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It’s the most compelling and pretty much the only battle for a starting job among position players at Marlins camp.
And whoever the team picks between rookie Jazz Chisholm and Isan Diaz to be their starting second baseman could be telling about the club’s future at the position.
Barring injuries, the Marlins are likely to keep only one on the major-league roster and send the other to Jacksonville to open the season in Triple-A.
Veteran Jon Berti also figures into the competition and is virtually guaranteed a roster spot, but he is likely headed for more of a utility role thanks to his ability to play shortstop as well as in the outfield.
“Jazz and Isan, that’ll be interesting there at second base,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “We kind of have to see where that one goes. Jazz obviously is a guy that is exciting and fun to watch. Isan’s a guy that had a rough year last year medically and with some things off the field. It’s going to be up in the air.”
Chisholm said Thursday he isn’t approaching spring training worried about who wins the job at second.
Diaz mentioned getting better as a motivator as well.
But Diaz said he was trying to win a job a year after he was limited to only seven games and 22 at-bats first after opting out because of COVID-19 concerns after the team’s outbreak early in the season and later due to a left groin strain that ended his season on Sept. 14.
“My mindset has always been the same,” Diaz said. “Always trying to win a job, always trying to go and compete. It was a tough year. Lots of decisions were made. We make them based on how we feel and what’s going on. … We keep learning from decisions we made and how to strive forward and get better.”
Chisholm, who turned 23 on Feb. 1, is the Marlins No. 4 ranked prospect overall by Baseball America — as a shortstop.
The Marlins still envision Chisholm as a shortstop in the long-term.
But for this season and potentially the next, veteran Miguel Rojas (signed for one more year and a club option for 2022) is the starter at short. That opens a window at second for Chisholm.
Diaz had been pegged as the Marlins’ future at second after he was acquired from the Brewers in the Christian Yelich trade.
But after last season’s setbacks, Diaz has to prove himself capable of handling the job heading into the season.
If Diaz isn’t the answer for the Marlins at second, it creates the question of who would be in the long-term. Should the Marlins move Chisholm to shortstop eventually, the most likely candidate from their farm system is 21-year-old Jose Devers. Devers, however, has yet to play above High-A ball and has dealt with injuries over the past couple of years.
Nasim Nunez (a second-round pick in 2019) and Jose Salas (an international signee in 2019) are the next best candidates, but each is still in the low minors.
Diaz had planned to play winter ball in Puerto Rico, but was only able to do so in four games due to a COVID outbreak.
Diaz, 24, has hit .174 with a .545 OPS and five home runs over his first 201 major-league at-bats.
Mattingly noted Thursday how at each level of the minors Diaz has started slow in terms of his hitting before a major breakout as he did blasting 26 home runs at Triple-A in 2019. Mattingly believes him capable of another turnaround in the majors.
“I’ve always liked his swing and he sees the baseball good,” Mattingly said. “He’s a strong kid who can use the whole field. He hasn’t had the production we think he’s capable of. We’re looking forward to watching his growth.”
Before last season when he started 11 games and appeared in 13 games at second base, Chisholm played the position in one game in rookie ball with the Diamondbacks in 2016.
Chisholm has been mentored since last season by Rojas on how to handle the transition. This offseason, he also sought the advice of some veteran second baseman and said Thursday that at this point the only difference for him is the distance of the throws he needs to make to first.
“I called up a lot of guys who had played there like Orlando Hudson, Gil Velasquez, Dee Gordon for help,” Chisholm said. “Miggy really calmed me down and told me, ‘You’re going to be fine. You have the hands to play there and you have the talent.’”
Chisholm hit .161/.242/.321 with two home runs and six RBI, five walks and 19 strikeouts during his first 56 major-league at-bats in 2020.
Scouts regard Chisholm’s power from the left side of the plate as well as his speed making him a potential 20-20 candidate down the road. But last season, Chisholm had a 31 percent strikeout rate and hit an alarming .107 against fastballs.
“I worked with (Mets infielder) Dom Smith,” Chisholm said. “He and I have been close for like four years. I took time to hit with him a lot getting things together and right.
“It’s made me very confident in what I’m about to do.”