I have lost count of the number of times I've heard someone say that spring training is where "every team believes they can win the World Series." Cliché, meet the Miami Marlins.
I’m not trying to hate on the Marlins - they certainly have a lot of young talent. But when your win total decreases four consecutive years and you haven’t made the playoffs in 10, optimism isn’t exactly coursing through your veins.
Although 2013 was another rough year, it did acquaint the world with Jose Fernandez. It could have been worse. Now, the 2014 Marlins look a lot different than the 2013 version. Could they *gasp* make a run at 70 wins? Let’s take a look.
Oh, Offense, Where Art Thou?
The 2013 Marlins finished last in the National League in the following categories: runs, hits, doubles, home runs, total bases, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. They didn’t finish last in triples. There’s something to build on! 10 points for Gryffindor!
Eight position players that had at least 200 plate appearances had a negative WAR; only five had a WAR higher than 0.0. On the bright side, there’s nowhere to go but up.
While he wasn’t the reason for the struggles, Giancarlo Stanton’s season was certainly disappointing. As he entered his age 23 season, everybody justly assumed that Stanton's 5.7 WAR from 2012 would increase. Instead, he more than halved that and finished 2013 with a 2.3 WAR.
Although his on-base increased to .365 from .361, Stanton's slugging percentage plummeted to .480 from .608. And it wasn't necessarily due to bad luck, either. His line-drive percentage fell almost four percent points and his infield fly ball rate jumped over six percentage points.
All of this isn't to say that Stanton won't return to superstar status this season. He's still young and full of pop, so a rebound should be expected rather than a surprise this season. If not, it'll be more crying puppies and half-deflated balloons at Marlins Park.
The Cavalry is Coming
Jose Fernandez doesn't want to hear about no mother (lovin') ifs! All he wants to hear from Jeffrey Loria is, "You ain't got no problem, Jose. Get on that mound and wait for the cavalry which should be coming directly."
Too bad reality isn't like Pulp Fiction. Otherwise, Harvey Keitel would be on his way to Miami to rectify an unsalvageable situation. Loria misinterpreted, thought you just had to send some old dude, and everything would be sparkly. Enter Rafael Furcal and Garrett Jones. While their combined age (67) is lower than Harvey Keitel's (74), I don't think this is the cavalry Fernandez had in mind.
Furcal is entering his age 36 season and coming off of Tommy John surgery. In 2012, he had a slash of .264/.325/.346. While that's certainly not terrible for a second baseman, Furcal is no savior to a desperate team in rebuilding mode.
As for Jones, he's a below-average, soon-to-be-33-year-old first baseman who has never had an on-base percentage above .321 in a season in which he has recorded at least 400 plate appearances.
I will say this for Jones, though. He had a rough season in the luck department last year. His 23.9 line-drive percentage warranted a much greater BABIP than his actual .271. Still, his performance was bad enough to warrant a trade for the baseball player formerly known as Justin Morneau, so...yeah.
The one member of this cavalry that you have to like is Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Salty (I'm not spelling out his entire last name at every reference, you heathen) posted a 3.6 WAR last year with a .273/.338/.466 slash. Sure, his BABIP was 107 points higher than it was the previous season, but check yo negativity at the door, haterz! His 28.6 line-drive percentage was the second highest of any player with at least 450 plate appearances. He'll regress, but he'll still bring productivity to the line-up.
The Hope Lies in the SProles
This is a reference to George Orwell's 1984, which takes place in a future world that was still eight years before SP Jose Fernandez was even born. Uncool.
Prior to last season, Fernandez had never pitched above high-A ball. He casually dropped a 2.19 ERA, 2.73 FIP and 9.75 K/9 on the world on his way to earning the NL Rookie of the Year crown.
The only real concern for Fernandez is durability. This isn't because of anything he has done; it's more just recent history being a dirty scoundrel. Fernandez has never thrown more than the 172.2 innings he threw in 2013, and a stupid number of young phenoms (Matt Harvey, Stephen Strasburg, etc.) have fallen prey to Tommy John surgery when their innings are stretched. I'll openly weep if that happens to Jose.
Fernandez isn't the only exciting starter on this team. In fact, of the six pitchers with the highest projected WAR (using Dan Szymborski's ZiPS), Nathan Eovaldi is the oldest. He just turned 24 this month.
Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez finished with WARs of 1.5 or higher despite only starting 18 and 17 games respectively. They're not going to post strikeout numbers anywhere near Fernandez's, but they'll be fun to watch.
When you add in Jacob Turner, you have yourself an intriguing staff, if nothing else. Turner doesn't turn 23 until May, but he already made 20 starts last year. Those 20 starts weren't dazzling by any definition, but a large part of that was a spike in his BB/9 up to 4.12. In the minors, that number hovered between the high 2.00s and low 3.00s, so he should be able to bring that down this year.
Silly me. I have omitted the best part of the Marlins' staff: they have a man named Arquimedes Caminero who is 6'4", 255. ARQUIMEDES. I shall name my first child after thee, regardless of gender.
The Little Guppies
You would think that a team that's constantly dismantling itself and rebuilding would be brimming with hot prospects waiting to pop on the scene. A little publication called Baseball America disagrees.
Of Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects, only two are in the Marlins' system. This is deceptive because many of the Marlins' young players weren't eligible for the list because of prior major league service. The good news is that both of the players that did make the list - Jake Marisnick and Colin Moran - are position players.
Marisnick saw most of his time at AA last year, but he did get 118 MLB plate appearances. While his .183/.231/.248 wasn't impressive, that was without recording any at-bats in AAA. ZiPS has him at .247/.300/.382 for this year.
The best part about Marisnick is his glove. His 16.2 UZR/150 in the majors last year means that, even if his bat isn't quite there yet, he could earn a starting spot in center this year.
The biggest obstacle to Marisnick earning that spot is that Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna are both young and talented, too. It's a good problem to have.
Yelich is the opposite of Marisnick in that his bat is ready, but the glove is a bit behind. His BABIP was a bit inflated at .380, but he was another guy that made the jump straight from AA to the bigs. If he ends up beating out Marisnick, he and his .370 on-base may not be a bad option near the top of the order.
Ozuna actually had a better UZR/150 (20.6) than Marisnick, but his potential at the plate isn't head-turning. In his four full seasons in the minors, he never saw an OBP better than .330 above rookie ball. This followed him to the majors last year with a debut slash of .265/.303/.389. An outfield of Stanton, Marisnick and Yelich could at least be competent defensively while providing more offense than one with Ozuna.
In a classic "rich get richer" situation, Andrew Heaney is flying through the minor leagues, even if he was left off of BA's top-100 list. The 2012 ninth overall pick went from rookie ball to AA last year and sporting good numbers at each level. The left-hander might not crack the rotation out of spring training, but he's just another young arm the Marlins have at their disposal.
2014: Boon or Bane?
While this pitching staff is going to display some straight nastiness, I can't say this team will make a serious push for 70 wins this year. They would need some drastic offensive improvements to make that happen, and while the team is going to improve, I don't see it improving eight wins. In 2015, though, it could be a different story, especially if all of the young outfielders and arms develop the way they should. Or if, you know, management decides to try. That could work, too.