The path to progress for the Miami Marlins starts on the mound.
The Marlins believe their reboot will gain momentum in Season 2 under CEO Derek Jeter, and any improvement likely will be most apparent in the rotation. There’s more depth there than elsewhere, and perhaps a starter or three who could be part of the foundation as Miami tries to build a contending team.
New pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr., whose coaching career in professional baseball began in 2002, said the Marlins’ situation is unique in his experience.
“I’ve been in a lot of camps,” Stottlemyre says. “This is dangerous, but bar none it’s the youngest, most talented bunch of arms that I’ve ever dealt with in all my years coaching.”
That’s reason to watch baseball’s most off-the-radar team in 2019. Some other things to know about the Marlins:
They may finish last in attendance again, and they’re likely to finish below .500 for the 10th year in a row. But the starting pitching should be interesting.
The group is led by right-hander Jose Urena, who is scheduled to start opening day March 28 against the Colorado Rockies. He’s 23-19 over the past two seasons, while in other games during that span the Marlins have gone 117-164.
Right-hander Dan Straily, a likely midseason trade target, and left-hander Wei-Yin Chen are other veteran options. But whether the season’s judged a success or failure likely depends on how several young pitchers develop.
The Marlins believe Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith and Trevor Richards all have major league stuff. Stottlemyre knows that’s not enough.
“We need to find a way to harness it and get to a point to where they have some understanding of what they possess and learn more who they are,” he says.
There are also more talented arms in the minors than when Jeter’s group bought the franchise in October 2017.
The Marlins finished last in the majors in 2018 in runs, home runs, slugging and OPS, and they’ll likely again struggle to score. They don’t have a player who hit over .278 last season, or hit as many more than 12 home runs, or stole more than six bases.
Thirtysomething newcomers Miami added include first baseman Neil Walker, outfielder Curtis Granderson and reliever Sergio Romo.
“Any time you have a young team that’s very impressionable and you’re trying to build something special, it’s important to surround them with some veterans,” Jeter says. “They played the game the right way and bring those intangibles. We were able to bring in some guys who have had a lot of success in their careers. More important, they’re great in the clubhouse.”
Miami also acquired catcher Jorge Alfaro, 25, in the trade that sent catcher J.T. Realmuto to the Philadelphia Phillies.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
Hard-throwing right-hander Jorge Guzman, acquired from the New York Yankees in the Giancarlo Stanton trade in late 2017, will begin the season in Double-A but might join the rotation sometime this year.
Outfielder Victor Victor Mesa will begin the year in the minors, and the Marlins would love to see him take a fast track to the majors. The Cuban outfielder was considered the top international free agent last fall when he received a $5.25 million signing bonus, but his progress was set back by a hamstring injury early in spring training.
Since the sale of the team, the Marlins have traded five players with All-Star pedigrees — Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon and, most recently, Realmuto.
Bruce Sherman, the new majority owner, has taken a hands-off approach but endorses Jeter’s rebuilding plan. He’s unfazed by last year’s poor record (63-98) or poor attendance.
“You know the things we’ve done that may not be popular right now,” Sherman says. “But if you look out over the next few years, all of the decisions made by the organization will become increasingly popular and increasingly supported. I’m very excited about it.”