Miami Marlins will live and die by Jose Fernandez in 2014


Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday manager Mike Redmond confirmed what everyone already knew: that 21 year-old Jose Fernandez would be the Marlins 2014 Opening Day starter. This move is a no-brainer after Fernandez’s magical 2013 rookie campaign in which he was crowned National League Rookie of the Year and finished second in Cy Young voting to Clayton Kershaw.

Fernandez also earned a raise.

When you look at the rest of the Marlins starting rotation, there is plenty of room for a mixed bag of optimism and doubt. Behind Fernandez a slew of young, mostly unproven talent waits in the wings. The Marlins have a ton of options to fill out spots two through five in the rotation. The problem is they are all very young and generally lack success at the big league level. The potential is there for the likes of youngsters Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez. Scouting reports for the former suggest that Eovaldi could eventually be an effective number two starter in an MLB rotation. The 24 year-old is often criticized for lacking effective secondary pitches after his fastball, which won’t cut it over a long-term big league career. Alvarez made headlines by throwing a very strange no-hitter on the last day of the 2013 season, but was largely inconsistent over the course of an injury-filled sophomore season.

Then there is the crop of prospects behind them. Former Detroit Tigers super-prospect Jacob Turner has disappointed over his first two-plus seasons in MLB. Though still just 22 years old Turner has increasingly had trouble finding the strike zone. He was demoted to Triple-A at the end of Spring Training last year and was called up to the Marlins mid-season out of need, not necessarily because he earned it.

Justin Nicolino, Andrew Heaney, Anthony DeSclafani and Adam Conley are exciting prospects who should reach the majors very soon. Each saw limited experience in Double-A Jacksonville in 2013 after starting the year in Single-A. Big league callups for any of these names in 2014 wouldn’t be out of the question especially if Miami’s rotation scuffles. For now, though, it wouldn’t benefit the team to rush their prospects’ progress.

The Marlins number five starter will likely be Tom Koehler, Brad Hand or Brian Flynn. The team shows no interest in bringing in another arm despite uncertainity with four-fifths of their rotation. All signs point to one of these AAAA pitchers earning the role. The Marlins also lack a left handed starting option (other than Hand, who has no business taking up a 25-man roster spot and will start the year in Triple-A. Mark my words.) All three of these candidates spent time with the Marlins in 2013 in various pitching roles. Koehler made 23 starts and was the highlight of this group, good enough for a 0.8 WAR. Flynn was roughed around in his limited appearances and Hand has just crashed and burned in every chance he has been given since debuting in 2011.

Depth at any position is a great problem to have, except when those guys are basically the same underwhelming player.

Veteran Kevin Slowey was brought back on a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. He started 2013 in Miami’s rotation but found himself demoted to long relief by mid-season. Like the rest of these rotation options, Slowey is essentially another replacement-level pitcher.

The 2014 Marlins rotation will probably feature Jose Fernandez and “four other guys.” A year after the team set all kinds of records for offensive ineptitude Miami will rely on pitching and low-scoring games to scratch out W’s. The lineup has been marginally upgraded — it will be almost impossible to produce fewer runs than they did last year — but other than Giancarlo Stanton the team lacks firepower to rebound from bad pitching performances.

A repeat from Jose Fernandez needs to happen for the Marlins to improve on their 2013 effort. Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez could still find their grooves and deliver quality innings. Progress by the rest of the rotation could make Miami a surprise Wild Card contender — a long shot — but without a healthy Fernandez the team will go absolutely nowhere.