The Miami Marlins went into the 2013 season knowing full well that a series of rookies would be leading the way for them. The Fish expected a number of youngsters to be keying their success this season, but surprisingly, it was not players like Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner, and Rob Brantly who have put up the best performances for the Fish this season. Instead, it has been two rookies who were not expected to be contributors to the 2013 squad and have come a little earlier than predicted.
Jose Fernandez and Marcell Ozuna are the team's two best chances at All-Star bids and the two best rookies the Marlins have featured this season. Surprisingly, neither was supposed to be here already. Both Fernandez and Ozuna figured to get full seasons in Double-A to season their game, but Fernandez was surprisingly promoted at the start of the year thanks to injuries to Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, while Ozuna was brought up after Giancarlo Stanton went down with his hamstring injury.
Neither player was expected to be here, but both have performed very well. Fernandez has outperformed everyone's expectations and been the team's best pitcher, with a 3.11 ERA and 3.21 FIP and 1.3 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement thus far. Meanwhile, even despite a recent slump, Ozuna is still hitting a respectable .291/.331/.412 (.325 wOBA) with strong defensive numbers.
Unfortunately for the Marlins, these two Marlins have all but been overshadowed by the spectacular set of rookies the National League has this season. Fernandez ranks third among NL rookie pitchers in fWAR, behind the spectacular season of Shelby Miller and the equally strong start of Los Angeles Dodgers import Hyun-Jin Ryu. On the hitter's side, Ozuna ranks sixth in fWAR among the NL rookie hitters. Of the five in front of him, only Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder A.J. Pollock has a worse batting line than Ozuna. Evan Gattis leads all NL rookie hitters with 1.8 fWAR as of right now.
The Marlins have two excellent rookies among their entire set, but they have been largely looked over by the flood of excellent rookies. The above list does not even include hotshot Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who is currently batting .479/.500/.771 (.543 wOBA) with four home runs in 50 plate appearances. So what are the odds the Fish can boast another Rookie of the Year candidate?
As of last week, Bovada had these odds for the Rookie of the Year award:
2013 NL Rookie of the Year - Odds to Win
Shelby Miller (STL) 1/1
Yasiel Puig (LAD) 3/2
Hyun-Jim Ryu (LAD) 5/1
Marcell Ozuna (MIA) 10/1
Jed Gyorko (SD) 20/1
Julio Teheran (ATL) 25/1
Ozuna is on the list, primarily because of his strong batting line and relative longevity compared to other rookies at the time. But the early favorites are the two pitchers, and how can you blame potential voters? Miller has a 2.08 ERA and 2.58 FIP and has thrown the most inning so far among rookie pitchers.
Can any of the Marlins catch up? As the odds show, it will be quite difficult for either Fernandez or Ozuna to make the leap, but there are some advantages for them. Fernandez had been working primarily under a pitch limit of around 85 pitches, but quietly the Marlins have extended him in the last two starts. Fernandez threw 97 pitches in the effort versus the New York Mets in the 20-inning marathon, and he got to 104 pitches versus the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. This recent extension of his game should allow him to throw more innings, which has bee the primary problem in Fernandez's candidacy. While he may have the rate numbers, Fernandez simply had not put up the innings until now.
For Ozuna, it may be as simple as finally finding his power stroke. We have wondered where Ozuna's power was, as it was supposed to be his highlight tool. So far, he has yet to boast it, but if he changes his approach now that his 16-game hit streak is gone and re-focuses on not only getting hits, but muscling up a few more balls, he may get back into this race.
With only one home run, Ozuna has yet to display the kind of power he showed in the minors when he averaged 23 home runs from 2010 to ’12. But he said he expects that to improve with time and experience.
"It’ll come later," he said. "I’m just trying to hit the ball right now."
The hope is that Ozuna figures out how to turn his power tool into results. Since we last discussed this topic 11 days ago, his outfield fly balls and home runs still have not significantly changed in distance, averaging still just 250 feet per ball in play. Right now, his focus may very well still be staying back on the ball and waiting to become a good hitter before turning on the power. Hopefully, he can turn it on.
The Marlins have some edges in the coming months in the race for Rookie of the Year, but in the end it will still come down to not only Fernandez's and Ozuna's performances, but also their competitor's. If Miller continues his All-Star run, there is simply no way either Marlins player can catch him. If one player has the chance, however, it is likely Fernandez who will end up competing for that top spot. Fernandez has the flash of a strikeout-heavy pitcher; he is behind only Miller and Tony Cingrani among rookie starting pitchers in strikeout rate. With the recent removal of his pitch count limit, the Marlins have fully released Fernandez into the wild, and he should be able to handle himself well. If he can maintain his current line through the end of the season, it is difficult to imagine him not ending up at least second or third on the final tally.
Then again, there are so many talented rookies in the National League, and even on the Marlins if some of those players wake up from their slumbers, that one player's slump at the top could open up the race for everyone else. If Miller comes down to earth a bit more, the Marlins have a shot at the title of Rookie of the Year.