The best thing about the Miami Marlins’ offseason was the creation of a bullpen that rivals any ball club in the Major Leagues.
The worst thing about the Miami Marlins’ bullpen is the sheer numbers that could have quality pitchers on the outside looking in. New names have given this team depth in an area is has lacked, which could force some hard decisions to be made by manager Don Mattingly and his coaching staff.
Miami swung and missed on one of the “mega” closers on the open market, despite the fact the team offered plenty of money in return for their services. Plan “B” brought in solid relievers to make closer AJ Ramos’ job a bit easier. To compensate for the changes in the relief department, the team will only go with four bench players, allowing for extra arms in time of need. The pitchers are there, now comes the choice of who stays and who goes.
Nick Wittgren could be one of those players on the bubble.
“I’m just coming into spring training trying to win a spot, trying to be as prepared as I can for the season,” he said.
David Phelps will certainly be part of the 2017 blueprint, having won his arbitration hearing this week and was awarded a salary of $4.6 million. Phelps’ versatility – being able to spot start when needed and being able to work in relief or in the closer’s role – makes him arguably the most important player on the Marlins’ staff. But there are others to consider who may not be as lucky to land a spot on the opening day 25.
Ramos, Phelps, Brad Ziegler, Kyle Barraclough, Junichi Tazawa and Dustin McGowan are effectively locks in the Marlins bullpen, according to Tim Healey of sun-sentinel.com. That leaves a maximum of two spots up for grabs, and the Marlins seem to be leaning toward carrying one or two long relievers who lose out in the rotation competition.
For Wittgren, it could mean a year bouncing between Miami and Triple-A New Orleans — something he did last season until a permanent call-up in late May. Jose Urena is trying to nail down a spot as well, as he is out of minor league options. Jake Esch will need a huge spring to stay in south Florida and will more than likely start the season at Triple A New Orleans.
Jarlin Garcia, the Marlins No. 3 prospect may still be a year away from pitching in the majors. Injuries last season in Double A Jacksonville al but assure him of being in the minors one more season.
Righty Brian Ellington (2.45 ERA, 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 32 games) and lefty Hunter Cervenka (3.53 ERA, 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 68 games with the Braves and Marlins) are in similar positions, though both dealt with control issues that Wittgren did not.
“Really, I’m just going into spring training just trying to do me, do my job,” Wittgren said. “It’s not my decision to put myself on the team or anything. I’m leaving the decisions to the guys who are actually qualified to make those. I’m just going to do my best.”
Everyone else is doing the same thing, and hoping that a solid performance in February will lead to a chance to prove what they can do on the major league level in April.