Barry Jackson

Here’s the most encouraging part of Marlins’ rebuild. And how rotation is shaping up

Marlins prospect Sandy Alcantara gearing up for first major-league start

The Miami Marlins will continue to keep their focus on developing top pitching prospect Sandy Alcantara as he makes his first major-league starts. Alcantara is the team's No. 2-ranked prospect overall by MLB.com.
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The Miami Marlins will continue to keep their focus on developing top pitching prospect Sandy Alcantara as he makes his first major-league starts. Alcantara is the team's No. 2-ranked prospect overall by MLB.com.

Chatter on the Marlins pitching as spring training begins:

If there’s one reason to feel good about this rebuild, it’s the starting pitching depth. The Marlins have four young pitchers – besides veterans Dan Straily, Wei-Yin Chen and Jose Urena – who showed enough last year to believe they can be competent starters, or something better: lefty Caleb Smith and right-handers Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara and Trevor Richards, with Alcantara probably having the highest ceiling of that group.

What’s more, there are a bunch of others who could be eventual rotation pieces: Sixto Sanchez (mlb.com’s No. 27 overall prospect acquired in the J.T. Realmuto trade) Nick Neidert, Jorge Guzman, Zach Gallen, Jordan Yamamoto, Robert Dugger, former first-rounders Braxton Garrett and Trevor Rogers, among several others. Of this group, Neidert appears closest to the majors.

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The depth of young pitching in the system is why the Marlins remain very much open to dealing Straily if they can get good value in return. He’s reasonably priced ($5 million) and under team control for two more years. Chen, due $20 million this season and $22 million next, remains essentially untradeable.

If Straily isn’t dealt, it’s likely a rotation of Straily and Urena and then five others (Alcantara, Lopez, Smith, Richards and Chen) competing for three rotation spots.

Here’s what the Marlins know about the four kids who pitched the most for them as starters last year:

They know Lopez (2-4, 4.14 in 10 starts) has good stuff, a maturity beyond his years and the mentality to be a big-league starter.

They know Smith (who was 5-6, 4.19 before July surgery on a lat sprain) can get players to swing and miss: He had 88 strikeouts in 77 innings for the Marlins last season, 18 in 18 2/3 innings for the Yankees in 2017.

They know Richards (4-9, 4.42) can induce strikeouts (130 in 126 innings last season) and has an exceptional change-up but needs to come up with a better second pitch.

And they know Alcantara (2-3, 3.44) has a bigger pitch package that many his age and the ability to dominate, as witnessed in a one-run, 10 strikeout performance in seven innings against the Mets at the end of last season.

“I’m eager to see what Alcantara [can become],” one veteran American League scout said Friday. “He has a hell of an arm but his strike throwing can improve. His delivery is pretty simple. If it [comes together], he easily could be a No. 2 [starter].”

Neidert (12-7, 3.24 in Double A) looks like the best player acquired in the Dee Gordon deal with Seattle. Hill wouldn’t rule out Neidert or Gallen (8-9, 3.65 at Triple A) winning a rotation job this spring. But the odds are against them; the Marlins would keep them under additional team control for another year if they stay in the minors until late June.

“Zach Gallen had a tremendous year at Triple A,” Hill said. “Nick Neidert was our Minor League Pitcher of the Year. I am excited to see them get off the mound in Jupiter and see what happens.”

The jury remains out on Guzman – the jewel return of the Giancarlo Stanton trade – who was 0-9 in 21 starts in Single A with a 4.03 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 94 innings.

But Hill notes “his stuff is off the charts, when you think about his fastball” and his secondary pitches are developing.

The Marlins have said they see him as a starter, though some scouts believe he’s better suited to being a late-inning reliever.

Keep an eye this year also on Dugger (7-6, 3.79, with 107 strikeouts in 109 innings in Double A Jacksonville) and Yamamoto (4-1, 1.55 in seven starts at Single A Jupiter and good work in the Arizona Fall League). Both have chance to be back-end starters.

With Kyle Barraclough and Brad Ziegler gone, Drew Steckenrider has a chance to win the closer’s job, with Adam Conley an option against left-heavy lineups.

But the Marlins also are looking at adding a veteran closer. Sergio Romo, who had 25 saves for Tampa Bay last season, is among the names under consideration, according to Fox’s Ken Rosenthal.

[UPDATE: The Marlins have agreed to terms with Romo, according to MLB.com]

Batters hit only .227 off Steckenrider each of the past two years, but he’s just 6 for 11 in his career in save opportunities, with 29 holds, and his ERA jumped from 2.34 in 2017 to 3.90 in 2018.

Conley, a converted former starter, appears to have turned a corner after his mystifying 2017 regression. All batters hit just .207 off Conley last year, and he held lefties to a .179 average (14 for 78).

Considering right-handers hit .216 off Steckenrider last season, Don Mattingly could make closer decisions based on ninth-inning matchups.

A veteran bullpen arm is expected to be added this week.

But Ziegler told me Tayron Guerrero has the best stuff among the young bullpen arms. He had 68 strikeouts in 58 innings last season, but batters hit .275 off him and he allowed way too many base-runners (94 in 58 innings).

Hill said the Marlins reacquired Austin Brice (2-3, 5.79 for the Reds last season) because “Austin is a severe ground ball pitcher” and Miami needed that in its bullpen. They believe they made an under-the-radar pickup in Nick Anderson (2.25 ERA, 32 saves in four years in the minors).

For later in 2019 or beyond, keep an eye on Tommy Eveld, the Coral Springs native acquired from Arizona for Ziegler. He has closer’s stuff; in Single and Double A, he had a 1.07 ERA last season, with 16 saves and 61 strikeouts in 50 innings.

POSADA JOINS ORGANIZATION

As Sirius XM’s Craig Mish first reported and The Herald confirmed, former Yankees catcher and Miami resident Jorge Posada is joining the Marlins as a special advisor to baseball operations.

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