Real baseball is here!
The Rockies open the season against the Marlins, who were one of only three National League teams to finish with a worse record in 2013 than Colorado, going 62-100. The club is led by a pair of young superstars in power-hitting Giancarlo Stanton and reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez.
Aside from Stanton, there isn't a lot there offensively (though the team did sign one free agent with some pop -- we'll get to that momentarily), but the pitching staff is solid overall and might be able to win the team a few extra games.
As we'll try to do prior to every series, I submitted some questions about the above things, and more, to the opposing team's SB Nation blog. In this case, it's Michael Jong of Fish Stripes who was kind enough to provide some answers.
Bryan Kilpatrick: The Marlins seem to be in a mode where they're rebuliding bits and pieces at a time, yet they shelled out a little money this offseason to fill some spots. Who did they get, and will the additions improve the club?
Michael Jong: The biggest acquisition the Marlins made this offseason is the addition of Jarrod Saltalamacchia via free agency. Saltalamacchia is a league-average catcher coming to Miami at well below market value, making him a steal for an offensively-starved Fish team. In addition, the simple fact that the Marlins went from the bats of Jeff Mathis and Rob Brantly to a decent player like Saltalamacchia is a huge improvement for the franchise.
The rest of the players the team acquired are mostly one-year stopgaps, with little value beyond 2014 (or even in 2014). The Fish are trying to fill out their roster so as to not expose their weak position player depth or force an early promotion for top prospects like Colin Moran.
BK: Giancarlo Stanton is constantly involved in trade rumors (much like Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki). What is a realistic return if the Marlins were to part with him?
MJ: The Marlins would definitely still be looking for at least one top-15 or top-20 prospect, with a premium on an elite talent ready to play an infield position like shortstop. The Marlins would then want depth with another top-100 type of player and a few other organizational good pieces. The team need to restock its minor league depth and find at least one sure-fire impact player, and Giancarlo Stanton is their only bet to do this.
Whether the team can still find that package with the Marlins and Stanton clearly heading towards a near-certain trade is a different story. Stanton needs to rebuild value this season so the Fish can acquire the best package for their latest superstar deportee.
BK: Jose Fernandez was tremendous last year. How did he look this spring, and is he primed for an even better 2014?
MJ: Fernandez looked strong in Spring Training save for one outing. Overall, he posted a 3.54 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings, though he did also walk eight batters. However, this production is unlikely to be a sign of much of anything heading into his sophomore 2014 campaign. Fernandez is an excellent player and an elite talent, but it seems very difficult for anyone to improve over the Rookie of the Year campaign he put up last season. While he is certain to maintain his strikeout prowess thanks to his elite stuff, the addition of home runs and a bit worse luck on balls in play may raise his ERA closer to 3.00 rather than 2.00. Still, if the Marlins get 200 innings of a 2.90 ERA pitcher like I projected here, the team would be ecstatic, and so would Fernandez.
BK: What do the Marlins have on the way in terms of minor-league help?
MJ: The biggest name likely to see some play coming into the 2014 season is top prospect Andrew Heaney. The lefty starter dominated High-A and Double-A in his stints last season, and his college pedigree out of Oklahoma State makes him a candidate to be a fast riser up the system. With smooth mechanics, strong control, and a polished three-pitch arsenal, Heaney has a chance to make the big leagues by midseason if he demolishes Double-A in his second go-around.
The team also has a number of other starting pitcher prospects of lesser interest in Brian Flynn and Adam Conley who could see play this season. Both will begin the year in Triple-A and battle for a rotation or bullpen spot with minor league veterans Tom Koehler and Brad Hand.
BK: Give us your prediction for this series, as well as a summary of how you think the Marlins will do in 2014.
MJ: The Rockies have a surprisingly strong pitching staff that should play well in the cavernous Marlins Park, but Miami begins the series with Jose Fernandez, meaning the team has a natural edge in that game. Still, the second and third matchups are not great bets for the Fish, and I would not be surprised if the team loses the series, 3-1.
As for the season, Miami should improve easily over their 100-loss campaign by sheer better luck and the addition of Saltalamacchia. But this is a gradual step up over a leaps-and-bounds move; the Fish should be expected to win around 70 games, and they could luck into a few more if either the New York Mets or Philadelphia Phillies, fellow NL East bottom-feeders, falter even more.
Game 1: Monday, March 31 at 5:05 p.m. MT (ESPN2)
Jorge De La Rosa vs. Jose Fernandez
Game 2: Tuesday, April 1 at 5:10 p.m. MT (ROOT)
Game 3: Wednesday, April 2 at 5:10 p.m. MT (ROOT)
Game 4: Thursday, April 3 at 10:40 a.m. MT (ROOT)
Lineups will be included in each individual game preview. Once stats begin to accrue, I will include those in future KYF articles.