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Marlins aiming for incremental improvement

@JoeFrisaro
March 13, 2019

JUPITER, Fla. -- Building a championship-caliber organization from the bottom up takes time. It does not happen overnight. Marlins ownership, in the second year of their building plan, is fully aware that doing things right requires discipline, commitment and, most important, patience.

JUPITER, Fla. -- Building a championship-caliber organization from the bottom up takes time. It does not happen overnight.

Marlins ownership, in the second year of their building plan, is fully aware that doing things right requires discipline, commitment and, most important, patience.

With Opening Day set for March 28 against the Rockies at Marlins Park, the Marlins are determined to stay the course and construct a roster around pitching, defense and athleticism.

An eye is on the future, while not neglecting the present.

That’s why the Marlins' most impactful long-range offseason signings were Cuban outfield prospects Victor Victor Mesa ($5.25 million) and his younger brother, Victor Mesa Jr. ($1 million). These are two players who project to be core pieces in future years.

Much of the offseason focus was spent on finding a trade match for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto, who was dealt to the Phillies days before Spring Training opened for catcher Jorge Alfaro, and pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez (Miami’s No. 1 prospect, and MLB Pipeline’s No. 27 overall prospect), left-hander Will Stewart and $250,000 of international signing bonus money.

Infielder Neil Walker, reliever Sergio Romo and outfielder Curtis Granderson were the Marlins' most notable free-agent pickups.

Time will tell if the plan works, but one thing is clear: There is a steadfast commitment to stick to the plan.

Today, MLB Network’s 30 Clubs in 30 Days spotlights the Marlins and how they’re building for a brighter future.

WHAT’S THE GOAL?

In a word … improvement. The Marlins took their lumps in 2018, going 63-98 in the National League East, which is a much improved division than in years past. How quickly the club goes from building to contending depends on the pitching. Jose Urena will be the Opening Day starter for the second straight season, and Dan Straily and Wei-Yin Chen are two veterans capable of logging their share of innings. Starters who either will make the Opening Day rotation or project to join the club at some point in 2019 are Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, Trevor Richards, Caleb Smith, Nick Neidert and Zac Gallen.

WHAT’S THE PLAN?

Rotation depth is a reason the Marlins didn’t look to sign an established free-agent starter. Miami used 13 different starters last season, and if needed, the commitment is there to give the players moving up the pipeline a chance. Still, the organization is mindful that pitching can be fragile, and unproven starters will have their innings closely monitored. So, if innings or fatigue are concerns, young pitchers may skip a start periodically. Chen could be used in multiple roles -- sometimes starting and sometimes being a long-relief option. The Marlins also could go with an opener on days when it makes sense.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG?

With youth comes uncertainty, as well as risk. What if some inexperienced starters take steps backwards, or struggle with the big league grind? With so much invested in pitching, that potentially could set back the long-range plan. The organization didn’t cover itself for this by signing an established free agent. Competing for rotation spots are mostly candidates with one year or fewer of MLB service time. Working in the club’s favor is they have promising starters at the big league level -- Lopez, Alcantara, Smith and Richards. The farm system has a few more, like Neidert, Gallen and Jordan Yamamoto.

WHO MIGHT SURPRISE?

There’s a lot of reason for optimism with several of Miami’s top pitching prospects. Smith, recovering from surgery to repair a torn left lat, may not be fully ready for Opening Day. Lopez and Alcantara are two 23-year-old right-handers who each have the chance to be middle- to top-of-the-rotation candidates. Based on Spring Training alone, Lopez has been the most impressive starter in camp. His fastball is up to 96-97 mph, and his curveball and changeup are improving. Alcantara is the harder thrower, reaching 97-99 mph more regularly.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.