Things Looking Up for the Marlins?

12690335-standardAt the end of May, things were already looking dismal. The Fish were in the midst of a 9 game losing streak after getting swept by their in-state rivals, the Tampa Bay Rays, and were going to face the New York Mets. That was May 30th.

Now, the Marlins are 12-9 since. They are heading back to Miami after defeating the defending champion Giants 3 out of 4 games in San Francisco. The city is thrilled, and they are throwing a parade. Of course, it is for the repeating NBA champion Miami Heat, but it might as well be for the Fish the way they are starting to play these days.

“Awesome road trip. It’s kind of exciting to come to the ballpark. We’re having fun. That’s all I can say. We’re having fun. I don’t think we’ll see April and May again.” You can understand Justin Ruggiano‘s enthusiasm. He hit two home runs to assert his team lead (11) and help put the Marlins in a position to make a statement against the Giants.

Suddenly the Marlins outfield has lots of depth. Ruggiano is hitting and can play multiple positions defensively. Juan Pierre offers a change of pace with speed and contact and leadership. Giancarlo Stanton is healthy and was tearing the cover off the ball heading into this road trip, suddenly snapping out of a month long funk upping his home run total to 7. Marcell Ozuna resumes his tear through the league hitting his 2nd home run and driving in critical runs against the Giants – while previously slumping himself (.184 in previous 10 games).

And we still haven’t even begun to consider the impact of players like Christian Yelich and Justin Marisnick, two of the Marlins top 5 prospects getting some R&R at AA Jacksonville. It is only a matter of time until they get plane tickets to Miami. Chris Coghlan, who was looking like vintage ROY material circa 2009, hurt his back but was also thickening that OF, too. In fact, he was hitting .349 over his last 10 games and was slated to get time at 3B just to get his bat in the game.

Which brings us to the infield. Ed Lucas has quietly been replacing Placido Polanco and hitting the ball, too. He’s hitting .301 in 19 games since his callup, after languishing for 10 years in the minors. With the Marlins thin on prospects at 3B (keep an eye on AA Sun Ryan Fisher who is showing some pop) a long term answer has yet to emerge but it looks like Mike Redmond will use the position to rotate in a hot bat to bridge the offense a bit.

Adeiny Hechavarria has shown a lot of promise. Defensively, he’s a Gold Glover and Perry Hill is reportedly a believer. Offensively, Hech continues to progress; he stays back on the ball and drives pitches. He’s hitting a solid .278 over his last 10 and has a three game hit streak going. He has speed, plenty of it with 5 triples already. He has ambitions to be an All-Star and if he continues to develop, he will be soon.

Second base is also very promising. Donovan Solano was the de facto starter to open the season but he got injured and opened the door for prospect Derek Dietrich, acquired as part of the Toronto deal as Yunel Escobar was dealt to the Rays in exchange for Dietrich. The Marlins seemed to have gotten the better of that deal as Dietrich has shown tremendous promise at 2B, drawing comparisons to Chase Utley. He has 6 home runs, so the power is there, but he is slumping now. He is hitting just .094 in his last 10 games, dropping him below the John Buck line (.199). Yet, like Ozuna, will be afforded the opportunity to work his way out of his slump – which is a critical lesson for any young player to learn. That said, Solano is trying his darndest to get back to the Fish, hitting a grand slam and with a .375 average. Worst case scenario would be a platoon at 2B which would boost up the possible trade value of a guy like Solano if the Fish should feel comfortable enough with Dietrich. Or they could move one or the other over to 3B to get their bat in the lineup – truthfully, putting Dietrich at 3B may offer the best long term scenario should Solano prove again he is the future 2B for the Fish.

Logan Morrison‘s return has stabilized 1B in the lineup and provided much needed protection for Stanton in the lineup. His shit-eating grin has been missed, too, and he adds a little spice to the locker room to get guys fired up. Behind him the Marlins have a plethora of options with Joe Mahoney, Casey Kotchman, and even Greg Dobbs getting time in there. We’ll see if LoMo’s batting eye is back; he was drawing rave reviews from evaluators and fans for his K:BB ratio and ability to get on base with power. If he can deliver on his promise, the Marlins have another All-Star in the making. Mahoney has put up similar numbers in 9 games as Morrison and his lefty bat has some serious pop but he is still working his way back from injury. Right now, this is Morrison’s show at 1B and he is capable. Dobbs goes back to his preferred role of pinch hitting, Kotchman can be a defensive replacement.

So, the offense is definitely on the rise. There is a lot more depth with the return of hitters like Stanton and Morrison in the mix. Guys go back to their preferred roles, too. The even scarier thing is that the pitching is the strength of this team and it is only getting better.

Ricky Nolasco mans the #1 starter spot and has been fairly consistent as the top dog in the rotation – yet his days are numbered as the Marlins will look to move his $11M salary and pending free agent status to a team in contention. That leaves the rotation with Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, Jose Fernandez, and Tom Koehler.

Turner has totally rebounded. Slated as the team’s number two heading into Spring Training, his command and velocity were just off. He was sent down for extended ST and has made quite a return. He has an ERA currently under 2 (1.97) and is impressing the coaching staff. He is very efficient with his pitches (only used 83 to face 26 batters against the Giants recently) and has a solid K:BB ratio (20:11). Whether or not he can keep this up remains to be seen; his velocity has to remain in the 90-93 MPH range which is where it should be.

Velocity is not a problem for Eovaldi or Fernandez. Eovaldi had over 60 of his pitches recorded yesterday in the 95 MPH range. He has electric stuff and it is just a matter of harnessing it. Fernandez, despite never pitching above AA and being only 20, has put in a very solid rookie campaign and shows the stuff – and the personality – to be an ace in this league.

Koehler is coming of an impressive first ever win and has been quietly solid for a 5th starter in this rotation. He has kept his team in games and continues to put up decent numbers for the soon to be 27 year old. But his spot may be up for grabs as Henderson Alvarez is getting work in on his rehab starts in the minors. In fact, Alvarez is coming off an impressive debut with the Suns in which he also homered to help his own cause.

Steve Cishek seems to have righted his funk and is closing games with commanding stuff. He has 9 Ks in 7 IP and 7 Saves over his last 10 games. He is getting it done. The bullpen is loaded with quality arms that are getting the job done. As a group, they are currently ranked 17th in MLB in ERA (3.85) they also have 204 Ks in 245.2 IP (which is 9th most in MLB).

But don’t take the “eye-ball” test as proof. You should expect this team’s performance to improve after the bar was set so low to start the season. Most of that was due to the rotating door on injuries. Based on the metrics of a site like TeamRankings.com, the Marlins have a power rating over their last 10 games of 102.4, making them #4 overall and #1 in the NL East.

You can’t look at the overall stats on the season to get a total picture. You have to consider the way this team is playing now with everyone back. This is the team that we picked to contend for a wild card spot at the start of the season – before the injuries set in. With a 25-50 record, the Marlins would have to go 35-10 just to make it back to .500. Is that attainable? They are 11-9 in June so far, so they would have to make a considerable leap to go on a tear just to get back to .500 – so no one is predicting a playoff contender here. This team, however, is built looking towards the future and if this trend should continue, that future of returning to contention just got more immediate.

With the Marlins bolstering their farm system, things are looking really bright for the immediate future.