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Can the Marlins rebuild without an ace in sight?

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The franchise’s long-term outlook is brighter than it seemed just a few months ago, but they need another critical piece before entertaining any fantasies about playoff contention.

Philadelphia Phillies v Miami Marlins
All due respect to José Ureña, but he ain’t it.
Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Now that the All Star Break has come and gone, I thought it would be a good time to sit down and look at the Marlins starting pitching options. Believe me, there are a ton of them.

The one problem that the Marlins are going to face down the road is no one has emerged as an ace-caliber pitcher. At the moment, they don’t have any ace-like prospects on the farm, either. There is nothing wrong with having an abundance of solid arms, but seldom do we see playoff teams relying on rotations full of #3 and #4 starters.

It will be a necessity for the Marlins to find a pitcher who can lead their rotation so that they can come out of this rebuild ready to compete.

José Ureña, Caleb Smith and Trevor Richards have already solidified themselves as solid starters (3.70 FIP, 3.95 FIP and 3.99 FIP, respectively). That is something to be excited about.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Ureña is very underrated in my opinion and he deserves more credit than he gets. He is not a flashy or particularly exciting pitcher because he doesn’t strike a ton of batters out, but he gets the job done by inducing a ton of ground balls and keeping the ball inside the ballpark. His ground ball percentage of 53.1% this season is fifth in the majors behind names like Dallas Keuchel, Jake Arrieta, and Lance McCullers Jr.

Long term, I believe Ureña can be counted on as a reliable top-50 starter league wide. However, he is not someone that can be the centerpiece of the rotation and that is his role at the moment and for the future unless the Marlins can acquire some young pitching talent this summer in trades.

Jose Urena’s average launch angle against in 2017 was 11.9 degrees
Statcast
In 2018, Urena has kept the ball on the ground by decreasing his avg launch angle against to 6.7 degrees
Statcast

There is plenty of pitching depth at the higher levels of the Marlins farm system, but no one stands out as “The Guy” yet.

Sandy Alcántara lacks the ability to miss bats, as he has only struck out 18% of batters faced at Triple-A this season. I don’t doubt that Sandy can be a useful middle-of-the-rotation arm, but I have yet to see any reason that he can be trusted as a true ace in the league. (Editor’s note: the scouts at 2080 Ball are more bullish on his potential.)

Aside from Alcántara, the Marlins have some other big question marks in their farm. Jorge Guzman has an 80-grade fastball and he could rise through the minors quite fast, but it is not certain whether Guzman will be a better fit in the bullpen or the rotation. He has only two plus pitches, which could make starting a difficult task.

Braxton Garrett and Trevor Rogers, the Marlins’ 2016 and 2017 first-round picks, are still too young and lacking minor league experience to get an idea of their development yet. Garrett has the potential to be a top MLB pitcher, but there are too many injury concerns looming over him to have confidence in that statement.

Luckily for the Marlins, there are going to be opportunities for them to get their ace of the future. All-Star J.T. Realmuto could fetch at least two top prospects in return at the trade deadline, which would improve the Marlins middle of the road farm system immensely. “It would take a significant overpay to lure Realmuto away from Miami,” MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro writes this week. In other words, a surefire No. 1 starter.

Looking to next year, the 2019 draft will be a crucial time for the Marlins to go all-in on a high-upside arm near the top of the draft. They prioritized up-the-middle position players during the early rounds of last month’s class and can now address the pitching department instead. Even with a few historically awful teams dominating the reverse standings, expect the Fish’s first pick to fall inside the top 10.

The Marlins could also consider buying an ace a few years down the road to accompany the rest of their homegrown core. By the time 2021 rolls around, they may have the necessary depth to compete again. Paying top dollar for an aging pitcher isn’t the ideal option for the Marlins, but they should not hesitate to pull the trigger on somebody who makes them demonstrably better.

MLB: World Series-Parade
The Cubs were a surprise bidder for Jon Lester (left) and he helped them contend ahead of schedule.
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole, Rick Porcello and Madison Bumgarner could all test free agency following the 2019 season. The following year’s class features Mike Foltynewicz, Trevor Bauer, James Paxton and Clayton Kershaw.

There is still a lot of work to be done to get the Marlins back to relevance. They’ll inspire much more confidence from fans by identifying and acquiring a legitimate ace.