There have been years in his managerial career where Don Mattingly has arrived for the first day of spring training without any mystery regarding who would be on the 25-man roster coming out of camp.
This is not one of those years.
And that’s just fine with the manager of the Miami Marlins, who is entering his fourth season — and the last under his current contract — with the club that is entering 2019 in a rebuilding mode that has no end in sight. Most pitchers and catchers took part in their first official workout of the spring on Wednesday, an unseasonably cool and drizzly day in South Florida.
“I like the thought of our competition and the way we’re going,” Mattingly said. “It’s a competitive camp. I think guys react better when they have to compete, fight for things. We find out more about them and hopefully as time continues we just keep stacking up talent where everybody’s always fighting to have to show what they can do or there’s another guy wanting that spot.”
The jerseys were new, a shade of blue that’s part of the team’s rebranded scheme. Many of the faces were new, most notably catcher Jorge Alfaro — the presumptive starter behind the plate after the Marlins got him in the trade that sent J.T. Realmuto to Philadelphia. But the approach, Mattingly said, won’t be that different than was the case in past spring trainings.
“And if you probably looked at all 30 clubs, they’re doing similar things,” Mattingly said. “You just ask your guys to go do it better.”
Mattingly averaged 89 wins in his five seasons managing the Los Angeles Dodgers. His three seasons in Miami have resulted in 79, 77 and 63 wins respectively, a downward trend that likely can’t continue if he’s going to be back with the Marlins in 2020.
Mattingly has repeatedly said he’s not worried about it, and reiterated Wednesday that not much really makes him anxious anymore. He understands where the Marlins are, and how this total rebuild of the organization — from Single-A ball to the majors and anything and everything in between — was necessary when the regime led by Derek Jeter took over.
“It’s like everyone in this organization, on the baseball side or the business side: Everyone’s up for evaluation at the end of the year and we’ll see how we’re going to move forward,” said Jeter, the Marlins’ CEO. “Donnie’s under contract. I’ve known Donnie a long time. Played with Donnie … I’ve learned a lot from him throughout the years. But like everyone else in the organization, he’s under contract and he’ll be evaluated at the end of the year.”
The first full-squad workout is set for Monday, but these five days to concentrate on pitchers and catchers is vital in Mattingly’s eyes.
Miami had 13 pitchers start a game last year, and as many as seven of them figure to have a real shot at making the rotation coming out of spring. There are also some arms in the minors that Miami will take a long look at this spring.
So decisions will need to be made, and Mattingly will have about six weeks to make the right ones before the games start to count.
“There’s hopefully a number of guys that are showing that they’re capable,” Mattingly said. “Every year you see pitching staffs come out of the blue, a bullpen or something that turns from being something people wouldn’t expect (to be good) to one of the best in baseball. I think we’ve got a number of good arms. We’ve got a number of guys who we feel have really good stuff.”
Marlins Open Camp, and Don Mattingly Knows Decisions Await