Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Marlins Are Building Something... Again.

The Miami Marlins have been really easy for me to ignore for most of the 2013 season.
The owner, Jeffrey Loria, executed a shameless firesale of just about every contract on their books (Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle etc.) less than a season after being handed a new publicly funded stadium. As a result, the team was left with essentially just Giancarlo Stanton, Ricky Nolasco, Logan Morrison (if that can be counted as a positive), Juan Pierre's ghost and nothing beyond that.

Even from the group remaining, Nolasco - the only player making over $2.75 million - has since been shipped off for spare parts. However, while the business practices are cringe-worthy and ensure a minimal fanbase, the baseball operations have somehow pieced together a promising future.

Any conversation about Miami's future starts with Giancarlo Stanton. He's the face of the franchise and a legit middle of the order bat with elite power at the age of 23. This is the cornerstone team president Larry Beinfest should be building the team around. Actually, if it were up to Beinfest, I'm sure Stanton would already have a Longoria-esque extension into his 30's, unfortunately, that's not how Loria rolls.

Beyond Stanton, they're building from the ground up. The most encouraging evidence of Beinfest & Co's skill in this regard is the current starting rotation. 20 year old Jose Fernandez has emerged as one of the better pitchers in the National League in his freshman campaign and there's really no reason he can't be the team's #1 starter for years to come. Beyond Fernandez, Miami boasts a trio of 22 or 23 year old righties acquired for their veterans (see paragraph one) in Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner and Henderson Alvarez who all have been lauded as prospects, have tremendous stuff and despite mediocre peripherals have had real success in 2013. Some combo of these three and highly rated left-hand starting prospects Andrew Heaney and Justin Nicolino could form one of the best young rotations by the end of next season.

The offense isn't quite as easy to be optimistic about. In fact, it's historically bad this season. On the bright side, the Marlins actually boast a stable of young outfielders that rival that rotation of theirs. Led by Giancarlo, center and left field will be up for grabs between three top prospects. Christian Yelich was just called up today and is the favorite to grab one of the spots; he's regarded as one of the sweetest swings in the minors and profiles as a high-average, medium-power bat somewhere on the spectrum between James Loney and Joe Mauer.  Jake Marisnick was also called up today along with Yelich and came over in the same deal with Nicolino and Alvarez from Toronto. Marisnick is a super athlete with all five tools who is just now putting it all together in the minors for the first time. He could be a special center fielder or a toolsy fourth outfielder. The final competitor here is Marcell Ozuna. Just 22, he's spent most of this season in the majors, collecting 287 plate appearances. He started off hot, showing off some of his power/speed combo but also proving he isn't quite ready yet and was sent down to AA in place of Yelich. Even if one of these players is traded (Stanton) or doesn't pan out (the other three) the Marlins should have a young talented outfield in the years to come, if not an exciting middle of the order.

Well, it takes more to win than a rotation and an outfield, and therein lies Miami's problem to solve over the next year or so. There's a chance Morrison, Derek Dietrich, Adeiny Hechavarria or Rob Brantly can establish themselves in the infield, but realistically, maybe one will stick around. The Marlins nabbed advanced college third baseman Colin Moran in the June draft and could rise quickly through system to contribute at the hot corner eventually. But, it looks like Larry Beinfest is going to have to call on some more magic to fill in the rest of the infield. Regardless, he'll have a few years to work on the weakness.

The Marlins are quietly collecting the talent for another run at the World Series and while any success is a ways away, it might be closer than we think. So keep ignoring Miami, but it may not be too long before they force their way back into our collective consciousness.

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