Why the Miami Marlins are poised to take a big step forward

Sep 22, 2021; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Marlins pitcher Elieser Hernandez (57) pitches against the Washington Nationals during the first inning at loanDepot Park. Mandatory Credit: Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 22, 2021; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Marlins pitcher Elieser Hernandez (57) pitches against the Washington Nationals during the first inning at loanDepot Park. Mandatory Credit: Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports /

In 2020, the Miami Marlins made a surprise run to the National League Division Series. After a return to the NL East basement in 2021, the Marlins are primed to return back to relevancy.

When spring training of 2021 opened, there was optimism surrounding the Miami Marlins. They had surprisingly reached the 2020 NLDS, before falling to the Braves, and were carried by a collection of exciting young arms. However, it became clear early in the season that this success would be difficult to repeat. Prized prospect Sixto Sanchez dealt with shoulder soreness early in the year and was eventually announced as out of the season in July with a tear in his shoulder. Another one of their young starters, Elieser Hernandez, made just 11 starts while dealing with multiple injuries. In addition to this, their offense lost Brian Anderson and Garrett Cooper for the majority of the year to injuries, while Starling Marte was dealt at the trade deadline.

Entering 2022, the optimism has returned.

While other rotation members missed time due to injury, the Marlins had three starters who shined. Rookie Trevor Rogers struggled in 2020 with run prevention, posting a 6.11 ERA in 28 innings, but showed how good his stuff could be, striking out 39 in those 28 innings. In 2021, he put it together, finishing with a 2.64 ERA and 2.55 FIP, striking out 157 in 133 innings. Meanwhile, both Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez followed up solid 2020 seasons with excellent 2021 campaigns. While throwing the fourth-most innings in all of baseball at 205.2, Alcantara finished with a 3.19 ERA and 3.42 FIP. Despite missing some time with a shoulder injury, Pablo Lopez also had a really nice 2021, finishing with a 3.07 ERA and 3.29 FIP. These three are an extremely solid foundation for the Marlins’ rotation.

Filling out the rotation Miami will have some options. With Sixto Sanchez still dealing with shoulder issues, the likely four and five pitchers are Hernandez and Jesus Luzardo. Acquired last deadline for Marte, Luzardo had long been considered one of the sport’s elite pitching prospects. However, in 2021, he badly struggled to put together much success at the big league level. Across 2019 and 2020, Luzardo threw a solid 71 innings, where he had a 3.68 ERA and a 3.93 FIP. Luzardo opened 2021 in Oakland’s rotation but, following an injury, he came back as a reliever in late May. Shortly after his return, he was sent down and never returned to Oakland. When Miami acquired him, he was immediately inserted into their rotation and struggled. Despite the struggles, Luzardo has plenty of potential and the Marlins will likely give him a chance to show this early in the season.

In addition to these five, Miami has more starting pitching talent near or in the majors. Highly touted prospect Edward Cabrera struggled in a brief major league stint last year, but is MLB-ready and could be a factor soon. Max Meyer is another top prospect, and has been excellent in the minors so far. He will open the season in Triple-A, with a chance to contribute later in the year.

As far as immediate depth goes, Cody Poteet, Jordan Holloway, and Braxton Garrett figure to be the top option if/when injuries do occur. It is also worth noting that at some point Sixto Sanchez could join this rotation but, given the shoulder problems, the Marlins will likely be very patient with him.

The bullpen had a very nice year in 2021, and most of the key arms are set to return. Dylan Floro, Anthony Bender, Zach Pop, and Richard Bleier all had solid 2021s, and Floro will likely open as the teams closer. Anthony Bass, Louis Head, and Steven Okert are among the others who will round out this bullpen.

On the offensive side, the Marlins have quietly built a solid group. After a lost 2021 season for both, Brian Anderson and Garrett Cooper are healthy and ready to contribute. The team acquired catcher Jacob Stallings before the lockout, and while he is known for his defense, provides a significant upgrade from Jorge Alfaro. The signings of outfielders Jorge Soler and Avisail Garcia add a boost to a lineup that needed it, while young outfielders Jesus Sanchez and Bryan De La Cruz will look to build off of solid rookie years and round out the outfield. The team also acquired former Rays infielder Joey Wendle, who will likely play an infield utility role and play all over the field. The middle infield will return Miguel Rojas and Jazz Chisholm Jr., a former top prospect, who showed flashes of what he could do last season, and the team hopes will make a big league leap in his second full season.

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While the pitching will be the strength of this team, the Miami Marlins have a solid roster all around. The pitching is now mostly healthy, and they have fielded a much better and deeper offense for this season. In a competitive National League, the Marlins may still be a year away from the playoffs, but the team is in great position to significantly improve this season.