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2014 Marlins Team Preview: Nowhere To Go But Up

Wayne Bretsky

Wayne Bretsky

Wayne Bretsky writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

2014 Miami Marlins Team Preview

The arrival of an ace in Jose Fernandez highlighted the Marlins 2013 campaign, that can otherwise be considered a less than stellar performance. The team lost 100 games for the second time in franchise history while watching their premier slugger Giancarlo Stanton struggle with injury and ineffectiveness for much of the summer.

Fernandez punctuates a young, hard-throwing rotation that could ultimately lead to a more productive Miami team than many are predicting, but they’ll need progress from Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez and Jacob Turner out of the gates -- something the team was robbed of last season when Eovaldi and Alvarez hit the DL coming out of Spring Training. A strong bullpen anchored by the remarkably efficient Steve Cishek should help this flock of arms find success working in a solid pitchers park in the punchless NL East.

The offseason shake-up orchestrated by the Marlins’ front office focused largely on bargain basement shopping. To be fair, the team did shell out $21 million over three years to 28-year-old backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who represents a clear upgrade over a Jeff Mathis-Rob Brantly combo, but the remaining offseason moves will struggle to inspire confidence in a restless fan base. Logan Morrison and his creaky knees have moved on while some combination of Garrett Jones, Rafael Furcal, Casey McGehee, Jeff Baker and Ty Wigginton will surround Adeiny Hechavarria, the team's only holdover in the infield.

The offense will lean on Stanton in the outfield while also setting the stage for emerging star Christian Yelich to step into the spotlight following a promising rookie campaign. We know the production will be there from Giancarlo so long as he can stay on the field; it is Yelich’s development into a true impact bat that is the wild card that could get the offense going.
More talent is on the way with a strong crop of minor league bats and arms that could make the Marlins a legitimate contender a few years down the line but, for now, all eyes will are turned to Stanton, Yelich and the young rotation to carry Miami out of the cellar.

Offseason Moves

Lost Chad Qualls (Houston), Ryan Webb (Baltimore), Placido Polanco (unsigned), Juan Pierre (unsigned), Alex Sanabia (Diamondbacks).

That Pierre and Polanco remain unsigned and are both likely headed for retirement speaks volumes to the futility Miami put out on the field last season. Qualls, on the other hand, was remarkably solid for the Marlins, parlaying his career resurgence into a free agent deal with the Astros and a potential chance at saves.

Signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a three-year, $21 million deal.

For much of his career in Boston, Saltalamacchia was known for streaky hitting, power and high strikeout totals. The penchant for Ks remains, but Salty was a more consistent batter in 2013 reaching career-highs in on-base percentage, slugging, OPS and RBI, while posting a .273 batting average, turning it into a three-year pact with the Marlins. He provides a bit of punch -- averaging 18 home runs per season since 2011 -- that Miami will utilize in the heart of their lineup.

Signed Garrett Jones to a two-year, $7.75 million deal.

Though the Pirates did everything the could to protect Jones’ brutal platoon split (career .578 OPS vs. LHP/.826 OPS vs. RHP) by giving him 382 of 403 total at-bats against right-handed pitching, Jones suffered a career worst .233/.289/.419 prior to heading to free agency this offseason. The 32-year-old signed a two-year deal with Miami in December, and while the Marlins’ spacious home park and diminishing contact skills will cap Jones’ power ceiling, he is likely to land on the healthy side of the first base platoon and has proven capable of providing 15+ homers even with only 400 at-bats. If dirt-cheap power is what you need, Jones is a reasonable endgame play.

Signed Rafael Furcal to a one-year, $3.5 million deal.

Furcal didn't see a single at-bat in 2013 after going down with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery during spring training. The veteran shortstop signed with the Marlins to become the primary second baseman in Miami during the offseason, a move that should help Furcal defensively and help the development of Marlins’ shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. Now 36 years old and a full year removed from his last MLB action, there are understandably questions about Furcal’s value and ability at this stage. Don't expect much in the way of speed -- Furcal had a career-low 12 steals in 2012 while racking up more than 500 plate appearances during his final season with the Cards -- but early indications are that the veteran will begin the season as the team’s leadoff hitter, providing the potential for some decent run production with Yelich and Stanton driving him in.

Signed Jeff Baker to a two-year, $3.7 million deal.

Signed at the start of February, Baker is a late addition who fits nicely as a natural and affordable platoon partner for Garrett Jones at first base and could add some at-bats as a utility player all around the diamond. Though Baker has never been much of a fantasy standout, he's absolutely mashed left-handed pitching throughout his career, batting .298/.353/.522 over 827 plate appearance, and could generate some positive return for NL-only owners if used judiciously in 2014.

Signed Casey McGehee to a one-year contract.

After a pair of productive years for Milwaukee in 2009-10, McGehee fell off the radar, struggling to make contact on his way to a .221/.282/.351 slash line over the next two seasons with the Brew Crew. He shifted overseas in 2013 and following a bounce-back campaign with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan in which the veteran slashed .292/.376/.515 with 28 home runs and 93 RBI in 144 games, McGehee finds himself back in position to earn a significant role with a major league club. He’ll battle Ed Lucas, Ty Wigginton and potentially Derek Dietrich for the starting job at third base this spring, but it is tough to get all that excited about a career .257 hitter playing in a pitcher-friendly park surrounded by a mediocre lineup.

Signed Ty Wigginton to a minor league contract.

Wigginton bottomed out last year with the Cardinals and failed to latch on with another club after being released in early July. He signed a minor league deal with the Marlins to compete for at-bats at third base. Despite the fact that he has not hit above .248, his versatility and pop could land him a bench job on opening day.

Signed Reed Johnson to a minor league contract.

A career .282/.339/.409 hitter, Johnson fell well short of those marks during an injury-marred 2013. He will head to Marlins’ camp on a minor league deal, but has a solid shot of landing a bench job, thanks to a career .822 OPS versus left-handed pitching. He offers defensive versatility in the outfield with a shot to work his way into a platoon role over the summer, particularly if Christian Yelich struggles to gain traction against lefty hurlers.

Signed Jordany Valdespin to a minor league contract.

Valdespin suffered through a miserable year with the Mets, serving a 50-games suspension for his connection with the Biogenesis clinic and ultimately batting just .188/.250/.316 in 66 games with the big club. With the Marlins, his defensive versatility and decent power will give him a shot at landing a bench job out of camp

Signed Carlos Marmol to a one-year, $1.25 million contract.

Marmol rebounded in the second half for a second straight season...sort of. He posted a 2.53 ERA with the Dodgers in 21 appearances after flaming out once again in the early part of the season in Chicago, but the decent ERA was accompanied with 19 walks in just 21.1 innings. When he's on, he's unhittable and the Marlins are taking the chance that they will be able to curb some of those controls issues. While Marmol cannot yet be penciled in for any sort of meaningful role in the bullpen, the elite 11.5 K/9 rate over the past three seasons will keep him in the conversation so long as he can keep the walks down.

Traded Justin Ruggiano to the Cubs for Brian Bogusevic.

Bogusevic was acquired by the Marlins and offers yet another veteran option that is best suited for a platoon role. The deal is a bit of a head-scratcher for the Marlins, as Ruggiano represented the team’s second-best bat over the course of last season. Bogusevic played well when given the opportunity last year, batting .273 (and .291 vs. lefties) with six home runs, and a pair of steals in 143 at-bats.

Traded Logan Morrison to Seattle for Carter Capps.

Once considered a top prospect in the Marlins’ system, knee troubles hampered Logan Morrison significantly over his final two seasons in Miami. Ready to move on, the Marlins landed hard-throwing reliever Carter Capps who is coming off a disastrous year of his own in Seattle. Capps throws absolute gas, capable of hitting 98 mph on the gun, but gave up far too much hard contact last season while allowing 12 home runs in 59.0 IP despite working in spacious Safeco Field. Capps offers immense strikeout upside in the back end of the Marlins’ bullpen and, if he can keep the ball in the yard, will remain on the short list for saves behind Steve Cishek.

Projected Lineup (vs. RHP/LHP)

1. Rafael Furcal, 2B
2. Christian Yelich, LF
3. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
4. Garrett Jones, 1B/Jeff Baker, 1B
5. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C/Marcell Ozuna, CF
6. Marcell Ozuna, CF/Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
7.Casey McGehee, 3B/Ed Lucas, 3B
8. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS

In what will develop into one of the most platoon-heavy lineups in the league, it’s only fair to break things down based on the opposing pitcher. It will be interesting to track whether the team attempts to regularly protect their young outfielders and spell Yelich and Ozuna against tougher matchups if they each continue to struggle.

Projected Rotation

1. Jose Fernandez
2. Nathan Eovaldi
3. Henderson Alvarez
4. Jacob Turner
5. Brian Flynn/Tom Koehler/Kevin Slowey

There is no question about the top of the rotation. Fernandez is primed to build on his fantastic NL Rookie of the Year season that saw him post a phenomenal 2.19 ERA and 0.98 WHIP while inching his way towards 200 innings in 2014. It’s reasonable to expect the Marlins to be somewhat careful with his pitch counts in year number two, so watching Jose work into the eighth inning may be a rarity this season, but rotisserie owners are not going to mind the strikeout-per-inning and excellent ratios to come.
Throw Eovaldi, Alvarez and Turner out there in any order you choose, the Marlins will be looking for a step up from from all three while the last spot in the rotation will be decided in the spring. Koehler was adequate in the role last season and Kevin Slowey will be back in camp as well to compete with Brian Flynn for the No. 5 spot, but the truly interesting storyline will be the development of top prospects Andrew Heaney and Justin Nicolino as they each look to force their way into the conversation. Both are likely headed to the minors to begin the year…but hey, Fernandez was a late (read: surprise!) addition to the Opening Day roster in 2013, and that worked out pretty well.

Closer: Steve Cishek has been rock solid at the back of the Miami ‘pen despite the team's struggles. He converted 34-of-36 save opportunities last season while offering a nice 2.33 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Cishek bumped his strikeout rate up for a third straight season to a career-best 26.3% in 2013 while also inducing groundballs at a 53.1% clip -- the second-best rate among pitchers who recorded 20 or more saves. His job is safe to start the season, but the potential for a mid-season move remains a factor.

Key Bullpen Members: If Cishek were to move on -- or simply struggle -- A.J. Ramos and Carter Capps are the most likely fallback options. Ramos took a nice step forward last season, striking out 86 batters in 80 innings pitched with a 3.15 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. He earned 11 holds last year and should be in line to beat that total in 2014 as the team gives him a look in a more high-leverage situation. Capps’ strikeout ability keeps him in the conversation but, as mentioned, has issues with the long-ball and also needs to fine tune his approach against left-handed bats who slugged .621 off of him last season. The fresh eyes of a new coaching staff could be just what Capps needs to translate his talent into consistent production. The February addition of Carlos Marmol will be a move to keep an eye on as well. We know what we are going to get with Carlos at this point: a whole lot of strikeouts and a whole lot of walks. If he can keep a handle on the control issues, the veteran right-handed is another name to keep an eye on for a high-leverage role.

Notes of Import, Fantasy of Otherwise:

Is this team already playing for 2015?

Interestingly enough the Marlins chose to lock Giancarlo Stanton up on just a one-year, $6.5 million deal -- a bargain basement price for a premier slugger -- while leaving his long-term future with the team still in doubt. They continued the offseason by finding a group of veteran reclamation projects in an attempt to patch up the lineup until some of the system’s younger talent is ready. The progress of Yelich, Ozuna, Jake Marisnick, Heaney, Nicolino and others will dictate the Marlins’ actions with Stanton moving forward. Perhaps they can surprise with a young crop of talented starters, but after the team finished dead last in runs scored in 2013, it is extremely difficult to envision a scenario in which they are legit contenders 2014.

Can Giancarlo Stanton stay on the field?

Stanton has averaged 39 home runs per 162 games over his four-year career, but has also missed an average of 32 games per year in each of the last three seasons. At 24-years-old, it is nearly impossible to write Giancarlo off as injury prone and he still holds immense power upside. There are multiple 40-HR seasons in that bat and if we see Stanton on the field for 150+ starts in 2014, he’ll be the odds-on favorite to lead the NL in home runs.

Where has all the power gone, Marcell Ozuna?

Coming up through the minors, Ozuna profiled as a high-strikeout power bat, clubbing 74 home runs in 1,337 at-bats from 2010-13 as a minor leaguer. He caught fire out of the gates with Miami late season putting up a BABIP-fueled .336/.381/.488 over his first 33 major league games, quickly quieting the doubters who were convinced that he wasn't quite ready for the majors. He cooled significantly before being forced to the DL with a thumb injury that ended his rookie season. More of a power prospect than a contact hitter -- Ozuna popped one home run every 20.9 at-bats in minors with a strikeout rate hovering around 20% -- it was a bit of a surprise to see Marcell hit just three home runs during his rookie season. Despite his struggles during the end of his run in Miami, Ozuna gained some valuable experience as an everyday player, contributing solid defense in the outfield and showing the ability to handle right-handed pitching at the major league level. As it stands, Ozuna looks to be the favorite to open the season as the starting center fielder and with a reduced strikeout rate, improved patience at the plate and some more authoritative contact, he could threaten 20 home runs annually as he hits his prime.

Is Adeiny Hechavarria more than just a glove?

Netted as part of the the Marlins’ blockbuster with Toronto prior to last season, Hechavarria is the only holdover from the 2013 squad with a lock on playing time in the infield. Thus far, Hechavarria offers very little at the dish, slashing at a poor .227/.267/.298 rate last year with minimal power to speak of. He attempted 21 steals last season -- a healthy total -- but converted just 52 percent of those chances while being gunned down 10 times. At his best when simply putting the bat on the ball, Hechavarria's value will be heavily driven by his BABIP and his ability to utilize his modest speed efficiently on the basepaths.

Is Mike Redmond on the hot seat?

It cannot be easy to swallow a 100-loss season during your managerial debut, but Mike Redmond did enough to stick around longer than his controversial predecessor, Ozzie Guillen. The front office can’t possibly expect Redmond to guide this rag-tag bunch to the playoffs, but another season in the cellar could be land Redmond on the street next winter.

Strengths

As a team, the Marlins' strength lies on the pitching side of things. The rotation is a bit top-heavy with Jose Fernandez representing the only lock for fantasy production out of the bunch, but there is reason for optimism beyond that. Eovaldi, Alvarez, and Turner were all well-regarded prospects at one point or another and each has flashed upside as a potential middle-of-the-rotation horse over the past couple of seasons. Finding consistency will be key for each. Turner has, perhaps, the most polished repertoire, offering four legitimate major league ready pitches. The parts somehow do not add up to consistent quality and his strikeout rate has continually underwhelmed during his time in the majors. Eovaldi offers a plus fastball with a good, hard slider, but due to his lack of a third quality offering to use against left-handed bats, he often suffers from a bloated platoon split. Henderson Alvarez needs to lean on a power sinker to keep that ground ball rate up, though we must seriously question the Marlins' motives with their offseason signings as their patchwork lineup of well-traveled veterans is unlikely to translate into a above average defensive support for the rotation.

Weaknesses

It does not take an seasoned scout to see that the Miami lineup is lacking in proven punch outside of Giancarlo Stanton and, to a lesser extent, Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Coming off of major elbow surgery, Rafael Furcal may struggle to get back to even his 2012 level of play -- which is a far cry from his prime years. Casey McGehee was out of the league in Japan last season, while Ty Wigginton has a touch of pop, but is little more than a league-average bat with a below average glove at several positions.

The questions continue into the outfield where Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich will have to sidestep the sophomore slump and attempt to continue to build on solid rookie performances. The Marlins will hope to squeeze a 25 home run platoon out of the first base position with Garrett Jones, Jeff Baker and possibly some help from Wigginton or McGehee, but there really just is not all that much to get excited about.

Rising: Christian Yelich - Brimming with talent and that sweet left-handed line-drive swing, Yelich is the Marlin on the rise. The bottom line from his 62-game debut (four home runs and 10 steals in 62 games) puts him immediately on the fantasy radar, and the potential for an uptick in power as he continues to build strength has many ready to hop aboard the Yelich train. Power and speed will always draw attention in the draft room but it is, perhaps, his .370 OBP during his first stint in the big leagues that is most impressive for a 21-year-old with just over 1,300 minor league plate appearances on his resume. Yelich is not without his warts: a .165/.245/231 versus left-handed pitching is a clear worry, but he was able to handle himself against southpaws in the minors and the pedigree is in place to expect swift adjustments.
One thing we can certainly bank on is playing time as the Marlins just don't have many other options. Perhaps Yelich could most effectively be used in a platoon from a baseball sense, but the team will be best served to just let him go out and rip it. Expectations must always be tempered for young players who have never had the opportunity to show their skills over a full 162-game grind, but Yelch has the tools to be a 15-homer/15-steal bat right now with room for improvement. Unlike most of the Marlins offense, Christian's arrow is pointing straight up.

Declining: Rafael Furcal - Free agent addition Furcal remains a monstrous question mark at second base, but even before going down with injury, this was a player in steep decline. Furcal’s combined OPS from 2011-12 was just .661 over 900 plate appearances and his stolen base success rate also dipped, getting caught nine times in 30 attempts over those seasons with the Cardinals and Dodgers. Perhaps there is room for a rebound season for the veteran -- and his draft-day price tag certainly won’t put much of a dent in your wallet -- but expectations will remain low for the veteran who is well beyond his prime.

Sleeper: Nathan Eovaldi - While any one of the Marlins’ mid-rotation youngsters, could land in this list, Eovaldi is the one most likely to emerge as a useful fantasy piece. He registered a cool 3.39 ERA last season coupled with a so-so 1.32 WHIP. The most obvious need for improvement is in the walk rate that ended up at 8.9% last season -- not terrible, but not elite. Eovaldi leans on his fastball which regularly sits in the 95-96 mph range and is capable of hitting triple-digits on the gun, but he also struggles to control the heat at times. Eovaldi’s slider is an above-average pitch that induces plenty of swings and misses, but beyond his top two pitches, the righty’s arsenal is a bit flat. The further development of a solid curveball and/or changeup will be key for a breakout from Eovaldi and potentially allow him to bump up that strikeout rate to at least the 7.0 K/9 range. At just 24 years old, there is a lot to like from the Marlins’ starter, and if he is able to duplicate the performance from his last seven turns of 2013, when he posted a 2.53 ERA with 34 strikeouts and 13 walks in 42.2 innings pitched, then Eovaldi will prove to be a steal at the draft table.

Supersleeper: Derek Dietrich - The offseason influx of mediocrity has certainly not been a welcome experience for Dietrich, whom spent a large hunk of the 2013 summer manning the keystone position for Miami. Despite impressive power output (21 extra-base hits in 233 plate appearances), the former Tampa Bay prospect was sent back down to the farm for more seasoning, though details later emerged that off-field issues with now-departed hitting coach Tino Martinez may have had a little more to do with the demotion than was initially revealed. Furcal's addition essentially blocks second base for the powerful infielder and while sources indicate that he'll spend some time at third in the spring, the presence of Casey McGehee, Ty Wigginton, Ed Lucas, and Donovan Solano is not going to make the path to playing time a particularly clear one. All that said, the Marlins would be well suited to figure out just what they have in Dietrich at some point during the 2014 campaign and if he's able to flash that power stroke once again while patching up some holes in his swing, we'll have a pretty juicy player on our hands who will remain so far off of the radar in South Florida, that he might as well be playing in South America.

Top Prospects

Andrew Heaney, LHP - Heaney remains the Marlins’ top overall talent by most accounts and he looks nearly ready to make the leap following an excellent year in the minors. Heaney breezed through High-A Jupiter early in 2013, smothering opposing hitters to the tune of a 0.88 ERA with 66 strikeouts over 61.2 innings pitched (12 starts, one relief appearance) to go along with a 1.01 WHIP. Heaney advanced to Double-A Jacksonville for his final six starts and was equally impressive -- 4-1 with a 2.94 ERA over 33.2 innings pitched -- before making a splash in the Arizona Fall League (1.95 ERA in seven starts). Displaying steady command, the lefty works a 93 mph heater, while using his slider and curveball as out pitches. While Heaney is likely headed back to the minors to open the 2014 season, it appears that whoever wins the Marlins’ final spot in the rotation this spring, will really just be keeping the seat warm for Heaney’s pending arrival.

Justin Nicolino, LHP - While Nicolino is not quite as well-regarded as his teammate Heaney, he remains a strong prospect with the opportunity to be a valuable middle-of-the-rotation arm in the near future. He struggled a bit with consistency in the minors last season, but some poor luck also appears to have impacted Nicolino’s mediocre performance after his promotion to Double-A. Lacking elite strikeout ability, Nicolino leans on steady command (3.16 K/BB in 2013) and an advanced approach, frequently mixing location and velocity, to get by. He’s a name to monitor over the second half of 2014.

Colin Moran, 3B - Moran, a 21-year-old third baseman, was drafted out of the UNC with the sixth overall pick in last summer's amateur draft and the front office is hoping that he'll stabilize the hot corner for years to come as the Marlins’ young talent matures together. The immediate returns were positive for Moran, who provided a .299/.354/.442 slash in 42 games with Low-A Greensboro last season. There really is not much blocking Moran from being quickly advanced through the Marlins’ system and the lefty-swinging third baseman is the team's top position prospect. While he does not posses the raw power of some other corner-infield prospects, Moran makes solid contact and projects to be an above-average hitter as well as a strong defender for Miami down the line.

Jake Marisnick, OF - Marisnick arrived in the majors shortly after the All-Star break, but was unable to carry a strong performance at Double-A Jacksonville to the big club. Marisnick put on a nice display of power and speed, knocking 12 home runs and swiping 11 bases in the minors while carrying a .289/.350/.489 line over 330 plate appearances. His time with the Marlins did not go as well and the 22-year-old rookie registered a disappointing .183/.231/.248 line in 40 games and wrapped up his first stint in the majors needing arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. With a four-to-six week recovery timetable from the October procedure, Marisnick will have plenty of time to put in a full offseason of work prior to spring training. Overwhelmed during his debut this past summer, Marisnick will need to earn an Opening Day roster spot -- and improving upon an ugly 22.8% strikeout rate would be a good place to start. Regardless, the athletic 6-foot-3, 225-pound outfielder offers the raw skill to perennially provide double-digit home runs and steals. Even if he begins the season back down on the farm, Marisnick does not appear to be far from becoming an impact bat at the major league level.