As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our online store.
The Marlins hoped to challenge the Nationals for the division title in 2015 thanks to offseason acquisitions and blossoming stars. Those aspirations quickly crashed. Despite a quiet winter, those hopes remain the same in 2016. Pairing a young core with a proven manager, the Marlins are seeking an end to a 12-year postseason drought. Not many organizations boast one of the top pitchers, sluggers and speedsters in the game. If Miami gets help from its supporting cast, perhaps the “could’ve been” of 2015 will become reality in 2016.
Nothing pleases the Marlins more than penciling in ace Jose Fernandez as the Opening Day starter — a luxury they didn’t have in 2015. Fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, Fernandez tossed 64.2 innings, going 6–1 with a 2.92 ERA and showing flashes of his former dominant self. The Marlins strengthened the top end of their rotation in January by signing free agent Wei-Yin Chen, a lefty who compiled a 27–14 record over his final two seasons in Baltimore. As for who follows, that remains to be seen. Righthander Henderson Alvarez, a 2014 All-Star, made only four starts before requiring right shoulder surgery. He signed with the A’s in the offseason after his contract was not tendered by the Marlins.
Jarred Cosart, a 25-year-old righty acquired from the Astros at the 2014 trade deadline, battled through vertigo for much of 2015 — without realizing it until months later. It landed him on the DL, and he rehabbed in the minors to regain his form. Miami would love to see the pitcher who posted a 4–4 record and 2.39 ERA over 10 starts upon his arrival in South Florida. Eating up innings is righty Tom Koehler, who has recorded double-digit wins and 30-plus starts in both of the last two seasons. Veteran Edwin Jackson is a candidate to grab the final spot in the rotation.
High velocity is a theme with this Marlins bullpen. Carter Capps’ production from May 19 on solidified his spot as the setup man. Until landing on the DL with a right elbow sprain, he led all relievers with 57 strikeouts between May 20 and Aug. 2 (when he suffered an elbow injury) thanks to a triple-digit fastball and wonky delivery. Lefty Mike Dunn pitched in 72 outings. He holds Marlins records for relief wins (20), holds (96) and lowest percentage of inherited runners scored (25.6).
Bryan Morris was a surprise in 2014 when the Marlins traded for him in June to shore up the pen, recording a 0.66 ERA. The groundball pitcher bounced back from a rough 2015 start (4.10 ERA) by allowing just 10 earned runs for a 2.45 ERA in his final 41 games. With Capps out, both Morris and Dunn were used interchangeably in the eighth. A.J. Ramos might not have the best velocity, but he proved himself worthy of the closer’s role after taking over for Steve Cishek. He established career highs in appearances (71), saves (32) and strikeouts (87) and showed a flair for the dramatic during the second half of the season.
It doesn’t get much better than two-time All-Star second baseman Dee Gordon and two-time Gold Glove finalist Adeiny Hechavarria up the middle. Gordon, acquired from the Dodgers via trade, won a batting title, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove in a historic 2015 season. He solidified the leadoff spot and added much-needed speed to the lineup. Miami wants to keep him in South Florida for the foreseeable future. Despite missing the final month with a hamstring injury, Hechavarria recorded career bests in average (.281), runs (54), homers (five) and RBIs (48). Oddly enough, he owned a .305 average batting eighth, but .235 anywhere else. Hechavarria ranked third in Fangraph’s defensive rating at 21.6.
Both third baseman Martin Prado and first baseman Justin Bour emerged as crucial cogs. Prado, part of the Nathan Eovaldi-David Phelps deal with the Yankees, assumed the role of unofficial captain following the trade deadline. The 10-year veteran is known as the ultimate professional. He doesn’t post gaudy offensive or defensive numbers, but is reliable. A sprained right shoulder put him on the DL from June 18 to July 17. He would then reach base safely in all but two of his final 51 games and hit .353 over the last 32. Bour, meanwhile, didn’t make the Opening Day roster. He took over for a struggling and injured Michael Morse with just 39 games of big league experience. His 23 homers and 73 RBIs ranked third among MLB rookies, while his .302 average with runners in scoring position placed fifth. His inability to hit lefties (.219, 0 HRs in his career) means the Marlins will likely invest in a right-handed platoon bat. Bour’s offensive production will compensate for his defense, though he promised to lose weight to improve his agility.
Before the 2015 season, some touted the Marlins’ outfield as one of the best in baseball. Injuries and underachievement quickly nixed that notion. Giancarlo Stanton, fresh off the richest contract in North American sports, didn’t show many after-effects — aside from a caged helmet — of a pitch that fractured his face to end his 2014. Before breaking his left hamate bone in late June, Stanton led the majors in home runs (27) and RBIs (67) through 74 games, even getting voted in as an All-Star starter by the fans. He would not return because of several setbacks later in the summer. Christian Yelich had two stints on the disabled list. The first came during the season’s first month — a lower back strain that clearly affected his swing. On May 25, he was hitting just .196, but he posted an MLB-leading .357 clip over the final 71 contests to get to .300.
Then there was the enigma of Marcell Ozuna. The center fielder, who finished fourth with 23 homers and second with 85 RBIs among NL center fielders in 2014, recorded four dingers and 26 RBIs before the Marlins shipped him to work on his swing in New Orleans, where he stayed for 33 games. His agent, Scott Boras, claimed Miami kept him there longer than necessary to delay his arbitration clock. Once back with the Marlins, he bumped his numbers up to finish .259/10 HRs/44 RBIs in 123 contests. Ozuna’s name has floated around the trade mill for possible starting pitching.
On Opening Day 2015, there were no rookies on the Marlins roster. By season’s end, 14 wound up in the bigs. When Jarrod Saltalamacchia got off to a slow start, Miami designated him for assignment. J.T. Realmuto, the backstop of the future, took over with just 11 games of big league experience. He set several single-season club records for a rookie catcher, including games (118), average (.259), runs (49), hits (114), doubles (21), triples (seven), RBIs (47) and stolen bases (eight). A three-sport letterwinner in high school who didn’t begin catching until the minors, Realmuto is still a work in progress. His athletic ability and speed are unusual for his position. Jeff Mathis returns in the backup role, providing a veteran presence that will greatly help Realmuto and a pitching staff that’s already familiar with him.
When the Marlins signed future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, it was to be a fourth outfielder. That plan changed when each of their starters landed on the DL at one point or another. Suzuki stands 65 hits shy of 3,000. Though his 2015 offensive numbers were the lowest in his 15-year career, he appeared in a team-high 153 games and posted a perfect fielding percentage. Miguel Rojas, who came over with Gordon in the Dodgers trade, proved he could man shortstop for an extended period if Hechavarria gets injured. Chris Johnson will back up third base and could also see some at-bats as a right-handed option at first.
Don Mattingly led the Dodgers to three straight NL West titles for the first time in franchise history but went 8–11 in the postseason before stepping down in late October. Mattingly, who expressed interest in molding young talent, is the eighth Marlins manager since 2010 and brings along bench coach Tim Wallach. Juan Nieves, pitching coach for the Red Sox until last May, takes over for Chuck Hernandez. In a provocative move, the Marlins hired Barry Bonds to be hitting coach. MLB’s home run leader has spent time as a special instructor during spring training with the Giants.
The Marlins believe that if their roster stays healthy, they can compete in the NL East. That was the state of mind, after all, entering the 2015 season following a 15-win improvement and roster upgrades (at least on paper). Much had to go wrong for the Marlins in 2015 to underperform. Much has to go right for that to change in 2016.
Prediction: 3rd NL East
2B Dee Gordon (L)
LF Christian Yelich (L)
3B Martin Prado (R)
RF Giancarlo Stanton (R)
1B Justin Bour (L)
CF Marcell Ozuna (R)
C J.T. Realmuto (R)
SS Adeiny Hechavarria (R)
OF Ichiro Suzuki (L)
INF Miguel Rojas (R)
OF Cole Gillespie (R)
3B Chris Johnson (R)
C Jeff Mathis (R)
RHP Jose Fernandez
LHP Wei-Yin Chen
RHP Tom Koehler
RHP Jarred Cosart
RHP Edwin Jackson
RHP A.J. Ramos (Closer)
LHP Mike Dunn
RHP David Phelps
RHP Carter Capps
RHP Kyle Barraclough
RHP Bryan Morris
LHP Brad Hand