Don Mattingly explains why the Marlins fired their hitting coach
A six-pack of Marlins notes on a Friday:
▪ The Marlins hope that at least a handful of their position prospects become above-average big-league starters.
But if they don’t, the most practical way to add offense is by eventually flipping some of their pitching prospects for hitters who are under team control for several years but have shown they can hit big-league pitching.
And to do that, the Marlins need a surplus of quality starting pitching — a direction in which they’re headed.
The early signs at the minor-league level this season have been very positive on several fronts, less so on a few others.
On the plus side, Zac Gallen — acquired in the Marcell Ozuna trade with St. Louis — has been exceptional at Triple A New Orleans, allowing 12 hits and just one earned run — with four walks and 31 strikeouts — in 25 1/3 innings. That’s a 0.36 ERA. He has earned a promotion to the big-league club if there’s an injury to a starter.
“He’s got all the tools of a future starting pitcher in the major leagues,” Marlins executive Gary Denbo said immediately after the Ozuna trade. “His velocity is plus. He’s got three above-average pitches.”
Also on the plus side: The Class A Jupiter rotation — filled with legitimate prospects — has been excellent: Trevor Rogers (the former first-rounder has a 2.01 ERA), Will Stewart (the third piece of the J.T. Realmuto trade has a 1.47 ERA), Edward Cabrera (2.35 ERA) and Jordan Holloway (1.29 ERA).
The other high-end prospect in that rotation — former first-rounder Braxton Garrett — is regaining his footing after missing 1 ½ years from Tommy John surgery and has a 5.27 ERA but 20 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.
On the negative side: Nick Neidert, who was so effective last year at Double A, allowed 10 runs in 10 1/3 innings (with eight walks) in his first three starts at Triple A.
The early 2019 returns on several others have been mixed. Jorge Guzman, acquired with impressive young infielder Jose Devers in the Giancarlo Stanton deal, has had three pretty good starts and one poor one, with a 5.75 ERA and 25 strikeouts but also 12 walks in 20 1/3 innings.
Guzman is 0-2, meaning he’s now 0-11 in 25 starts since the Marlins acquired him, partly a byproduct of limited offensive support.
Jordan Yamamoto, the fourth piece of the Christian Yelich trade, is 1-2 with a 4.45 ERA in four starts.
▪ Outfielder Victor Victor Mesa, who missed two weeks of spring training with a hamstring injury, is off to a .254 start for Class A Jupiter, with 16 hits (15 of them singles) in 63 at-bats, five RBI, three walks and just seven strikeouts. He’s 5 for 5 in stolen bases.
His 17-year-old brother, Victor Mesa Jr., is working in extended spring training and should be getting work on a Marlins minor-league team by early summer. We’re told he has been impressed offensively in those extended spring at-bats.
▪ The best news, from a position prospect standout, is that outfielder Monte Harrison is off to a .327 start at Triple A and has cut down his strikeouts (17 in 49 at-bats), and Devers is off to a .326 start at Class A Jupiter.
On the flip side, last year’s first-round pick — outfielder Connor Scott — is off to a .154 start (8 for 52) at low-level Single A Clinton, Iowa. He’s a .203 hitter (71 strikeouts) in his first 265 plate appearances since the Marlins drafted the 19-year-old with the 13th overall pick last June.
▪ Four reasons the Marlins haven’t released Wei-Yin Chen: 1). There’s still $42 million in guaranteed money left on his contract, so it wouldn’t save Miami anything. 2). There’s hope he can turn this around and become a functional long man or situational lefty. 3). If there are multiple injuries to starting pitchers, he might be needed as a stopgap rotation piece. 4). In a best-case scenario (albeit unlikely), Chen gets on a roll and the Marlins can trade him, but with the knowledge that they would need to pay most of his salary.
Chen’s $16 million conditional player option for 2021 is activated only if he 1). has 180 innings pitched in 2020 or 360 innings pitched in 2019-20 and 2). is not on the disabled list at the end of the 2020 season, and 3). is healthy for 2021 spring training.
So as long as the Marlins keep his workload limited this season and next season — which shouldn’t be a problem — they will be able to purge his contract in 18 months.
▪ One thing hurting the Marlins — besides the inability to strike a more lucrative TV rights deal so far — is the difficulty in finding a stadium naming rights partner. The former regime turned out an $8 million annual offer — hoping for $10 million — and new ownership is still waiting to find a corporation willing to spend that kind of money.
And there’s the issue of lagging attendance, which also hurts revenue; Miami’s 9,951 average through 16 home games is down slightly from 10,013 last year.
▪ Don Mattingly’s contract expires at the end of this season, and it would be a shame if he becomes a sacrificial lamb. The highly competent Mattingly deserves to see this process through. The New York Post’s Joel Sherman polled baseball front-office people, and the view expressed is that Mattingly is the best manager in the NL East, even though he has the worst team in the division.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox and The Athletic said if the Marlins do move on from Mattingly, one candidate “to keep in mind” is Astros bench coach Joe Espada, who was the Marlins’ third-base coach from 2010 to 2013.
Rosenthal noted: “Espada, 43, joined the Yankees as a special assistant to GM Brian Cashman in ‘14, the last season of Marlins CEO Derek Jeter’s playing career with New York. He then served as the team’s third-base and infield coach from 2015 to ‘17, when Marlins vice-president of scouting and player development Gary Denbo was the Yankees’ farm director.”
If the Marlins did make a change after this season — and there’s no indication they plan to — one internal candidate likely would be infield and first base coach Trey Hillman, whom the organization holds in high regard.
We’ve been cautioned not to read anything into the fact that Mattingly’s contract wasn’t extended. This is simply Jeter’s way of doing business from his experience with the Yankees. So Mattingly could very well stick long-term, and that would be the smart move.