Cellar dwellers with bright futures: Marlins

As the 2014 pennant race starts to kick into gear, we explore a number of teams who need to look to 2015 and beyond for their chance to compete. The fourth and final team we’ll discuss is the Miami Marlins. (Click here to see the rest of the series.)

The Marlins have had four losing seasons in a row, and could be on the way to a fifth in 2014. However, while not spectacular, their 44-50 record through the All-Star break is an improvement from years past. They might not be in serious contention in 2014, but they have undoubtedly gotten better, and should continue to do so in the future. The Marlins’ farm system is far from the best in baseball, but this is partly because several of their top prospects are already in the majors. However, they do have several prospects in the minors who they hope will contribute in the future.

Impact hitters proving their worth

The Marlins’ best hitter, and one of the best players in baseball, is right fielder Giancarlo Stanton. in 2014, the 24 year old leads the National League in home runs (21) and RBIs (63) and has raised his batting average to .295. Stanton is already in his fifth year, and was an All-Star for the second time in 2014. He figures the cornerstone piece of the Marlins franchise; the player to stand strong during the rebuilding period and carry them to future contention.

Marcell Ozuna, the Marlins’ starting center fielder, has made somewhat of a name for himself in 2o14. Ozuna played in just 71 games in 2013, batting .265, but has been tremendous in his second year. In 2014, his 15 home runs and 53 RBIs put him on track for 26 and 91, respectively, to go along with a .276 batting average. These are very good numbers for a 23 year old outfielder who wasn’t expected to do much this year. If Ozuna can use the rest of 2014 and 2015 to prove that he is no fluke, then he should be considered a core player to build around.

Left fielder Christian Yelich, 22, is another player the Marlins have high hopes for. In his second big league season, Yelich is batting a respectable .274. He has shown flashes power and speed, as he has hit 8 home runs and stolen 11 bases, respectively. Yelich might not be a superstar outfielder, but he is certainly a capable starter. The Marlins think very highly of him, so if he can continue to perform and develop, he has a chance to be included in the team’s future plans.

Down in the minor leagues, the Marlins’ second overall prospect, third baseman Colin Moran, has hit consistently in his first two professional seasons. Moran has batted nearly .300 in both 2013 and 2014 after being the sixth overall selection in the 2013 draft. Moran might not have a whole lot of power or speed, but he has shown an ability to make contact and reach base. It may be several years before he reaches the Marlins, but if he can consistently hit for a good average, there will be a place for him on the roster.

Starting pitchers with huge potential

The centerpiece of what the Marlins hope to be a solid starting rotation is 21 year old Jose Fernandez. The right hander was brought up in 2013 after never having pitched above Single A+ ball, but was brilliant nevertheless. In 28 starts, he had an ERA of 2.19 with 187 strikeouts. For his efforts, he was awarded the Rookie of the Year Award, and even finished third in Cy Young voting. However, after just 8 starts in 2014, it was discovered that Fernandez had a torn ulnar collateral ligament. He underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after, to miss the remainder of the year. While this was disappointing, the organization is hopeful that the recovery goes smoothly and looking forward to watching its ace take the hill again in 2015.

The loss of Fernandez was eased somewhat by the emergence of Henderson Alvarez. After the 2012 season, Alvarez came to the Marlins as part of the trade that sent Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson to the Blue Jays. After three mediocre seasons with the Marlins and Blue Jays, the 24 year old is having his best year by far in 2014. His 2.63 ERA ranks fourth in the National League, and he joined teammate Giancarlo Stanton in the recent All-Star Game.

Another highly regarded starter for the Marlins is Nathan Eovaldi. Acquired from the Dodgers when Hanley Ramirez was sent to LA, Eovaldi has taken advantage of what looks to be his first full season. He has a very solid ERA at 3.61 and is on track to pitch 200 innings for the first time in his career. There are still things the 24 year old needs to work on — especially the use of his off-speed pitches — but he looks to be on the right track.

The Marlins will soon look to bolster their pitching staff with top prospect Andrew Heaney. The ninth pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, rose extremely quickly through the Miami organization. Between two minor league teams in 2013, he pitched to an outstanding 1.60 ERA. In 2014, he had a 2.79 ERA in Triple AAA, before being called up to the major league team. Heaney only made four lackluster starts for the Marlins before being sent down again, but given a little more time to develop, he has the chance to become a very good starter for Miami.

A light at the end of the tunnel

For several years now, nothing has seemed to go right for the Marlins. In 2012, an attempt to draw fans to a new stadium by signing big name free agents ended with a huge fire sale and a 69-93 finish. The following year, Jose Fernandez showed promise that he might lead the team to better times, but his stellar 2013 was only followed by yet another injury to a young starter, and he remains out for the rest of 2014. (See here for more on the problem of injuries to pitchers.)

But the Marlins have many homegrown players to build their roster. If this year’s stars can perform in years to come, the team will eventually be able to add some of their prospects to the roster. It won’t be long until the Marlins are competitive again, and when they are, they could be contenders for the long-term.

Joe Setyon, sports editor of The Collegian at Grove City College, contributes to Three for Ten Sports as a baseball writer.

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