MIAMI -- A year ago, the Marlins built a rotation around veterans with track records of being durable and dependable. The directive was given in the aftermath of Jose Fernandez's death late in the 2016 season.
Without a true ace, the strategy was to lean on starters who could log plenty of innings. It didn't work, as the Marlins' rotation finished 26th in the Majors in ERA (5.12) and 29th in innings (830 2/3).
• New-look lineup balances speed, power
Under new ownership, chief executive officer Derek Jeter has the organization going back to basics and focusing on building the rotation from the ground up.
Since June, Miami has made seven trades, and each of them included starting pitching prospects. Not all of them project to be big league ready by Opening Day, but at some point this year they may arrive in Miami.
Fronting the rotation are two dependable right-handers -- Urena and Straily. Urena comes off a breakthrough season, pacing the team in victories by going 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA. Per Statcast™, the hard-throwing righty's two-seam fastball average velocity was 95.7 mph, highest on the squad. Straily is the other candidate to get the nod on Opening Day. The 29-year-old paced the club in starts (33) and innings (181 2/3), compiling a 10-9 record with a 4.26 ERA and marking his second straight double-digit wins season.
A year ago, the Marlins were counting on big seasons from left-handers Conley and Wei-Yin Chen. Both struggled, and Chen missed a majority of the season due to a left elbow issue. If Conley can regain his form from 2016, when he posted an 8-6 record with a 3.85 ERA, he would give the rotation a big boost and could be the No. 3 starter. Last year, Conley dealt with command issues and spent some time at Triple-A New Orleans, finishing the Major League season 8-8 with a 6.14 ERA in 22 games (20 starts). Chen, Miami's Opening Day starter in '16, threw just 33 innings in nine games (five starts) in '17.
WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
Right-handers Elieser Hernandez and Brett Graves will be given a shot to win rotation spots. Both were Rule 5 claims in December, and they have to be on the active roster or be offered back to their former organizations. A sleeper to be in the rotation is left-hander Jarlin Garcia, the team's top left-handed reliever last year. Garcia is one of the best pitchers in the organization, and he has started in the Minor Leagues. The concern is he might wear down handling a heavier workload. Also, Alcantara, the team's No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, projects as a future top-of-the-rotation candidate. But he's 22, and if he isn't ready for Opening Day, he could start off at Triple-A New Orleans. Lefty Caleb Smith, acquired from the Yankees, is a candidate to either start or relieve. Right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne, and lefties Chris O'Grady and Justin Nicolino, each have starting experience.