With the start of spring training, teams all over the Major Leagues are in the final stages of building the rosters that they think will take them to October and beyond. That may well be the case in Boston, Detroit, St. Louis and in Los Angeles, but in Miami things are different. Mike Redmond, Mike Hill and Dan Jennings are just trying to find a way to make a 62 win team into a slightly more competitive product.
More competitive can mean lots of things and at least, according to David Samson’s mandates, it means not coming close to losing 100 games. I personally think this is feasible for the Marlins in 2014. It is almost nearly impossible for a team to put up two consecutive years of such dismal run creation in a row. The front office did something about it in the off-season, they went after what can be called clear upgrades at the positions in which the Marlins had the highest need, catcher, third base, and second base.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Casey McGehee and Rafael Furcal will probably be better players by default than their counterparts in 2013, Rob Brantly, Placido Polanco and Derek Dietrich/Donovan Solano. It is still not a greatly positive outlook, McGehee and Furcal in particular are better but are still marginal Major League starters at this point of their careers.
The Marlins potential opening day infield, Garret Jones, Rafael Furcal, Adeiny Hechavarria and Casey McGehee smack of desperation for a team trying to “improve” on the cheap and for guys to resurrect their careers after many years of trial and tribulations.
If the infield situation is dire and calls for a number of “best case scenarios” to play out, the Marlins are in nearly the opposite situation in the outfield. Both Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich are firmly entrenched in right and left fields respectively. This brings us to our first major question.
The Marlins Crowded Outfield
Marcell Ozuna played 70 games and accrued almost 300 plate appearances in the Major Leagues in 2013 and in that time he acquitted himself quite nicely having a triple slash line of .265/.303/.385 and a wOBA of .304, he hit 3 HR and scored 31 runs. For a rookie hitting in a lineup full of other inexperienced and washed-up hitters that was not a bad showing. What’s more, his K% and BB% stayed greatly in line with his minor league numbers a 6.4/19.1 BB/K ratio in AA converted to a 4.5/19.6 in the major leagues. Ozuna is a young hitter and one expects plate discipline/pitch selection to improve leading up to a player’s offensive peak through his 20s.
Another positive for Ozuna is his high value defensive skill set with an overall outfield UZR of 9.6, 8 outfield assists, and plus defensive runs saved metrics all point in his favor. He also passes the “eye test” in his time in center field. He took good routes to balls, showed good speed and has an incredible arm for a center fielder.
Jake Marisnick struggled a lot more in his time in The Show last year than Ozuna, only slashing .183/.231/.248 with a .216 wOBA. This could have been because of his outstandingly unlucky .232 BABIP and paltry .064 ISO. In his time in the minor leagues in both the Blue Jays organization as well as in the Marlins Marisnick never proved himself as the most patient or disciplined hitter averaging 6.9/18.6 BB/K ratio.
On the plus side, his minor league numbers since 2011 look much better with a .811 OPS, 12.6% HR/FB ratio and a .171 ISO, although the majority of these numbers have come in the low minor leagues. Only 540 of Jake’s 1384 plate appearances have come in AA. Marisnick like Ozuna is a raw prospect, and they both need proper seasoning in AA , but if push comes to shove I would rather have Ozuna playing center field everyday for the team. He has shown that he has the tools and needs more playing time to become a legitimate Major Leaguer.
The Marlins traded Justin Ruggiano to the Cubs for Brian Bogusevic, which must mean they see something in him that is worth enough to be the team’s fourth outfielder. In four career Major League seasons Bogusevic has accumulated 671 PA against right-handed handed pitching, one full season. This adds up to a .725 OPS, .146 ISO, .320 wOBA and 100 wRC+ with 16 HR and a nice 9.5% to 22.4% BB/K ratio.
Against right-handed pitching Bogusevic is average and if he is protected and gets pinch-hitting appearances and spot starts against right-handed pitching he could be a contributor as something that resembles a left-handed power bat in the lineup. This trade was ultimately made to benefit Justin Ruggiano who deserves better to be fourth outfielder and could be legitimately successful in a hitter friendly Wrigley Field. Improving Bogusevic’s role is the fact hat he is a Major League average outfielder at all three positions and will probably be the team’s DH in American League parks.
Garret Jones and Jeff Baker- Platooning or how to Make the Best out of a Bad Situation
In 2013 against left-handed pitching Garret Jones hit .095/.174/.143 with a 52.2 K% (!!!!) and no home runs. Jeff Baker fared little better against righties at .204/.250/286, 1 HR and only a 3.8% walk rate. In short, can two players make one half decent Major League first baseman?
The answer appears to be no. While both Baker and Jones are bad against same side pitching they are at best average against opposite side guys. Jones was never a great player and is questionable in both the field and on the base paths, while Baker is at best a utility man who has had more than 300 PA only once in his career in 2008 with the Colorado Rockies. Further complicating the issue, both Jones and Baker are on the wrong side of 30 and are at best defensive liabilities.
I guess the Marlins fell out of love with Logan Morrison but I feel as though even this version of LoMo would be better than the Frankenstein’s monster that will be playing first base for the Marlins in 2014.
The Derek Dietrich Dilemma
The Marlins come into 2014 Spring Training and potentially deep into the season with one of the biggest questions that a team that will have trouble scoring runs can have. Can we afford to leave a bat like Derek Dietrich’s in the Minor Leagues?
Power is one of those skills that are easily transferable from level to level. Since 2011 in the Minor Leagues ignoring plate discipline, batting average or any other stat concentrating exclusively on his power Dietrich in 1358 PA has 47 HR, a .834 OPS. .208 ISO and 15.5% HR/FB ratio. Numbers like that from an left-handed hitting infielder are very impressive they are plainly speaking Utley-esque. Furthermore the power swing translated to the Major League level with Dietrich putting up a .191 ISO and 23.7% HR/FB ratio with 9 HR in about 200 PA. But the plate discipline numbers are hard to ignore and could ultimately keep Dietrich from getting Major League playing time in 2014.
But the temptation is there, when Rafael Furcal inevitably gets injured or Casey McGehee is struggling, it will be easy to call Dietrich in Jacksonville to help the club by hitting lots of home runs, strikeouts be damned.
These will be the three biggest questions for the Marlins in 2014. The themes are clear, abundance in the outfield and a worrying lack of depth in the infield will lead to the Marlins’ search for power anywhere they can find it, and it feels as though Bogusevic and Dietrich will be the most likely source of power within the organization.