2014 Marlins preview: Young duo gives ballclub hope
Offense: Slugger Giancarlo Stanton looks to rebound from an off year -- by his standards (.249/24/62) -- with some protection around him. The entire infield is new minus shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (.227/3/42). The front office retooled it with veteran bats. Miami scored the fewest runs in the majors last season and was last in almost all offensive statistical categories. Marlins third basemen combined for an MLB-low three homers, while the catchers tied the Blue Jays with a .194 average.
Rotation: NL Rookie of the Year and NL Cy Young finalist Jose Fernandez (12-6, 2.19 ERA) leads a young staff that set a franchise-low ERA (3.87). Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez missed the first few months of the season with right shoulder inflammation, but Alvarez pitched a no-hitter on Closing Day. Right-hander Jacob Turner, who struggled last spring, will try to lock down the fourth spot. The fifth slot is up for grabs.
Bullpen: First-year closer Steve Cishek finished last season with 29 consecutive saves for the longest active streak in the Majors, but Miami lost two back-end arms: Webb and Qualls. Lefty Mike Dunn collected a team-high 18 holds and set career highs in appearances (75), innings (67 2/3) and strikeouts (72). Righty A.J. Ramos ranked first amongst rookie relievers in innings (80), third in strikeouts (86) and seventh in appearances (68). Capps (3-3, 5.49 ERA), a hard-throwing righty acquired from the Mariners in the Morrison trade, surrendered 12 homers in 59 frames.
Player to watch: Marcell Ozuna. Before breaking his thumb on a diving catch in the outfield, the 23-year-old hit .265 with three home runs, 17 doubles, four triples and 32 RBI over 70 games. Ozuna sparked the Marlins upon his late April call-up, filling in for Stanton when he landed on the disabled list. Ozuna, projected as the Opening Day center fielder, also recorded eight assists.
Why they will win: Fernandez tops his rookie season and Stanton stays healthy, setting career marks for home runs and RBI.
Why they will lose: The rotation can't repeat last season's success, the second-year players don't progress and Stanton gets injured again.
Ken Rosenthal's outlook: It probably would be a stretch to label the Marlins a potential surprise. But the talent in the rotation and outfield is considerable, and the team took steps to improve its infield during the offseason, adding veterans such as Jones, Furcal, McGehee and Jeff Baker. Most of the excitement with these Marlins will stem from right-hander Fernandez, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, and right fielder Stanton, one of the game’s top young sluggers. But things could get interesting if new catcher Saltalamacchia helps gets more out of the team’s young rotation.