
The Marlins’ latest veteran signings certainly fit that bill.
Romo, who the Marlins signed on Friday, won three World Series with the San Francisco Giants in 2010, 2012 and 2014. He has 11 years of MLB experience and, as Marlins manager Don Mattingly said, “he knows who he is.” That’s a vital presence, Mattingly said, on a staff that could contain as many as four starting pitchers with heading into their second year at the Major League level.
“It’s so important for guys and we don’t talk about that enough,” Mattingly said. “Sometimes when you have a young pitcher, they don’t know who they are. They don’t understand what makes them good. They may know they’ve got good stuff, but really, truly understanding who you are as a player allows you to be so much more effective.”
Walker, heading into his 11th MLB season, went through both the struggles of a rebuild and a three-year playoff run with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He also spent a year each with the Milwaukee Brewers and New York Yankees, both of whom had winning records when he was there. He’ll likely platoon with Peter O’Brien at first base but also has experience playing second base, third base and the corner outfield spots.
Granderson, a three-time All-Star outfielder who will turn 38 in March and is on a minor-league contract, has 20 years of MLB experience and is a three-time Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award recipient, an honor given annually to an MLB player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement.”
The Marlins’ other outfielders of note are Lewis Brinson (heading into his second full year at the major league level), Garrett Cooper (27 career MLB games), Magneuris Sierra (76 career MLB games), and top prospects Harrison and Mesa.
“What he’s going to bring to the ballclub is going to be invaluable, especially to the younger crop of players,” Walker said of Granderson. “Hopefully between him, myself and Martin and Starlin [Castro] and some of the pitchers, we can do things the right way, be professionals and help this team move in the right direction.”