Friday, February 19, 2016


By Michael Wong

Jupiter, Fla.--First cast in the shadow of the Washington Nationals and now the New York Mets, the Miami Marlins continue to fight for respect in the NL East as the 2016 season dawns.  On a team that boasts two big-time and still young stars in Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, to go with All-Star second baseman and batting champion Dee Gordon, the Marlins certainly have talent.  And with the team moving in the outfield fences a bit for 2016, the offensive numbers should pick up as well.  So as we visit the Marlins in Jupiter, Florida, let's tale a look at some themes surrounding the team.

1.  Is this the year Giancarlo Stanton finally hits 40 home runs?  It is amazing that for arguably the best pure power hitter in baseball, we are still waiting for Stanton to reach such a level.  However if not for two freak injuries, you can argue Stanton would have easily reach that mark both in 2014 and 2015.  In 2014 it was that scary HBP to the face that caused all sorts of damage that knocked Stanton out for September.  Last year it was a fractured wrist that send him to the shelf after only 74 games.  So as long as Stanton can dodge the baseball, he should be able to easily pass the 40 home run mark.  This is even more likely now that the Marlins have moved in the outfield fences.  While the average is always a threat to be shaky due to how often Stanton strikes out, that ridiculous monster season we have all been waiting for could very well be ready to launch.  On the power alone, Stanton remains a first round fantasy baseball pick. 

2.  Now for Jose Fernandez.  How many innings will be allowed to throw and will he be traded?  The only word that comes to mind when discussing the still very young Fernandez is "electric."  The ability is crazy good here as Fernandez can hit 98 with his fastball, has excellent control, and some of the most wicked movement in the game with his pitches.  In fact other then Clayton Kershaw, there may not be a more gifted natural pitcher in the game.  So on that front, Fernandez should absolutely be graded as a fantasy baseball ace and his recent Tommy John surgery from 2014 makes his draft price more affordable than before he became an overnight sensation.  The only question is how many innings Fernandez will be allowed to throw.  The number 180 has been floated around and that seems like a good bet which limits the counting stats a bit.  Also don't discount a trade as well as Fernandez continues to be the subject of endless chatter on that front.  If you can get Fernandez in the third round, it will be a huge steal. 

3.  Will Christian Yelich ever become the star many have envisioned the last few seasons?  Yelich is an interesting case as the still very young (24) outfielder has become a very good player but not the stud many were predicting.  There was some talk prior to the last two seasons that Yelich could be a 20/20 guy and also a batting champion.  Well Yelich is a terrific hitter who comes off a .300 average in 2015 and capable of much more as he continues to lower his K rate and improve his walk rate.  Alas both the home runs and to a lesser extent the stolen bases have been good but not great.  The speed is ahead of the power as Yelich has stolen 21 and 16 bases the last two years, while he has yet to reach double-digits in home runs.  The problem with the power is that Yelich hits the ball on the ground at a high rate and that of course will put a cap on how many home runs he can hit.  For now, we have to project Yelich as a low-end outfielder 2 who can hit .300 with 20-plus steals and maybe 10 home runs.  There is a lot of like here though no matter how some might talk of being disappointed in his progress. 

4.  Did anyone see that Dee Gordon batting title coming?  Gordon took home the batting title with a shocking .333 average which nobody saw coming considering how ugly some of his numbers were in that category early on.  The fact of the matter is that Gordon worked on his swing and lowered his K rate which helped boost the average.  Also having big-time speed means Gordon can beat the BABIP curve and continually hit .300 or above.  We won't go out and say Gordon will hit .333 again but .300 with his monster stolen base numbers and 80-plus runs make him a major three-category stud.  He is worth a second round pick in fantasy baseball drafts this spring. 

5.  Finally is it A.J. Ramos or Carter Capps at closer?  The closer battle in Miami is one of the more highly competitive around baseball this spring as it pits incumbent Ramos who was terrific last season in replacing Steve Cishek against the crazy K numbers of Capps who has that famous jump and throw release.  It seems like the Miami hierarchy is enamored of Capps as Ramos was too good last season to have to fight for his job again.  That means Capps is the better bet to be closing on Opening Day and his upside is sizable. 


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