The 2015 Miami Marlins are going to be trying to make an impact this year, as they have made a number of offseason moves in order to boost their chances at a playoff berth. The Fish are looking to make a big step, and they already have a few pieces secured to do such a thing. Giancarlo Stanton is signed through at least the 2021 season, and young phenoms like Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez are under team control for a number of years after this.
The Marlins have a decent nucleus of talent, but there are a number of players on whom the club is depending to perform and improve over their 2014 statistics. These players are both critical to the Marlins' success and question marks that loom for the Fish. Their performance may determine the difference the team seeing a chance for October play or another seat on the sidelines for the 12th straight year.
Who are these players whose variance may determine the future of Miami? In order to determine the 2015 Marlins Keys to Success, I identified players who fit the following criteria:
1) Young, as in age 27 or less
2) Variable in performance depending on factors still up in the air in terms of development
3) Likely to earn enough playing time to impact the Marlins' win totals
Based on these characteristics, I identified four players on whom the Marlins will be leaning this year. These four names could turn the tides for the season unexpectedly. A struggle from the majority of these guys could lead to a difficult year and newfound gaps in the team's roster. If the majority of these guys take a next step or even maintain their 2014 production, the Fish could be looking at being prime competition for a playoff spot.
Who are those guys?
Ozuna is the best of the players being included on this list. He is already considered an above-average player, and he is a part of the best outfield in baseball alongside Stanton and Yelich. But while Stanton is a superstar and Yelich appears bound to be an underappreciated All-Star for many years to come, Ozuna still holds lots of variance in his game. There are clearly parts of Ozuna's game that point to potential stardom. He has a live bat with great power that may get better as he heads into his age-24 season. Last year he flashed that power he showed in the minors on the way to 23 home runs, and ESPN Insider Tony Blengino (Insider required) believes that holds the key to turning him into a superstar.
At the same time, there are legitimate concerns about Ozuna's lack of plate discipline, and this will be his second full season in the bigs. Could this be the year when pitchers figure out how to approach him and exploit his free-swinging ways. Ozuna's defense is promising, but will he hold up long-term in center field as an above-average player?
Hechavarria makes yet another appearance on this list after showing up before the 2013 season. That year was so disappointing that it did not merit repeating his appearance for 2014, but at least last year, he did improve on some measures. He was not the worst hitter in baseball, though being 15th-lowest among qualified Major Leaguers is not a tremendous feat. He improved his batting average, and he showed some signs that the glovework that he is most known for is "real." While there are still questions on how good his defensive work is, at least some numbers pointed towards a positive trend for the Gold Glove finalist.
Hechavarria still put up a sub-one win year last year, but if you believe he is closer to above average at shortstop rather than below average, then you are looking at a shortstop who could have been a 1.5-win player last year. It is highly questionable that Hechavarria can repeat his mediocre season at the plate, but the difference in his defensive play could mean an added win for the Fish if he plays close to Gold Glove standards.
Gordon just sneaks onto this list in terms of age, but he is another variance play for the Marlins. What makes his case so important for the Fish is the price they paid to acquire him; the Marlins traded top pitching prospect Andrew Heaney, who is ranking in the 60's on most top-100 prospect lists this season, and a bevy of other lesser players to acquire four years of Gordon. The team did this based on evidence of Gordon's single half of All-Star play, followed by an ugly second half that fit in line with his previous play.
Gordon is a low-upside player as it is, but he is an upgrade at second base most likely over the team's incumbents. He can play the position at near an average level. He has one terrific asset in his speed, but the rest of his game appears still raw and he boasts no power at the plate. There is a limit to how good these players can be, and the Marlins risked a lot to see if Gordon can keep up those limits. If he can, he can buy Miami another win.
Here is another player the Marlins inexplicably paid a steep cost to acquire. Cosart has tons of team control time left and is a former top prospect, so he has time and pedigree on his side. But he was acquired in the midst of a mediocre year with the Houston Astros, and the cost the Marlins paid to get him was high. Miami dealt Colin Moran, who was the team's first-round pick in the 2013 draft and a player currently ranking in the 70's in top-100 prospect lists. The bet is that Cosart's track record in the big leagues would prove to be better than Moran's in the minors, plus the minor contributions from former prospects like Jake Marisnick.
This is a difficult bet to make. Cosart improved after coming to Miami, but by the end of the year, he still displayed similar problems getting guys to swing and miss. Can Cosart develop his whiff game and secondary stuff enough to supplement his strong ground ball rate, or is he destined to a low-ceiling, high-variance world of high-contact pitching?
What do you think about this list? Which of these guys will deliver in 2015, and which will flounder? Let us know!