When it comes to the Miami Marlins, you immediately think about two names – Fernandez and Stanton. They are, essentially, 1 and 1A in the rankings of Miami's best players. And because of that, they're obviously on this list of Miami's four horsemen – our name given to four players on each team that will determine how much success the club has in 2014. But while Fernandez and Stanton are clearly important cogs in Miami's machine, which other players are?
Stanton spent 25 games on the DL for Miami in 2012, and in those 25 games, the team went 8-17. They plummeted form nine games back in the NL East to 16.5 over the course of one awful month without their best hitter. In 2013, Stanton spent 36 games on the DL, and the Marlins went 11-25. One stint on the DL in each of the last two years, and during each, Miami won less than one-third of their games. I think that tells you just how steep the dropoff between Stanton and the rest of the Marlins offense.
And the thing is, once Stanton came off the DL in each of the last two seasons, the team played much better. From Stanton's return in 2012 to the end of the year, Miami went 20-33 – not good by any stretch of the imagination, but not wretched like they played with Stanton out of commission. Once Stanton came off the DL in 2013, the Marlins went 44-56 – again, not good, but much better.
Part of the reason that the Marlins have struggled so much over the last two years with Stanton hurt is because the team didn't have any depth. When Stanton was hurt in 2012, a good portion of the playing time went to Greg Dobbs and Austin Kearns, who combined to hit .273/.331/.380 with nine home runs and terrible defense in 2012. In 2013, Marcell Ozuna got the bulk of the playing time, and while he fielded well, he hit just .265/.303/.389 with only three home runs over the course of the whole season.
If Stanton goes down this year, the Marlins will be in a tough situation. Dobbs is still on their bench, along with Jeff Baker (who pounded 11 homers in limited playing time last year with Texas, but has never played as many as 200 innings in the outfield in one season) and Brian Bogusevic (who hasn't done much of anything with the bat over his major league career, but has graded out pretty well with the glove). Aside from those three, Miami has Jake Marisnick in the minors, but he struggled immensely in the majors in 2013. If Stanton goes down again for a sustained period of time, it could be an ugly time for Miami's offense.
Obvious answer number two is Fernandez, who lit the world on fire in 2013 for Miami. His 2013 season was the third-best ever by a pitcher drafted by the Marlins, behind just Josh Johnson's 2009 and 2010 seasons. But with Johnson and long-time Miami rotation stalwart Ricky Nolasco gone, this is Fernandez's rotation, and he's not going to get much veteran support – Henderson Alvarez, Nate Eovaldi, and Jacob Turner all have more experience than Fernandez, but Alvarez's 353 2/3 career innings lead the pack.
The Marlins didn't add an experienced starter this winter like they have over the last few years. Previously, Miami had added pitchers like Kevin Slowey, Carlos Zambrano, Javier Vazquez, and Nate Robertson to varying degrees of success. This year, the oldest player in the Marlins' pool of starters is Tom Koehler, who is just 27. Slowey is still Marlins property, but was outrighted off of the 40-man roster and will be coming to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. Thusly, this is the Jose Fernandez show, and the success of the Marlins rotation will be on his shoulders.
All of the eyes at Marlins Park will be on Fernandez every fifth day, and he actually may be better positioned to be the face of the franchise than Stanton, who is seemingly destined to be traded sometime over the next three seasons.
Turner is an odd bird. The former ninth-overall pick was a three-time top 30 prospect in the Tigers organization, but he's struggled since coming over to the Marlins. He'll be just 23 in May, so it's not as if his window is getting dangerously close to shutting, but you'd like to see more out of him. In 20 starts in the majors in 2013, Turner struck out 77 and walked 54 in 118 innings, pitching to a solid 3.74 ERA. But Turner completely fell apart after the All-Star Break, walking nearly as many hitters as he struck out and giving up ten homers in 64 innings. It's not a good look for the centerpiece of 2012's Anibal Sanchez trade.
But compare Turner to his former Tigers teammate, Rick Porcello. Porcello was moved aggressively from high-A to the majors, and while he's been a solid pitcher during his five year career, he didn't really break out and make a solid leap until 2013, when he posted career-bests in strikeout rate and ground ball rate, while falling just shy in both innings pitched and walk rate. Porcello's breakout year came at the age of 24. Turner will be 23 this May – so maybe there's something to be said about impending success.
It's now Turner's time to have a breakout season. Last year, Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez, and Nate Eovaldi had their best seasons in the majors, and the latter two could be even better in 2014 if they stay healthy and each make 30 starts. Imagine that threesome with Turner living up to his potential in the mix. If Turner makes the next step in 2014, Miami's rotation could be on of the more surprising ones in baseball.
By most accounts, Miami pushed Marisnick a little too fast in 2013. He spent 40 games in the majors and ended up hitting .183/.231/.248 and struggling with both his plate discipline and power. His defense was good, but his bat proved that it wasn't ready for primetime during that late-season trial in the majors. Marisnick also dealt with some injury issues in 2013, missing nearly all of April following a fractured hand and seeing limited action in September after tearing his meniscus.
But Marisnick is still a highly-regarded prospect. Like Turner, it's too early in his career to complete write him off – Marisnick will be just 23 in March. In his 67 games in AA, he homered 12 times and stole 11 bases (though his 64.7% success rate is something that does need to improve). Marisnick has a tantalizing set of skills, and if he has a healthier 2014, he could end up being a huge difference maker for the Marlins.
There almost appears to be a battle brewing to be Miami's long-term center fielder between Marisnick and Marcell Ozuna, who got a nice chunk of playing time in the majors in 2013. Ozuna was coming off of back-to-back 20 homer seasons going into last year, but hit just eight between AA and the majors, with only three of those coming in 70 major league games. Ozuna's health was an issue, and he dealt with both a fractured wrist and a fractured forearm, as well as a torn thumb ligament last year. Even with those injuries, he still managed to rack up 1.6 fWAR in 2013. If both Marisnick and Ozuna are healthy, we could be in for a fun time.