Yes, the Miami Marlins may not lose 100 games this season, but the team will be difficult to watch for most of the year. The Marlins are one of the few squads that are almost certainly out of contention right at the onset of the year, and no team ever wants to be in that situation to begin the season.
This brings up the question of why fans should even care about the 2013 Marlins. The team is out of contention right from the start, and unlike the 2006 squad, there are not elite prospects like Hanley Ramirez or Jeremy Hermida in the majors possibly ready to become future stars. For the Miami Marlins, those future stars are coming, at best, at midseason, and it is far more likely the team sees those players in 2014. Without the potential of a 2006-like comeback for the ages, why bother watching this potential train-wreck of a team?
Well, here at Fish Stripes, our focus is on the #minorvictories of the Miami Marlins. Even when the season was lost last year, there was still a reason to watch the 2012 Marlins. And just like we set out a guide to watching the Marlins in 2012, it is worth pointing out the reason for watching the Fish in 2013 as well. If you have a television or MLB.tv and can catch a Marlins game, here are some of the reasons why you should do it.
The first season is the most obvious. Giancarlo Cruz-Michael Stanton is the primary reason to tune in and watch the Fish. Stanton is projected to do well this season, as one of the few above-average players on the Marlins in 2013. He is expected to be the leader of the home run race for the season, Last year, Stanton did things to baseballs that should not be done by mere mortals. He inspires fear in the hearts of baseballs everywhere. He and his bat are the subject of horror stories that baseballs tell each other around a campfire. Baseball mothers tell their baseball children than if they do not eat their vegetables, Stanton will come and smack them out of Marlins Park.
You get the point. Stanton is one of the few truly delectable joys in store for Marlins fans in 2013. Watching him hit home runs is what Marlins fandom is truly about. It is a shame that fans will not be enjoying this experience live and that Stanton will be sending out shots with few men on base in games that will often not matter, but it is the situation in which he and the fans find themselves. Stanton has already said all the right things and made it sound like he is making the best of a difficult situation, and Marlins fans should do the same. We should follow Stanton's 2013 season religiously and enjoy his brand of baseball for as long as we can.
Justin Ruggiano's Encore
I was interested in this last season, and I am extremely interested this season. Ruggiano was a Quad-A slugger who had very few prospects of a major league career. His plate discipline was unrefined, he was a bit of a "tweener" outfielder, and he was blocked in the Tampa Bay Rays organization by a number of clearly better outfielders. All of a sudden, he is mashing home runs and banging out doubles off of green Marlins Park walls like he belongs in the majors.
Ruggiano's 2012 season was the underdog making it into the limelight, like many baseball movies are. But we rarely get to see the sequel to the triumphant underdog baseball team, and in 2013 we will get to witness Ruggiano's second act. Will he rise to the occasion and once again perform brilliantly? How far will he regress? Is he really a major leaguer, or was 2012 just a fluke run? The 2013 season is a chance for Ruggiano to prove himself to major league franchises. For Marlins fans, it is a chance to see his encore performance, and let us all hope it is better than Major League 2.
Adeiny Hechavarria's Defense
Hechavarria may be projected to be terrible at the plate, but the one thing we were told about him is that he is a slick defender at shortstop. In case you have been asleep since 2005, the Marlins have not yet had a slick defender at shortstop (or at any position, really) since Alex Gonzalez manned the position regularly. We have seen flashes of brilliance when Alfredo Amezaga filled in at the position, but Marlins fans have not seen a gifted defender regularly playing shortstop for a while.
Hechavarria should change that in 2013. He has excellent speed and range, improving instincts, and an outstanding arm that was capable of playing third base for much of last season. His reputation has always been a strong one, and the Marlins are hoping he can anchor a much-improved infield defense. While Hanley Ramirez was always a bumbler at the position and Jose Reyes was deceptively weaker than usual, Hechavarria is not only a better defender than both, but likely a flashier one as well. Hopefully Marlins fans can look forward to some Web Gems this season.
Henderson Alvarez's Strikeouts
Alvarez is a frustrating pitcher in that he seems to be just a few discoveries away from being an elite starter. Brandon Webb never struck out a lot of batters, but he struck out just enough of them (19.3 percent career) to make an 88 mph sinker into an imposing arsenal ordeal for hitters. Alvarez's sinker is closer to 93 mph, and it too has the properties of a Webb-like 60-plus percent ground ball rate.
The only issue is that Alvarez cannot get batters to miss on his pitches. He is eminently hittable, and as a result, he struggles with suppressing runs. Combine that with his home run problem and you turn a pitcher with an elite sinker into one who can barely crack a major league rotation. Alvarez should be interesting to watch this season, if only to see where his strikeouts totals will end. In his rookie year, he looked like he was a promising sinker-type with velocity and the potential for strikeouts that often comes with it. In 2012, he looked like a cast-off Derek Lowe with no secondary offerings. Which pitcher will we see in 2013?
Jacob Turner's Path to the Majors
The Marlins have demoted Jacob Turner, thus complicating his already-strange path to the majors. Like many teenage pitchers before him, Turner was moved quickly through the minors by the infamous Detroit Tigers organization. Like many teenage pitchers before him, this likely tinkered a bit with his development, but he still proved capable of handling each level he encountered, even though he never dominated any level. Now he is in Triple-A, a place usually reserved for players in limbo who have mostly completed their development but are either blocked in the majors or fixing mechanical concerns.
What is Turner's path to the big leagues now? He needs to dominate Triple-A and show off his readiness for the big leagues. If he does that, he should show up by the middle of the year and hold onto a rotation spot, leaving only his performance in the majors to determine whether he will stick. He has to beat out Kevin Slowey or Wade LeBlanc as well, so the road ahead should be difficult, but watchable for Marlins fans.
Nathan Eovaldi's Secondary Pitches
Like Alvarez, we know Eovaldi has a strong first pitch. His 94 mph fastball is the reason why anyone is still interested in him in the first place. With his impressive spring training, he earned the pitching spot behind "ace" Ricky Nolasco. But the question mark on him still remains: outside of his slider, will he ever develop another pitch, particularly one to deal with lefties?
This will determine the future of Eovaldi's major league career. Last year, he flashed moments of brilliance and buried them within a lot of problems, and the biggest issue was clearly left-handed hitting. Can he figure out a curveball or changeup to use against southpaws? Will he be able to effectively use it? If he struggles like last year again, do not be surprised if the Marlins see potential for a late-inning stopper in Eovaldi, whose fastball should gain a few ticks by a bullpen move. But if he can figure out left-handed hitters to some degree, his value would be much greater as a fireballing starter rather than another hard-throwing reliever.