Predicting What the Miami Marlins' Starting Lineup Will Look Like in 2014
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Last week, we took a look as to what players might not be with the Miami Marlins in 2014.
Today, based on who we think will still be here, we're going to take a look as to what the Marlins starting lineup will be next season.
The rules are simple. The Marlins chosen to start next season must be under team control in some fashion for the 2014 season. This means guys such as Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco, who signed one-year deals with the Marlins in the offseason, were not selected because they had little to no shot of starting next year, especially considering their current roles as bench players. Also, this means free agents such as Brian McCann, Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Garza will not be coming to South Beach anytime soon.
While you might be very familiar with the names on this list, keep in mind these players have earned the starting nod either through outstanding production or merely by default.
Without further ado, let's present the starting nine for the 2014 Miami Marlins in lineup card fashion.
LF Christian Yelich
It's a small sample size, but Christian Yelich has proven, thus far, he can handle major league pitching.
On the day Yelich and center fielder Jake Marisnick were promoted to the Marlins, the sweet-swinging left fielder had a three-hit game and drove in two runs in his major league debut. At the time, Yelich's three hits in his first three major league at-bats made him just the fourth player younger than 22 years old to accomplish such a feat since 1980. The three other players to have had hits in each of their first three at-bats in the major leagues: Daryl Boston (1984 Chicago White Sox), Jose Offerman (1990 Los Angeles Dodgers) and Jay Bruce (2008 Cincinnati Reds).
Unfortunately, Yelich's name had to be redacted from that list more than two weeks after his debut when a scoring change turned one of Yelich's hit into an error charged to Colorado Rockies second baseman D.J. LeMahieu, according to NBC Sports.
Currently, Yelich has a slash line of .287/.342/.380 with one home run and seven runs batted in. In other words, the left-handed hitter is hitting 33 points better than the league average and is getting on base at a 24-point clip better than the average batter.
ESPN.com's Tristan H. Cockcroft has tabbed Yelich as a late-season waiver pick up in fantasy baseball. Cockcroft's reasoning is Yelich will bat in the top third of the Marlins' lineup almost every day for the remainder of the year, and he has the kind of selectivity, above-average power and speed that might make him quite the fantasy spark plug.
What Yelich still needs to continue to improve on is hitting against left-handed pitchers. In 66 major league at-bats against right-handers, Yelich is has a slash line of .364/.408/.500—basically the second coming of Ty Cobb. But against southpaws, Yelich's slash line is .167/.222/.190 in 42 at-bats. Despite the struggles, Yelich's approach won't change.
"No different if it's lefty or righty, I'm still trying to look for a pitch to hit," he told MLB.com. "I kind of have the same approach against every guy. I try not to make it any more complicated than that. When you do that, I think it takes you out of your game. If you approach it like, 'It's a lefty, I'm going to do something different here,' it doesn't work."
Considering the rest of the Marlins lineup and what an advanced hitter Yelich is, expect Yelich to continue to hit leadoff for the Marlins in 2014.
2B Donovan Solano
In reality, it's a three-way battle between Derek Dietrich, Ed Lucas and Donovan Solano for two positions—second base and third base.
At second base, Dietrich has proven that he couldn't adjust to major league pitching in his first stint in the majors while Solano has proven when given the opportunity, he'll be a productive player.
After producing a slash line of .295/.342/.375 as a part-time turned full-time player last season, Solano had a solid start as the Marlins everyday second baseman this season before he landed on the 15-day disabled list May 7 with a left intercostal strain. After Chris Valaika fractured his left wrist against the San Diego Padres later that night, Dietrich was promoted to the majors May 8.
Dietrich had eight hits in his first 20 at-bats, but produced a .195/263/.379 slash line from then on until he was sent back to the minors July 23. During that time, Solano healed but was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans, where he fought his way back to the Marlins by producing a .379/.411/.545 slash line in the minors. In his stint with New Orleans, Solano hit safely in all 17 games and had a multi-hit game seven times.
Since Solano regained his starting job, he has produced a .295/.344/.364 slash line in 24 games.
"I know I can do good things," Solano told the Sun-Sentinel. "Any ballplayer that plays regularly would find himself in a better position to do good things. I'll keep doing what I've always done, staying focused on my job, working hard and leaving everything in God's hands so things come out well."
Solano will never be mistaken for Dustin Pedroia or Luis Castillo, but he is the Marlins best option. Solano might not help the Marlins win 100 games in 2014, but he probably won't help them lose 100 games either.
RF Giancarlo Stanton
Since we envision Giancarlo Stanton remaining with the Miami Marlins in 2014 last week, Stanton should be penciled in as the Marlins No. 3 hitter again next year despite the constant trade rumors and Stanton's struggles this season.
Currently, Stanton's slash line is .241/.353/.452 with 15 home runs and 38 RBI, which is a far cry from his first three years in the big leagues when he averaged a .270/.350/.553 slash line with 31 home runs and 77 RBI. Despite the sub-par year, Stanton should continue to hit third, even if he's not the prototypical No. 3 hitter.
“There’s no point in looking at them,” Stanton told the Miami Herald of the numbers, which also includes a career-high eight errors. “There’s no one thing. [It’s] everything, even defense. It’s just one of those mind-blowing things.”
Before Spring Training began, Marlins manager Mike Redmond contemplated where he should bat Stanton considering the right-handed slugger was his only source of power. Eventually, Redmond decided to bat Stanton third based on a pretty sound premise.
"I'd like to see him come up in the first inning," Redmond told the Miami Herald. "You think about other power hitters. Mark McGwire, he hit third."
And it isn't like batting third is a foreign concept for Stanton. In 2011, Stanton's slash line was .279/.410/.686 with nine home runs and 15 RBI in 105 plate appearances at the No. 3 hole. In 2012, he was .263/.373/.561 with five home runs and eight RBI in 67 plate appearances. Plus, as Joe Sheehan writes, each lineup spot gets about 18 extra plate appearances a season more than the spot below it. In fact, he makes a case for utilizing a team's best hitter as the No. 2 hitter.
Obviously, Stanton needs to return to form. To their credit, Stanton and the Marlins are trying to find ways to get him to finish the season strong.
On the Marlins recent road trip, Redmond gave Stanton a mental break twice within a five-day period, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Also, according to MLB.com, Stanton has been working with with interim hitting coach John Pierson on a number of different drills, just to try new ideas, with the objective to generate more backspin, which he showed with his home run Saturday.
Of course, everything would be moot if the Marlins present Stanton with a long-term contract this offseason and Stanton refuses to sign. Only then would Stanton bat third in a lineup elsewhere.
1B Logan Morrison
Assuming he's healthy, Logan Morrison will again provide protection for Giancarlo Stanton.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
If Stanton continues to hit third, Logan Morrison remains the most qualified candidate to provide Stanton with protection.
Morrison's slash line is currently .278/.363/.444 with four home runs and 26 RBI in 51 games since returning two months ago from last September's right knee surgery. This is his best season since 2010 when he produced a .283/.390/.447 slash line in 62 games as a rookie.
Moreover, Morrison seems to have found a groove as he's hitting .328 in August.
“Here’s a guy that was out for an extended period of time and just now starting to feel more comfortable,” Redmond told the Miami Herald. “Hopefully, he can finish this last part of the season strong. [Before] he was playing through the knee and fighting the bad back. When you go a year or two where you play sporadically, it affects you.”
Unlike Stanton, Morrison might not have to worry about where he'll play next season even though he's eligible for arbitration after the season just like Stanton.
Besides commanding less salary, the Miami Herald reported owner Jeffrey Loria called Morrison this past offseason not only to tell Morrison he’s still a big part of the Marlins’ future, but also to tell him it wasn’t lost on Loria how maturely Morrison handled the offseason upheaval, particularly the 12-player fire sale trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. Unlike Stanton and the recently-traded Ricky Nolasco, Morrison didn’t voice displeasure on Twitter about Ozzie Guillen's firing or the payroll dumping, and that pleased Loria.
CF Marcell Ozuna
At the end of the day, this spot in the batting order as well as center field belongs to either Marcell Ozuna and Jake Marisnick.
Judging by how each has performed during his time in the big leagues, it's more likely Ozuna will be chosen over Marisnick barring a big or disappointing Spring Training next year from either player.
Marisnick has struggled thus far as his slash line is .193/.239/.241 in 83 at-bats. Moreover, his defense has been average as his range factor per nine innings is 2.62. The league average is 2.48. Marisnick admits he might be pressing.
“I’m just trying to do too much with pitches instead of trying to put a good swing on the ball,” Marisnick told the Miami Herald. “Mentally, I’m relaxed up there, but my swing is just getting a little long at times. I still have to fine-tune a few things and make sure I don’t chase bad pitches.”
It took Marisnick 14 at-bats to collect his first major league hit. According to the Sun-Sentinel, The only Marlin in franchise history to begin his major league career on a longer dry spell was Nigel Wilson, who from Sept. 8-26, 1993, went 0-for-16. Wilson finally got the first of his three career big league hits three years later as a member of the Cleveland Indians.
Meanwhile, Ozuna had a blistering start as his slash line was .331/.371/.472 with one home run and 17 RBI in his first 36 games. Then, Ozuna cooled down considerably as his slash line was .195/.230/.301 with two home runs and 15 RBI in the next 34 games before he was done for the season because of left thumb surgery, according to the Associated Press.
Now, Ozuna's slide could be attributed to one of two factors: Either because he was moved to center field after Giancarlo Stanton returned from the disabled list due to a right hamstring strain or because he dropped down to No. 5 in the batting order when Logan Morrison returned from the disabled list due to last September's knee surgery. The two transactions occurred a day apart.
Ozuna is a better right fielder than center fielder. In the corner outfield, Ozuna had five assists and his range factor per nine innings was 2.33, which is better than the league average of 2.09. In center field, he was serviceable, but not as good as Marisnick. Ozuna had three assists and his range factor per nine innings is 2.39.
Knowing center field might be the only position in a crowded outfield, assuming Stanton is not traded, Ozuna is already thinking about next season.
"I'm playing winter ball so I can get ready for next season and Spring Training," Ozuna told MLB.com. "Then, I can make the team."
3B Ed Lucas
When it comes to this starting gig, the question the Marlins must ask is will they be better with Derek Dietrich or Ed Lucas?
If it's the former, then Dietrich will start at second base, Donovan Solano moves to third base and Lucas will come off the bench. If it's the latter, then Lucas will start at third base, Solano stays at second base and Dietrich will continue to gain experience in the minors.
The latter scenario is more likely unless Dietrich has a big Spring Training next year.
As noted earlier, Dietrich struggled against big league pitching after a nice early start. What might have put him in a worse position are his claims against former Marlins hitting coach Tino Martinez, which the Miami Herald reported happened on Dietrich's fifth day in the majors. The Sun-Sentinel also reported Dietrich was at a loss about how to deal with what Martinez did, which he alleges was grabbing him by the neck, and chose to keep quiet and somehow produced despite unimaginable duress.
Meanwhile, Redmond doesn't have to babysit someone such as Lucas, who is 31 years old and who toiled in the minor leagues for 10 years.
Lucas has made 41 of his 57 starts at the hot corner and has a slash line of .240/.306/.301. As bad as that is, we already know Dietrich is worse despite the power he has exhibited with his nine home runs.
In the end, it just seems like Lucas is the lesser of two evils.
SS Adeiny Hechavarria
Unlike the two guys ahead of him in the batting order, Adeiny Hechavarria doesn't have to worry about who Redmond would slot in here. Hechavarria is the man.
Defensively, Hechavarria is one of the better young defensive shortstops in the game and is considered to be a fixture with the Marlins for the foreseeable future, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Although the sabermetrics community isn't too crazy about his defense—of the 23 qualifying major league shortstops, Hechavarria's defensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is 20th and his range factor of 4.02 is 19th—Hechavarria seems to pass the eye test with plays such as this and that.
What Hechavarria needs to continue to work is his bat.
Hechavarria's slash line is currently .232/.271/.302 with two home runs and 28 RBI. His offensive WAR is at a mediocre -1.8, which makes him a replacement-level player at the plate.
Now, there is some hope. Between July 1 and July 28, which happens to the day then-hitting coach Tino Martinez re-signed, Hechavarria had benefited from Martinez's tutelage and had a slash line of .348/.375/.402 in 23 games. During that stretch, Hechavarria had 11 multi-hit games and, for a short period of time, he was moved into the leadoff spot, according to MLB.com.
Since Martinez's resignation, Hechavarria has struggled again as his slash line is an ugly .178/.221/.219 in 20 games.
Hechavarria is not a top of the order batter as he draws a walk once every five games. Hechavarria is not a No. 5 or 6 hitter since he doesn't hit with power, as evidenced by his two home runs this season. So batting him seventh seems to be just right.
C Jeff Mathis
Miami Marlins manager Mike Redmond is a former catcher. The Marlins have a young pitching staff as four of their five starting pitchers are younger than 23 years old. Thus, Jeff Mathis should continue his role as Marlins catcher.
Mathis returned from the disabled list because of a broken right collarbone and has taken playing time away from the 24-year-old Rob Brantly. Since May 14, Mathis has made 49 starts behind the plate compared to Brantly's 33. It also shows in the Marlins' record as they are 27-22 when Mathis starts and 9-24 when Brantly starts.
It had gotten to the point where Brantly was recently demoted to Triple-A New Orleans, according to the Miami Herald. The main reason Brantly was held back was because of his issues behind the plate. Redmond said Brantly’s throwing skill and blocking ability had improved, but added Brantley still needed work in other areas.
“There’s still some game-plan stuff, and things he needs to work on as far as day-to-day preparation, and calling pitches, and working with pitchers, and carrying out a game plan,” Redmond told the Miami Herald. “Some of those are experience things. Some of them are focus things.”
As a result, Brantly went from a guy who bounced around like a yo-yo because he was having fun during Spring Training to a guy who had lost that personality he exhibited, Redmond said. It showed in an August 3 game when the Cleveland Indians stole six bases against Brantly and he failed to bring home the tying and winning runs with runners on second and third with one out in the bottom of the ninth in a 4-3 loss.
"Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward," Marlins general manager Michael Hill told the Sun-Sentinel. "There was never any pressure put on him. Given our season we knew we were going to have some challenges with young players, but we just wanted to see them make progress and continue to get better up here. We always said if we felt they had lost confidence it was time for them to go back and right the ship."
Now, Mathis is no savior. After all, he is awful at the plate as the career .198 hitter prior to this season currently has a slash line of .194/.272/.297 with three home runs and 22 RBI. Also, 44 of his starts have being as the No. 8 hitter while four of his other five starts have come in the No. 9 hole in American League ballparks, which is when the designated hitter is in effect in place of the pitching hitting.
But right now, Mathis is what currently works to the point where, according to MLB.com, he has caught games with youngsters Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez on the mound. With a year left on his contract, expect Mathis to continue to lend an experience hand.
P Jose Fernandez
You only need one guess who will start Opening Day next year as the ace of the Marlins pitching staff.
With apologies to Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, that honor belongs to none other than 21-year-old phenom Jose Fernandez.
Fernandez currently has a 9-5 record with a 2.41 ERA, which currently ranks third in the National League, and has struck out 157 batters, tied for seventh in the NL, in just 145 2/3 innings. Fernandez also hasn't lost a start since July 7 and the Marlins have won 11 of the last 14 times Fernandez has taken the mound.
As if that wasn't enough, Fernandez's 4.7 WAR is currently 11th among all major league pitchers. Yep, you read that right, 11th among all major league pitchers. That means he's having a better season thus far than the likes of Cliff Lee, Bartolo Colon and Justin Verlander. You may have heard of those guys as they have all been Cy Young Award winners.
The world seem to have taken notice as this SportsNation poll in an article written by ESPN.com's David Schoenfield said 60 percent chose Fernandez as the NL's best rookie. Fernandez was selected ahead of Yasiel Puig, Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Oh, and did we mention Fernandez is 21 and has never pitched above Advanced Single-A Jupiter?
Heck, in Fernandez's previous start Monday against Puig's Dodgers, the Sun-Sentinel's Juan C. Rodriguez penned this opening remark in the Marlins' 6-2 victory.
"Cuban-born rookie sensation Yasiel Puig was a much anticipated guest at Marlins Park. Fellow countryman Jose Fernandez reminded him and everyone else who owns the place."
Before the game, the Miami Herald reported Fernandez stopped for a moment to chat with Puig behind the batting cage during batting practice and the two posed for a couple of photos. What Fernandez probably didn't do was warn him for what he was about to face considering Puig was held hitless in three at-bats against Fernandez, including a three-pitch strikeout on 97-mph fastballs with two on in the fifth.
“I like to compete,” Fernandez told the Miami Herald after the win. “I’m pretty excited how it came out. If you’re not on my team, I’m going to go out there and get you, even if it’s my mom hitting there.”
The only thing possibly holding Fernandez back from the NL Rookie of the Year Award is timing. Before the season, Miami management set a range with the maximum of about 170 innings for Fernandez this season, according to MLB.com. With less than 24 innings left, Fernandez has anywhere from one to four starts remaining. This means his last start can be as early as Saturday against the Colorado Rockies or as late as September 10 against the Atlanta Braves.
If the ballots were due today, though, there's no doubt who would win the NL Rookie of the Year in Redmond's book.
"He's definitely done his job," Redmond told MLB.com. "If I had to pick, I'd pick him [Rookie of the Year], for sure. But he's definitely at a disadvantage when you're talking about the Dodgers and the Marlins. For us, he's definitely our Rookie of the Year."
At the very least, the Marlins should make sure Fernandez get to 10 wins before he reaches his innings limit, as this one scribe predicted seven weeks ago.