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Miami Marlins' Justin Nicolino thriving in Triple-A

Nicolino could be the next Marlins prospect to earn a starting job.

Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

It is early in 2015, but the Marlins have already shown the willingness to give younger prospects an opportunity to prove they are prepared to start at the major league level. J.T. Realmuto has emerged as the club's starting catcher in the midst of Jarrod Saltalamacchia's early struggles and Justin Nicolino may be next to receive a chance.

Nicolino opened the season with Triple-A New Orleans, but the Marlins' starting rotation is without both Jose Fernandez and Henderson Alvarez, and as a result Nicolino may be called upon. He is Miami's top left-handed pitching prospect, and with Fernandez not expected to be ready until June or July and Alvarez currently on the disabled list, Nicolino could be called upon.

Nicolino, 23, is 2-0 with a 0.79 ERA with New Orleans. He has also not given up an earned run in each of his last three starts, and has posted a 5.96 K/9 over 22.2 innings pitched. David Phelps was slotted into the Marlins' rotation in the absence of Alvarez, and if he begins to struggle, Brad Hand is also capable of making a spot start. But if the Marlins want to give another young arm an opportunity, promoting Nicolino could be realistic.

The Marlins have the second worst bullpen ERA, however placing Nicolino in the bullpen may not be as beneficial for his development. Jose Urena was promoted and remained with the Marlins when Phelps was activated from the paternity list. He had difficulty in a few relief appearances, and was ultimately optioned instead of being considered for a starting job.

Miami's rotation does not include a left-handed pitcher, and if Nicolino continues to have success, the Marlins may opt to give him a chance in the rotation. The club lost some of its pitching depth by trading Andrew Heaney and Anthony DeSclafani last offseason, but each of the Marlins' starters has a notable amount of major league experience. Miami will not rush Nicolino, but he may be promoted soon. And if he continues to thrive in Triple-A, he could be the next prospect to win a starting job.