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Fantasy baseball 2014 team previews: Miami Marlins

Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Jose Fernandez had a rookie season for the ages. Could he win the NL strikeout crown?

Fantasy baseball 2014 draft prep: Player rankings, position primers, burning questions and more

The Marlins are stuck in a three-team morass in the NL East, operating with the Mets and Phillies in what might as well be a completely different universe than the Nationals and Braves. Even with four of the top-100 prospects in baseball according to MLB.com, including No. 29 starting pitcher Andrew Heaney, that isn't likely to change for them any time soon.

PRINTABLE DRAFT SHEETS: Top 300 | Rankings by position

This is about as top heavy a fantasy roster as you will find in the majors. The Marlins feature two absolute studs in Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, both of whom will likely be selected in the first 30 or 35 picks of any fantasy draft. After that and closer Steve Cishek, there may not be other player worth owning in mixed leagues. Christian Yelich is certainly worth a late-round flier, but it's equally as likely that he ends up being a 2014 also-ran as he becomes a worthy mixed-league starter. I'm particularly bearish on Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who will find that the baseball pastures are not as green in Miami as they were in Boston.

Fernandez is on the shortlist of legitimate NL Cy Young contenders, and Stanton will always be in pursuit of the home run title. Beyond the two of them, you can pretty much go ahead and ignore the Marlins until the final stages of your draft or auction.

MORE TEAM PREVIEWS:

AL EAST: Orioles | Red Sox | Yankees | Rays | Blue Jays
AL CENTRAL: White Sox | Indians | Tigers | Royals | Twins
AL WEST: Astros | Angels | A's | Mariners | Rangers

NL EAST: Braves | Marlins | Mets | Phillies | Nationals
NL CENTRAL: Cubs | Reds | Brewers | Pirates | Cardinals
NL WEST: Diamondbacks | Rockies | Dodgers | Padres | Giants

Projected roster

Starting lineup:

1. Rafael Furcal, 2B
2. Christian Yelich, LF
3. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
4. Garrett Jones, 1B
5. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
6. Casey McGehee, 3B
7. Marcell Ozuna, CF
8. Adeiny Hechevarria, SS

Rotation:

1. Jose Fernandez
2. Nathan Eovaldi
3. Henderson Alvarez
4. Jacob Turner
5. Tom Koehler

Bullpen: Steve Cishek (closer), Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos, Carter Capps, Arquimedes Caminero, Dan Jennings

Key questions

What happened to Giancarlo Stanton's power last year? Given the dearth of intimidating hitters in Miami last year, teams were not going to let Stanton beat them. The stats bear this out. Just 38.2 percent of all pitches Stanton saw in 2013 were in the strike zone, which ranked 139th in the league. While his walk rate shot up 5.5 percentage points, the rest of his numbers suffered. He did miss 46 games due to injury, but his 24 homers and 62 RBI were his worst totals since his rookie year in which he played just 100 games. What's more, his batted-ball stats all trended significantly in the wrong direction. His HR/FB ratio fell 7 percentage points, even more alarming given that he posted a career-low 38.5-percent fly-ball rate. Meanwhile, 43.4 percent of all balls he put in play were on the ground and 15.5 percent of them were popups, while just 18.2 percent of them were line drives.

You might think that because of the way pitchers danced around him, he got anxious and offered at pitches outside the strike zone more frequently. That is not the case. In fact, his o-swing percentage, the rate of pitches a batter swings at outside the zone, was a career-low 30.5 percent according to Fangraphs. His contact rate was flat year-over-year and right in line with his career numbers. He simply didn't square the ball up as often as he had in the past when he did make contact. That was no accident. When pitchers did come into the zone against Stanton, they stayed away from his happy zone -- inside -- more than ever before.

Take a look at these heat maps from Brooks Baseball. This one shows the percentage of pitches in each zone Stanton saw last year. This one shows his isolated power on pitches thrown in each zone.

In the second map, you can see just how much more potent of a hitter Stanton is on balls on the inner half. However, only about 9.5 percent of all pitches thrown to him last year were both inside and in the strike zone. In his previous three seasons combined, that number was north of 10 percent. That may not seem like a huge difference, but it adds up over the course of an entire season.

Pitchers are unlikely to start challenging Stanton inside with any more regularity, but the good news is that his decreased ISO numbers on pitches on the outer third from last year appear to be an anomaly. Here's his ISO heat map from his first three years in the league. Note how much more effective he was on pitches away from him.

Stanton remains one of the league's premier power hitters. I'm drafting him as a top-20 overall player this year.

Will Jose Fernandez win the NL strikeout crown? Fernandez had a rookie year for the ages, going 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA, 2.73 FIP, 4.2 WAR, 187 strikeouts in 172.2 innings, this moment and this one, too. Fernandez' 187 strikeouts were the 25th most in the majors, but his 9.75 K/9 was fifth-best, ahead of Matt Harvey, Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw. His innings limit, however, kept an artificial ceiling on how high his counting stats could climb. With that cap likely removed this year, might Fernandez lead the league in strikeouts?

Fernandez made his final start of the 2013 season on September 11, the same game in which he hit that homer in the clip above. He went seven innings that night, allowing one run on five hits while striking out five. He threw 101 pitches, and didn't seem to show any signs of fatigue. If he had simply made his last two or three scheduled starts of the year, he almost certainly would have broken the 200-strikeout plateau.

While he threw nearly 40 more innings than he did in 2012, he did not tire as the season progressed. Rather, he was better after the All-Star break, posting a 1.32 ERA, 1.99 FIP, 11.12 K/9 and .208 wOBA against in 68 innings. He threw at least 94 pitches in each of his 10 second-half starts, and struck out at least eight batters in seven of them, twice fanning at least 13 opposing hitters in a game. There's every reason to believe Fernandez can handle a 200-inning-plus workload.

Further, one would-be major contender for the NL-strikeout crown, the Mets' Harvey, is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The only pitcher in the NL with a superior K/9 to Fernandez last year, A.J. Burnett, remains unsigned.

Nothing stands in his way now. If Fernandez makes a full complement of starts, the bet here is no pitcher in the NL will strike out more batters in 2014.

Does Rafael Furcal have anything left? The last time we saw Furcal on the diamond, he was putting up a .264/.325/.346 slash with five homers and 12 RBI in 53 plate appearances for the Cardinals in 2012. He missed the entire 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March, but caught on with the Marlins and will be their starting second baseman and leadoff man. That doesn't mean he will provide much fantasy value, however.

Furcal hadn't exactly been the picture of health well before his elbow surgery. He played fewer than 100 games in 2008, 2010 and 2011. He's had an OBP better than .350 just once since 2007, and he hasn't slugged better than .400 since 2010. The speed that was such a weapon for him when he was starring for the Braves is long gone. Now he's just a 36-year-old second baseman with a lackluster supporting cast. He may be a decent source of runs with Giancarlo Stanton hitting two slots behind him, and his run-scoring ceiling would really get a boost if Christian Yelich can break out this year, but he's effectively a one-category player at a position that is not as shallow as it once was. Furcal is worth your time in NL-only leagues, but he's not a mixed-league option.

Sleeper

Nathan Eovaldi, SP -- In 18 starts for the Marlins last year, Eovaldi went 4-6 with a 3.39 ERA, 3.59 FIP and 78 strikeouts in 106.1 innings. He walked far too many batters -- nearly 3.5 per nine innings -- but he keeps the ball in the ballpark, allowing just seven home runs. Eovaldi has never been a big strikeout guy, even though his average fastball sits in the mid-90s. That owes in part to a lack of nasty breaking stuff, evidenced by a 25-percent O-swing rate for opposing hitters. He is able to keep the ball on the ground, though, and wasn't aided by great luck last year. At 24 years old, there's still plenty of room for growth.

Bust

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C -- Saltalamacchia had a productive year for the Red Sox and his fantasy owners in 2013, hitting .273/.338/.466 with 14 homers, 65 RBI and 68 runs in 470 plate appearances. He posted career-bests in both walk rate and strikeout rate, though he still fanned nearly 30 percent of the time. Gone for him, however, is Fenway Park, which has played to about a five-percent advantage for hitters over the last 10 seasons. Gone, as well, is a supporting cast that formed the league's most potent offense last season. Salatalamacchia will find it much harder when he is one of his team's best hitters.

Breakout

Christian Yelich, OF -- The Marlins are counting on Yelich, 22, to be a fixture in their outfield and toward the top of their lineup for years to come. He hit .288.,370/.396 in 273 plate appearances last year after making the jump to the majors straight from Double-A. He had a .380 BABIP, though he earned it, at least in some degree, with a 23-percent line-drive rate. 63.2-percent ground-ball rate and 8.2-percent infield-hit rate. Yelich has no problem taking a walk -- his 11.4-percent walk rate attests to that -- but he has struck out in nearly a quarter of his professional plate appearances. While he stole just 15 bases between the majors and Double-A Jacksonville combined, he swiped 23 bags in 2012 and 32 in 2011. He has enough speed to make an impact for his fantasy owners, and if he can get on base at a .360 clip, he can score a ton of runs hitting directly in front of Giancarlo Stanton.

NL-only guys to know

Henderson Alvarez, SP -- Alvarez isn't ever going to be a strikeout pitcher. I feel comfortable saying that after he has posted a 4.48 K/9 over 353.2 career innings. His value lies in putting up sustainably low rates over a full complement of starter's innings. He made 17 starts last year, and racked up a 3.59 ERA, 3.18 FIP and 1.14 WHIP across 102.2 innings. He's a replacement level guy in mixed leagues, but can be a back-end cog for NL-only owners.

Jacob Turner, SP -- We've been hearing about Turner's promise for so long now that it might surprise you to hear he will turn just 23 in May. Like Alvarez, he's not going to put up gaudy strikeout numbers, but the upside is too great for NL-only owners to ignore, at least at the start of the season.

Marcell Ozuna, OF -- Ozuna had a cup of coffee in mixed leagues after hitting .330/.372/.462 with three steals in 114 plate appearances in May, but he fell off precipitously after that. He may just be 23, but his best year in the minors was a .266/.328/.476 slash at High-A Jupiter. He has settled into a fantasy role as a depth outfielder in NL-only leagues.

Casey McGehee, 3B -- McGehee played in Japan last year, where he hit .292/.376/.515 with 28 homers, 30 doubles and 93 RBI. Recall, though, that he was only playing in Japan after hitting .223/.280/.346 in 2011 and .217/.284/.358 in 2012. Still, he could be worth a lottery-ticket play in only leagues, given that he hit 16 homers with the Brewers in 2009 and 23 the following season.

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