NL East: Miami Marlins Closer to Contending Than You Might Think

Michael NatelliCorrespondent IApril 1, 2014

The Marlins put on an offensive display on Monday night, getting to the Rockies' pitching staff for 10 runs over eight innings.
The Marlins put on an offensive display on Monday night, getting to the Rockies' pitching staff for 10 runs over eight innings.Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Marlins roughed up the Rockies Monday night in a 10-1 thrashing to pick up their first win of the year. Jose Fernandez started "The Wave," Marcell Ozuna had a grand Opening Night and times were good in South Florida.

While the Marlins did beat a Colorado Rockies team that finished last in the NL West (74-88) last year, Miami showed that when everybody's on, it's a tough team to beat. With the signing of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and under-the-radar acquisitions like Casey McGehee, Jeff Baker, Garrett Jones and Carlos Marmol, the Marlins have a significantly deeper roster now than at this time last season.

And if that wasn't enough, the team can probably expect significant reinforcements sometime midsummer. released its Top 100 Prospects list in January, and in March, the site released the Top 20 Prospects lists for each of baseball's 30 teams.

Of the Marlins' Top 20, five were projected to reach the big leagues at some point in 2014. Top 100 prospects Andrew Heaney and Jake Marisnick headline that list, with well-regarded pitchers Adam Conley, Brian Flynn and Nick Wittgren also projected to make their big league debuts this year. That's a healthy hand of talent that could be slated to join the big league team in a matter of weeks or months.

Are these Marlins really that far off from competing?

On paper, Miami is not in the same discussion as the Nationals or the Braves, but even if it doesn't dominate those head-to-head matchups, it can still certainly do more damage than most are giving it credit for. 

The Marlins tried to catch lightning in a bottle when they went out and signed Casey McGehee, who played in Japan with the Rakuten Golden Eagles last year and won the league's batting title. While he likely won't find himself leading the league in batting average back in America this year, a .275 to .280 season from McGehee, even without great power production, would go a long way towards giving Giancarlo Stanton and Jarrod Saltalamacchia some offensive support. 

Another key to the Marlins' hopes will be the development of top prospect Christian Yelich, who begins the season as the team's starting left fielder. Yelich posted a solid .286 batting average in 63 at-bats last year and will look to duplicate, if not improve on that this year. Yelich was originally drafted 23rd overall in the 2010 draft, the same draft that produced Nationals All-Star Bryce Harper. A former teammate of both players once told me that, while Harper has more raw power, Yelich was, in his eyes, the better all-around hitter of the two. If that proves to be the case, the Marlins certainly have another bat in left field.

But the obvious thing that Miami lacks is star power. While Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez are two of the game's top young players, the Marlins' roster drops off after that. Yelich will hopefully establish himself this year and join Stanton and Fernandez, but the team is betting on a rotation of young arms and a corner infield of hit-or-miss players, neither of which are proven commodities. And while the intention of the McGehee signing was to serve as a bridge to top prospect Colin Moran, the Marlins have a chance to win before Moran arrives. So if McGehee struggles, they shouldn't settle for below average.

Another top starter or one more bat would go a long way for the Marlins. Because of their draft positioning, they wouldn't have to forfeit a first-round pick to sign Kendrys Morales, who would certainly be an improvement over Garrett Jones at first base. And if they can hang around until June or July, several other bats and arms will surely become available as some teams start to fall out of the race.

While the Marlins are well known for their famous offseason fire sale of 2012-2013, keep in mind that they went out and spent serious dollars just an offseason prior. It's certainly not unthinkable that the team could go out and sign Morales to a two-year contract, especially with highly touted first base prospects projected to make it to the big leagues in the next few years. 

Here's a look at the projected lineup with Morales:

LF - Christian Yelich
CF - Marcell Ozuna
RF - Giancarlo Stanton
1B - Kendrys Morales
3B - Casey McGehee
C - Jarrod Saltalamacchia
2B - Jeff Baker
SS - Adeiny Hechavarria
Pitcher's Spot

As deep as the lineups of the Braves and Nationals? Perhaps not. Capable of scoring runs for a pitching-heavy team? Absolutely.

And with the Marlins looking to do anything they can to become more marketable, adding another Latin star to a team located in a predominantly Latin market would unquestionably be a good PR move. And while the team may not have the prospect depth necessary to make multiple blockbuster trades, they have enough that they could add some quality pieces to support the young core they've already put together.

Jeffrey Loria has taken a lot of heat in recent months and years for being one of the worst owners in baseball. But suddenly, things aren't looking so bad for the Marlins. That's not to say they'll win the division this year, or even get a playoff spot. But for a team that won just 62 games last year, this roster is looking quite promising, and with a few moves, they could be looking even better.