Complete Miami Marlins 2015 Season Preview
Giancarlo Stanton has accomplished a lot in his young career, but this offseason he did something that seemed utterly impossible: He convinced owner Jeffrey Loria to put the Miami Marlins in a position to succeed.
In November, Loria and the Marlins signed Stanton to the biggest contract in baseball history. The deal served as a $325 million domino that led to an offseason of free-agent signings and trades that made actual baseball sense, something Loria has a track record of ignoring.
In an exhaustive feature on Stanton, ESPN The Magazine's Tim Keown wrote that the Marlins star didn't demand just the 13 years and the parking garage full of Brink's trucks that came with the deal. Stanton required a commitment to success.
"I'm not going to sign just any contract because I got hit in the head," he said.
The deal ended up including an opt-out after six years and the first no-trade clause Loria has ever granted. Those serve as protection for Stanton in case the front office doesn't keep its promise to field a winner.
But so far the organization has held up its end of the bargain.
Michael Morse, Ichiro Suzuki, Dee Gordon, Martin Prado, Dan Haren and Mat Latos all found their way to Miami this winter because of the new leaf the organization has apparently turned over.
Now, for the first time since they started calling themselves "Miami," the Marlins can also call themselves contenders.
Spring Training Recap
If you've ever had a baseball hurled at your jaw at 88 mph, you probably wouldn't be thrilled at the prospect of putting yourself in a position where that could happen again.
It's human nature.
Luckily for Giancarlo Stanton, he isn't entirely human.
Armed with a new facemask—featuring a "G" looped into the carbon steel at his request—Stanton spent spring training eliminating any and all concerns about reluctance at the plate following his horrific accident.
The Marlins' star right fielder has notched 13 hits through 45 at-bats this spring. He has also knocked out three home runs, including an Adam Wainwright offering he absolutely pummeled last week. Giancarlo being Giancarlo.
The next box to check off in camp was the matriculation of Miami's new additions. With the exception of a Mat Latos start in which the Mets stopped just short of punching him in the gut and taking his wallet, the Marlins' offseason pickups are having an encouraging camp.
Michael Morse, Dee Gordon and Ichiro Suzuki are all hitting at least .290 in more than 40 at-bats. Morse—hitting .348—leads Miami in homers with four and Gordon—hitting .339—owns the team high for hits with 20 this spring.
The members of Miami's current roster were an astoundingly healthy bunch last season with their respective teams. Every starting position player logged at least 100 games, and Martin Prado and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were the only ones to play less than 130. The five-man rotation the Marlins will open the season with combined for 782.1 innings pitched in 2014.
But the one name on Miami's injury list is a big'un.
Jose Fernandez (Tommy John surgery)
Fernandez began throwing off the mound in spring training, and he's about a month away from facing live hitters, according to pitching coach Chuck Hernandez, via the Miami Herald's Manny Navarro.
The righty has a pretty specific return date in mind. Doctors told him July 16, exactly 14 months after the procedure, is a realistic timetable. But that doesn't mean he isn't itching to get back ASAP.
"I want to pitch tomorrow in the big leagues, are you kidding me?" Fernandez told USA Today's Paul White. "I think you have to be smart. It's not, 'Oh, I'm 22. I can do whatever I want. My arm is of steel. I've thrown 100 mph before.' It's not just all you. My teammates are counting on me."
Jarred Cosart (gambling investigation)
You're correct, gambling is not an injury.
Now that we've got that out of the way, it's worth mentioning that Jarred Cosart is the subject of a Major League Baseball probe into gambling allegations. Suspicions slid up out of his direct messages when screenshots of a conversation with a "gambling authority" became public.
MLB players are allowed to legally bet on other sports, but gambling on a baseball game you're not involved in results in a one-year suspension and gambling on your own game equals a permanent ban, per MLB Rule 21.
|1. 2B Dee Gordon||148 G, .289 AVG, 176 H, 2 HR, 34 RBI|
|2. LF Christian Yelich||144 G, .284 AVG, 165 H, 9 HR, 54 RBI|
|3. RF Giancarlo Stanton||145 G, .288 AVG, 155 H, 37 HR, 105 RBI|
|4. 1B Michael Morse||131 G, .279 AVG, 122 H, 16 HR, 61 RBI|
|5. CF Marcell Ozuna||153 G, .269 AVG, 152 H, 23 HR, 85 RBI|
|6. 3B Martin Prado||106 G, .270 AVG, 109 H, 5 HR, 42 RBI|
|7. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia||114 G, .220 AVG, 82 H, 11 HR, 44 RBI|
|8. SS Adeiny Hechavarria||146 G, .276 AVG, 148 H, 1 HR, 34 RBI|
*Stats courtesy of MLB.com
Bench: C Jeff Mathis, INF Donovan Solano, INF Jeff Baker, OF Don Kelly, OF Ichiro Suzuki
You look at your schedule and see the Washington Nationals 19 times. What do you do?
Pray, probably. But after that, you take a hard look at your perfectly middle-of-the road 2014 offense that finished 15th in average and 16th in runs scored and realize that some extra firepower is in order.
The Marlins hope they found that necessary injection of offense this winter with the additions of Dee Gordon, Michael Morse and Martin Prado to the lineup and Ichiro Suzuki as a fourth outfielder.
Miami's veteran pickups join forces with what is probably the best hitting outfield in baseball, comprised of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.
Those three have an average age of 24 years, and they combined to hit .280 with 59 total home runs last season.
If there's one NL East lineup with a chance to survive 19 cage matches with Washington's five-deep rotation, it's the Marlins.
|1. RHP Henderson Alvarez||30 GS, 12 W, 2.65 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 111 SO, 187.0 IP|
|2. RHP Jarred Cosart||10 GS, 4 W, 2.39 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 40 SO, 64.0 IP|
|3. RHP Mat Latos||16 GS, 5 W, 3.25 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 74 SO, 102.1 IP|
|4. RHP Dan Haren||32 GS, 13 W, 4.02 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 145 SO, 186.0 IP|
|5. RHP Tom Koehler||32 GS, 10 W, 3.81 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 153 SO, 191.1 IP|
|† RHP Jose Fernandez||8 GS, 4 W, 2.44 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 70 SO, 51.2 IP|
Long/Spot: LHP Brad Hand
*Stats courtesy of MLB.com
†Opening season on DL
Miami's new stash of hitters didn't just appear out of thin air. In the name of the lineup overhaul, the Marlins had to part ways with a pair of young arms who were all set to be cornerstones of the rotation down the road.
Even with Eovaldi and Heaney shipped off to various corners of the country, Miami's rotation is still in good shape.
The Marlins picked up Jarred Cosart at the deadline last season and traded for Mat Latos in December. With Haren joining the party via the Heaney trade, all of a sudden Miami has a core of wily veterans to hold serve while it waits for the return of Jose Fernandez and Henderson Alvarez plays ace.
|RHP Steve Cishek (closer)||67 G, 39 SV, 3.17 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 84 SO, 65.1 IP|
|RHP A.J. Ramos||68 G, 0 SV, 2.11 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 73 SO, 64.0 IP|
|LHP Mike Dunn||75 G, 1 SV, 3.16 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 67 SO, 57.0 IP|
|RHP Bryan Morris||39 G, 0 SV, 0.66 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 36 SO, 40.2 IP|
|RHP Aaron Crow||67 G, 3 SV, 4.12 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 34 SO, 59.0 IP|
|RHP David Phelps||32 G, 1 SV, 4.38 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 92 SO, 113.0 IP|
|LHP Brad Hand||32 G, 1 SV, 4.38 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 67 SO, 111.0 IP|
*Stats courtesy of MLB.com
Members of Miami's lineup and rotation most likely had to wear name tags and play icebreaker games in spring training, but the bullpen remained largely unchanged through the offseason.
Aaron Crow, via a trade with the Royals, and David Phelps, part of the Andrew Heaney trade, are the only new additions to the projected seven. It's conceivable that Phelps could start some games—he received 17 starts for the Yankees last season—but Brad Hand is a more likely option for spot starts because of his left-handedness.
The Marlins bullpen wasn't exactly impenetrable in 2014. Miami relievers ranked 21st in average allowed and 25th in WHIP last season.
But the team has a no-doubt closer in Steve Cishek, who's riding back-to-back 30-save seasons.
Prospects to Watch
C J.T. Realmuto (No. 2 prospect): ETA 2015
It's only a matter of time until 24-year-old J.T. Realmuto is Miami's starting catcher.
But he'll start the 2015 season with Triple-A New Orleans after spending half of spring training in big league camp, an effort to get him "consistent at-bats," according to manager Mike Redmond, via Fox Sports Florida's Christina De Nicola.
Realmuto made his major league debut last June and hit .241 in 29 at-bats. With Double-A Jacksonville last season, he batted .299 with 62 RBI in 97 games.
RHP Jose Urena (No. 3 prospect): ETA 2015
Twenty-three-year-old Jose Urena's fastball is major league-ready. The rest of his arsenal, not so much. That's why he's still waiting on his big league debut and why he'll start the season in Jacksonville.
But, according to president of baseball operations Michael Hill, Urena's secondary pitches are coming along.
"His slider and his changeup were probably both below-average pitches coming into last year, but he found a changeup grip that was comfortable for him and a slider grip that was comfortable for him that really allowed him to throw it with confidence," Hill said via De Nicola. "Once he was able to throw it with confidence, he had a well-above fastball he could attack hitters knowing he had three weapons to get him out."
LHP Justin Nicolino (No. 4 prospect): ETA 2015
Twenty-three-year-old Justin Nicolino is another pitcher the Marlins are approaching with caution before promoting him to the majors.
But after going 14-4 with a 2.85 ERA for Jacksonville in 2014, Hill called Nicolino and Urena the two most improved pitchers in the organization in the same article from De Nicola.
*Team prospect rankings and ETAs courtesy of MLB Pipeline
LF Christian Yelich
Christian Yelich's vision at the plate borders on a superpower.
At least that's how Marlins hitting coach Fred Menechino makes it sound.
"When he took a pitch last year, I'm telling you, 99 percent of the time I'd go back and look and say, 'Yep, it was a ball,'" Menechino told The New York Times' Tyler Kepner. "This kid has a great eye. He doesn't hit outside his body, he always has balance, and he knows where the ball is all the time."
Whenever he does fulfill the prophecy, he'll probably be wearing a Marlins uniform. In March, Miami inked the 23-year-old to a seven-year, $49.57 million contract extension.
CF Marcell Ozuna
Marcell Ozuna has the refreshing ability to look like he's actually having fun while he's playing baseball for a living. He's Yasiel Puig-like in his joviality.
"(Ozuna) is a little boy in man's body," Miami outfield coach Brett Butler told the Miami Herald's Manny Navarro.
That man's body also hit 23 homers and drove in 85 runs last season.
Miami's outfield is already terrifying with Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton on the flanks. But it's Marcell Ozuna in center who rounds out the trio and truly makes it a bomb squad.
Keys to Success
Keeping Pace Without Jose Fernandez
The Marlins have a realistic shot at an NL wild-card spot in 2015. But for the entire first half of the season, he'll be sitting in the dugout somewhere between Ichiro and a cooler of Gatorade.
Jose Fernandez, who will miss at least April, May and June, is the kind of talent that could ignite a second-half push for the playoffs. But Miami has to hug the .500 line while it waits for its ace to return.
Both NL wild-card teams were 88-74 last season. If the Marlins can stay within striking distance of that number for half of the season, they can hitch the wagon to Fernandez every fifth day for two-plus months and see if the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year can't engineer a playoff berth.
Beating Divisional Opponents
Atlanta and Philadelphia should be even worse this season with the Braves rebuilding and the Phillies doing...something.
For New York, Tommy John giveth and Tommy John taketh away with the return of Matt Harvey and the season-long loss of Zack Wheeler. But the Mets are still a threat to finish at or around .500 in 2015.
In order for the Marlins to reach their potential, they have to beat the teams they're supposed to beat. That starts in the division with the hapless Braves and Phillies. Then Miami has to take charge of its series with the Mets and at least put up a fight against the Nationals.
Preview of Opening Series vs. Braves
Speaking of divisional matchups, the Marlins will open the season with an NL East tilt against said Braves.
Alvarez will face a Braves lineup without two of its top three qualifying hitters from a year ago. Jason Heyward and Justin Upton were No. 2 and 3 in batting average for Atlanta, earning them trades to St. Louis and San Diego, respectively. The Braves are also without their top two home run hitters, Upton and Evan Gattis.
Jarred Cosart and Mat Latos, in that order, should starts games two and three for the Marlins. On the Braves' side, it will most likely be Alex Wood in the second game of the season and Shelby Miller to close out the series.
We've been over the importance of winning series like these, so Miami will get a nice litmus test to open the season in the form of a three-game set with Atlanta.
Best Marlins Twitter Follows
Twitter is a scary place for Marlins fans as long as vines of Giancarlo Stanton getting blasted in the face still exist. But it's also an easy way to stay on top of any breaking news and get opinions from beat reporters who are with the team every day.
Here are a handful of the most informative accounts across the Twitterverse that are dedicated solely to the Fish.
Official Marlins Twitter Account: @Marlins
Joe Frisaro, MLB.com: @JoeFrisaro
Juan C. Rodriguez, Sun Sentinel: @JCRMarlinsbeat
Joe Capozzi, Palm Beach Post: @joecapMarlins
Manny Navarro, Miami Herald: @Manny_Navarro
Clark Spencer, Miami Herald: @clarkspencer
Tommy Hutton, Fox Sports Florida: @THUT14
I can't possibly capture the vast expanse of Marlins Twitter in one list, so if you know of any must-follows that I left off, leave them in the comments.
2015 Season Outlook
Major League Baseball is low on superpowers and high contenders right now. There are a number of teams just on the periphery of playoff-caliber, and Miami could be considered the poster child for that group.
The Marlins have enough proven talent to stake a claim for a wild-card spot but too much offseason turnover to be certain about anything.
In 2015, pick the Marlins at your own risk.
Prediction: 87-75, second NL wild-card team
*All stats courtesy of MLB.com
Danny Garrison is a Featured Columnist on Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @DannyLGarrison, where you can reprimand him for jinxing your team and hold him accountable for any wrong predictions.