The Miami Marlins are starting their official Spring Training today, as position players report to Roger Dean Stadium for camp. With their arrival, the official start of the position battles for the final 25 roster spots begins. While most of the Marlins roster is already set, there are still a few positions open to interpretation heading into the season, and those spots are particularly apparent on the pitching side. The team has plenty of depth on that side, but that depth in fact adds to the competition for the final few spots, both in the rotation and bullpen.
We will start out our weekly position battle report with an overview of the pitcher's side.
The Marlins theoretically have three positions filled in their starting rotation guaranteed. Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez will man the ace position, while Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, both pitchers who worked about half the season last year after shoulder injuries, are assured the second and third rotation spots. But the fourth and fifth positions are still relatively open to competition, and the Marlins are not short on candidates for those roles.
Jacob Turner is the incumbent fourth starter and he is admittedly well ahead of the other competitors at the position. But Turner had an awful season in 2013 after a decent start; after posting a 2.33 ERA and 2.88 FIP (backed by an unsustainably low home run rate) in the first half, Turner lost all control and walked 12.6 percent of batters faced on the way to a 4.96 ERA and 5.71 FIP. Turner's drop in control is in stark contrast with his previous prospect scouting report, and it raises significant concerns about his future on the team. The Marlins should still give him ample opportunity to win his spot, and he is a favorite for the time being. Then again, we felt he was last year, and he lost the starting job to Kevin Slowey before serving as an injury replacement in May.
The other expected Marlin to win a starting role is rookie Brian Flynn, who dominated Triple-A New Orleans last year as a 23-year-old. Flynn led the Pacific Coast League in ERA with a 2.80 mark (3.05 FIP) and earned a cup of coffee last September. His starts were not memorable, and the Marlins may have doubts about his ability to handle the majors. His fastball has dipped into the 90-mph region after initially starting in the mid-90's, and his strikeout and walk numbers were always good-not-great in the minors, even last season. Flynn brings a pitcher's frame and success in the minors, but can he earn a Major League spot?
If he does not, there are at least two Marlins who are also in the mix for that last spot who started for Miami last season. Slowey was faltering badly before a demotion and an elbow injury sidelined him to the pen and the disabled list respectively. He was given a minor league contract and the opportunity to reclaim his roster spot from last year. Tom Koehler somehow threw 143 innings last season for Miami, yet I remember none of them. Neither of these options should be the first choice for the Fish.
Brad Hand and Alex Sanabia also lurk as also-ran options out of Triple-A. If you look a little deeper, though, you can see some true minor league prospect options other than Flynn. The obvious first choice would be top prospect Andrew Heaney, who had a monster 2013 year in pro ball and should begin this season in Double-A and could finish the year in the bigs. The Marlns may not hold back on him and start him earlier, just like they chose with Jose Fernandez. Adam Conley, Anthony DeSclafani, and Justin Nicolino all spent some time in Double-A last year, to varying degrees of success, and those who were invited to Spring Training will get a chance to compete.
Favorites: Jacob Turner, Brian Flynn
The Marlins are set in their bullpen now that they signed Carlos Marmol to a one-year contract. Marmol is expected to be part of the crew that works the eighth inning leading up to closer Steve Cishek, but given his erratic play, he should have company. Mike Dunn expects to be the sole eighth-inning setup man after his talk with Fish Stripes, and it is difficult to argue with his results. Dunn cut into his walks significantly last season without dropping his strikeouts, thus producing his best Major League season. He may be first in line for closing duty despite his primary LOOGY status on the roster and Marmol's "proven closer" experience.
The interesting thing about this race is that there are at least two more relievers who could stake a claim for the eighth inning spot. The Marlins also had A.J. Ramos last year, when he primarily worked the seventh inning. He did an admirable job, posting a 3.15 ERA and 3.24 FIP in 80 innings. If he returns to pitching the seventh inning, you can expect him to take the obligatory "multi-inning fireman" role allotted to the best seventh- or eighth-inning guys, but he still might not crack the eight consistently.
Carter Capps, who was acquired from the Seattle Mariners in the Logan Morrison trade, also provides depth in that inning. He boasts a mid-90's fastball and an impressive 24.4 percent strikeout rate from 2013, but he also gave up way too many homers (12 in 59 innings) to flourish in a high-leverage role. Luckily for him, Miami does a good job of suppressing homers and is not moving its fences in to compensate for loss of hitter power, so that should help him in that regard.
Early Favorites: Carlos Marmol, Mike Dunn
What do you Fish Stripers think? Who do you think deserves to win some of these spots? Let us know in the comments!