Lewis Brinson, mired in a second season of struggles, did some soul-searching.
The Miami Marlins had demoted him on April 30 to the New Orleans Baby Cakes, their Triple A affiliate, with the hope he would gain confidence and fix some mechanical issues with his swing.
But as the 2019 season drew to a close, the outfielder continued to go through his slumps — and his opportunities are growing thin.
The fan base has already begun giving up on Brinson, a Fort Lauderdale native and Coral Springs High alum who was one of four top prospects acquired in the Christian Yelich trade. It’s an understandable notion considering Brinson has hit just .189 and is striking out in just less than 30 percent of his plate appearances in two seasons with the Marlins.
The Marlins haven’t made that definitive of a decision just yet. However, they know time is quickly running out for Brinson to prove his worth, especially as they transition into Year 3 of their rebuild and top outfield prospects begin to make their cases for being on the Marlins’ roster.
“I think he’s had a lot of opportunity,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s going to have to produce. In my mind, that means quality at-bats. [You’re] hitting the ball hard consistently. You look like a big-league hitter. You’re going to put up numbers when you consistency have good at-bats. That means hitting the balls hard, squaring up a lot of balls. For guys who have been given that opportunity, it’s time to produce.”
So far, he hasn’t.
The Marlins gave Brinson a long leash in 2018, his rookie season. Growing pains and overall struggles were anticipated, so they wanted him to get any jitters and adjustment periods out of the way early.
He finished the season hitting .199 with 11 home runs, 42 RBI, 31 runs scored and 120 strikeouts to 17 walks in 109 games.
A strong start to spring training gave the club optimism for a bounce-back season in 2019.
But after opening the year hitting just .197 with almost twice as many strikeouts (28) as hits (15), they optioned Brinson to Triple A New Orleans, where he would spend the next three months.
“There’s still belief he’s going to be a very productive major-league player,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. “You look at his abilities — there’s bat speed, athleticism, hand speed, power, foot speed. There’s a lot of things to like. It’s just up to him to put it all together.”
When he returned to the Marlins on Aug. 5, his production actually dropped to close out the season.
Brinson’s numbers during the final two months: .160 batting average, 24 hits, 11 RBI, 11 runs scored and 46 strikeouts in 166 plate appearances.
“I’ve got a lot to prove for next season, so I’m going to be working my butt off this offseason,” Brinson said. “The ultimate goal is to be doing your job up here, and I need to be more consistent up here. I know I have a lot of work to do and that comes with the job — coming back and be better.”
If not, there are other players who could be in position to take his roster spot.
The Marlins have two outfield prospects in Monte Harrison (also acquired in the Yelich trade) and Jesus Sanchez on the cusp of MLB call-ups. Harold Ramirez and Jon Berti both had strong rookie seasons. Brian Anderson and Garrett Cooper can also split time between infield and outfield. Magneuris Sierra and Austin Dean have the chance to compete for playing time as well. JJ Bleday, the team’s first-round pick in 2019, could potentially be MLB ready at some point in 2021.
“I think we’re getting to that point where the expectation level is rising,” Mattingly said. “We’re looking to turn the corner, not [say] ‘Oh we’re still building.’ ”