Decisions ahead: De La Cruz, Sanchez, Alfaro getting late-season looks
By Joe Frisaro @ManOn2nd
The Miami Marlins head into Washington on Monday to face the Nationals in the first of three games at Nationals Park. Miami holds a one-game lead over the Nats for fourth place in the N.L. East.
In terms of divisional standings, last-place is on the line for Miami with 19 games remaining.
That’s what is at stake now, as well as MLB Draft positioning in 2022.
When it comes to the bigger picture, which for a while is all that really matters for the Marlins, these final weeks are about evaluating players for the future.
No doubt, this has been a disappointing season for the Marlins, who had high hopes after making the playoffs in the abbreviated 2020 season. There are plenty of holes to fill, and needs to address in the offseason.
In the meantime, the second half has provided an opportunity to get extended looks at some of the players who may or may not be part of the plans for next year.
For the sake of this article, MO2 is focused on three Marlins who are seeing regular playing time. Outfielders Bryan De La Cruz, Jesus Sanchez and Jorge Alfaro. That’s right, I’m categorizing Alfaro as an outfielder, because his role has shifted from being the primary catcher.
Due to his struggles defensively behind the plate, Alfaro is now in a hybrid utility role. Yes, he catches, but the Marlins are looking to see if they can get more out of him offensively. So, he’s playing mostly left field, and occasionally first base.
De La Cruz was acquired from the Houston Astros in the late July trade for reliever Yimi Garcia, and Sanchez has shown impressive power since being promoted from Triple-A Jacksonville.
Here’s the MO2 breakdown on the three:
De La Cruz, 3 Minor League options left: The athletic outfielder turns 25 on Dec. 16. He’s been turning heads since being acquired. In 39 games since the trade, his slash line is .338/.386/.481 with a 138 wRC+ (100 is the MLB average) and .372 wOBA (.320 is average).
De La Cruz certainly looks the part of an everyday regular. But is he? The sample size is small, but the production has been huge. He has a .441 BABIP to go with four home runs, 15 RBIs and 11 runs scored. There is a 25.5 percent strikeout rate, which is high, and a 6.9 walk rate in his first 133 big league at-bats.
There’s a lot to like about De La Cruz. He has power, and plays all three outfield spots. He’s shown a strong arm, and has covered some ground. Sometimes his routes are a little shaky, but overall, he appears to be fine in the field. I think he’s more of a corner outfielder than center fielder.
Now, I’m not comparing De La Cruz to Starling Marte, who was dealt to the Oakland Athletics for lefty Jesus Luzardo in late July. But let’s compare the production since they joined their respective teams.
Marte, who turns 33 on Oct. 9, is having a stellar season, hitting .322 with 11 homers, 45 RBIs, 45 stolen bases and a .864 OPS in 103 total games, including 64 for the Marlins.
Del La Cruz and Marte have each appeared in 39 games since being traded. With Oakland, Marte’s slashing .345/.377/.497 with four homers and 20 RBIs.
In terms of offensive production, they’ve been pretty similar, especially when you consider Oakland has a much better offense to protect Marte. Plus, until recently, De La Cruz found himself at the bottom of Miami’s order.
Again, this isn’t to say De La Cruz is as good as Marte. But Marte, a pending free agent, is having his best season in quite a while. His 141 wRC+ is his highest since 2014 (132), and his .374 wOBA is a career high, and his best since .358 in 2014.
For De La Cruz, to be on par with Marte in several significant statistics shows he well he’s performing.
Now, is De La Cruz a lock to be an everyday player in 2022? That question is far from being answered. But having three MILB options means the Marlins don’t have to make that call in Spring Training. He also could be a fine fourth outfielder.
Miami has plenty of time to be patient with De La Cruz, who also has ample time to show he has a role with the club, either playing every day or as a bench player.
Sanchez, 1 MILB option remaining: The Marlins’ Minor League system is deep with outfield prospects. But the breakthrough outfielder from the group this season has been Jesus Sanchez. The left-handed hitting corner outfielder turns 24 on Oct. 7. He’s already shown big-time power, with some massive homers of late. He has bat speed, and plenty of personality on the field.
Sanchez got off to a hot start at Triple-A Jacksonville. In 37 Minor League games, he hit .348/.406/.652 with 10 homers and 31 RBIs. His OPS was an astonishing 1.059.
In 10 games with the Marlins in September, he has four homers and nine RBIs.
There’s been some ups and downs with Sanchez since getting regular playing time in the big leagues. In 48 MLB games this year, he’s hitting .241/.310/.476 with 10 homers and 26 RBIs, and a .787 OPS.
His K rate is high, at 31 percent, and he’s walking at a 8 percent clip.
Sanchez is making his case to being a regular in 2022. His max exit velocity is 112 mph.
With one option left, Sanchez in 2022 could find himself in a similar position Lewis Brinson is in this year. Brinson is in his final option year, meaning if he struggled or the club needed the roster spot, he could be sent to the Minors.
The current Marlins roster has Brinson, who will not have an option next year, and Magneuris Sierra, who is already out of options.
The way De La Cruz and Sanchez have performed, Brinson and Sierra could be expendable in the offseason.
Alfaro, Out of options: Credit the Marlins for having the vision to test Alfaro in the outfield. The switch was made at a time the club was out of the playoff picture, so there was no risk of the move hindering a possible postseason run.
Alfaro is athletic, and he possesses a ton of raw power.
His role moving forward could be one of being a versatile catcher, capable of handling that position when needed, while also having the versatility to play in the outfield. Since the All-Star Break, he’s hitting .275/.299/.387, compared to pre All-Star Break, when he was at .211/.264/.296.
Alfaro’s max EV is 115.7 mph, which is in the top four percent of the league. However, his K rate is 31.9 percent (bottom four percent), and his .272 wOBA is in the bottom four percent.
For the season, he’s hitting .241 with four homers and 30 RBIs.
In arbitration, and out of options, it appears Alfaro’s tenure with the Marlins could be coming to an end. He may stay, however, if the club is comfortable carrying two-plus catchers, with Alfaro as an utility player.
In the meantime, having Alfaro play multiple positions may improve the club’s chances of trading him in the offseason, which would be better than the alternative, if they plan to move on from him. Otherwise, he could be a non-tender candidate.