2014 Miami Marlins Key to Success: Introduction

Henderson Alvarez is still a key to the Marlins' success after a successful 2013 season. - Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins have another difficult season ahead of them in 2014. Just like last year, success will be defined not necessarily by wins, but by player development. This year, there is a new set of players who will represent keys to success.

Last season here at Fish Stripes, we previewed the Miami Marlins' 2013 regular season with a series called the 2013 Marlins Keys to Success. The idea was to talk about the players on the roster whose development was critical to the lost 2013 campaign. The Fish did indeed lose a lot of games last year, and a good deal of it was due to inferior talent on both ends of the field. But some of the players whose development mattered to Miami's long-term success were adequately evaluated last season, and the results yielded some successes for the year along with some failures.

The 2014 season is no different for Miami. The Fish are looking at another season full of losses, but they also are looking at a year in which their players could show marked improvement. Miami's nucleus is set at the moment with Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez at the top, and while their play will be critical, the development of a few other still-questionable Marlins will be the barometer of success. Last year's group yielded a few hits, but those players may need to make another step to reach the level where Stanton and Fernandez are as core members.

Who are those players? Let's introduce the 2014 Miami Marlins Keys to Success!

Christian Yelich

The Marlins' premiere hitting prospect since Giancarlo Stanton had an acceptable and promising debut effort in 2013. But Miami wants him to develop further after his rookie season. The Fish want Yelich to fill a leadoff role for the team in 2014, and that would require that he continues to work on his plate discipline. That may mean cutting down on the strikeouts that he got away with in the minors, especially in his time in Double-A last year. Given the Marlins Park dimensions and Yelich's known lack of power, we should expect lower levels of power, but that would make him avoiding strikeouts and/or suceeding on balls in play once again.

But the rewards for a number of these things working out are great. The Marlins may lose Stanton in a year or two, and the team could use a new star hitter. Any development in any of those areas could give the Fish the beginning of a star hitter. Add to that Yelich's athletic defense and the team could be looking at a balanced, above-average player at multiple levels who could sneak up on us as a star for Miami.

Marcell Ozuna/Jake Marisnick

The Marlins are banking on Ozuna or Marisnick to take care of the team's long-term cetner field woes. Right now, Ozuna has the edge on Marisnick due to his experience and relative success in the majors, but Marisnick is a highly-touted prospect who should get his chance in 2014. Both players are being counted upon, in part because Stanton could be leaving the team any time soon via trade. If and when he does, the Malrins will have room to fit all three of Yelich, Ozuna, and Stanton.

The Marlins will look to both to provide athletic defense in the outfield in the expansive Marlins Park. In addition, both players are trying to grow their offensive games to an acceptable Major League level. For Ozuna, he will look to establish his power and improve on his plate discipline and surprisingly solid contact from last year. For Marisnick, he needs to depend less on his raw athleticism and develop some proper plate work as well. His tools are likely better than Ozuna's, but Ozuna's offense is probably ahead at the moment. Both will have time to prove who is ahead over the next year.

Nathan Eovaldi

Eovaldi makes a second trip onto this list, as he provided some promising results last season. Eovaldi's 95 mph fastball was the fastest average heater out of all pitchers with at least 100 innings. That absolutely got him to near the top of the rotation, but Eovaldi is still struggling with other aspects of pitching. In particular, his secondary and tertiary pitches are faltering him, and that has left him with difficulty when dealing with left-handed hitters in particular. In order to become a better starting pitcher, Eovaldi has to develop his secondary offerings and begin finding strikeouts against opposite-handed hitters, or else he may be doomed to a life of bullpen work.

But like the Yelich situation, the upside of Eovaldi's development is fantastic. If he realizes his potential and can do a better job of getting lefties out and finding more out-pitches in his repertoire, he can become a high-strikeout artist with a bit of a control problem, and those pitchers will often play well in the big leagues. Given that Eovaldi's floor right now is that of effective bullpen pitcher, the Fish could do a lot worse than him as their second starter.

Henderson Alvarez

Alvarez represents something of the opposite of Eovaldi. Whereas Eovaldi holds high potential, Alvarez has the promise of consistently decent production. Miami should not have been surprised last season when Alvarez delivered a year akin to his rookie one, but this time with fewer home runs thanks in part to the aid of Marlins Park. With his game fitting perfectly in the stadium, Miami could take major advantage of his ground ball ways and ride him to consistent 3.80 ERAs,

The problem with Alvarez is that he is simply not ever going to turn out to be much more. He is decent at controlling walks, but he is not a great artist at it. His pitching repertoire does not lend itself to strikeouts. All he offers is ground balls and a way to avoid home runs, and there is a ceiling in those pitchers. The question is how high the floor is for Alvarez and whether the 2013 season, which ended on a great no-hitter note, was a prelude of years to come.

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