It’s easy to write the Miami Marlins off and most media outlets are doing just that. The team traded off a good portion of the roster and looks vastly different than it did one year ago on Opening Day. It’s gotten younger, and it’s gotten cheaper but the truth it — it’s also gotten better. That’s going to be something you don’t read or hear much right now however. What you will see are projections for 100 loss seasons, last place finishes, and maybe even some comparisons to the 1962 Mets. The Marlins proved in 2006 that they could make a good portion of so-called experts look foolish and they are set to do that again. In this preview, you’ll find an outline of why that is — broken down position by position.
It all starts with new manager Mike Redmond, who will be the perfect man in charge of this young group. He will get the most out of the roster and will keep things interesting all season long. In 2006, Joe Girardi won Manager of the Year for exceeding expectations with a young and inexperienced roster. While Redmond may fall short of winning that same award, he is sure to get some votes and recognition at season’s end.
Catcher – Rob Brantly
The young catcher acquired for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante last season in the Detroit Tigers’ trade is going to be the starting catcher on Opening Day. After a couple of sub-par years with John Buck behind the plate, the reigns are being handed to the unproven young backstop. Brantly showed some fantastic potential in his small time as a Marlin in 2012 and has continued to excel during Spring Training this year. While there will be bumps in the road, Brantly from all signs is on his way to giving Miami more offensive production from the catching position than they have seen in a while. At only 23 years old, Brantly is going to get better both with a bat and behind the plate. That progression will continue in 2013 with a surprisingly solid year from Brantly.
Prediction: .281 AVG .368 OBP 9 HR 64 RBI
First Base – Casey Kotchman / Logan Morrison
Things get tricky at first base with Morrison set to miss at least the first six weeks of the season. Kotchman who won the job in Spring Training will see the majority of the playing time at first until Morrison is ready. While Kotchman is known for being an excellent defender, his bat has left much to be desired outside of a solid 2011 in Tampa Bay. Unlike a prototypical first baseman, Kotchman does not hit for a large amount of power but he does contribute some home runs to the cause. What the Marlins will get from Morrison is a big question mark after only having 334 ABs in 2012. For the purposes of this preview, the predicted stats will be the total for Morrison and Kotchman
Prediction: .262 AVG .339 OBP 23 HR 87 RBI
Second Base – Donovan Solano
A year after missing the Opening Day roster despite an excellent Spring, Solano will get to experience being a member of the Opening Day roster. When Solano was brought up to the big leagues in 2012, he carried over his Spring performance by hitting a strong .295 while putting together a .342 on-base percentage. It only took Solano 285 ABs to show the Marlins that they have a second baseman to replace Infante. It’s likely that Solano will see a dip in those numbers in 2013 but he should be able to avoid a traditional Sophomore slump. In addition, Solano is expected to bat second in the lineup which is right in front of Giancarlo Stanton. With the idea that pitchers will want to avoid throwing Stanton much to hit, Solano should see plenty to hit.
Prediction: .287 AVG .342 OBP 7 HR 57 RBI
Shortstop – Adeiny Hechavarria
Hechavarria who was acquired in the trade with the Toronto Blue Jays will step right in as the everyday shortstop in Miami. He has big shoes to fill as the two players to hold the role prior to him were Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes. Hechavarria is known for having an exceptional glove but a below average bat. Descriptions of him could bring back memories of former New York Mets’ shortstop, Rey Ordóñez but there is hope that Hechavarria can improve at the plate. If he does, he will be on the cusp of greatness and could make Marlins’ fans forget all about Ramirez and Reyes. That’s not something that will happen in 2013 however, but a minor improvement is possible.
Prediction: .241 AVG .311 OBP 5 HR 41 RBI
Third Base – Placido Polanco
The former All-Star with the Tigers and Phillies headed to Miami for the 2013 season on a one-year contract looking for an opportunity to play everyday. Polanco is not the player he once was but he is still a decent contributor as well as a much needed veteran presence for a young Marlins’ team. Despite being known for his clutch ability, Polanco is an exceptional fielder. In his career, he has won three gold gloves including one as recently as 2011. Power wise, Polanco normally gives his team a handful home runs outside of a two stretch in 2003-2004 that saw him amass 31 long-balls. Polanco is expected to begin the year as the cleanup hitter for Miami, giving him a coveted spot behind Stanton. This should lead to increased RBI chances for Polanco with Stanton likely pitched around often.
Prediction: .267 AVG .312 OBP 4 HR 51 RBI
Left Field – Juan Pierre
In 2012, Pierre was Polanco’s teammate in Philadelphia and he had a great year hitting .307 while reaching base at a .351 clip. The speed that fans have become accustomed to seeing from Pierre was present as he swiped 37 bases as well. A key part of the Marlins’ title run in 2003, Pierre remains a resident of South Florida and should continue to play at a high level at the top of the lineup. The veteran will be asked to be a catalyst for a new lineup as well as a leader with his well known work ethic. One thing that Pierre has always done in his career is avoid strikeouts and there is no reason to believe that will change. With his ability to beat out infield grounders, Pierre could be on base many times this season when Stanton, Polanco, and Ruggiano come to the plate.
Prediction: .305 AVG .349 OBP 2 HR 37 RBI
Center Field – Justin Ruggiano
The biggest surprise in 2012 was Ruggiano’s production. After joining the team, the center fielder hit .313 with a .374 OBP while adding thirteen home runs. What started out looking like just a hot start continued and Ruggiano became a integral part of the Marlins’ lineup. While the team stated that the job would not be handed to Ruggiano coming into 2013, the belief is that it actually was. After missing much of the Grapefruit League this year, Ruggiano is still expected to be the everyday center fielder to begin the year. Should he struggle, it’s possible Chris Coghlan who had a big Spring could be given a chance to run with the job at some point. At some point, Ruggiano may move up to the cleanup spot right behind Stanton should he produce while Polanco falters.
Prediction: .297 AVG .349 OBP 25 HR 84 RBI
Right Field – Giancarlo Stanton
What can be said about the young slugger that hasn’t already been said. At the young age of 23, Stanton is already considered the best pure power hitter in all of Major League Baseball by many in the game. A lot of projections have Stanton leading the league in home runs in what will only be his third full season in MLB. The one issue Stanton mat have is a lack of lineup protection. The importance of this is debated often in the game of baseball but it’s likely Stanton would see more to hit if he had a proven star batting behind him. Still, Stanton is such a pure talent that even with less opportunities — he is going to put up All-Star numbers. He will take advantage of every mistake he sees and will make those around him better by showing patience at the plate when needed. There are people speculating that Stanton will be walked nearly every time he comes up but this is not a Barry Bonds situation, and that will simply not happen.
Prediction: .324 AVG . .398 OBP 46 HR 105 RBI
Starting Rotation – Ricky Nolasco
Following the off-season trades of Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, the new ace of the Marlins’ staff is Nolasco. This is by default more than it is earned as Nolasco’s thirteen losses and 4.48 ERA in 2012 hardly sound like statistics put up by an ace of a staff. Still, Nolasco will be handed the ball on Opening Day and is the highest paid Marlin this season. It’s more than likely that he will be traded near the Trade Deadline in July as Nolasco is set to be a free agent and is unlikely to re-sign with Miami. That makes his first half extremely important for Miami in terms of improving his trade value. What you can count on with Nolasco is a pitcher who will take the ball every five days and give you roughly six innings with a few gems sprinkled along the way. For the purposes of this prediction, it will be assumed Nolasco is traded at the end of July and will only factor in his numbers as a Marlin.
Prediction: 8 Wins 8 Losses 4.57 ERA 1.378 WHIP
Starting Rotation – Nate Eovaldi
Acquired in the Hanley Ramirez trade during 2012, Eovaldi is still only 23 years old and will open the year as the Marlins’ number two starter. With a total of 28 games started in the big leagues during his career, this is a quick ascension to that second spot but it comes as a necessity with Miami lacking options. Eovaldi has had decent numbers so far in the big leagues but more in line with a 4th or 5th starter. However, the youngster is still developing and should improve with more time on a big league mound. In his final three starts of 2012, Eovaldi strung together twenty innings of five run ball. Also impressive was the right-hander struck out twenty batters in those innings for a very strong finish to the season.
Prediction: 10 Wins 10 Losses 4.10 ERA 1.478 WHIP
Starting Rotation – Wade LeBlanc
Entering Spring Training, LeBlanc was battling for a roster spot just like he did in 2012. Last year, he did not win a spot despite an exceptional Spring simply because he had an option remaining. That story changed this year as LeBlanc not only won a roster spot but landed the third slot in the starting rotation. Now, much like the previous two pitchers listed here — LeBlanc is two spots above where he should be in the rotation but that stops mattering after one turn in the rotation anyway. LeBlanc is a solid lefty, and the only southpaw in Miami’s rotation. He will give the Marlins’ dependable numbers and can be seamlessly moved back into a long relief role if needed as well.
Prediction: 10 Wins 11 Losses 3.96 ERA 1.322 WHIP
Starting Rotation – Henderson Alvarez
At only 22 years old, Alvarez is still a pitcher that is developing and improving. The right-hander came in the off-season trade with Toronto and joins Hechavarria as the only two pieces from that deal set to start the year in Miami. Alvarez comes with a ton of potential but a limited amount of success. One alarming stat with Alvarez is his lack of strikeout ability as he only struck 79 hitters out in 187.1 innings pitched during 2012. Another sign of trouble would be the 29 home runs allowed but that number should come down pitching in the friendly confines of Marlins Park. Alvarez ended his 2012 season relatively strong with solid starts against the playoff bound New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles and the hope is that he will carry that over into the 2013 campaign.
Prediction: 11 Wins 8 Losses 4.27 ERA 1.401 WHIP
Starting Rotation – Kevin Slowey
The last spot in rotation went to Slowey who won it with a great Spring while auditioning for his former catcher, Redmond. The two were battery mates in Minnesota during the twilight of Redmond’s playing career. At 28, Slowey could be coming into the prime of his career if he can turn the ship around following an injury plagued 2012 and a rough 2011 season. Slowey spent all of last year in AAA with the Indians and missed a good portion of the year due to a stress fracture in his rib cage. He has not seen much success since 2008 when he went 12-11 with a 3.99 ERA including two complete game shutouts. The potential is still there though and maybe his former backstop can help him tap into that.
Prediction: 7 Wins 11 Losses 4.98 ERA 1.395 WHIP
The pen is an interesting part of the 2013 Marlins, it could be great or it could be a disaster. All signs point to it being very formidable however anchored by Steve Cishek who has quickly become one of the elite closers in baseball. Cishek was put on the national stage pitching for Team USA in this year’s World Baseball Classic and should only continue to get better with more ninth inning experience. Leading up to Cishek will be veteran Jon Rauch who has closing experience and could step in on days Cishek needs off. Rauch otherwise will likely see a bulk of the set-up work in the eighth. A.J. Ramos who showed the Marlins a lot in his cup of coffee last September may see some set-up work as well due to his excellent strikeout ability. Ramos will likely start out in more of a seventh inning role while spotting for Rauch as needed. The lone lefty in the bullpen to start the year will be Mike Dunn who had some struggles during 2012 and was even optioned to AAA. The Marlins’ hope Dunn can get back to being the dominant lefty they acquired for Dan Uggla as he will be needed against tough NL East lefties such as Bryce Harper and Ryan Howard. Veteran Chad Qualls won a job in the Spring but will likely fill more of a middle relief type role and rarely be asked to pitch in late game crucial moments
Greg Dobbs returns for another year of leading the bench with his excellent pinch hitting ability. Joining Dobbs will be Austin Kearns once again who also excelled in 2012 when coming off the bench. Kearns may see a bit of an increase in playing time at first base as a starter to begin the year when facing a tough lefty. Miguel Olivo who signed with the Marlins’ late will start the year as the backup catcher due to Jeff Mathis’ injury but will likely only have a short stay in his reunion with the Marlins. Olivo’s contract has an opt-out clause and chances are that will be exercised once Mathis is back. He should see starts in day games after night games and possibly also against some tough lefties. Perhaps the most interesting player on the bench will be Chris Coghlan who won a roster spot with a great Spring. Coghlan will likely see time at all three outfield spots and could even move into a starting role possibly at some point. Rounding out the bench is Chris Valaika who also won a job with his Spring performance. He will be asked to fill in for the middle infielders and could see some scattered starts at third base as well. Valaika has not appeared in the big leagues since 2011 with the Cincinnati Reds.
Now, comes the fun part of predicting how the Marlins will finish in terms of wins and losses. In 2012 with a large payroll and an All-Star cast of players, Miami finished with 69 wins. It was a team that liked excitement, and on some nights — effort. It was a disappointing season with the exclusion of a big May and it showed that spending money doesn’t necessarily equate to wins. The Marlins are going back to their roots this year with a small payroll filled with hungry veterans and excited kids. That formula is going to lead to more wins than the 2012 roster put together. It’s going to keep the team fun to watch all year long as well even when they inevitably fall out of contention. It will give Marlins’ fans something to look forward to as this core grows together and improves.
At some point, prospect Christian Yelich is expected to join the roster and he may reduce Pierre or Ruggiano’s playing time. It’s difficult to speculate when exactly Yelich will come up however and who he will take playing time from so for the purposes of this preview, he is being left out. However, his impact should be huge and it should help the Marlins win a few more games. Fellow prospect Jose Fernandez should also see time in the big leagues during 2013 as he moves closer to being a starting rotation member to begin 2014.