Marlins looking for continued growth in second half
Limited by injuries the first two months, young club rebounded with solid June
MIAMI -- For much of the first half, the Marlins were looking to stay healthy and develop an identity. In the second half, the youthful squad will be striving for improvement.
The club is already seeing it, even though it hasn't fully been reflected in the standings.
"That's the big thing with this team this year, we talk about making progress," president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "Again, the ultimate way to measure progress is wins and losses, but you don't always get that from a young team."
Once the decision was made last offseason to redirect and build around a core of young players, the organization sold 2013 as a "transition year."
It asked for patience, which isn't always easy to receive in the bottom-line business of big league baseball. Winning is the expectation. But to achieve it will take some time.
After a disappointing last-place finish in 2012, upper management opted for a fresh start in hopes of building towards a better tomorrow.
In the first half, the Marlins got a taste of how rough things can get when everything goes wrong. They endured two months of extreme growing pains. But not all was lost, as since June 1, they have shown signs of coming of age, and the successes that can come with it.
The first two months, it felt like the team was headed for a historically bad season. The Marlins were 14-41 in April and May. But from the last day of May through July 4, the club started to grow up, seemingly before Miami fans' eyes.
MVP: Marcell Ozuna Promoted from Double-A Jacksonville to replace the injured Giancarlo Stanton on the last day of April, Ozuna provided immediate energy and production on a team looking for direction.
Cy Young: Jose Fernandez After making the Opening Day roster without having previously pitched above Class A, the 20-year-old not only proved he belonged, he showed he can also dominate at the big league level.
Rookie: Adeiny Hechavarria We could obviously go with either Fernandez and Ozuna, but they are receiving other first-half honors. So the rookie award is going to Hechavarria, the slick-fielding shortstop who has played Gold Glove-caliber defense. He missed time because of injury in April, and his loss was felt. Obviously, Hechavarria's hitting is still developing.
Top reliever: Steve Cishek Like the rest of the team, Cishek struggled mightily in April, but he has steadily improved since. The sidearm-throwing right-hander has embraced and solidified the closer's role.
The Marlins went 19-11 during that stretch, enjoying the most wins of any National League club and falling just one shy of the Red Sox, who topped all teams in victories.
The resurgence started in early June, when right fielder Giancarlo Stanton and first baseman Logan Morrison came off the disabled list and Nathan Eovaldi joined the rotation. Suddenly, a team battered and beaten up by injuries was getting back to full strength. And behind strong pitching, Miami was able to enjoy a solid six weeks heading into the All-Star break.
"We're a different team, different attitude and everything," manager Mike Redmond said. "Those first two months, when we had 11 or 12 guys on the DL, it was rough. We just didn't have enough guys to bring up to cover it. Now, to get everyone back, especially the pitching, it's good."
The Marlins may be entering the second half in the NL East basement, but they're showing they have pieces to build around. Stanton, Morrison, Jose Fernandez, Eovaldi, Adeiny Hechavarria, Marcell Ozuna, Derek Dietrich and Rob Brantly are providing the foundation.
For a team simply looking to continue developing, results in the second half will carry weight as the organization looks forward to 2014 and beyond.
"You have to continually measure those things and take steps forward," Beinfest said. "I think that's what's going on with this team right now. If that continues to happen, then the wins should happen with more regularity."
Because of injuries or out of necessity, Miami has already called up some Minor Leaguers who were not expected to be up until after the All-Star break. Ozuna and Dietrich are two of the regulars who opened the year at Double-A.
Players to watch in second half
Giancarlo Stanton The Marlins saw what their lineup looked like without Stanton in May, when the slugger missed the month with a strained right hamstring. His return has provided an immediate boost, and he is more than capable of posting big power numbers in the second half, if he stays healthy.
Jose Fernandez Before throwing his first big league pitch, team management made it clear the rookie was on an innings limit. The range was set around 150-170, so at some point, he is expected to be scaled back. It hasn't been announced when or how that will happen.
Christian Yelich The organization's top prospect could be called up at any time after the All-Star break. If not for an abdominal strain that landed him on the disabled list, the 21-year-old might have been promoted from Double-A Jacksonville already. Yelich is one of the top hitting prospects in the game, and he promises to be a fixture in the lineup for years to come.
In the second half, the club will be awaiting the arrival of outfielder Christian Yelich, its No. 1 ranked prospect, according to MLB.com. Yelich and Fernandez were teammates a year ago at Class A Jupiter. They project as future faces of the franchise.
Fernandez, who turns 21 on July 31, was supposed to open the season at Double-A Jacksonville. But when Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez each opened the season on the disabled list, the call was made to promote the 20-year-old, who had not pitched above Class A ball.
The team was counting on Morrison and Stanton to be major pieces in the middle of the order, but neither was available until June.
Finally, with a number of key pieces back, the organization can evaluate to see what it has.
"As a manager, you can sit here and say, 'This is the team we initially thought we would have out of Spring Training,'" Redmond said. "I was hoping that we would be able to evaluate those guys over the first two months of the season. But really, it's just started over the last couple of weeks.
"I like the depth that we have now, especially with our pitching, and our offense has been scrappy. We have a couple of young guys who are in there and bring energy every night. It's a fun group."