There’s only one direction to go for the Miami Marlins, who have endured 10 consecutive losing seasons and stumbled last year to 105 defeats, their highest total since 1998.
So yes, they should be better in 2020.
That might not mean much in the short term, and a .500 finish might still be a year or more away. But the Derek Jeter regime begins Year 3 optimistic the long-suffering franchise is finally trending upward.
The job in spring training will be to sort through a roster much deeper in young prospects than a year ago, and to identify building blocks for the future.
“I’m anticipating an incredibly exciting spring training,” president of baseball operations Michael Hill says. “I’m excited about where we are organizationally and what we’ve been able to do since the new ownership group has come aboard. We’ve got incredibly talented young players reaching the upper levels of our minor league system.”
The Marlins believe they upgraded an offense that ranked last in the NL in runs, home runs and OPS by trading for the versatile Jonathan Villar (.274, 24 home runs, 73 RBIs with the Orioles) and first baseman Jesus Aguilar (.236, 12, 50 with the Brewers and Rays). Corey Dickerson (.304, 12, 59 with the Pirates and Phillies) signed as a free agent and will likely start in left field.
The Marlins must replace second baseman Starlin Castro, who played in all 162 games and led them with 22 homers and 86 RBIs. He signed with the Washington Nationals.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
Right-handers Sixto Sanchez, Edward Cabrera and Jorge Guzman are all contenders to crack the rotation this year, perhaps out of spring training.
Outfielder Monte Harrison will be given a chance to win a starting job. Young infielders Lewin Diaz and Jazz Chisholm will also get long looks.
“That’s what’s going to make our spring training so exciting -- the influx of young players,” Hill said.
Villar could play second base, third base or the outfield, and he’s almost certain to lead off after stealing 40 bases last year. Brian Anderson (.261, 20, 66) will play third or right field and again anchor the heart of the order. Miguel Rojas (.282) is solid at shortstop, and Jorge Alfaro (.262, 18, 57) makes Miami better than average at catcher.
Starting pitching is young and inexperienced, but that’s where the most talent rests. The Marlins hope for improvement from right-handers Sandy Alcantara (6-14, 3.88) and Pablo Lopez (5-8, 5.09), both still only 23, and left-hander Caleb Smith (10-11, 4.52), who combined to make 81 starts last year.
Prospects may fill at least two spots in the rotation, and progress made by the young pitchers will determine how much progress Miami makes toward .500.
Don Mattingly returns for his fifth season as manager, and he’ll have a busy spring. Along with sorting through perhaps 20 candidates for the pitching staff, he’ll have to decide who to play where, because Miami has an abundance of players adept at multiple positions.
The decisions must be made by March 26, when the Marlins open the season at home against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Marlins went 10-9 against Philadelphia last year, accounting for 18 percent of their win total.