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Complete Miami Marlins 2014 Season Preview

Cheng SioContributor IMarch 26, 2014

Complete Miami Marlins 2014 Season Preview

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    It's a brand new season for Jose Fernandez, left, and Giancarlo Stanton. Will 2014 be better than 2013?
    It's a brand new season for Jose Fernandez, left, and Giancarlo Stanton. Will 2014 be better than 2013?Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Goodbye, spring training. Hello, Opening Day.

    OK, we're five days away from that being official, but many players and fans look forward to Opening Day the same way people look at New Year's Day as a clean slate. The Miami Marlins are no exception. After all, this is a franchise that has plenty to play for, believe it or not.

    The Marlins are in year two of their latest rebuilding project and are coming off of a 100-loss season. Moreover, they have every intention to end a streak of four consecutive seasons where they have lost more games than the previous year.

    About the only way for the Marlins and their fans to dread the 2014 season is if Miss Cleo predicted pitching phenom Jose Fernandez would suffer a career-threatening injury on Opening Day, All-Star slugger Giancarlo Stanton declared he wouldn't sign a long-term extension to stay with the organization and the Marlins lose at least 120 games this year. The odds of all three happening at once are about as good as someone winning Warren Buffett's $1 Billion Bracket Challenge.

    That said, here's a glimpse as to what the 2014 season might hold for the Miami Marlins.

Spring Training Recap

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    The Marlins are 17-10 this spring because of great performances from Jake Marisnick, left, and Giancarlo Stanton.
    The Marlins are 17-10 this spring because of great performances from Jake Marisnick, left, and Giancarlo Stanton.Associated Press

    Standouts: Giancarlo Stanton, Jake Marisnick, Reed Johnson, Derek Dietrich, Tom Koehler, A.J. Ramos, Arquimedes Caminero, Chris Hatcher, Dan Jennings

    Poor performers: Marcell Ozuna, Brian Bogusevic, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ty Wigginton, Brian Flynn, Henry Rodriguez, Chaz Roe

    Surprise cuts: Arquimedes Caminero

     

    If the World Series could be won in March, the Marlins would be heavy favorites. But alas, it is not the case.

    The Marlins are 17-10 this spring, tops among National League teams and one game behind the Tampa Bay Rays for best in the Grapefruit League. The good news is, many of the players who have contributed to the fantastic spring figure to be in the Marlins' long-term future. The bad news is, some of those same players don't figure into this year's plans.

    The linchpin behind the great spring has been All-Star right fielder Giancarlo Stanton. The 24-year-old slugger has smashed five home runs with 15 RBI while sporting a 1.009 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). The reason Stanton has been hot this spring is because he's finally healthy after missing 85 games the last two seasons because of various ailments. 

    "It's good to have a spring where I can be here every day," Stanton told MLB.com. "Last year was kind of a zoo. I was bouncing everywhere, as well. I hadn't been healthy the couple before that."

    After a three-run blast, which bounced off the roof of the Marlins’ spring training facility and disappeared, against the New York Mets on March 17, closer Steve Cishek had only one thought about the home run. 

    "The scary part is you could tell he didn’t even get all of it," Cishek told the Miami Herald. "It didn’t make the usual sound."

    Here's more evidence of another of Stanton's spring home runs.

    As for the rest of the standout hitters, Derek Dietrich's great spring (.350/.422/.575 in 40 at-bats) has forced the Marlins to consider using Dietrich as the team's starting second baseman if Rafael Furcal isn't ready by Opening Day.

    Meanwhile, Jake Marisnick's excellent spring (.442/.489/.605 in 43 at-bats) combined with Marcell Ozuna's subpar spring (.180/.306/.400 in 50 at-bats) has forced the Marlins to possibly change their plans on who will man center field, as Ozuna was considered the front-runner heading into spring training. One possibility doled out by the Sun-Sentinel has Ozuna and Marisnick starting the season in the minors for more seasoning.

    Complicating matters is the fantastic spring Reed Johnson (.410/.452/.590 in 39 at-bats) has had. Because of his performance, Johnson earned a spot on the team, according to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro. Johnson and Brian Bogusevic, who has struggled this spring (.178/.196/.200 in 45 at-bats), will form a platoon in left field and move Christian Yelich to center. 

    With a few days to go, though, manager Mike Redmond said stats won't be the overriding factor in determining who plays center field, per the Sun-Sentinel:

    Everybody gets caught up in spring training results sometimes. There are a lot of factors that go into the Opening Day roster and the guys we choose. It's not just about spring training results, although sometimes those do play a bigger role for some guys more than others.

    By the way, a Marlins poll on the Sun-Sentinel website shows 53 percent of 150 votes preferring Marisnick starting the season in center as opposed to Ozuna or Johnson in a platoon.

    On the pitching side, Tom Koehler's terrific spring (1.50 ERA in 18 innings pitched, .194 opponent batting average) has pretty much made him the team's No. 5 starter, pending official word from Redmond. In fact, in Koehler's latest start, he labored through six innings and yielded just two runs, whereas his main competitor, left-hander Brad Hand, struggled as he gave up five runs in four innings in his last start.

    Arquimedes Caminero (2.00 ERA, nine strikeouts in nine innings), Dan Jennings (unscored upon in 8.3 innings) and Chris Hatcher (unscored upon in nine innings) have had strong springs, but none of them are guaranteed a spot on the team. Juan C. Rodriguez of the Sun-Sentinel assumes Jennings will make the squad, but Caminero was optioned off to Triple-A New Orleans on Tuesday, Frisaro tweeted, which apparently came as a shocker to Caminero.

    Michael Hill, president of baseball operations, elaborated on the decision, telling the Sun-Sentinel:

    To look him in the eye and tell him he was going down was a difficult conversation. With Caminero, it's just more of a consistency thing. He came up and we just want to continue building on his success. He had a great September and it carried over into a great spring. We want him to continue it down in Triple-A and when the need arises we know we have a major league-ready reliever to come back.

    But one guy who is still in the running despite a poor spring is right-hander Henry Rodriguez. The 27-year-old non-roster invitee allowed just one run in his first five outings but has given up five runs in the past two appearances. 

    Others with poor performances weren't so lucky, as Chaz Roe (12.38 ERA) and Ty Wigginton (.147/.237/.176) are no longer on the team. Roe was reassigned to Triple-A New Orleans while Wigginton was released. Brian Flynn was sent to Triple-A New Orleans on March 17.

Injury Updates Entering Opening Day

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    Will Rafael Furcal's strained left hamstring heal fast enough to allow Furcal to man second base come Opening Day?
    Will Rafael Furcal's strained left hamstring heal fast enough to allow Furcal to man second base come Opening Day?Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

    Rafael Furcal: The 36-year-old veteran has been out with a strained left hamstring after he reaggravated the injury March 15. Since then, Furcal has participated in limited baseball activities and tested his leg by running the bases Saturday. Furcal returned to action in a minor league game Monday, collecting a pair of singles in four at-bats. The following day, Furcal had six more at-bats in a minor league game. 

    Since Furcal has been through the rigors of spring training, the organization believes Furcal can make up for lost time quickly and be productive once the season starts. Michael Hill shed more light on the matter, telling MLB.com:

    It's getting later in the spring, but I know he's doing functional activities. So I'm still encouraged that he will be ready to go on Opening Day. He knows his body. He knows what he needs to do to get himself ready. He's been in the big leagues for 14 years, as opposed to a rookie or a first-year player who may not know what he needs to do to get ready. From that aspect of it, I'm not concerned. It's purely health.

    But if Furcal isn't ready come Opening Day, he would start the season on the disabled list and could return as early as April 5.

     

    Derek Dietrich: If Furcal isn't ready by Opening Day, Dietrich could replace Furcal if the veteran is out longer than expected. However, Dietrich needs to stay healthy.

    Despite a terrific spring, Dietrich caught a bad break when he "suffered a slight fracture to the upper bridge of his nose after a hard bouncer by the Cardinals' Jon Jay took a nasty hop into his face. Dietrich had two cuts and swelling above his left eye."

    After missing a couple of days, Dietrich returned to action with a clear mask to protect his face when he played second base in a minor league game Monday, according to Fox Sports Florida's Christina De Nicola. Dietrich will wear the mask for the next 10 days. The following day, Dietrich played against the Cardinals and had a hit in four at-bats. 

    If Furcal is ready by Opening Day or isn't expected to be on the DL for an extended period of time, Dietrich will probably start the season in the minors.

     

    Greg Dobbs: The pinch-hitting specialist last played March 11 because of a left quadriceps injury. He returned Saturday and had a base hit in four at-bats in a minor league game. Dobbs played again Monday and had a single in three at-bats. 

     

    Adeiny Hechavarria: The Marlins' starting shortstop has been given a few days off after he tweaked his groin Monday. MLB.com's Joe Frisaro predicts Hechavarria will return Thursday. That timetable has been pushed back to Friday or Saturday, according to the Sun-Sentinel.

     

    Ed Lucas: It looks like all systems are go for the 31-year-old utility infielder after he strained his left hamstring March 13. Lucas returned Friday and hit a home run in a minor league game. On Sunday, Lucas started at first base in a Grapefruit League game and had a hit in four at-bats. 

    Lucas' spot on the team is reliant on two factors: Furcal's health and Lucas' ability to help the Marlins more than Donovan Solano, assuming Furcal is healthy. 

     

    Marcell Ozuna: The 23-year-old youngster is trying to win the team's center field job, but he had a slight setback Sunday when he left the team's 8-4 win because of a cramp in his left leg.

    By Monday, MLB.com's Joe Frisaro reported Ozuna was participating in baseball-related activites, and on Tuesday, Ozuna had the go-ahead double against the Cardinals. 

Lineup Preview

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    Lineup

    LF Reed Johnson (R)

    CF Christian Yelich (L)

    RF Giancarlo Stanton (R)

    1B Garrett Jones (L)

    3B Casey McGehee (R)

    C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)

    2B Donovan Solano (R)

    SS Adeiny Hechavarria (R)

     

    Bench

    IF/OF Jeff Baker (R)

    OF Brian Bogusevic (L)

    1B/3B Greg Dobbs (L)

    IF Ed Lucas (R)

    C Jeff Mathis (R)

     

    Analysis

    Sixteen days ago, we predicted what the Marlins lineup would look like midway through spring training.

    Since then, because of injuries and ineffectiveness from a few individuals, the projected lineup has been slightly altered. 

    Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are still slotted in the No. 2-6 holes of the batting order, as well as shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria hitting in the No. 8 spot. The two changes are the additions of Reed Johnson and Donovan Solano.

    In this alignment, Johnson takes over in left field and Yelich moves to center, which replaces Marcell Ozuna, while Solano takes over at second base until Rafael Furcal is healthy. 

    Johnson is a capable leadoff hitter as he's had more than half of his 3,767 career plate appearances (53.4 percent) from that spot. In fact, Johnson has a .287/.348/.417 career slash line batting first in the order, and he has a penchant for getting on base, according to the Miami Herald.

    Following Johnson is Yelich, whom former Marlins hitting coach Tino Martinez called a "natural-born hitter" last spring. If Johnson and Yelich get on base, opposing teams will have to decide how they will pitch to Stanton. Keep in mind, Stanton had a .249/.365/.480 slash line with 24 home runs and 62 RBI in 116 games without many offensive threats hitting in front of or behind him. That's why the Marlins spent some money in free agency to bolster their lineup so opposing teams won't pitch around Stanton.

    Protecting Stanton will be Jones because between him, McGehee and Saltalamacchia, Jones is the most accomplished hitter. Jones has hit 100 home runs in the last five years (hitting between 15 and 27 every season), and his left-handed bat will create balance in the lineup so opposing managers won't be able to match up against it in the late innings. 

    Continuing with the philosophy of a balanced lineup, McGehee would hit fifth and Saltalamacchia would hit sixth because, although Saltalamacchia is a switch-hitter, he might as well be considered a left-handed hitter. For his career, Saltalamacchia has a .263/.327/.469 slash line as a left-handed hitter but is a .206/.267/.332 hitter batting right-handed. 

    Hitting seventh would be Solano. That's a no-brainer considering Solano can handle the bat—he's a career .269 hitter—while Hechavarria is a black hole on offense (.227/.267/.298 slash line in a team-high 578 plate appearances last year).

    When Furcal returns, he can lead off, forcing Johnson to drop to seventh in the batting order. And if Marisnick or Ozuna returns to the big league club at any point this season, they can replace Johnson in the lineup.

    As for the bench, it's mostly a light-hitting band of veterans and castoffs.

    The lone bench player who could make a difference is Jeff Baker. The 32-year-old veteran does have some pop in his bat (48 home runs in 1,513 career at-bats) and has played first base, second base, third base, left field and right field at some point during his career. Baker could platoon at first base with Jones if Jones fails to hit left-handed pitching. By the way, a platoon is something Baker has been accustomed to in recent years, according to the Miami Herald.

    Ed Lucas, the darling and feel-good story of the Marlins last season, will reprise his role as a versatile utility player. He played five different positions last year, including shortstop. Meanwhile, Brian Bogusevic will be the team's fourth outfielder. Bogusevic is on his third team in as many years.

    Greg Dobbs will continue his role as pinch-hitting specialist/veteran clubhouse presence, while Jeff Mathis will continue his fine work of handling the young pitching staff on days Saltalamacchia needs a day off. The Marlins were 35-35 last season when Mathis started and 27-65 when he didn't.

Rotation preview

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    Henderson Alvarez, left, and Jose Fernandez are two of the anchors in the Marlins' starting pitching rotation.
    Henderson Alvarez, left, and Jose Fernandez are two of the anchors in the Marlins' starting pitching rotation.Alan Diaz/Associated Press

    RHP Jose Fernandez

    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

    RHP Henderson Alvarez

    RHP Jacob Turner

    RHP Tom Koehler

     

    Analysis

    It was known all spring that Jose Fernandez would be the Opening Day starter—once it became official, of course.

    It was also known that Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez would be in the rotation following Fernandez, assuming they didn't suffer any injuries, which was the case at the end of spring training last year. Of course, their injuries allowed Fernandez to make the team, and the rest is history.

    After the start of spring training, the only other question was whether Jacob Turner and Tom Koehler would keep their spots in the rotation. After a month of games, the answer is Turner and Koehler will be in the rotation after all.

    Turner started spring training on shaky ground, yielding three runs and nine hits in just 4.3 innings in his first two starts. But he has righted the ship since then to keep his spot in the rotation, giving up three runs in 15 innings over the last three starts. 

    "He pitched great," Redmond told MLB.com after Turner's latest effort, a six-inning, three-hit, five-strikeout outing in the Marlins 8-4 victory against the Detroit Tigers. "He was ahead in the count to almost every hitter. That's what I want to see. And he finished great."

    And don't worry, Marlins fans, Turner probably isn't going anywhere despite Fox Sports' Jon Morosi's tweet, which states the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks are looking to trade for Turner. But sources have told the Miami Herald and the Sun-Sentinel the Marlins are not actively shopping Turner.

    Koehler, meanwhile, all but wrapped up his hold on the final rotation spot with a strong spring. Koehler has a 1-1 record with a 1.50 ERA and has 12 strikeouts in 18 innings this spring. That's better than Brad Hand (2-1, 3.38 ERA, 18 strikeouts in 16 innings), Kevin Slowey (2.70 ERA, nine strikeouts in 13.3 innings) and Brian Flynn (optioned to Triple-A New Orleans on March 17), Koehler's main competitors for the final rotation spot.

    How far the Marlins go will depend on how far this rotation takes them, which is considered a strength of not only this team but the organization.

    After all, the rotation boasts Fernandez, who is the reigning National League Rookie of the Year and finished third in the Cy Young race last season. Eovaldi, Alvarez and Turner are no joke, either, as they all had ERAs below 4.00 last season and are capable of posting 15 wins this year if the offense comes through. And Koehler has been so good this spring that Redmond told the Sun-Sentinel he thinks Koehler is "probably been the most improved guy" compared to everyone in the organization at this time last year.

    By the way, did we mention the pitching staff set a franchise record for team ERA even though the oldest of Fernandez, Eovaldi, Alvarez and Turner just turned 24 last month? Remember, this is a franchise that has had Dontrelle Willis, Josh Johnson, A.J. Burnett, Brad Penny, Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Dempster, Josh Beckett, Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano, Al Leiter, Alex Fernandez and Livan Hernandez in their organization.

    Now, nothing ever works out in linear fashion. That only exists in video games. But with the depth of starting pitching in the Marlins organization, if any of the five ever breaks down through performance or injury, there's a contingent of pitchers waiting to step in.

    Besides Brad Hand, Kevin Slowey and Brian Flynn, the Marlins have Andrew Heaney (the top left-handed pitching prospect in baseball), Justin Nicolino, Adam Conley, Anthony DeSclafini and Jose Urena waiting in the stables. Heaney, Nicolino, Conley, DeSclafini, Flynn and Urena are six of the Marlins' top eight prospects and are expected to start the season in Double-A Jacksonville or Triple-A New Orleans. 

Bullpen Preview

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    How well Carlos Marmol performs could determine how effective the Marlins bullpen will be in 2014.
    How well Carlos Marmol performs could determine how effective the Marlins bullpen will be in 2014.Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

    RHP Steve Cishek

    RHP Carlos Marmol

    LHP Mike Dunn

    RHP A.J. Ramos

    LHP Dan Jennings

    RHP Henry Rodriguez

    LHP Brad Hand

     

    Analysis

    Five of the seven relievers who were projected to make the team at the outset of spring training have made this list.

    The only changes are Henry Rodriguez and Brad Hand replacing Carter Capps and Kevin Slowey.

    As stated earlier, Rodriguez was sharp earlier in the spring before enduring a rough patch recently. According to FrisaroRodriguez is an extremely hard thrower who has reached 101 mph already this spring, evidenced by the 14 strikeouts he has in just nine innings of work. Despite his improved command, Rodriguez also has a history of being wild. But what works in Rodriguez's favor over Chris Hatcher is the fact that both are non-roster invitees and Rodriguez has a much longer resume, as he has a 4.24 ERA in 148 career appearances compared to Hatcher's 7.22 ERA in 29 career appearances.

    As for Hand, the club might not have an option but to keep him as a long reliever or risk losing the 24-year-old southpaw to another organization if he doesn't clear waivers when the Marlins send him back to the minors. Hand's only competition for the role is Slowey, who is a non-roster invitee.

    As for the rest of the bullpen, closer Steve Cishek is the anchor of last season's surprising group, which finished 11th in the majors with a 3.42 ERA. Cishek, a 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.

    The X-factor will be veteran Carlos Marmol, who signed a one-year contract worth $1.25 million in the offseason. If Marmol can throw strikes, the Sun-Sentinel predicts he'll be the Marlins setup man, which would help push A.J. Ramos from pitching heavily in high-leverage situations.

    Speaking of Ramos, he went 3-4 with a 3.15 ERA last season as a rookie. He also had 86 strikeouts, which was third among rookie relievers, in 80 innings, the most among rookie relievers

    Mike Dunn will continue to be the primary left-hander out of the pen after he went 3-4 with a 2.66 ERA and had 18 holds last season. 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.

Prospects to Watch

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    All eyes will be on Andrew Heaney, mainly to see when he'll be ready for the major leagues.
    All eyes will be on Andrew Heaney, mainly to see when he'll be ready for the major leagues.Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    LHP Brian Flynn

    If Slowey isn't in the organization come Opening Day, Flynn will probably be the first pitcher to be called up if anything happens to Hand or the starting rotation. 

    Flynn had a great season last year in the minors, as he went 7-12 with a 2.63 ERA, which earned him a September call-up. However, Flynn struggled when he joined the Marlins, going 0-2 with a 8.50 ERA in 18 innings over four starts. According to Frisaro, the club believes Flynn became fatigued in September, which is not uncommon for players who had never previously reached the big leagues, which was the case with Flynn. 

    This spring, Flynn struggled out of the bullpen, allowing six earned runs in seven innings. But in his only start, which came against the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, Flynn gave up just one measly hit in three shutout innings. 

    Unfortunately, with Koehler, Hand and Slowey pitching lights out, there was no room for Flynn. As a result, Flynn was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans on March 17.

     

    LHP Andrew Heaney

    But if Flynn is not the first pitcher called up, then the money has to be on Heaney.

    Heaney is rated as 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. 

    Last season, Heaney went 9-3 with a 1.60 ERA and had 89 strikeouts in 95.3 innings between Advanced Single-A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville. This spring, Heaney was solid, as he gave up two earned runs on five hits in 7.6 innings over three outings before being sent back to the minors.

    "In Heaney's case, he probably sees how close he truly really is," general manager Dan Jennings told MLB.com. "He needs refinement on a couple of things, like a little better pickoff move and holding runners."

    If there's one concern with Heaney, it's the lack of a workload from last season. As Baseball America's Matt Eddy states, the Marlins might want to hold Heaney to a 150-inning limit this season.

     

    CF Jake Marisnick

    Technically, Marisnick is still a prospect, as he logged 109 major league at-bats last season, 21 short of the 130 needed to be considered a rookie. Then again, Marisnick's cup of coffee in the majors was a forgettable one—he had a .183/.231/.248 slash line in 40 games.

    But after a fabulous spring in which he had a .442/.489/.605 slash line, Marisnick might not be a prospect for long...or he might still be a prospect come next spring. If the Marlins decide to stick with Ozuna as the center fielder or go into a platoon with Johnson and Bogusevic in left field, then Marisnick will go back to the minors.

    However, if Marisnick wins the center field job, he might be here to stay, which might be a testament to how great of a spring Marisnick had. Redmond certainly thinks so, telling MLB.com:

    He's had a great spring, too. It's been fun to able to watch him. He's in the middle of those tough decisions. He's definitely made a case for himself. Those are ones where we have to decide: Does he need more at-bats in the Minor Leagues or is he ready to play in the big leagues?

    Defensively, Marisnick is major league-ready. As Frisaro noted, he is the best center fielder in the organization. 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.

    If Marisnick begins the year with the big league club, he'll be considered a front-runner for the National League Rookie of the Year Award. But if Marisnick begins the year in the minors, the best-case scenario for him is he'll perform better than Ozuna, prompting the Marlins to choose him over Ozuna when it's time to call one of them up this summer.

     

    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, as McGehee is keeping the seat warm for Moran. 

    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. 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 (subscription required) 55th overall and cited Moran as the Marlins' second-best prospect (subscription required) behind Heaney. Baseball America agrees with Law and also has Moran as the organization's second-best prospect.

    During his short time with the Marlins this spring, Moran failed to get a hit in six Grapefruit League at-bats, but he drew three walks and scored each time. On the bright side, Moran got to work with his future big league coaches, something GM Dan Jennings feels is a positive, per MLB.com:

    In Moran's case, he had a chance to face some pretty good pitchers and see how his swing works. The biggest thing for him was he got to spend quality, one-on-one time with Perry Hill. Certainly, his bat is ahead of his defense. In just a short time, he saw what Perry meant to him and how much it helped him.

    Moran will start the season at Advanced Single-A Jupiter. In all likelihood, Moran will be a September call-up.

Breakout Candidates

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    Look for Christian Yelich to take the next step in his progression to being a top-flight major league hitter.
    Look for Christian Yelich to take the next step in his progression to being a top-flight major league hitter.Associated Press

    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

    A few months back, ESPN.com's David Schoenfield predicted Eovaldi to be 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 could be a possible star in the making. 

    So when spring training began, what did Eovaldi do? He continued to work on his secondary pitches, which will be needed to complement his fastball. In his last start, Eovaldi yielded two runs in 4.3 solid innings. Afterwards, Redmond deemed Eovaldi ready for the season, and the right-hander thought it was his best outing to date, telling MLB.com:

    "I felt a lot better this outing than all of my other ones. We fixed a few things, mechanically. My curveball felt good today. I was able to locate the fastball away, for the most part. I felt good."

    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.

     

    OF 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.

    After all, Dietrich and catcher Rob Brantly were sent back to the minors last year because they weren't ready; Ozuna and Marisnick aren't guaranteed starting jobs, let alone roster spots, because the former has struggled this spring and the latter struggled in his stint with the Marlins last year; and Moran isn't ready yet, while Hechavarria simply hasn't shown he can hit.

    So yeah, that leaves Yelich as the lone possible breakout candidate.

    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 will 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. 

     

    RHP A.J. Ramos

    As stated earlier, Ramos had a terrific rookie season last year. Now among the relievers in the bullpen, Ramos is clearly the one who could take a big leap forward. And the opportunities are there for him.

    Along with Marmol, Ramos enters the season as one of the right-handed options the Marlins will depend on in high-leverage situations. Keep in mind, it's Carlos Marmol, who has proven he can self-combust at any time. If and when Marmol implodes, Ramos will be the guy Redmond hands the ball to in most occasions to get the game into Cishek's hands. 

    Now, one area where Ramos must improve on is cutting down on the walks. Last season, he issued 4.3 walks per nine innings, or 43 total. 

    But if Ramos proves himself, he could one day be the Marlins closer. Remember, Cishek is in his first year of arbitration and will become a free agent in two years. This season, Cishek will earn $3.8 million, third highest on the team.

    "That's one of my goals to do that,” Ramos, who recorded 83 saves in four minor-league seasons, told the Miami Herald. “But I have to get there. I have to show I can compete at this level and get the job done."

Top Keys to Success

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    As a friendly reminder, less of team president David Samson, left, and owner Jeffrey Loria is a good thing for the Marlins.
    As a friendly reminder, less of team president David Samson, left, and owner Jeffrey Loria is a good thing for the Marlins.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    1. Offense, offense, offense

    The Marlins offense was so putrid last season that they finished dead last in the majors in runs scored (513), home runs (95) and OPS (.231 batting average/.293 on-base percentage/.335 slugging percentage). The 513 runs the Marlins scored was 85 less than any other team, and no big league team has scored fewer in the last 40 seasons. 

    Oh, and did we mention Placido Polanco was the team's cleanup hitter on Opening Day?

    "Horrific offense," general manger Dan Jennings told MLB.com. "Maybe one of the worst offenses in the history of baseball. It was just bad."

    To remedy the situation, the Marlins went shopping. Now, they didn't go to high-end retailers such as Neiman Marcus and signed a Robinson Cano. Instead, the Marlins went to some combination of an Old Navy and Sears, which netted them Saltalamacchia, Jones, Furcal, McGehee, Baker and Johnson.

    The Marlins also hired Frank Menechino to be the hitting coach and Brett Butler to be the third base/outfield coach. Butler's hiring is more intriguing because he'll work with the players on bunting and running the bases more efficiently after the Marlins went 24-35 in one-run games last season and lost 55 games by two runs or fewer.

    If Yelich and possibly some combination of Dietrich, Marisnick and Ozuna blossom and the veterans produce at least enough to force pitchers to give Stanton something to swing at, the Marlins could be a dangerous team, especially with that pitching staff.

     

    2. Injury-free seasons from 25-and-under players

    Unless the Marlins come out of nowhere to win the National League East division title this year, they aren't expected to contend for a playoff spot for at least another year. 

    That said, the Marlins might want to avoid the disaster that was the beginning of last season and see continued development from players who are considered the future of the organization.

    Consider this: The Marlins were less than one-quarter of the way into the 2013 season when six players who were 25 and under and held prominent roles had already visited the disabled list. By the time it was all said and done, this sextet had missed 314 games due to injury by the All-Star break. The players who missed time were:

    This also doesn't account for Ozuna having his season ended in late July because of torn ligaments and an avulsion fracture in his left thumb that required surgery, as well as Fernandez being shut down with three weeks left in the year because he had reached his innings limit.

    If the Marlins are going to build a championship contender, then they will need all the young, key components to be healthy in order to take the next step to stardom.

     

    3. Playing at their own pace

    The other day, a Marlins official opened his big mouth. Again.

    No, it wasn't owner Jeffrey Loria. Instead, it was Loria's stepson, team president David Samson. 

    What Samson basically said was that he wanted the Marlins to speed up the pace of the game, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com):

    Pace of game is about our fans. It's very much a TV issue and an in-game-experience issue. No one is complaining about pace of game where it goes 12 innings and it's 3 hours and 20 minutes and it's a 5-4 game. That's not the issue. If it's a 3-1 nine-inning game that goes 3 hours and 12 minutes, that's not enjoyable.

    In the same article, it was mentioned games at Marlins Park last year took an average of two hours and 56 minutes, which tied with Kansas City for second fastest in the majors. Meanwhile, Houston was the slowest at three hours and 15 minutes.

    The difference from best to worst is about 20 minutes. It may not seem like much and, well, it isn't. Samson's reasoning behind a quicker pace is because fans don't want long games, particularly the 18-49 age group.

    Keep in mind, this is the same city whose fans left Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals because some thought the San Antonio Spurs had won the NBA championship even though the game was still in doubt with less than a minute to play. In fact, here are three different videos of those fans trying to re-enter American Airlines Arena after they had left.

    Let's be real—nobody wants long, drawn-out games. However, the games should be about the players getting it right even if it takes an extra second for it to happen. After all, this is a young team, and young players are prone to make more mistakes. It's better for a young player to take an extra second to gather himself or an extra second to make sure what he's about to do is the right play rather than rush a decision just to appease some fans who would rather go home early to watch a sitcom recorded on their DVR and don't really care about the outcome of the game.

    Remember, this is the same city whose fans disrespected the most successful sports franchise the city has ever known.

    Just in case you need a voice of reason, here's Saltalamacchia on his take after coming over from the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox, a team that played the second-slowest homes games in the majors last season.

    Pace of the game is big, but there are two ways of going about it. When the game starts to speed up, especially for younger guys, you need to learn how to slow the game down. If it takes four hours to get the game over with and we end with a win, I'm assuming we're going to be a lot happier than with a 1-hour, 30-minute loss.

Previewing the Miami Marlins' Opening Series

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    Colorado Rockies vs. Miami Marlins, four-game series from March 31 - April 3

    March 31: LHP Jorge De La Rosa (16-6 record, 3.49 ERA in 2013) vs. RHP Jose Fernandez (12-6, 2.19 ERA)

    Matchup to watch: Whoever is starting at second base for the Marlins will be somewhat familiar with De La Rosa. If Furcal is healthy, Furcal has three hits in 10 career at-bats against De La Rosa. If Furcal starts the season on the disabled list, Baker might get the start, as he's got five hits in 12 at-bats against the southpaw. 

    What to know: Fernandez struggled in his last two spring starts, yielding seven runs in 10.6 innings. Despite the hiccup, Fernandez has shined when the lights are the brightest, and this game will be televised nationally on ESPN 2. In last year's All-Star Game, Fernandez struck out Dustin Pedroia and Chris Davis while inducing a weak pop out from Miguel Cabrera on a much bigger stage.

     

    April 1: LHP Brett Anderson (1-4, 6.04 ERA) vs. Nathan Eovaldi (4-6, 3.39 ERA)

    Matchup to watch: Only three Marlins hitters have ever faced Anderson, and two of them are catchers. So unless Saltalamacchia or Mathis plan to play a new position or the designated hitter becomes available, it will be interesting to see how the lineup fares against a pitcher many have never seen before.

    What to know: Eovaldi has never faced the Rockies at Marlins Park. Then again, that might be good news, as three of his four career starts against the Rockies have come at hitter-friendly Coors Field. For his career, Eovaldi is 1-1 with a 1.47 ERA in 18.3 innings at Coors. His only start against the Rockies outside of the Mile High City was in 2011 as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers

     

    April 2: RHP Tyler Chatwood (8-5, 3.15 ERA) vs. RHP Henderson Alvarez (5-6, 3.59 ERA)

    Matchup to watch: Continuing down the road of unfamiliarity, no Rockies player has ever faced Alvarez before. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, meet Henderson Alvarez. Henderson Alvarez, meet CarGo and Tulo, the Rockies' two most dangerous hitters.

    What to know: In case anyone forgot, Alvarez's last start was a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers. In the history of Major League Baseball, only Johnny Vander Meer has thrown back-to-back no-hitters...and that was nearly 76 years ago. Good luck replicating that feat, Alvarez.

     

    April 3: RHP Juan Nicasio (9-9, 5.14 ERA) vs. RHP Jacob Turner (3-8, 3.74 ERA)

    Matchup to watch: The most worthwhile matchups to keep an eye on are when Nolan Arenado and Michael Cuddyer, the 2013 National League batting champion, come to the plate. They have had some success against Turner, as Arenado has three hits in six at-bats against Turner while Cuddyer has a pair of hits in four at-bats.

    What to know: It's get-away day at Marlins Park. No, it doesn't mean the first 12,000 fans will get a Jose Fernandez bobblehead (that's on Sept. 21). What it means is it will be interesting to see which players will show up prepared to play on a day game after a night game. The advantage will go to the Marlins, as they won't have to travel after the game since they will be hosting the San Diego Padres for a three-game series over the weekend. 

     

    Prediction: Marlins should split the four-game series. It wouldn't be surprising if they win three out of four if the pitching does what it should do and the offense shows up.

2014 Miami Marlins Season Outlook

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    One of the teams that will be on top of the Marlins in the National League East standings will be the Atlanta Braves. Again.
    One of the teams that will be on top of the Marlins in the National League East standings will be the Atlanta Braves. Again.Associated Press

    Let's get this out of the way: The Miami Marlins will not win the World Series in 2013.

    Now, the primary question is two-fold: How many games can the Marlins improve on from 2013? And can the Marlins avoid finishing in the cellar of the NL East for the fourth consecutive year?

    It seems like many believe the Marlins will improve. It's just a matter of by how much.

    ESPN.com and The Sporting News each predict the Marlins to win at least 69 games, which is a seven-game improvement from 2013. Not great, but definitely not shabby. In fact, losing 90 games shouldn't be out of the realm of possibility, according to Sports Illustrated's Joe Lemire. OK, so we've established the floor.

    The ceiling could be as much as 81 wins, as ESPN.com's David Schoenfield predicts the Marlins could get close to .500. It's not impossible considering the Marlins finished two games worse than their Pythagorean record, which is an estimate of a team's winning percentage given its runs scored and runs allowed, last year (64-98) and were 24-35 in one-run games. With a little luck, the Marlins could make a run for .500, which is why ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick sees the Marlins as a sleeper candidate and why one scout seems bullish on Marlins stock.

    "They're trending upwards," an American League scout who has followed the Marlins throughout spring training told Crasnick. "With the pitching they already have and what's on the way, I'd be very encouraged."

    Where the Marlins finish in the standings will also depend on how one looks at the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies

    Lemire predicts the Mets will have a winning record, which means winning at least 82 games, while others, such as The Sports Xchange (via Yahoo!), Yahoo! Sports' David Brown and ESPN.com have firmly planted the Mets in third place.

    However, Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com sees the Mets and Marlins jockeying for third place. After all, the Mets have issues such as Jonathon Niese's elbow discomfort, Matt Harvey being out of for the year because of Tommy John surgery, shortstop Ruben Tejada is hitting .205 with four errors and the Ike Davis versus Lucas Duda competition at first base, which was slow to materialize because of injuries. 

    As for the Phillies, their roster could be mistaken for an AARP convention. If the Phillies plan on making one final run toward a World Series title, they will depend on the likes of A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins, Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon to lead them, all of whom are 33 or older, and some have already shown a considerable decline or an inability to stay healthy. By the way, Cole Hamels will begin the season on the disabled list, and Phillies camp has been dominated by news of discord between Rollins and manager Ryne Sandberg.

    Thus, it looks like the table is set for the Marlins to make a leap up the NL East.

     

    Predicted record: 75-87

    Predicted NL East finish: fourth place

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