While the Miami Marlins pitching staff set a franchise record for lowest ERA last season, the bats found themselves written about for their futility. The Marlins finished last in almost all offensive categories from runs scored to homers.
As a result, Miami revamped its infield this offseason, signing free agents Garrett Jones, Rafael Furcal and Casey McGehee to complement young talent in Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton.
Furcal, however, will begin the season on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring. With Rockies lefty Jorge De La Rosa scheduled to pitch Opening Day, utility player Jeff Baker will likely get the start. The left-handed hitting Derek Dietrich, who blasted nine home runs upon his call-up last year, will start against righties.
Only two Opening Day starters from last season will be in the lineup on Monday — Stanton and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.
OF Christian Yelich (.288 avg, 4 HR, 16 RBI): Miami’s top prospect made his major-league debut on July 23, 2013 and went 2 for 4. The 22-year-old hit .362 vs. righties but .165 vs. lefties. How will he do in his first full season? With Furcal injured, the speedy Yelich will lead off.
2B Jeff Baker (.279 avg, 11 HR, 21 RBI): Before sustaining a freak thumb injury, Baker was batting .317 with nine homers off the bench with Texas in 2013. He missed a month and couldn’t recapture his timing. The 32-year-old had just 175 at-bats last season.
OF Giancarlo Stanton (.249 avg, 24 HR, 62 RBI): Unable to adjust to the way pitchers threw to him without protection in the lineup, Stanton had his worst season in 2013. The 24-year-old also hasn’t been able to stay on the field. With the offseason additions and health, Stanton could reach 40 homers and 100 RBI.
1B Garrett Jones (.233 avg, 15 HR, 51 RBI): Jones was part of a Pirates platoon at first last season because of his struggles hitting lefties (.095). The 32-year-old has played in at least 144 games and averaged 20 homers and 70 RBI the past four years, but 2013 was a down season.
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.273 avg, 14 HR, 65 RBI): The 28-year-old switch-hitter set career highs in batting average and runs batted in last year with Boston. Marlins backstops contributed just 10 homers and 56 RBI in 2013, so Saltalamacchia is an upgrade despite his postseason troubles.
3B Casey McGehee (.292 avg, 28 HR, 93 RBI): McGehee spent a year in Japan playing for Tohoku Rakuten, finishing first on the team in homers and second in RBI. His career MLB season came in 2010 when he hit .285 with 23 dingers and 104 RBI. The hot corner produced only five homers and 51 RBI in 2013 for the Marlins.
OF Marcell Ozuna (.265 avg, 3 HR, 32 RBI): The 23-year-old beat out Jake Marisnick for the starting job despite entering Saturday with a .177 average, five doubles, two homers and seven RBI. Ozuna sparked an anemic offense upon his call-up in 2013 when Stanton landed on the DL. He also recorded eight assists before struggling, being demoted and fracturing his thumb.
SS Adeiny Hechavarria (.227 avg, 3 HR, 42 RBI): In his first full major-league season, Hechavarria played in 148 games but had issues at the plate. The 24-year-old did hit eight triples (seventh in MLB) and recorded a seven RBI game against the Phillies. Hechavarria has shown encouraging signs this spring, batting .319 with three doubles, a triple, five stolen bases and four RBI.
C Jeff Mathis (.181 avg, 5 HR, 29 RBI): A strong defensive backstop and career backup, Mathis was forced into the starting role when Rob Brantly was demoted. The 30-year-old helped the pitching staff post a 3.71 ERA, but had the lowest batting average of any catcher who played in as many games.
OF Reed Johnson (.244 avg, 1 HR, 11 RBI): A non-roster invitee, Johnson earned a spot by posting the team’s second-highest spring batting average — .405 entering Saturday. The 37-year-old can play all three outfield positions and has been utilized in this role before.
IF Derek Dietrich (.214 avg, 9 HR, 23 RBI): Dietrich made his major-league debut on May 8, 2013 and impressed with his power. But he struck out 56 times in 57 games, leading to his demotion to Double-A Jacksonville. The 24-year-old, who is hitting .320 with four doubles, a triple, a homer and 10 RBI this spring, will fill in for Furcal.
UTL Greg Dobbs (.228 avg, 2 HR, 22 RBI): A pinch-hit specialist, Dobbs was forced to play in 114 games — mostly at first base — last season because of injuries. The 35-year-old only batted .208 with two doubles and seven RBI in 57 pinch-hit plate appearances, well below his .253 career average.
UTL Donovan Solano (.249 avg, 3 HR, 34 RBI): The Marlins recalled Solano after Ed Lucas sustained a non-displaced fracture on his left hand on a Scott McGregor pitch Thursday. The 26-year-old was last year’s Opening Day second baseman. He entered Saturday hitting .320 with four doubles and six RBI during spring training.
Balanced lineup: For the first time in a while, the Marlins will write out an order split by righties and lefties. It will be tough for opposing managers to try and set pitching matchups later in games because of it. When Furcal returns, there will be two switch hitters, two lefties (Yelich and Jones) and four righties (Hechavarria, McGehee, Ozuna and Stanton). Jones, Stanton and McGehee offer power. Hechavarria, Ozuna, Yelich and Furcal — when healthy — can wreck havoc on the bases.
Will there be more runs, and if so, where will they come from?
The Marlins were historically bad on offense. The second-worst team, the White Sox, scored 85 more runs. Miami went 24-35 in one-run games. Had it scored more, the Marlins would’ve avoided a 100-loss season and made a rebuilding year more respectable.
Over the offseason, the organization signed veteran players with proven track records to complement the young talent. But can guys like McGehee, Furcal and Jones regain their old form? Will they be enough to protect Stanton in the lineup? Can Hechavarria add a drag bunt to his repertoire to utilize his speed and get on base more?
Fresh off a $6.5 million deal to avoid arbitration, Stanton is one of the most feared sluggers in the game. He averaged the third-longest home run distance in 2013. Despite this, he struggled to adjust to how pitchers were throwing to him without protection in the lineup last season.
Can he finally reach the 40-home run plateau and drive in 100 runs? Sure, he can.
It all depends on whether the 24-year-old "elder statesman" of the outfield stays on the field. After playing in 150 games in 2011, Stanton has appeared in just 239 since.
This spring alone he’s blasted a home run into a neighboring field in Port St. Lucie and off the roof of a building in left field at Roger Dean Stadium. In the past, he has temporarily broken a scoreboard at Marlins Park and has sent a ball out of Coors Field.
Stanton wants to see progress before signing a long-term deal with the Marlins. The organization hopes the offseason moves will pay off and lead the team in the right direction. It will be interesting to see how young players like Hechavarria and Yelich develop in their second seasons, particularly with proven veterans around them. If the older guys perform to their career averages and the youth around them improve, the offense should provide enough run support for a strong pitching staff. Still, those are a lot of ifs.