The Miami Marlins brought in an almost-entirely new coaching staff last offseason. Aside from pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. and bullpen coach Wellington Cepeda, the entire staff was gutted and replaced entering 2023. Including new manager Skip Schumaker, 11 new coaches were brought in to help turn around a team that had gone 69-93 in 2022.
Almost a full year later, the Marlins find themselves back in the postseason in a 162-game season for the first time since 2003. How did they do it?
Enter Josh Bell. The 31-year-old was traded from the Cleveland Guardians to Miami at the deadline back in August in exchange for infielder Jean Segura and minor leaguer Kahlil Watson.
Bell, who had success as a power hitter in Pittsburgh and Washington, had posted career lows in OPS+ in 2022 with the San Diego Padres (74) and in the first half of 2023 with the Guardians (97). Still, Schumaker went up to Bell on his first day in Miami and told him he’d be batting third in the lineup and playing first base. Bell had mostly been hitting fifth while in Cleveland and was mostly a designated hitter.
“It’s pretty incredible to know that they trusted in me,” Bell said to the media prior to Game 2 of the NL Wild Card Series. “And the first conversation I had with (Marlins general manager Kim Ng) when I got traded was ‘hey, we wanted you in the offseason. What happened?’ It’s nice to know you’re wanted. And sometimes, throwing someone a bone goes a long way in this game.”
And go a long way, it did. Three-hundred eighty-three feet, to be exact.
That’s how far Bell hit his first home run in his Marlins debut on Aug. 2—against the Philadelphia Phillies, ironically—to put the Marlins on the board in the bottom of the sixth inning. He then hit a game-tying RBI single in the 11th after the Marlins fell behind, 8-7. The Marlins eventually won that game in 12 innings, 9-8.
Since then, Bell has hit the same amount of home runs (11) in 53 games with Miami as he did in 97 games with Cleveland this year, along with a 119 OPS+.
Schumaker said the process of gaining the trust of his players started, naturally, when the team convened for spring training.
“The trust starts with communication,” Schumaker said prior to Game 2. “You have to have tough conversations. That happened in spring training, trying to get guys to get better. And we had an idea of how each guy could get better and had plans set out for them. And then they started trusting us when it started happening. And I think once you get that, then you get buy-in from everybody.”
After the Marlins acquired Luis Arraez from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Pablo López, the next major move for Miami was moving second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr. to center field—a position he had never played as a professional. Despite expected hiccups in Spring Training, Jazz has looked like a serviceable center fielder this season.
“Once you have buy-in from your best players on your team, that goes a long way,” Schumaker said. “But (Kim Ng) did a really good job of acquiring guys that would buy into what we believe in. High work ethic, high-character guys that have really transformed not only the lineup but the clubhouse.”
Then there’s Tanner Scott. The 29-year-old relief pitcher spent time as the Marlins closer last year to little success. Scott lost five games, blew four saves, and pitched to a 4.31 ERA. Most notably, his 15.9% walk rate was the worst out of all pitchers with at least 60 innings.
Still, when Skip needed a pitcher to take high-leverage innings this year, he turned to Scott. Scott began the year as the late-inning setup man, then became the closer after A.J. Puk and David Robertson struggled in that role.
In turn, Scott has posted a 2.31 ERA and a career-low walk percentage of 7.8%.
“There’s power in belief,” Schumaker said. “When you have a staff that is believing in you, and he is put in situations and he starts succeeding in those situations , that goes a long way.”
Noah Berger also contributed to this piece.