If history is any indication, the Marlins are in for a big, big year. Miami has been a cyclical franchise that first peaked in 1997 with a 92-win season and their first World Series title. After dismantling the roster and bottoming out, the Josh-Beckett led 2003 Marlins toppled the mighty Yankees for their second championship. In 2009, Miami posted an 87-win campaign and just missed out on the postseason despite their third highest win total in franchise history. Notice a pattern?
Much like a Senate reelection, every six years the Marlins pop up and threaten to shift the balance of power. Some quick math will point out that we are indeed a half-dozen seasons removed from Miami’s last bout of relevance. Does that mean we’re due to see the Fish flying in 2015? They certainly have an influx of young talent to surround arguably the best young hitter in the National League, and pieces have been added to solidify a potential playoff run. Let’s take a look at what pieces they’ve assembled and where you should go fishing for talent in your draft.
With the first three of my NL East team previews, I’ve lead off with the infields of each squad. But how can any discussion of the Marlins not kick off with their uber-talented young outfield, starting with the $325 million man, Giancarlo Stanton. The premier power hitter in the game today, Stanton led the league in home runs, total bases and slugging percentage in 2014. If that wasn’t enough, he even added a little speed to his game, swiping 13 bags as the cherry on top of a very rich sundae. Despite missing the end of the season after being hit in the face with a pitch, Stanton should be back to his old tricks this year and could see even more RBI opportunities with the additions made to the lineup (detailed below). Keep in mind that he’s just 25 years old and the best may be still to come. There’s no way he should fall out of the top three players selected in drafts.
Stanton’s contract may have garnered the most headlines this offseason, but this week it was the newly minted $49 million contract of Christian Yelich that made the presses. Miami locked up the 23-year old for seven years after a mighty productive campaign setting the table for Stanton. His 94 runs scored were fifth in the league, and he tossed in a nice OBP of .362 and 21 stolen bases. He should continue to be among the league leaders in runs scored this year while having the potential to reach double digit home runs as well. Not only is Yelich a perfect complement to Stanton in real life, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pair these two up as well on your fantasy team.
There was one outfielder from Miami that I universally owned last year, and it wasn’t Stanton or Yelich. I talked about Marcell Ozuna in an article I wrote last May and am happy to report I was spot on about his outlook. His 23 HR and 85 RBI were quite the boost in the power categories to anyone who heeded my advice and got him on your roster. While his .269/.317/.455 triple slash was very solid, I wouldn’t be surprised to see those first two drop just a tad this year. Ozuna is a free swinger and his 26.8% strikeout rate and .337 BABIP indicate he may be closer to a .250 hitter than a .270 hitter. Still, for a fourth outfielder in fantasy, Ozuna provides the kind of pop that is hard to find that deep in the outfield ranks. He makes for an interesting, high-upside option in the middle rounds.
In support of their loaded outfield, the Marlins overhauled their infield this offseason and will have three new starters around the diamond. The most interesting of their additions from a fantasy perspective is a personal favorite of mine, Dee Gordon. Round Robinson Inc. championed Gordon much of last season when others were finding reasons to bury him. While some were waiting with baited breath for his inflated BABIP to descend, I continued to preach that a change in approach meant this was the real thing. Gordon put the ball on the ground more than ever last year (1.52 GB/FB) and used his speed to hit .289 in 650 PA. Of course, that speed also led to 64 steals, the main reason we all come to the party. I don’t think it’s crazy to expect another 60+ SB, 90+ R season from Gordon when he’s parked ahead of Yelich and Stanton. Just make sure you’re loaded up with power before you roster him.
With Casey McGehee now in San Francisco, the Marlins looked beyond South Beach to find his replacement at third base. As the main cog in the Nathan Eovaldi deal with the Yankees, Martin Prado finds himself back in the southeast after being dealt across the country twice in the last few years. At this point we know what Prado is; a high-average hitter with a little juice in his bat, and versatility that makes him ownable in mixed leagues. Undoubtedly, you’d prefer to use Prado at 2B instead of 3B for fantasy sake as he’ll give you some output at each of the five traditional categories while not being a standout in any single one.
The last of the major offensive additions came with a World Series ring. Michael Morse has demonstrated he can provide some serious power when given the opportunity (31 HR in 575 PA in 2011). The problem for Morse is finding that consistent opportunity as he hasn’t reached even 500 PA since. That shouldn’t be a problem in Miami as he’ll be installed as the regular first basemen for the Fish. A successful season for Morse consists of reaching the 20-HR plateau again while maintaining a batting average that doesn’t hurt your squad, two things I think he’s more than capable of doing.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia returns behind the dish and brings with him the same modest power numbers than most mixed league catchers ranked in the mid-teens come with. The problem for Salty is his anemic average that drags him out of the top 20 at the position and makes him strictly a NL-only play. Anemic seems to describe just about every facet of Adeiny Hechavarria when it comes to stepping into the batter’s box. Outside of his not-terrible average (and downright fun name to say), Hechavarria provides next to nothing in any category and shouldn’t be rostered except for the deepest of leagues.
Despite all the additions Miami has made on offense, their biggest move came in adding former Reds’ fireballer Mat Latos to their rotation. And the word former not only applies to his previous team, but also his status as one of the harder throwers in the league. Knee and elbow surgeries have forced Latos to adopt a strike-zone attacking, pitch-to-contact approach that will result in fewer strikeouts, but also fewer walks, and the chance to possibly work deeper into games. Although the top end K-rate is gone, moving from a hitter’s park like Great American to a notable pitcher’s park in Miami will only help Latos’ prospects.
Latos will have to carry the mantle as the #1 starter for the Marlins for at least half of the season, or whenever Jose Fernandez makes his long awaited return. There’s no question that Fernandez had some of the best stuff in the game before the UCL tear that cost him most of 2014. The real concern is how quickly he’ll regain that form when he does take the mound again. I expect him to be a top-15 or top-20 starter from that point forward, making his draft stock difficult to gauge. How high a pick are you willing to spend on a difference-making pitcher who’ll be sitting in your DL spot for 3+ months? Some might go higher, but I can’t pass up any of the top 50 starters for Fernandez’s services.
If you need a couple of starters to round out your fantasy staff, the Marlins boast two intriguing options. Henderson Alvarez is coming off an incredible year in which he finished 11th in the NL with a 2.65 ERA. We all know regression is coming. In fact, I have Alvarez’s ERA jumping a full run to 3.81, while still only striking out 123. After letting it marinade, I think I might have been a little too sour on him. Despite only striking out 5.3 per nine innings, Alvarez was in the top ten when it came to inducing ground balls, and last year gave up a career-high .307 BABIP (.292 career average). If he can continue to get batters to ground out at a high rate, maybe it’s not so inconceivable that he can keep that ERA in the low threes after all.
I ranked Alvarez 83rd in my preseason starting pitching ranks, and just two spots later you’ll find Jarred Cosart. Cosart was one of the few pitchers who outdid Alvarez when it came to giving up the ground ball (8th in baseball) and he pitched magnificently once he got out of Houston. Although he’s improved his walk rate over recent years, his K/BB numbers (1.82 in 2014, 1.37 for his career) still leave plenty to be desired. I gave Alvarez the slight edge over him a few weeks ago, but I think I’m ready to widen that gap.
For those in deeper mixed or NL-only leagues, be prepared to use both Dan Haren and Tom Koehler if necessary. After teasing retirement, Haren looks like he will suit up for Miami, if only for the paycheck coming his way. He is what he is at this point: a 4.00+ ERA guy with a decent WHIP and K-rate. Plug him in when the matchup dictates. Koehler will probably see the lion’s share of starts until Fernandez is ready to go. He was very solid last season, posting a 3.81 ERA and striking out 153 while notching 10 wins in the process. I don’t think I’d be expecting the same numbers in 2015, but I do think he’s a better option than Haren until Fernandez comes back. We’ll see if he can stick after that.
Miami does offer quite a few options in the bullpen that could pay off nicely without the huge price tag. The one that will be universally owned is Steve Cishek, who posted a 39-save campaign last year. His ratios weren’t the best, but more often than not, that save is all you really care about. Still, Cishek’s peripherals indicate he should be better going forward as his 2014 FIP of 2.17 wasn’t reflected in his final ERA of 3.17. Most importantly to me, he looks to have a strong grasp on the job and can be had in the 12-18 range among closers.
There are a couple of names behind him to be aware of for those rostering middle relievers. Let’s start with A.J. Ramos, the Lubbock native who tallied 21 holds last year. Ramos has the strong K-rate you want out of a reliever, but he’s got to get his walk rate under control, and fast. You’re skating on thin ice when you average over six walks per nine innings. Also, take a look at Mike Dunn after he did Ramos one better with 22 holds in 2014. Much of his value last year was tied to his 10 wins, a feat that Dunn won’t come close to repeating. Last but not least, Carter Capps is another high K/9 option that will cost you pennies at the draft table.
The Marlins might not come into 2015 as the best team in the NL East, but they certainly are the most intriguing. There’s a wide range of outcomes possible for this squad, but they’ve certainly put the pieces around their young stars to make a playoff push as soon as this season. Giancarlo Stanton and this young, talented outfield will have to pace the offense while a strong collective effort from the rotation is required to make up for a half season without Jose Fernandez. Not having him all year could be what separates Miami from a playoff berth this season, but make no mistake, the arrow is most certainly pointing up.
2015 NL East Projection:
- Miami Marlins (83-79)
- New York Mets (78-84)
- Atlanta Braves (76-86)
- Philadelphia Phillies (70-92)
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