The top 5 debut seasons in Marlins history

February 1st, 2021

Over the course of the franchise's history, the Marlins have been known for showcasing elite young talent. Look no further than their four National League Rookie of the Year Award winners: Dontrelle Willis (2003), Hanley Ramirez ('06), Chris Coghlan ('09) and José Fernández ('13).

In the following list, however, decided to highlight the top 5 individual debut seasons in club history -- from rookies to players coming by trade from another organization or via free agency.

1. (2013)
When injuries hit the rotation late in Spring Training, the Marlins elected to put their second-ranked prospect on the Opening Day roster. The future ace showed poise on the mound from the get-go, limiting the Mets to one run and striking out eight batters in five innings in his Major League debut at Citi Field.

Fernández's success at a young age garnered him the nickname "Niño." The 20-year-old right-hander made the All-Star team, going 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. Fernández led the Majors with just 5.8 hits per nine innings and produced a 176 ERA+. Of his 28 starts, 20 were quality ones. From June 1 on, he posted a 1.50 ERA and struck out 135 over 120 1/3 innings. Originally projected to begin the season at the Double-A level, a team-imposed innings limit cut his campaign short after 172 2/3 frames. Fernández, who turned 21 on July 31, finished third in NL Cy Young Award voting to established aces Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright.

"I'm just more than happy to be named in [the final three]," Fernandez had said. "Those two guys are incredibly good. Just the chance to be top three [is an honor], and this was my first year in the big leagues."

Fernández's final start on Sept. 11 was a memorable one both on the mound and at the plate. Not only did he limit the Braves to one run over seven innings, but he also delivered on a promise he had made earlier in the season. Fernández homered in his final at-bat, and by the time he reached home plate, the benches had cleared because Atlanta took offense to his celebration.

2. (1996)
Signed to a three-year, $12.6 million contract that January, the 31-year-old right-hander gave the Marlins their money's worth and more with one of the best seasons for a pitcher in club history. In 32 starts, Brown posted a 17-11 record and MLB bests in ERA (1.89), WHIP (0.94), ERA+ (215), shutouts (three) and home runs per nine innings (0.3). He made the All-Star team and finished as the NL Cy Young Award runner-up for his efforts.

Brown, who compiled five complete games, still holds several Marlins single-season records for his 1996 campaign. Those include pitching WAR (7.9), ERA, WHIP, walks per nine innings (1.3), strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.8) and ERA+. He wasn't alone dishing out excellence in the rotation. Al Leiter, who also signed a three-year free-agent contract that offseason, went 16-12 with a 2.93 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP in 33 starts. He recorded two complete games, including one shutout, made the All-Star team for the first time and finished ninth in NL Cy Young Award voting.

Brown's success in a Marlins uniform didn't stop there. He followed up his debut season with the Marlins with another All-Star campaign and a near perfect game (he had to settle for a no-hitter). The Marlins would go on to win the World Series that October.

3. Iván Rodríguez (2003)
Before signing a one-year, $10 million contract with the Marlins, who hadn't had a winning season since 1997, Pudge was a 10-time All-Star, 10-time Gold Glove Award winner and six-time Silver Slugger Award winner. The Hall of Famer solidified the backstop position for a young and talented club, particularly the pitching staff. Like that '97 team, the 2003 squad would win the NL Wild Card en route to the World Series championship.

In 144 regular-season games, Rodríguez slashed .297/.369/.474 with 16 homers and an .843 OPS. But his heroics shined brightest in the postseason, when he made the tag and held onto the ball as J.T. Snow ran him over for the final out of the NL Division Series against the Giants.

The image of him getting tackle-hugged by closer Ugueth Urbina, then raising his hand to show off the ball while on the ground behind home plate, is etched into Marlins lore. In the next round, Rodríguez was named the NL Championship Series MVP after homering twice and driving in 10.

4. Dee Strange-Gordon (2015)
Dealt to the Marlins the previous Hot Stove season by the Dodgers, the Florida native brought the speed factor that harkened back to the Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo days. In his second full season, Strange-Gordon paced the Majors with 205 hits and 58 stolen bases in 145 games, and he won the batting title with a .333 average (becoming the second Marlin to do so). In the process, Strange-Gordon became the first player to lead the NL in batting and steals since Jackie Robinson in 1949.

The 27-year-old made the All-Star team for the second straight season and received various accolades, including the NL Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards for second basemen. To this day, it remains the best campaign of his career.

5. (2006)
Acquired as the centerpiece prospect in the Josh Beckett-Mike Lowell trade with the Red Sox, Ramirez lived up to the billing in his first season with the Marlins. With just two previous MLB at-bats under his belt, the 22-year-old shortstop produced a slash line of .292/.353/.480 with 46 doubles, 11 triples, 17 homers, 59 RBIs and 51 stolen bases in 158 games. He was an easy choice for the NL Rookie of the Year Award.

Ramirez, who would become the club's first batting champion in 2009, was a three-time All-Star in five seasons with the Marlins before being dealt to the Dodgers in '12.

I would be remiss to forget Ramirez's middle-infield partner Dan Uggla, who made the All-Star team and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2006. A Rule 5 Draft selection, the 26-year-old Uggla hit 27 homers and recorded 90 RBIs.

Honorable mentions

1. and (2003)
The Marlins would not have won their second World Series without this dynamic duo. The 21-year-old Willis took the baseball world by storm with his funky delivery and infectious smile en route to the NL Rookie of the Year Award. He went 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA In 27 starts, including two shutouts.

Cabrera, who hit a walk-off homer in his MLB debut, finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. The future Hall of Famer went deep four times in the postseason as a 20-year-old.

2. (2005)
Signed to a four-year, $52 million contract, Delgado lasted just one season in South Florida before being dealt to the Mets in the Mike Jacobs trade. It was a productive one for Delgado, who slashed .301/.399/.582 with a .981 OPS, 33 homers and 115 RBIs. The 33-year-old finished sixth in NL MVP Award voting.

3. (2004)
Signed to a one-year, $3.5 million deal, Benitez set the franchise's single-season record for saves (47), a figure that paced the NL. During an All-Star season, the 31-year-old righty posted a 1.29 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP in 64 appearances. Though he struck out just 62 in 69 2/3 innings, Benitez recorded a 92.2 save percentage (47 of 51).