Giancarlo Stanton is a star, but do the Miami Marlins consider him to be a cornerstone player?
With a 2-11 record, the Miami Marlins are off to their worst start since they began the 1998 season at 1-11.
And since the franchise isn't expected to be playoff-bound after its latest fire sale last November, the franchise is looking for a couple of cornerstone players to build around. Ironically, 1998 was the year after the franchise's first fire sale.
To the untrained eye, many would say the Marlins should build around Giancarlo Stanton. Those casual observers are right, despite Stanton's slow start (.167 batting average with zero home runs and zero runs batted in).
Unfortunately, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria might not be one of those people. When Loria went on his three-day PR media blitz in late February, he was noncommittal about a long-term extension for the 23-year-old slugging right fielder.
"He'll be here this year and I'm hopeful he'll come here the next year and when we have our opportunity to talk to him, we'll cross that bridge," Loria told the press, via The Miami Herald, when asked if Stanton would only be here for one more year.
He went on to say:
We will cross that bridge. He's a Marlin. You're jumping the gun. I would love to see him be the young centerpiece on this ballclub. He'd be the young giant on the ballclub. But you can't make promises in this game because strange things happen all the time. I can tell you he is 23 years old now. He's just beginning his career.
Later, when asked if waiting to offer Stanton a long-term extension sent the wrong message, Loria replied that he wanted Stanton to feel comfortable about the team's stability as well as the direction it is headed.
Perhaps Loria said that because he's still fuming about Stanton's "Alright, I'm pissed off!!! Plain & Simple" tweet hours after the fire sale was first reported. After all, Loria told first baseman Logan Morrison he’s still a big part of the Marlins’ future, but it also wasn’t lost on Loria how maturely Morrison handled the offseason upheaval, according to The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson.
If the Marlins decide to trade Stanton, whom might the they build around? Well, here are two candidates who have shown flashes of brilliance since spring training: right-handed pitcher Jose Fernandez and outfielder Christian Yelich.
With Jose Fernandez in the big leagues, the Marlins' future is here.
Jose Fernandez has accomplished a feat Justin Verlander can't lay claim to.
Nor can Warren Spahn, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Roy Halladay, Tim Hudson, CC Sabathia and Josh Beckett, among others.
Fernandez is the second player age 20 or younger since 1920 to allow one run or fewer and three hits or fewer in each of his first two career starts, according to ESPN's Stats & Info team. The other was Rudy May in 1965.
While that might be a small sample, Fernandez is an ace in the making.
Coming into the season, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo chose Fernandez as the Marlins' top prospect. The 14th overall pick from the 2011 MLB draft had what might have been the best year any pitching prospect could have. In his first full pro season in 2012, Fernandez went 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA while striking out 158 batters in 134 innings.
According to ESPN.com's Keith Law, Fernandez sits in the mid-90s and can regularly throw a heavy 97-99 mph heater. He also throws a real swing-and-miss low-80s curveball (called "The Defector," according to Morrison's tweet) that will miss right-handers' bats in the majors today. His upper-80s slider is also quite effective, with more tilt than the curve to break away from right-handers' bats.
But what sets Fernandez apart is his command, as he throws all his pitches for strikes, which should help Fernandez pitch at the top of a rotation in the future, according to Mayo.
While the numbers are pretty, Fernandez has yielded just one earned run and eight baserunners with 13 strikeouts in 11 innings, the reviews have been more impressive.
"He's going to be a good one," the New York Mets' Marlon Byrd predicted to the press (via ESPN.com) after Fernandez's major league debut, saying Fernandez reminded him of Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. "He's one of those guys if he's on, it really doesn't matter if you've seen him or not. He's going to be electric."
Then, after Fernandez's latest start, which included six shutout innings in just 85 pitches, Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel spoke glowingly about the flamethrower.
"We didn't hit the kid," Manuel told The Associated Press. "Actually he took them to a good place in the game really. We didn't hit him. That was the bottom line. He held us and pitched good."
With the Marlins offense struggling, Fernandez can even hit. Against the Phillies, Fernandez smacked a Cole Hamels fastball into left field to drive in Adeiny Hechavarria.
After the contest, Hamels said he threw "probably the worst pitch" he could throw (per The Inquirer).
Did we mention Fernandez was suppose to start the season in the minors? But when it came time to inform the youngster of the move, the front office did everything it could not to hurt the 20-year-old's feelings, sort of like softening the blow when a woman breaks up with a man.
Fernandez, meanwhile, just it took in stride as he smiled and laughed.
“They were trying to make it easy for me and I told them, ‘You don’t have to. It’s not a big deal,’” Fernandez told the Palm Beach Post. “I understand how this works. I’m fine.”
Did we also mention the only reason Fernandez is in the big leagues is because of injuries to right-handers Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez?
Or how about, despite his age, Fernandez has no fear since he's been in jail and shot at trying to escape Cuba?
“People say, ‘Are you nervous? Are you scared?’ No, I’m not scared," Fernandez told The Miami Herald before his major league debut. "I’m not scared to do anything. The only thing I was scared of was getting in that boat, and getting shot at, and jumping in the water. After that, I’m not scared about anything else.”
Christian Yelich could follow the likes of former Marlins Gary Sheffield, Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez as a cornerstone of the franchise.
Before Fernandez dazzled Marlins fans with his electric arm, the (spring training) myth of Christian Yelich began its first chapter.
Yelich, the 21-year-old outfielder who was drafted 23rd overall in the 2010 draft, was expected to begin the season in Double-A Jacksonville. OK, technically, he's there right now, but he didn't go willingly—in a good way.
In 22 games, Yelich finished the spring as the organization's most impressive player, hitting .364 with a team-leading five home runs and 14 RBI. Moreover, Yelich provided plenty of heroics that made it hard for the Marlins to demote him back to the minors.
For instance, Yelich first showed he belonged when he smacked a game-tying RBI double and then scored the go-ahead run in a 6-4 win against the Mets on March 3. Less than two weeks later, against the Mets again, Yelich came off the bench and belted a solo home run to preserve the Marlins' 4-2 win. But his brightest moment came against the Red Sox.
Trailing by as many as six runs, Yelich capped off the Marlins' rally, belting a two-run, walk-off homer as the Marlins scored seven unanswered runs to post an 8-7 victory on March 11.
Yelich was so impressive, some wondered if he could make the rare jump from Single-A to the majors. Meanwhile, others inquired when Yelich's fun would come to an end.
Yelich told ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick:
I get asked about it probably a couple times every day from different people. At the end of the day, I can't really control it. It's out of my hands. All I can do is keep going out there and playing hard, and whatever happens, happens. I can't be disappointed either way. I came here from day one with the whole mindset to have fun and try to enjoy this experience as much as possible. I've been fortunate that it's all worked out pretty well so far. I'm just enjoying the ride and trying to stick it out as long as possible.
The adventure came to what is probably a temporary stop when the Marlins sent Yelich to Jacksonville with about a week left in camp.
"He had a great spring," first-year manager Mike Redmond told MLB.com. "Like we'd been talking about all spring, he was very impressive. Not just on the field, but the way he handled himself. He's a great teammate. He's a great player. His day will come."
Currently, Yelich is on the disabled list with a stone bruise to his left heel, according to MLB.com.