Miami Marlins

The Marlins hope All-Star experience helps Alcantara take his game to ‘the next level’

Miami Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara happy to ‘represent my team’ at All-Star Game

Miami Marlins starting pitcher Sandy Alcantara was named to the 2019 MLB All-Star Game.
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Miami Marlins starting pitcher Sandy Alcantara was named to the 2019 MLB All-Star Game.

Sandy Alcantara took a moment to survey the scene.

There he was Monday afternoon, inside the grand ballroom at Cleveland’s Harrington Convention Center, surrounded by some of baseball’s best. Immediately to his left is Chicago Cubs shortstop Javier Baez. To his right, Cubs third baseman and outfielder Kris Bryant. A few seats away is Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer. Jacob deGrom, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu are among the nearly three dozen players in the room representing the National League for the 2019 MLB All-Star Game.

Alcantara, a 23-year-old starting pitcher playing his first full season for the Miami Marlins, never thought at the start of the year that he would be in this room and have a chance to play Tuesday night at Progressive Field as part of the Midsummer Classic.

Today, Alcantara can proudly say he’s part of the elite group.

Today, Sandy Alcantara is an All-Star.

“It’s amazing,” said Alcantara, the fifth rookie in Marlins history to be named an All-Star. “I feel blessed. God gave me an opportunity. My team gave me an opportunity. I’m going to go there and represent my team.”

It’s a moment Alcantara dreamed about since he started playing at 6 years old in the Dominican Republic, when he grew up admiring Pedro Martinez. It’s a moment he hoped would one day become a reality after making his major-league debut in 2017 with the St. Louis Cardinals.

And it’s a moment that came to fruition after flashing his potential throughout the season and showing why the Marlins coveted him as the centerpiece prospect in the trade that brought him, Zac Gallen, Magneuris Sierra and Daniel Castillo to the organization in exchange for Marcell Ozuna during the 2017 offseason.

Throw the 4-8 record aside. Through 17 starts this season, Alcantara has a 3.82 ERA, a 1.49 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 1.40 WHIP (walks and hits per inning). He has induced opponents to ground into an MLB-high 16 double plays.

The Marlins hope Alcantara savors his All-Star experience and that when he returns to Miami for the second half of the season he realizes that he truly belongs among the elite.

“It’s kind of a realization of a dream for guys who wanted to get here, make an All-Star team,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “It’s something guys in general strive to do. You feel like you’re that guy. But then you really need to take it to the next level.”

There was his season debut, when he threw eight shutout innings against the Colorado Rockies, scattering just four hits while striking out six and allowing just one runner to reach scoring position.

There was his complete-game, two-hit shutout against the Mets on May 19 to cap the Marlins’ first sweep of the season. He struck out eight that day and needed just 89 pitches from start to finish. Alcantara followed that game up with quality starts in four of his next six outings.

None was likely bigger than his 7 2/3 innings in a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on June 21. With a taxed bullpen behind him, Alcantara worked into the eighth inning, giving up just one earned run while scattering eight hits and four walks while striking out six on a career-high 112 pitches.

“You see the size. You see the raw ability and the pitch package. You see the potential,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. “That’s what we identified when we started those [trade] conversations. We felt like this was an arm that could pitch at the front of the rotation.”

Alcantara’s strength: Being able to effectively use any of his five pitches and throw them as hard as some of the best in the game.

Among starting pitchers who have thrown at least 500 total pitches this year, Alcantara’s sinker (94.9 mph average) is behind just Noah Syndergaard (97.4 mph) in terms of velocity. His curveball (82.8 mph) trails just Tyler Glasnow (83.2 mph) and Corey Kluber (82.9 mph). His change-up is the sixth-fastest on average at 88.7 mph, behind Syndergaard (90.8), deGrom (90.2), teammate Jose Urena (90.1), Sonny Gray (89.5) and Griffin Canning (88.9).

Alcantara rounds out his repertoire with a four-seam fastball that averages 95.5 mph and a mid-80s slider.

It allows him to keep hitters off balance and induce weak contact, which results in easy outs. Of the 151 starting pitchers who have had at least 150 balls put in play, Alcantara has the 16th-lowest average exit velocity allowed (86.3 mph).

“He’s been utilizing his stuff,” teammate Sergio Romo said. “He has a better idea of what he can do. As of right now, he just keeps getting better.”

And the Marlins know he’s far from a finished product, which gives them even more promise and hope for the future.

“That’s just part of growing and becoming a major-league pitcher,” Hill said.

Alcantara, the Marlins hope, is just the first of several players acquired from their handful of trades the past two offseasons to catch national attention.

Their rebuild has been noted, tearing down the roster and trading their top five players over a two-year span to beef up a depleted farm system and start from the ground up.

Those pieces are starting to come together.

The Marlins had three prospects selected for the Futures Game in pitcher Sixto Sanchez, second baseman Isan Diaz and outfielder Monte Harrison. Sanchez, the top prospect in the Marlins farm system, was the centerpiece prospect from the J.T. Realmuto trade. Harrison and Diaz, the Marlins’ Nos. 2 and 6 prospects, respectively, both came to the club in the Christian Yelich trade.

Two more prospects acquired in those trades — pitchers Gallen and Jordan Yamamoto (Yelich trade) — are with the big-league club.

And don’t forget the Marlins also received Garrett Cooper and Caleb Smith in a smaller trade from the Yankees during that 2017 offseason.

But for now, the focus is on Alcantara.

He doesn’t know when — or if— he’ll play Tuesday night. Ryu has been named the National League’s starting pitcher. Kershaw and deGrom are the next two likely to step on the mound. From there, it’s up in the air depending on how the game unfolds.

But like he has been all season, Alcantara is ready for his moment.

“I can’t wait,” he said.

Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.