Listen to Mel Stottlemyre Jr. talk about the Miami Marlins’ pitching staff, and you’ll learn quite a bit. He’s been around the game in a professional setting for close to four decades, the last 19 years in a coaching role.
And he’s willing to share what he sees from his vantage point.
Stottlemyre spoke with reporters for close to 20 minutes Friday, a week to the day before the Marlins start their shortened 2020 season, and touched on a slew of topics.
Here are the highlights.
Stottlemyre and the Marlins aren’t going into this 60-game season with the thought of assembling a conventional MLB pitching staff. They’ll have five starters, yes, but they are adapting to the situation at hand, both with the way rosters can be constructed and knowing that the possibility of the coronavirus pandemic impacting their roster at any given time is a reality they might have to face.
A few starters who don’t make the rotation — one of Elieser Hernandez, Jordan Yamamoto, Nick Neidert and Robert Dugger will get the fifth spot alongside Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith, Pablo Lopez and Jose Urena — are expected to join the bullpen and be used in long relief roles. Spot starts could come as well, with the hope that those starters who are in the bullpen can give the team up to five innings if they are called upon.
“We all know that guys are going to roll in, it’s going to be game day and there’s gonna be a starter that’s going to have a 101 temp and they’re going to send them back to the hotel to quarantine,” Stottlemyre said. “We have to be prepared for that and make sure that in putting some of those potential starters into the bullpen instead of sending them to Jupiter, to keep your pitches up and electing to put them in a bullpen to help you win games that you keep some volume behind their pitches during the season.”
Stottlemyre also said the Marlins won’t be shy about top prospects who are part of the pool landing on the active roster during season, with a few surprises on the Opening Day roster not out of the question.
Exhibit A: Jordan Holloway, the Marlins’ No. 20 overall prospect according to MLBPipeline. He hasn’t pitched above Class A Advanced and was expected to be with the Double A Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp this year before the minor-league season was canceled.
But Holloway, a starter by trade who has a fastball that hits triple digits and an above-average curveball, could see time out of the bullpen. Stottlemyre referred to Holloway as “probably the nastiest guy we have in our bullpen.”
“We’re not going to rule him out,” Stottlemyre said. “This guy’s going to be given a chance. He’s healthy. He’s throwing strikes.”
Stottlemyre also mentioned Jorge Guzman as a candidate to join the club at some point while stressing that no options are off the table.
“It’s kind of all hands on deck,” Stottlemyre said. “It really is a different season, and we’re going to be creative in our thinking to try to get out of the gate and win some games. Development will always be at the forefront, but we are in a must-win sprint season, and that changes our mindset.”
Starting pitchers keeping workload during layoff
Stottlemyre said he talked with a a couple other pitching coaches from around the league to figure out an ideal training plan for the layoff between the end of spring training and the start of summer camp, one that ultimately lasted more than three months.
The result: A priority on intensity moreso than volume. Starting pitchers went about three innings at a time during each workout session to keep a steady baseline while not overworking themselves. Stottlemyre, who stayed in Naples during the shutdown, was able to keep tabs on the pitchers who stayed in South Florida for the layoff and helped them fine-tune their routines as the wait for a return lingered.
All eight rotation contenders is now worked up to at least five innings each, and Stottlemyre said he’s confident everyone in the rotation will be able to throw between 90 and 100 pitches their first time out during the season.
“The guys did a heck of a job keeping themselves ready. … I can safely say that that they’re ready for that,” Stottlemyre said. “You look at a lot of pitching staffs across baseball and guys kind of scattered everywhere. A lot of the veterans, there was so much unknown that maybe they shut it down and not knowing if they were going to come back. Our young guys kept themselves ready.”
Sandy Alcantara still has room to grow
While Stottlemyre commended Alcantara’s growth over last season, which helped the 24-year-old secure his spot as the Marlins’ Opening Day starter, the coach acknowledged that the pitcher still has room to grow.
“Sandy’s ready,” Stottlemyre said. “No, he’s not Max Scherzer or [Patrick] Corbin or [Justin] Verlander and there’s still some maturation that that needs to happen. He’s able to impact the game with his stuff, and he still needs a guy behind the plate to take him through that. And at the end of the day when he dominates, I’m still not convinced that this young 24-year-old has a handle on those things and really truly understands that. But the more that he does it, there’s going to be a much better understanding of who this guy is. He’s starting to attack. He’s throwing more strikes. He’s getting confidence. He’s understanding he’s got a real sinker. And that has been a long process to get him to buy into that. His stuff, it smells, it spells and it feels front end. But there’s still a little bit of gap of him understanding of what all that stuff means. … He’s learned a lot. He’s come a long ways. And he’s now at a point that he understands the value of throwing sinkers over the plate and getting some quick outs, putting sequences to get strikeouts, he’s still learning how to do that.”