Second base showdown: Why Marlins’ decision isn’t so cut and dry
Figuring out second base has been probably the biggest question for the Marlins all Spring Training. At least, it’s the hottest topic among Miami’s position battles.
By Joe Frisaro @ManOn2nd
JUPITER, Fla. — No matter the outcome, neither candidate can say they didn’t have ample opportunity to be the Marlins’ Opening Day second baseman.
Throughout Spring Training, the Marlins have maintained the decision could go down to the wire. Even though the numbers, statistically, have been appeared lopsided, the organization reminds that more than basic stats will go into deciding who wins the job.
Isan Diaz and Jazz Chisholm have been in the spotlight all spring to see who will be the man on second for Opening Day.
The Marlins open against the Rays on Thursday at home. At least publicly, the organization says Diaz and Chisholm are still competing for the second base job.
On Saturday night, Chisholm and Diaz formed the middle infield in the Marlins’ 6-4 win over the Cardinals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.
Diaz, 24, started at second, and he batted fourth.
Chisholm, 23, started at shortstop and hit second.
The two combined to go hitless in six at-bats. Chisholm is batting .263 with a .833 OPS for the spring. Diaz, meanwhile, is now hitting .059 with a .385 OPS.
Entering the night in an 0-for-21 slump, Diaz probably got slighted of an RBI single in the first inning. With Garrett Cooper on second, Diaz smoked a hot liner that deflected off second baseman Tommy Edman’s glove. It was called an error. But was it? Per Statcast, the exit velocity was 106.7 mph, and Edman mistimed his jump. That exit velocity alone made it more than a routine play.
Scoring discretion aside, the fact Diaz hit the ball hard off Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals’ ace, is what the Marlins will pay closer attention to than how the outcome was ruled.
Chisholm struck out in his first at-bat, on a tough called strike three. Statcast’s pitch tracking showed Flaherty’s strike-three fastball was low.
From there, they both grounded out in their remaining four at-bats. In the field, neither had to make any difficult plays.
The Marlins close out their Spring Training Grapefruit League schedule on Sunday against the Mets at Jupiter. Chisholm and Diaz each have exactly 42 plate appearances. So, both have had equal opportunity at the plate.
So, the decision on who will be at second is purely in the hands of the organization. They’ve stated it is a competition, but that doesn’t mean statistical performance is the only factors.
Bottom line with both is they each need more refinement, regardless of who is in the lineup in four days. Neither is a finished product. And the question also remains, how much do the Marlins really want Chisholm, a natural shortstop, to be playing second base?
Some may say Diaz has already accomplished himself at Triple-A, and he has nothing more to prove. Let’s really revisit Triple-A for Diaz in 2019. He was 22 at the time, and appeared in 119 games, and had 431 at-bats. Granted, he had a stellar season at New Orleans, hitting .305 with 26 homers and 70 RBIs. But let’s remember, throughout the Pacific Coast League and in 2019 at many levels in general, the baseball was flying out of the ballpark. Spot utility hitters in the big leagues, were posting vastly improved power numbers in Triple-A that year.
Journeyman Yadiel Rivera, who also played at New Orleans, in 2019, belted 14 homers and hit .293 with a .477 slugging percentage in 82 games that season. In 111 Minor League games in 2017, Rivera hit six homers and slugged .325. Rivera spent some time with the Marlins in recent years, but mostly as a defensive replacement. At times in 2019, he was batting cleanup at New Orleans.
Diaz certainly had a strong season, which led to his promotion to the big leagues in 2019.
Diaz has more big league experience, with 56 total MLB games dating back to when he was called up on Aug. 5, 2019.
In his first year, he appeared in 49 games, and hit five home runs while batting .173 in 179 at-bats. And in the pandemic-plagued 2020 shortened season, Diaz opted out at one point, and then dealt with an injury after being reinstated. He appeared in just seven games, and in 22 at-bats, hit .182.
Chisholm got a taste of the big leagues in 2020, appearing in 21 games, hitting .161 in 56 at-bats, and he received playing experience in the playoffs.
Chisholm is more athletic, plays multiple positions, has speed and plenty of power.
Numbers-wise, neither has firmly established himself. But in fairness, both still have had a small big league sample size. In upcoming years, the two may become Miami’s double-play combination, but for now, they are competing for the same spot.
Let’s start with Chisholm. He’s a natural shortstop, but is playing second base because veteran Miguel Rojas is the incumbent starter.
While Diaz exclusively plays second base, Chisholm has split time this spring at second and shortstop. He offers more defensive versatility.
Diaz has a smooth swing that in the past has drawn comparisons to Robinson Cano.
If Diaz doesn’t break camp with the Marlins, he will go to the alternate site in Jacksonville. Perhaps the Marlins there will give him some work at third base. Playing at least one more position would help him provide more versatility for when he gets his next callup.
Lastly with Chisholm. If the Marlins decide he’s outperformed Diaz, but still needs more finetuning, that additional development could be a benefit. If this is part of the club’s thinking, then, yes, Chisholm may check off more boxes in head-to-head competition with Diaz, but is playing second base regularly, if he could use more Minor League seasoning, really the best path for his long-term MLB success?
Jon Berti is a right-handed fallback option at second, where he could start against tough lefties. Berti projects to make the club as a utility player. He started at third base on Saturday.
There’s only one more day of Grapefruit League games for the Marlins to get one last look at Chisholm and Diaz. Before announcing that final call, the organization is doing its diligence to determine which is the best option for the Marlins now and in the future.
The decision is not as cut and dry as it appears.