Jose Fernandez will be the Miami Marlins' first starter in 2014. And Giancarlo Stanton will bat either third or fourth and will play right field. That much is almost certain. But with Spring Training officially underway, the organization has several questions it needs answers to before the regular season begins.
Whenever asked, President of Baseball Operations Michael Hill and General Manager Dan Jennings were confident in the offseason additions and not hurt by several departures. The team entered the offseason seeking offense, and after signing several free agent bats, is hoping for a effective lineup.
According to the Sun-Sentinel, the Marlins have 69 players headed to big league camp, and 29 of those are not on the 40-man roster.
They include homegrown pitchers Adam Conley, Anthony DeSclafani, Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino, Colby Suggs and Nick Wittgren, and position players Austin Barnes, Danny Black, Mark Canha, Colin Moran and Avery Romero.
Several non-roster invitees will be looked at, and many will have an opportunity to earn a roster spot. With team workouts underway, here are several questions the Miami Marlins will have to answer heading into the 2014 season?
Has the offense significantly improved?
Heading into the offseason, the Marlins' primary goal was to add offense without losing its pitching depth, which it appears to have done. But how much better will the offense really be?
Miami signed free agent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, first baseman Garrett Jones, second baseman Rafael Furcal, Casey McGehee, and utility infielder Jeff Baker to major league contracts to try and improve baseball's least productive 2013 lineup.
In 2013, the team scored 513 runs, which is 136 fewer than the National League average. The Marlins' power numbers were also inconsistent, particularly because of the struggles of Stanton.
With Stanton expected to hit third or fourth, and Jones, McGehee, and Furcal around him in the lineup, Miami should see some form of an offensive improvement.
Christian Yelich in left field should give Stanton protection, and the offense should be able to score enough runs to complement a young and talented starting rotation.
Can Jose Fernandez have another great season?
Last season's National League Rookie of the Year, Fernandez may not have the same amount of success he had in 2013. Fernandez finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in his first major league season and will be Miami's Opening Day starter.
The odds of another dominating campaign are questionable, and it remains to be determined if Fernandez will be placed on another innings limit considering his age.
More of a question than if Fernandez can build on his success is the back end of the rotation. The fourth spot appears to be Jacob Turner's to lose, and Tom Koehler, Brad Hand, Brian Flynn, Justin Nicolino, and Andrew Heaney will all be looked at.
Kevin Slowey could be a candidate if the Marlins are looking for an established veteran presence.
Who will precede closer Steve Cishek?
In terms of Miami's bullpen, there aren't many question marks. Dan Jennings and Mike Dunn will be the lefty relievers out of the 'pen, and A.J. Ramos, Carlos Marmol, and Carter Capps will all be responsible to hold onto leads.
The only question is who will bridge the gap from the starter to Cishek. After being acquired from Seattle, Capps was highly regarded as a talented young pitcher with "closer-like stuff," making him a strong candidate.
However, after signing Marmol, Miami could hand the ball to him late in games despite a past full of blown saves and inflated walks per nine innings ratios. The Marlins aren't concerned with his command, after Hill noticed a "positive change in his delivery" during Winter Ball.
Ideally, the bullpen won't have to play a significant role every night. Miami had just two complete games in 2013, but with a young rotation returning in 2014, look for that number to increase.
Are there any positions up for grabs?
For at least one position every spring, the Marlins have relied on a competiton to determine who makes the squad.
The most obvious battle will be for the last rotation spot, with several non-roster invitees and minor league prospects trying to become the fifth starter.
Center field could bring the most intriguing competition. Marcell Ozuna is coming off of thumb surgery but may be considered the favorite, though an improved Jake Marisnick offensively could make for an interesting decision. Brian Bogusevic is likely to make the team as a backup outfielder, pending a poor spring showing.
Most bench spots are already filled, Jeff Mathis returning as the backup catcher, Greg Dobbs serving as the left-handed option off the bench, and Jeff Baker likely to serve as the utility man. If Bogusevic makes the team, one bench spot is left, and it may be given to Ed Lucas or Donovan Solano who can both provide infield depth.