2014 MLB Spring Training Preview: Miami Marlins

Cheng SioContributor IFebruary 10, 2014

2014 MLB Spring Training Preview: Miami Marlins

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    The countdown has begun.

    For the Miami Marlins, the calendar shows there are six days left until pitchers and catchers report and 10 days before the full squad reports, which is now at 66 players after Reed Johnson became the Marlins' 26th non-roster invitee by signing a minor league contract nearly two weeks ago.

    While the organization probably doesn't have enough in the  arsenal to make a run for its first playoff berth since 2003, Miami might have what it takes play .500 ball in 2014. After all, the Marlins spent last season laying the foundation for a brighter future.

    Jose Fernandez turned in a rookie year for the ages, won the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year Award and is expected to throw more innings in 2014, per MLB.com. Despite a subpar 2013, Giancarlo Stanton is still a Marlin, where his powerful bat has produced 117 home runs in four seasons. And reinforcements are on the way.

    The Marlins have more prospects in the pipeline, particularly an abundance of affordable, young arms such as Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani. Although the Marlins aren't as rich in prospects when it comes to position players, they went out and bought a few players who can swing the lumber this past winter to try to fix the worst offense in the major leagues.

    Rome wasn't built in a day, and the same logic holds true for the Marlins. Let's face it: What the Boston Red Sox did last season—going from the basement to World Series champs in the span of a yearis not the prototypical blueprint to molding a championship-caliber squad, especially one in the Marlins' situation.

    At the end of the day, it is of the utmost importance that the Marlins take a step forward in the rebuilding process after losing exactly 100 games in 2013.

    That said, let's take a peek at what they have in place in the next phase of their plan, as players are about to convene in preparation for the 2014 season.

    Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Offseason Recap

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    Arrivals: Matt Angle, Jeff Baker, Joe Benson, Brian Bogusevic, Carter Capps, Juan Diaz, Rafael Furcal, Reed Johnson, Garrett Jones, Carlos Marmol (pending physical), Casey McGehee, Jimmy Paredes, Henry Rodriguez, Josh Rodriguez, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jordany Valdespin, Ty Wigginton

    Departures: Jonathan Albaladejo, Jordan Brown, Jose Ceda, Chris Coghlan, Matt Diaz, Nick Green, Koyie Hill, Austin Kearns, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Joe Mahoney, Logan Morrison, Bryan Petersen, Zach Phillips, Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, Chad Qualls, Justin Ruggiano, Chris Valaika, Gil Velazquez, Ryan Webb


    Analysis of offseason moves

    When the Marlins completed the 12-player fire-sale trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in November 2012, then-Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest admitted free agents might be reluctant to sign with the organization. He told The Associated Press, via ESPN.com: "I understand there may be some disdain in the marketplace. We won't know until we get into those negotiations with free agents. It's definitely not great for the club, and we're going to have to deal with it."

    More than a year later, it seems the Marlins are able to lure talent to South Beach as long as the stars are aligned properly. They signed four prominent free agents, all of whom are expected to improve MLB's worst offense in 2013.

    The first player they reeled in was probably the biggest catch of them all. The Marlins signed catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, fresh off a World Series title run with the Boston Red Sox, to a three-year, $21 million deal

    Although he hit .273 with 14 home runs and 65 RBI in 121 games—numbers that seem like they hardly moves the needlehe is a huge upgrade. With Jeff Mathis and Rob Brantly receiving most of the playing time last season, Marlins catchers hit a combined .194 with a .529 OPS and smacked just nine home runs in 572 at-bats.

    Saltalamacchia grew up north of Miami in the Palm Beach area, so the lure of coming home was too much to pass up. He told The Associated Press, via ESPN.com:  

    This was a perfect fit. The Marlins made it known that I was a big part of their organization going forward, and they wanted me to be a part of it. Watching these guys on TV, all these young arms, and just getting really excited about that. But I loved my time in Boston. I had a great time with those guys. Still talk to them. They're going to be friends for life. But in this business there's always things that happen.

    Rafael Furcal was the next to join the Marlins. He signed on the same day as Saltalamacchia, agreeing to a one-year deal worth $3 million plus incentives. Furcal, a three-time All-Star shortstop who missed all of 2013 because of Tommy John surgery to his right elbow, will shift to second base. If healthy, the switch-hitter will lead off, replacing the departed Juan Pierre. 

    The next to join the Marlins was first baseman Garrett Jones, who inked a two-year, $7.75 million contract less than a week after Saltalamacchia and Furcal were on board. 

    After he hit .274 with a career-high 27 homers and 86 RBI in 2012, Jones' numbers dipped as he batted .233 with 15 homers and 51 RBI in 2013. But according to MLB.com, only 48 players in the National League and 98 total in the majors hit as many as 15 bombs in 2013. The Marlins had just two players in double figures and finished as the only team in the majors with less than 100 home runs. 

    Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill spoke about Jones to the Miami Herald

    That’s what we’re expecting. You look over his track record, and he’s been a consistent performer — 15 to 27 home runs —consistent production to go along with [Giancarlo Stanton] and now [Jarrod] Saltalamacchia and [Rafael] Furcal.

    With one more position to fillthe black hole known as third basethe Marlins finished their shopping spree by convincing Casey McGehee to sign a one-year, $1.1 million salary with the chance to earn more based on incentives.

    Like Saltalamacchia and Jones, McGehee could be a massive upgrade at third base, which included the now-departed Placido Polanco, who totaled three homers and 44 RBIs in 2013worst in the majors in both categories. Although McGehee played in Japan last year, he hit .292 with 28 home runs.

    The Marlins fortified their bench a few days ago when they signed Jeff Baker to a two-year deal worth $3.7 million. He has a career .267/.321/.440 slash line and, more importantly, has played six different positions in his career. The only positions he has yet to play are shortstop, catcher and pitcher. 

    Those four additions plus the arrival of Baker masked the few prominent players whom the Marlins lost. The biggest departures were relief pitchers Chad Qualls and Ryan Webb. 

    Qualls was 5-2 with a 2.61 ERA in 66 games last season, while Webb, whom the Marlins decided to non-tender along with 2009 National League Rookie of the Year Award winner Chris Coghlan, went 2-6 with a 2.91 ERA in 66 games.

    However, by signing Jones, the Marlins used their surplus of first basemen to send Logan Morrison to the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Carter Capps. The Marlins also added former Chicago Cubs closer Carlos Marmol, pending his physical, a few days ago. 

    The Marlins also swapped reserve outfielders as they traded Justin Ruggiano, who finished second on the team last season with 18 home runs, to the Chicago Cubs for Brian Bogusevic in a cost-cutting move.

    According to Clark Spencer of the Miami Heraldthe Marlins didn’t want to spend the estimated $1.5 million Ruggiano might receive in arbitration, whereas Bogusevic will likely cost the Marlins about the league minimum of $500,000:

    'It just allows us to re-allocate those dollars,' Hill said of the difference in salary between the two players. 'Given the fact that we’re going to go with the kids in the outfield as the everyday players, we didn’t want to allocate the dollars that we had in that role in Ruggiano. We wanted to spend it elsewhere.'

Injury Updates Entering Camp

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    Rafael Furcal

    The 36-year-old veteran missed all of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in mid-March.

    Initially, he strained the elbow ligament near the end of 2012, which kept him out of the St. Louis Cardinals' playoff run. He opted for rehab instead of surgery. But when spring training began, he was never able to throw at 100 percent in camp.

    When the Marlins signed him two months ago, Furcal informed the team he should be ready to go when spring training begins. Marlins general manager Dan Jennings told MLB.com

    He's working out. He's doing the rehab. He can throw now. All that has checked out. He passed our medical. All is well. He's not actually doing full baseball workouts. He's doing strength and conditioning workouts and starting to throw to get his arm stretched out.


    Jake Marisnick

    The day after the 2013 season ended, Marisnick underwent a scope on his left knee, which included cleaning out some loose bodies, to repair a torn meniscus that had hindered him for weeks.

    In early January, it was revealed he had been doing some light jogging for about two weeks. MLB.com later reported Marisnick has been performing his running and conditioning programs this month, and he doesn't anticipate any problems once spring training begins.


    Marcell Ozuna

    The 23-year-old Dominican Republic native underwent season-ending surgery on his left thumb in late July.

    He suffered the injury while making a diving catch against Colorado at Coors Field. His glove hand bent backward when he robbed Michael Cuddyer of a hit.

    By September, Ozuna was hitting with the Marlins in Miami, as well as continuing his throwing and conditioning programs. In November, MLB.com reported Ozuna was playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic for the Gigantes del Cibao.

    In winter ball, he produced a .277/.297/.376 slash line with two home runs and 12 RBI in 34 games during the regular season. His play improved marginally during the postseason as he produced a .260/.316/.384 slash line with one home run and eight runs batted in in 19 games. 

    Ozuna enters spring training as the front-runner to win the starting center field job against Marisnick.


    Kevin Slowey

    The 29-year-old veteran right-hander finished 2013 on the disabled list after suffering a right flexor strain in late July, according to MLB.com.

    He resurrected his career last season by going 3-6 with a 4.11 ERA in 20 games (14 starts). Once he was healthy, Slowey threw two bullpen sessions before the season ended.

    "The first one, you're always a little tentative, a little hesitant," Slowey told MLB.com. "The first one felt great. The second one, it felt awesome."

    The Marlins re-signed him to a minor league contract, which includes an invitation to spring training.

Coaching Staff Analysis

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    Barring unforeseen circumstances, the Marlins will have the same manager start the year for two consecutive seasons for the first time since 2010, when Fredi Gonzalez was in charge from 2007 until his firing midway through the 2010 season. 

    Mike Redmond heads into 2014 in the second year of a three-year deal he signed last season, and this could be a pivotal season. If the Marlins show improvement and are headed in the right direction, he could receive a contract extension. If the opposite occurs, he could head into 2015 as a lame-duck manager at best.

    On the bright side, at least Redmond, his staff and the rest of the organization won't have to deal with a meddlesome owner.

    According to a report, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has taken a backseat in making baseball decisions and has allowed his baseball people to run the show. In fact, Loria still attends meetings and gives opinions, but he has yet to make demands this offseason.

    “He’s far happier with the baseball department now,” a friend of Loria told the Miami Herald. “They presented him with a plan and he has agreed to everything.”

    With that in mind, Redmond made a few hires to his staff this offseason, according to MLB.com.

    He hired Frank Menechino to replace interim hitting coach John Pierson, who was re-assigned to the minors, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal tweeted. Pierson replaced Tino Martinez midway through last season after Martinez quit amid complaints by players that he verbally abused them became public, according to The Associated Press via ESPN

    Menechino, who has spent the last couple of years as hitting coach in the Yankees' minor league systems, is a former major league infielder with the Oakland Athletics and the Toronto Blue Jays. As a player, he chatted about hitting with the likes of Jason Giambi and David Justice. As a coach, he plans on bringing energy and intensity while getting into his players' heads because he likes his hitters to have a strong mental approach.

    As far as taking control of an offense that finished last in the majors in runs scored (513), home runs (95), batting average (.231), on-base percentage (.293) and slugging percentage (.335), Menechino has a plan to manufacture as many runs as possible despite playing in massive Marlins Park. He told MLB.com's Joe Frisaro:

    We'll be road warriors. Not a big deal. We'll take our hits and doubles at home, and on the road, when we take our hits and doubles approach, those line drives that are going off the wall are going out of the park. Those fly balls that are on the track are going out of the park. It's a mindset. We have a big yard at home. So what? Let's line drive them -- doubles and singles. We'll move runners, and we'll score runs the way we can at home, and then on the road, we'll make our money. Not a problem.

    The other hire was Brett Butler as third base/outfield coach after Joe Espada was re-assigned to manage the Jupiter Hammerheads, the Marlins' Advanced Single-A squad. Espada later left to join the New York Yankees as a special assistant to general manager Brian Cashman, according to the Sun-Sentinel.

    Butler, who will also serve as the baserunning and bunting instructor, has been coaching since 1998 and had been the Reno Aces manager for the past five seasons. Reno is the Arizona Diamondbacks' Triple-A team. 

    He played 17 seasons with five different clubs. He utilized the bunt to get hits and was feared as a base stealer when he got on the basepaths. He stole 558 bases in his career, and according to the Miami Herald, he collected 245 bunt hits, the most of any major leaguer since the record started being kept. 

    Butler's hiring might be akin to acquiring a Swiss Army knife. Marlins general manager Dan Jennings told MLB.com: "He fills so many boxes. This guy, No. 1, his pedigree and what he did as a Major League player for 17 years. He made his name in the game being a bunting, baserunning and outfield guy."

Lineup Preview

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    1. 2B Rafael Furcal (S)
    2. LF Christian Yelich (L)
    3. RF Giancarlo Stanton (R)
    4. 1B Garrett Jones (L)
    5. CF Marcell Ozuna (R)
    6. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)
    7. 3B Casey McGehee (R)
    8. SS Adeiny Hechavarria (R)



    IF/OF Jeff Baker (R)

    OF Brian Bogusevic (L)

    1B/3B Greg Dobbs (L)

    IF Ed Lucas (R)

    C Jeff Mathis (R)



    The way this revamped lineup is constructed, it's perfect...to get the Marlins to .500 if everyone stays healthy and plays to their potential.

    According to MLB.com, Redmond had already determined in mid-December that if spring training started then, Furcal would lead off, followed by Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton. Then, the next four spots could go lefty-righty matchup to protect the lineup from a late-inning relief pitcher who feasts on either lefties or righties, with Adeiny Hechavarria hitting eighth before the pitcher spot rounds out the batting order.

    The Marlins had the worst production in the majors out of the leadoff spot last season, as their No. 1 hitters produced a .229/.282/.311/ slash line. Furcal would be the most ideal leadoff hitter since he's batted there in 1,381 of his 1,544 career starts.

    He should return after missing all of 2013 because of Tommy John surgery. In his last full season in the majors, the 36-year-old veteran had a .264/.325/.346 slash line and was named to his third All-Star team. Although those numbers netted him an OPS-plus of 85 (100 is considered average), it's evident if Furcal reproduces what he did in 2012, he will be a huge upgrade for the Marlins.

    Yelich should be solid in the No. 2 spot after producing a .288/.370/.396 slash line with four home runs and 16 RBI in 62 games after being promoted in late July.

    Stanton, meanwhile, will look to bounce back after his worst season, even though a .249/365/.480 slash line with 24 home runs and 62 RBI is hardly bad for at least 80 percent of all major league hitters.

    Then, it gets interesting.

    A left-handed hitter should follow Stanton, which means either Jones or Saltalamacchia, a switch-hitter who has a .263/.327/.469 career slash line when batting left-handed as opposed to .206/.267/.332 when hitting right-handed. The feeling here is the Marlins will go to Jones for two reasons.

    First, Saltalamacchia is a catcher and has never played more than 121 games in a season. Furthermore, the Marlins loved how Jeff Mathis handled the pitching staff and went 35-35 when he started on a 62-100 team, so he'll get his fair share of starts.

    Second, the Marlins have already said they will let Jones bat against left-handed pitching even though he has a career slash line of .193/.234/.344 against southpaws. Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill told MLB.com after signing Jones, "We obviously know about his splits. I know, in a platoon situation, where he doesn't get 500 at-bats, he's struggled more in being consistent. But in years when he's been able to get more than 500 at-bats, we feel like the splits are a little more even."

    It just makes sense to put Jones in the cleanup spot when he won't be yanked from the lineup, while Saltalamacchia probably will be occasionally removed because of rest or when a left-handed pitcher is starting. This also means Saltalamacchia will bat sixth.

    A right-handed hitter will hit fifth and seventh, and the leading candidates for those two spots will be Marcell Ozuna, Jake Marisnick and Casey McGehee. Marisnick and Ozuna will compete for the starting center field job.

    Ozuna came out like gangbusters last season when he was promoted to the majors. He produced a .331/.371/.472 slash line in 142 at-bats as a right fielder. But when he moved to center field to accommodate Stanton's return from the disabled list, Ozuna's slash line was .189/.225/.295 in 132 at-bats.

    If Ozuna is closer to the former, he'll bat fifth. If he is closer to the latter, McGehee could bat fifth after hitting .292 with 28 home runs, 30 doubles and 93 RBI in 144 games last year in Japan.

    Hechavarria should hit eighth (or even ninth) after producing a .227/.267/.298 slash line in 2013.

    Assuming the Marlins will go with 12 pitchers, that leaves just five bench spots available. The Sun-Sentinel's Juan C. Rodriguez reported corner infielder/outfielder Greg Dobbs and outfielder Brian Bogusevic are penciled in as the team's left-handed hitters off the bench. Add backup catcher Mathis into the mix, and that leaves two spots remaining for right-handed-hitting utility players.

    Baker took one of those two spots when his contract became official Friday, which leaves Joe Benson, Kyle Jensen, Reed Johnson, Ed Lucas, Donovan Solano and Ty Wigginton battling for the last spot.

Rotation Preview

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    1. RHP Jose Fernandez
    2. RHP Nathan Eovaldi
    3. RHP Henderson Alvarez
    4. RHP Jacob Turner
    5. RHP Tom Koehler



    Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez are all but locks to be in the starting rotation, barring injury. However, questions abound for each of them.

    After pitching a career-high 172 2/3 innings in 2013, will Fernandez hit the sophomore wall? The hope is he won't, especially since his workload is expected to increase this season. He might pitch up to 200 innings if everything goes right. 

    "It won't be as stringent as it was in his first season," Marlins president of baseball operations Mike Hill told MLB.com. "But we're not going to have him go out and throw 300 innings."

    Even if Fernandez doesn't hit the sophomore wall, it will be hard for him to replicate what he did in his rookie of the year campaign last season. According to Sports Illustrated's Cliff Corcoran, Fernandez's rookie season will go down as one of the greatest in baseball history:

    • He ranked fifth in ERA (2.19), second in WHIP (0.98) and sixth in strikeouts per nine innings (9.7) among rookies who qualified for the ERA title in the Liveball Era (1920-present). Moreover, his 176 ERA-plus, which measures run prevention against league average and adjusts for home ballpark, was the best since 1911. 
    • Among pitchers age 20 or younger, only Dwight Gooden in 1984 and Rick Ankiel in 2000 posted higher strikeout rates. Also, only Gooden had a lower WHIP, completing the task the following year. In fact, only Gooden’s 1.53 ERA in 1985 was lower than Fernandez’s 2.19 in the Liveball Era
    • Fernandez had a 6.3 WAR, the fifth-best season by a pitcher age 20 or younger in baseball history. Only Christy Mathewson in 1901, Bob Feller in 1939, Bert Blyleven in 1971 and Gooden in 1985 was worth more wins. By the way, Mathewson, Fell and Blyleven became Hall of Famers.
    • Fernandez became the seventh qualified pitcher in major league history to post a 176 ERA-plus or better, a WHIP of 0.98 or lower and 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings or better in the same season. Four such seasons belonged to Pedro Martinez (1997, 1999, 2000 and 2002), and the other two were by Randy Johnson and Johan Santana in 2004.

    As for Eovaldi, is he ready to take the next step? According to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro, the Marlins believe so because they told teams they were not moving their No. 2 starter when they were willing to trade some of their surplus pitching to land impact bats before signing Saltalamacchia, Furcal and Jones.

    When it comes to Alvarez, can he continue to pitch in the majors despite an inability to miss bats?

    Last season, he averaged 5.0 strikeouts per nine innings and yielded 7.9 hits per nine innings and just two home runs in 17 starts en route to a 5-6 record with a respectable 3.59 ERA. But in 2012, he averaged 3.8 strikeouts per nine innings and yielded 10.4 hits per nine innings and 29 home runs in 31 starts en route to a 9-13 record with an ugly 4.85 ERA while pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays.

    If the 2013 version shows up this season, Alvarez might be a cornerstone in the back end of the rotation. If the 2012 version appears, he might not be as dependable as once thought.

    Jacob Turner should hold down the No. 4 spot as long as he doesn't struggle with consistency and command like he did last year in spring training, which prompted the Marlins to send him to Triple-A New Orleans before the season started.

    The final spot in the rotation will be chosen among Anthony DeSclafani, Brian Flynn, Brad Hand, Andrew Heaney, Tom Koehler, Justin Nicolino and Kevin Slowey. 

    The guy to keep an eye on, though, is Heaney, because some feel the southpaw will be ready to face major league hitters by midseason, especially since the Marlins don't need to rush any of their young starting pitching prospects because they have so much depth.

    Heaney is rated MLB.com's top left-handed pitching prospect and is ranked 29th overall on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list. According to MLB.com's Bernie Pleskoff, Heaney's fastball sits between 90 and 93 mph, his curveball changes a hitter's eye level because of the pitch's sharp movement, and Heaney throws a sinking changeup that is a third quality pitch.

    Moreover, Heaney isn't afraid to use his entire repertoire at any time, which gives him the ability to set up hitters for swings and misses and, ultimately, strikeouts. 

    Marlins vice president of player development Marty Scott told MLB.com, "He might surprise some people in Spring Training. Who knows, it's a long shot. Let nature takes its course. But if he makes strides in 2014 like he did last year, I think, at minimum, you're looking at a September callup."

Bullpen Preview

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    RHP Steve Cishek

    LHP Mike Dunn

    RHP A.J. Ramos

    RHP Carter Capps

    RHP Carlos Marmol (pending physical)

    LHP Dan Jennings

    RHP Kevin Slowey



    Some veterans have departed, but the Marlins' thinner bullpen should still be a bright spot after finishing 11th in the majors with a 3.42 ERA last season.

    Steve Cishek earned a well-deserved raise from $505,000 to $3.8 million for the 2014 season after he went 4-6 with a 2.33 ERA and saved 34 games in 36 opportunities. The side-arming right-hander ended the season with 29 consecutive saves, a franchise record that topped the mark of 27 previously set by Todd Jones in 2005.

    Mike Dunn will continue to be the primary left-hander out of the pen. He, too, earned a well-deserved raise from $492,500 to $1.4 million in 2014 after he went 3-4 with a 2.66 ERA and had 18 holds.

    A.J. Ramos should step into Ryan Webb's role as the primary right-hander out of the pen. In his rookie season last year, he went 3-4 with a 3.15 ERA. He also had 86 strikeouts, which was third among rookie relievers, in 80 innings, the most among rookie relievers.

    With Ramos essentially getting a bigger role, Carter Capps will slide into the role Ramos held last season. Capps was a disappointment with the Seattle Mariners in 2013 as he went 3-3 with a 5.49 ERA in 53 appearances. However, MLB.com's Frisaro reported when Marlins officials evaluated Capps, they discovered a potential glitch in his delivery that the Marlins are confident can be fixed.

    As of publication time, Carlos Marmol's one-year contract worth $1.25 million has yet to be completed. If he passes his physical and signs on the dotted line, he will take over the role vacated by Chad Qualls, which is a veteran reliever who is also a former closer.

    Most teams like to carry at least two left-handed relievers in the bullpen, and if that's the case, Dan Jennings should keep his job in that role. He was 2-4 with a 3.76 ERA last season.

    As previously stated, the long reliever role will go to Koehler or Slowey, depending on who wins the final spot in the starting rotation. If neither becomes a starter, Koehler probably has the edge on this role since he's already on the 40-man roster, whereas Slowey returned to the organization on a minor league deal.

Prospects to Watch

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    RHP Anthony DeSclafani

    While he doesn't get the publicity of Heaney or Justin Nicolino, Anthony DeSclafani was the Marlins' best pitching prospect in 2013, as he was named the Marlins' Minor League Pitcher of the Yearaccording to the team's website.

    He was 4-2 with a 1.67 ERA in 12 starts for Advanced Single-A Jupiter. Furthermore, he earned the Marlins' Pitcher of the Month honors in April, the Florida State League Pitcher of the Week honors for June 3-9 and the FSL Mid-Season All-Star honors.

    When he was promoted to Double-A Jacksonville on June 19, he went 5-4 with a 3.36 ERA in 13 starts. In total, he had a 9-6 record with a 2.65 ERA and had 115 strikeouts in 129 innings.

    With such a great year, DeSclafani shot up the totem pole. Baseball America has him as the organization's fifth-best prospect, while ESPN.com's Keith Law (Insider access required) rated DeSclafani sixth.


    LHP Andrew Heaney

    Earlier, we discussed why Heaney is one to keep an eye on to play a major role in the starting pitching rotation come midseason. What we hadn't discussed is what could hold him back, which is his health and durability.

    He missed the beginning of last season because of a strained lat muscle and didn't make his first start until May 20 against the Daytona Cubs. Heaney finished last season with a combined 9-3 record, 1.60 ERA with 89 strikeouts in 95 1/3 innings in Advanced Single-A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville. Despite a great performance, he was sent to the Arizona Fall League to make up for the innings lost when he was injured, according to MLB.com's Frisaro.

    At 6'2" and 190 pounds, Heaney is slender in frame. According to Frisaro, the bad news is that Heaney might not be ready physically for the tremendous wear and tear placed on starting pitchers. According to MLB.com's Bernie Pleskoff, the good news is that Heaney has a very athletic frame with perhaps room left for physical development.


    3B Colin Moran

    The sixth overall pick in the 2013 draft is Miami's third baseman of the future. But that future probably won't begin until the 2015 season. After signing for $3,516,500, the second-highest bonus for a draft pick in franchise history, Moran went to Single-A Greensboro and posted a solid .299/.354/.442 slash line with four home runs and 23 RBI in 42 games.

    According to Frisaro, Moran was the best pure hitter available in the draft, as he has excellent hand-eye coordination and strike-zone discipline. Plus, at 6'4" and 190 pounds, he should have at least average power.

    Defensively, though, he has below-average speed and range, but he should have the hands and the arm to play adequately at the hot corner. He  also has good bloodlines as his uncle B.J. Surhoff was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1985 draft and played 19 years in the majors. 

    Based on his potential, MLB.com has Moran rated as the No. 51 prospect in the majors and fifth among all third basemen. He isn't far off in ESPN.com's rankings as Keith Law rated Moran 55th overall and cited Moran as the Marlins second-best prospect behind Heaney. Baseball America agrees with Law and also has Moran as the organization's second-best prospect.


    CF Jake Marisnick

    Defensively, Marisnick is major league-ready. As Frisaro noted, he is the best center fielder in the organization. But offensively, he still has a ways to go.

    Marisnick produced a .294/.358/.502 slash line with 12 home runs and 46 RBI in 67 games at Double-A Jacksonville but struggled when he was promoted to the major leagues. With the Marlins, he posted a .183/.231/.248 slash line in 40 games. 

    According to MLB.com, the scouting report is that Marisnick can be overaggressive at the plate and doesn't have great pitch recognition. However, he has above-average power and the speed to be a potential 20-20 player.

    MLB.com is more bullish on his stock, ranking him as the 65th-best prospect overall, whereas Law has Marisnick ranked 84th. Law also rates Marisnick as the Marlins' third-best prospect, as does Baseball America.


    LHP Justin Nicolino

    The other big-name prospect who arrived in the 12-player fire-sale trade, Justin Nicolino had a pretty good season last year, although he did somewhat struggle after his promotion to Double-A Jacksonville.

    At Advanced Single-A Jupiter, he was dominant, going 5-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 18 starts. But at Double-A Jacksonville, he was 3-2 with a 4.96 ERA in nine starts. Overall, he went 8-4 with a 3.11 ERA. What Nicolino needs to do better, if possible, is miss more bats. He had just 95 strikeouts in 142 innings last year.

    MLB.com's scouting report states Nicolino has an average fastball, above-average changeup and a big, sweeping curveball, but those pitches are more effective than the pure, raw stuff because of his above-average command and intelligence on the mound.

    MLB.com rates him as the No. 81 prospect overall and the seventh-best left-hander, while Law ranks him 93rd overall and the organization's fourth-best prospect. Baseball America also has Nicolino as the Marlins' fourth-best prospect and says he has the best changeup and control in the Marlins system.

Breakout Candidates

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    RHP Carter Capps

    The selection of Capps is more about how he can't be worse than he was in 2013 rather than him exploding onto the scene.

    First, a reliever's performance can be volatile. A few bad performances could inflate a pitcher's ERA, such as the 5.49 ERA he had in 2013. For instance, he had a respectable 3.54 ERA through June 10 last season. Then, he yielded 14 earned runs in his next six appearances, and his ERA rose to a robust 6.62 by July 9. 

    Capps should also improve in 2014 simply because he's going from the American League to the National League. But the last reason why he is so intriguing is because of his raw ability.

    According to Frisaro, Capps' fastball has occasionally reached 100 mph, and his fastball averaged 96.4 mph last season. Moreover, he is a strikeout pitcher who has fanned 94 batters in 84 career innings at the major league level.

    If there's anyone who can make a quick turnaround, it should be Capps.


    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

    Speaking of flame-throwing pitchers, ESPN.com's David Schoenfield predicts Eovaldi as one of five pitchers who will break out in 2014.

    According to Schoenfield's research, Eovaldi had the highest average fastball velocity at 96.2 mph among pitchers who threw at least 100 innings in 2013. An electric and effective fastball is almost always a reliable weapon, but Schoenfield also said Eovaldi needs to improve his command and refine his secondary pitches in order to take the next step. 

    He threw his fastball 1,189 times out of 1,696 total pitches, which means he didn't rely on his slider or curveball. If he develops one of those pitches into a legitimate out pitch, he would be a possible star in the making. 

    There's a reason, as noted earlier, why the Marlins told the rest of baseball world that Eovaldi would not be going anywhere. even though the team was willing to trade some of its surplus pitching to land some impact bats.


    LF Christian Yelich

    Among the hitters in the organization, Yelich is probably the easiest guy to peg as someone who could become a star this season.

    He equipped himself well against big league pitching after he was promoted from Double-A Jacksonville last year. Further bolstering his case was his performance on the road, as CBS Sports' Scott White pointed out.

    On the road, Yelich produced a .319/.391/.471 slash line and smacked all four of his home runs away from home, but at spacious Marlins Park, he posted a .256/.350/.322 slash line. In other words, in a neutral ballpark, he would be, at worst, an average major league hitter during his age-21 season.

    In order for him to take the next step, he will need to improve against left-handed pitching. Yelich had a .362/.444/.497 slash line in 149 at-bats against major league right-handers but was .165/.245/.231 in 91 at-bats against southpaws. 

Position Battle Predictions

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    CF: Marcell Ozuna beats Jake Marisnick

    If it isn't apparent by now, Ozuna has proved to be more ready to hit major league pitching than Marisnick.

    Ozuna finished 2013 with a .265/.303/.389 slash line with three home runs and 32 RBI in 70 games while primarily batting fourth or fifth in a depleted lineup. Marisnick produced worse numbers while primarily batting seventh.

    ESPN's Law stated (Insider access) that Marisnick could probably use at least three months in Triple-A just to work on his ability to recognize breaking balls, and MLB.com's Frisaro feels the same way because it would be best for Marisnick to refine his game regardless if it takes a few months or the entire year.

    Otherwise, if the team rushes Marisnick, Law feels he might never fulfill his potential because he was forced to sink or swim against major league arms.


    No. 5 starter: Tom Koehler holds off Anthony DeSclafani, Brian Flynn, Brad Hand, Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino and Kevin Slowey

    Koehler will be the favorite because he has been tested in the big league, but Slowey can earn his way back into the rotation if he could rediscover the magic he had last April when he had a 2.16 ERA in 37 2/3 innings. If neither Koehler nor Slowey is the No. 5 starter, then one of them will be the team's long reliever.

    Since Fernandez, Eovaldi, Alvarez and Turner are all right-handers, it might come down to Flynn or Hand if the Marlins want to go with a left-hander instead of Koehler or Slowey. Despite a poor September after his promotion, Flynn probably has the upper hand because, as Frisaro muses, the Marlins feel Flynn was tired in September, which is common for players who had never previously reached the big leagues.

    But the latter scenario is highly unlikely considering the Marlins spent most of last season without a left-hander in the rotation.


    Right-handed backup utility players: Ed Lucas edge out Joe Benson, Kyle Jensen, Donovan Solano and Ty Wigginton

    Benson, Johnson and Wigginton will probably be the first three to go since they are on minor league deals. Unless one of them shines throughout spring training, the Marlins will have to spend a roster spot to keep them. Then, the next to fall will probably be Jensen, mainly because if he doesn't impress in spring training, the Marlins can send him back to the minors and his service time wouldn't start.

    That leaves Lucas and Solano.

    The gut here says Lucas will grab the final spot on the bench because among position players last season, he had a 1.5 WAR on the team, second to Stanton. Moreover, while Lucas and Solano can play second base, shortstop, third base and left field, Lucas can play first base, whereas Solano has yet to play that position.