2014 Miami Marlins Preview: Jose Fernandez, Young Pitchers Key to Future Success


Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

I feel like there is no point in trying to go through the Marlins rotation 1 through 5 and explain how their past performance will impact their 2014 production. Its been done, here on Marlin Maniac, on Fish Stripes, and even on the MLB Network with their “30 Clubs in 30 days” feature.

Instead I want to think about how the future becomes the present, that is to say how the Marlins rotation that will be their key to success in 2014 came to be.  Not just how the Marlins came to acquire these players, but also how they came to play professional baseball in the first place.

Modern baseball player development is divided pretty equally between the June Rule 4 Amateur Draft and international free agents.  Within the draft there is still another distinction, between high school and college players. The 6 players most likely to be in the Marlins rotation on opening day are Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi,  Henderson Alvarez, Jacob Turner and Brad Hand or Tom Koehler.

Fernandez, Eovaldi, Turner and Hand were all drafted straight out of high school and took their particular paths to the Majors. Fernandez made his Major League debut at age 20 last year and excelled to the tune of winning the NL Rookie of the Year and finishing third behind Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright in the NL Cy Young.

Eovaldi, Turner and Alvarez all came to Miami in the great Marlins sell off of 2012. At the time, Alvarez was the most experienced of the players, a consistent part of the Blue Jays rotation. Turner, who at the time of the trade had some question marks regarding his “prospect” status after a very painful time with the Tigers in the middle of the 2012 season. Brad Hand has been floating between AAA and the Major Leagues for the better part of 3 seasons; showing up for spot starts and September call ups since 2011.

Hand, Turner and Eovaldi were all acquired as high schoolers. I don’t actually know if this is significant but it is interesting that of the players I just named above, all had their Major League debuts in 2011 and all have become solid starters and are 24 years old or younger as the 2014 season starts.

Koehler will be older than 24 because he went to college and it is nearly impossible to count anything that Jose Fernandez has done so far in his baseball career as normal or ordinary so it would be almost silly to try and account to account for any regression or improvement in 2014, especially given it is only his age 21 season and his fourth season in professional baseball overall.

The Opening Day rotation headed by Fernandez and with loads of talent is just one way that the Marlins plan to dominate baseball in the next decade. At various stages of development are Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani who may not be part of the Marlins success in 2014, but will most definitely be key to their success in the future.

I ultimately think that the Marlins rotation will be their legacy for many years to come, rather than the Marlins giving up on being competitive during and after the 2012 season.  In one sense it was an abdication or even more a resignation to fact, Beinfest, Hill, and company noticed that the Marlins would never be able to compete on the same playing field as the high payroll, high revenue, big market teams.

But it was also a purposeful recalibration of priorities, and they understood that the best way forward was to have as much young, talented pitching under team control as possible.  Nicolino and Turner are 22, Alvarez and DeSclafani are 23 and Eovaldi is 24. Those are the players acquired in the 2012 trades. If you include Fernandez (21), Heaney (22) and  Hand (24) the picture becomes even more clearer.

Young arms under team control are the most important thing that a team can have. Better yet if they can actually pitch. I’m not a scout, or an expert on prospects but the people that seem to know about these things like what the Marlins have done.

They took an untenable situation and parlayed into a winning strategy.In this league, pitching depth and an ever rolling conveyor belt of young quality pitching are the keys to success.

Giving up expensive players along with smart drafting is an undeniably effective strategy. There is a simple illustration of this. The first two  starting pitchers to reach free agency will be Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez in 2018, with the rest following in the next two years.  In the pitching department the Marlins are set in the mid-term, and it will be interesting to see if Colin Moran and others will be able to meet the expectations that the pitching staff has created for them.