With Spring Training approaching and pitchers and catchers beginning their workouts on Feb. 13, MLB.com is posting a series of position-by-position breakdowns leading into camp. Up first: the rotation.
MIAMI -- How the Marlins' rotation shapes up will largely dictate how long the rebuilding process will last.
In recent years, through trades and developing homegrown talent, Miami has assembled some interesting and promising starting pitchers who are either on the big league roster or on the cusp of being Major League-ready.
To assist their development is new pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr., who was previously with the Mariners and has a track record of producing strike-throwers.
There's plenty of work ahead. In 2018, Marlins starters ranked 20th in the Majors in ERA (4.34), 24th in innings pitched (835 2/3), 21st in strikeouts (712) and sixth in walks (326).
For the second straight year, it promises to be hard-throwing right-hander Jose Urena. The 27-year-old rebounded nicely in 2018, finishing with a 9-12 record and a 3.98 ERA on a team that lost 98 games. Urena made a strong impression in September, going 5-0 with a 1.20 ERA. Barring something unforeseen, he should again get the nod from manager Don Mattingly to start on Opening Day.
Behind Urena are veteran right-hander Dan Straily and lefty Wei-Yin Chen, who will be counted on to log innings and keep the team in games. A couple of rookies in 2018 -- Sandy Alcantara and Trevor Richards -- also may have the inside edge to secure the fourth and fifth spots.
Straily looks to bounce back from a couple of injuries that sidetracked him at the beginning and end of 2018. The 30-year-old right-hander made 23 starts, and he went 5-6 with a 4.12 ERA. He has a history of durability.
Chen had a baffling 2018, going 6-12 with a 4.79 ERA. His home/road splits were particularly perplexing. At Marlins Park, the 33-year-old had an eye-opening 1.62 ERA in 13 starts. On the road, it was a different story -- his ERA was a whopping 9.27.
Alcantara, the hard-throwing 23-year-old, showed promise in six big league starts (3.44 ERA) after spending much of the season at Triple-A New Orleans.
Richards was a pleasant surprise, posting a 4.42 ERA in 25 big league starts while sporting a plus changeup. Hitters averaged .165 off that pitch.
On the mend
Right-hander Pablo Lopez missed the final month of last season due to a right hand strain, and left-hander Caleb Smith underwent surgery to repair a torn left lat muscle, incurred in a start on June 24 against the Rockies. If both are healthy, they could win spots in the Opening Day rotation. First, they have to establish their health and show they are sharp enough to be ready when the regular season begins.
In the mix
Alongside Lopez and Smith are right-handers Elieser Hernandez, Jeff Brigham and Merandy Gonzalez. All three pitched in the big leagues in 2018. Hernandez was a Rule 5 Draft pick last year, and because he made it through the entire season, he is eligible to be optioned to the Minor Leagues if necessary.
Prospects to watch
Some of the organization's top prospects will get a chance to showcase themselves in Spring Training. Right-handers Nick Neidert and Zac Gallen are not on the 40-man roster, but both could be big league pitchers in 2019.
Neidert is especially worth watching. The 22-year-old is ranked by MLB Pipeline as Miami's No. 4 prospect, and he was the organizational pitcher of the year in 2018. Gallen is ranked No. 20.
A couple of other prospects, Jorge Guzman (No. 6) and Jordan Yamamoto (No. 17), have been added to the 40-man roster. Guzman is perhaps the hardest thrower in the system. His fastball touched 101 mph at Class A Advanced Jupiter last year. Yamamoto was a standout in the Arizona Fall League after reaching Double-A Jacksonville. Both could be in the big leagues at some point in 2019.