MIAMI -- Pitching certainly was the Marlins' bright spot in an otherwise disappointing 2013 season.
Highlighted by a young rotation and National League Rookie of the Year Award winner Jose Fernandez, Miami boasted a franchise-best ERA of 3.71.
If the Marlins are to make a dramatic turnaround after losing 100 games, they will be counting heavily on their young stable of arms.
"It's real exciting," pitching coach Chuck Hernandez said. "You always want to see who is ready to take a step forward. We're not stupid. We know that in order for us to get better, we've got to get better on the mound. We feel we've improved ourselves on the playing field. For us to keep moving forward, it's still going to be about which young guy is stepping forward and moving to another level."
The Marlins addressed their offensive needs with the free-agent signings of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, first baseman Garrett Jones, second baseman Rafael Furcal and third baseman Casey McGehee.
The pitching has remained intact, with Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, Jacob Turner and Tom Koehler the incumbents for rotation spots.
Still, there will be plenty of competition in Spring Training. Brad Hand, Brian Flynn, Justin Nicolino, Andrew Heaney and Anthony DeSclafani all could factor into rotation spots -- if not by Opening Day, at some point in the season.
As the offseason winds down, Marlins pitchers are already gearing things up in anticipation of Spring Training. The countdown to camp opening is well underway. Pitchers and catchers start Spring Training on Feb. 16 at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla.
On their own, the pitchers have started their throwing programs, and many will begin throwing off the mound next week. Before Spring Training begins, Hernandez would like for each pitcher to have six to 10 bullpen sessions.
"The guys have had a couple of months of good conditioning," Hernandez said. "Some of them started throwing in mid-December, going from easy catching a couple of times a week. Now they are starting to pick up the pace in the new year. The goal is when they get to Spring Training that they will have seven to nine bullpen [sessions] under their belt."
Fernandez, Nicolino and Sam Dyson live in the Tampa area, close to Hernandez. So the Miami pitching coach will personally monitor their throwing before they arrive in Jupiter next month. Other pitchers will be filtering into South Florida and start their individual workouts at Roger Dean Stadium.
"I know we have a nice stable of young kids coming up behind our big league guys as well," Hernandez said. "That's great. That's what allows you to get to a championship status. You can't just rely on three or four guys. If they don't make it, then we're not going anywhere.
"It's going to be just as important for the development of those young guys who are behind the guys we have currently on the roster to push their way onto the scene."
With an abundance of depth, the organization may move some pitchers around. Koehler, for instance, could be a part of the rotation or pitch in relief. He has experience in the big leagues in both roles.
A key part of Miami's rotation has been active in winter ball. Alvarez, projected as the No. 3 starter, made up some lost innings in the Venezuelan Winter League. The right-hander had five starts with impressive results, going 2-0 with a 2.74 ERA. He compiled 23 innings.
The Marlins encouraged Alvarez to pitch in his native country, mainly because he missed a few months in the first half of 2013 due to right shoulder inflammation. With Miami, he made 17 starts, going 5-6 with a 3.59 ERA in 102 2/3 innings.
Alvarez's most memorable outing, of course, was the season finale, when he no-hit the Tigers in walk-off fashion. The no-hitter became official after the Marlins prevailed, 1-0, scoring the lone run on a wild pitch with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
"We wanted him to pitch because he missed the better part of the season," Hernandez said. "I think it will help when he comes to camp. I'm kind of pleased on that front with Henderson. If he had thrown 200 innings, we would have probably had a little different idea."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro.