Just because there are few spots left to compete for on the Miami Marlins opening day roster, it does not mean there won’t be a few battles to be won in Spring Training.
The Marlins essentially have six pitchers – Edinson Volquez, Wei-Yin Chen, Adam Conley, Tom Koehler, Dan Straily and Jeff Locke – competing for the five spots in the rotation. The pitcher who loses out on becoming part of the rotation will move to the bullpen, a revamped unit that is crowded with new arms and lots of questions. The other problem manager Don Mattingly has is naming the No. 1 starter, with five pitchers who could all fill that role, but none appears to be the dominant figure on the mound that makes hitters quake in their cleats.
When pitchers and catchers report on Tuesday, Volquez, Chen and Conley will begin their quest to become the opening day starter, an honor Chen was handed last year. A case can be made for all three, but one must make a lasting impression in February and March.
As Joe Frisaro of MLB.com points out, The Marlins currently have 63 players invited to Spring Training, but there might not be much mystery when it comes to setting the Opening Day roster.
Barring injuries or something unexpected, most of the 25-man roster could already be settled. The front office has indicated it intends to carry plenty of pitching depth, which means manager Don Mattingly could have eight relievers at his disposal but just a four-man bench.
All of the core position players and most of the bench has returned, but there has been turnover in the pitching department that will have fans in south Florida and across the baseball landscape if the overhaul will put the Marlins in contention for a playoff berth.
Frisaro also wrote that Koehler paced the team in total starts. Conley, who missed time with a finger injury, could emerge as the best of the group. Straily could end up getting the nod for the fifth spot over Locke. Miami needs Chen to pitch like the pitcher he was in Baltimore before signing with Miami in the 2016 offseason. Conley is a home-grown kid who needs to emerge as the future leader of the rotation. Volquez, the top free agent prize of 2017 offseason, must show he can move over to the National League and give this team consistent innings and more importantly, can win 15 games.
If there is no clear-cut front end starter, this could be a long season. Last year, Miami was blessed with Jose Fernandez’s dominance on the mound and a cast of average starters. Someone must come to Jupiter, Florida with the idea they will fill the “Fernandez” role, although they cannot replace the pitcher the fallen player was to this organization.