Some might argue that 22-year-old Sandy Alcantara is, at this very moment, one of the Marlins’ top five starting pitchers.
The Marlins believe otherwise. Or so they say.
On Tuesday, the Marlins decided Alcantara would open the season in New Orleans — not Miami — by optioning the right-hander to the Triple A Baby Cakes.
“We know the stuff is there,” manager Don Mattingly said of the promising prospect the Marlins received in their trade with the Cardinals for Marcell Ozuna. “It’s pretty evident. We just need to finish that off.”
By sending Alcantara to the minors and keeping him there until May, however, the Marlins would also be buying an extra year of contractual control. Doing so would make Alcantara eligible for free agency after the 2024 season, not 2023 if they were to put him on their Major League roster now.
Mattingly said the business aspect was not part of the team’s decision.
“It was not even part of the conversation for us — 100 percent,” Mattingly said. “There’s been nothing that says anybody has to go down [to extend control].”
Instead, Mattingly said Alcantara simply needs more polish and to show proof that he’s ready to compete at the big-league level.
“We don’t want them coming up and surviving,” Mattingly said. “We truly want our guys to be here ready, with the weapons and the mentality that they’re coming here to pitch, and they’re coming here to stay.”
Alcantara had a 3.38 ERA in his five spring games, striking out 11 batters to go with six walks over 16 innings.
With Alcantara now out of the picture, the battle for the three remaining spots in the Marlins’ rotation has been boiled down to four pitchers: Caleb Smith, Jacob Turner, Odrisamer Despaigne and Justin Nicolino.
With spring training winding down and teams making their final cuts, the Marlins could also try to acquire a starter that becomes available and appeals to them.
In addition to Alcantara, the Marlins on Tuesday also optioned two other players to Triple A, reliever Nick Wittgren and outfielder Braxton Lee.
Wittgren is working his way back from surgery last September to have bone spurs removed from his right elbow, and the Marlins feel he’s not quite back to top form.
“[Wittgren] we know is healthy, and that’s a good thing,” Mattingly said. “We’re starting to see his velocity creep back up to where it was last year before the injury.”
The Marlins now have 42 players remaining on their spring roster as they work toward their 25-man Opening Day roster.