2012 was an utter, and total, disappointment. Spending over $100M a year ago in the offseason only netted 69 wins for a team that never seemed to get its footing and establish itself. Their bombastic manager, Ozzie Guillen, was fired. Hanley Ramirez was traded to the Dodgers. Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante to the Tigers; John Buck, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Emilio Bonifacio all dealt to the Blue Jays. The Marlins gave up on their year long experiment and decided to revert back to a more conservative method of resetting and trying to build a core with young talent.
The yield from all of those trades was essentially Nathan Eovaldi (Dodgers), Jacob Turner and Rob Brantly (Tigers), Adeiny Hechavarria, Jeff Mathis, and Henderson Alvarez (Blue Jays) who are all going to be contributing to the big league club in 2013. There are some other prospects that were acquired (like Jake Marisnick and Justin Nicolino) and will play a role going forward to 2014 and beyond.
Many are making predictions about what kind of year we can expect from the Fish but here are 5 bold predictions you can bank on for the upcoming year:
Currently heading into Spring Training as a contender for the 5th starting spot, Wade LeBlanc seems to have the perfect timing. As a member of the San Diego Padres, LeBlanc was shaping up to be a starter who could string together quality starts. Last year, for the Marlins, he logged 25 appearances, 9 of them starts, and maintained a sub-4 ERA (3.67). He also was able to scatter hits as hitters averaged .275 against him. LeBlanc also has a solid K:BB ratio – he had 2.26 ratio last season and for his career it is 1.87. His biggest sampling size would be his 2010 season where he went 8-12 with a 4.65 ERA, 110Ks to 51BBs and a .279 AVG against. Bottom Line: expect LeBlanc to log 180+ IP, win 10 games, 122 Ks and 55 BBs.
4. Adeiny Hechavarria will contend as a Rookie of the Year candidate and prove a gold-glove caliber shortstop.
In dealing away former batting champion and all-star Jose Reyes, it was critical the Marlins got back a player that could man the position that was being vacated. Yunel Escobar was originally brought in not to be the SS, but to play 3B for the Marlins as they looked to return to their defensive pedigree (Perry Hill is back with the Fish, you may have noticed). That is because Hechavarria, the Cuban defensive wunderkind was pegged as the man for the job. Always noted for his defensive ability, the SS prospect was being groomed as a possible future fixture for the Jays if Escobar continued to create controversy beyond this upcoming season. The only question is can Hechavarria hit? Expect a manageable offensive output, around .260+ and less than 20% K rate for a hitter that will be able to run well (30SBs) and score runs from the bottom portion of the lineup. He will figure though in some brilliant defensive plays and that alone should get him enough notice to be among contenders for the ROY hardware AND a gold glove at his position.
3. A Marlin will win the Rookie of the Year.
It won’t be anyone who you think at this point but look for the Marlins to not only have several players contending for the ROY but also to win it. Hechavarria is eligible but won’t have enough to do it. Dontrelle Willis (2003), Hanley Ramirez (2006), and Chris Coghlan (2009) have all done it in the past. So who will it be? Look for something unexpected, much like the 2003 season – when two young players get late call ups. Instead of Willis and Miguel Cabrera, you will see Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich get call ups during the season. Jose Fernandez has the tools to win as a big league pitcher right away and with his ability to strike out hitters, he will emerge as a front runner for the ROY candidacy and help hold down a solid, but young Miami Marlins rotation.
Getting key contributions from their rookies will be vital for success for the 2013 season. Hechavarria will have to flaunt his glove and hit enough to not kill the offense. The starting rotation is young and inexperienced, but expect them to be solid and tough competitors – at least three of the starters are capable of winning 10+ games right away, if they can play enough games. Ricky Nolasco will be forced into a leadership role and most likely will be dealt around the trade deadline because the Marlins will have nothing to gain by keeping him – which makes our prediction of a Marlins team in contention quite sticky. Yet, this goes with the previous scenario – an emerging Jose Fernandez who give the Marlins comfort that he is ready and can feel free to trade Nolasco away for upgrades with young talent.
Mike Redmond is going to have this team playing smart, competitive baseball where they will make their fair share of mistakes but for a young team, they will play smarter than their collective age belies. Expect a similar style of play to what was seen in 2003 – defense, running, and timely hitting. Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco are both guys who can provide steady offensive approaches from veterans to help keep the offense going. Logan Morrison is going to look to rebound from dissatisfying offensive seasons at his new home at 1B. Their defense will be improved, they will put the ball in play more often and execute when expected. They will be able to run and their bullpen will surprise many. Although they will not contend for the top of the division, they will linger for wildcard contention, drive up attendance and get a grumbling fan base to think again about the direction of this franchise as they look towards a brighter future.
1. Giancarlo Stanton will be a fixture for the Marlins for years to come.
Which brings us to our last bold prediction. The Marlins brass can safely admit they screwed up with the Miguel Cabrera thing. Sure, Dontrelle Willis didn’t pan out, but Cabrera certainly did. It wasn’t that the Marlins didn’t get notable prospects in return, it is just that they didn’t pan out either. The Marlins will not be able to take that kind of chance with Stanton – a generational hitter who has the chance to make a serious run at all time records with his bat. The Marlins, as their young foundation takes root, will be able to win games and play the right way behind the steady leadership of Mike Redmond. The 2013 team will contrast the 2012 team greatly in its approach and lovability which will get Stanton swept up in thinking long term. The Marlins will sign him through his arbitration years, locking him up for $100M and also adding a no-trade clause to show good faith.
Some Other Stories to Watch For
The Return of Chris Coghlan – can he revert back to the patient hitter he was in his 2009 ROY campaign? Look for him to make a return to his natural position, 2B, and grab a regular starting role again while Solano moves to a more comfortable position as an IF utility player much like an Alfredo Amezaga. What will be telling will be his play coming into spring training. If he catches fire, look for the Marlins to find ways to get his bat into the lineup.
Who’s at 3B? Placido Polanco will get his share of ABs, we estimate about 100 games. Still, who will emerge as the long term plan? If the Marlins can’t pull off a trade with Nolasco to get their man for the future, keep an eye on Derek Dietrich who is MLB ready. If he hits well in the minors, the Marlins would not be opposed to bringing him along to get some ABs with the big club to spell Polanco.
Rugi! Rugi! Rugi! Justin Ruggiano – a sleeper in the making, the guy is probably better suited to play a corner OF spot but Juan Pierre doesn’t have the arm to play in CF. Still, his solid campaign with regular ABs after being acquired from the Astros in May 2012 have helped put a positive spin on last season and maybe help him become another Cody Ross-like cult fan figure in Miami.