Checking in with Yelich, Stanton, Marisnick & Ozuna
The Miami Marlins, a team that had a $35.7 M payroll in 2013, were pretty hard to watch on most nights in 2013, to put it bluntly. Sure, they had Giancarlo Stanton, who started the year on the disabled list, Jose Fernandez the phenom who took the league by storm on his way to an All Star appearance, and ridiculously nasty closer Steve Cishek, but other than that, there wasn't much to see.
From a fantasy perspective, it was even worse, as prospect Marcell Ozuna went down with a season-ending injury in July, Nathan Eovaldi, the prize piece from the Dodgers trade, was also in and out of the lineup, and starting pitcher Henderson Alvarez only made 17 starts after coming over in the Josh Johnson/Jose Reyes trade with the Blue Jays. Miami was a graveyard for fantasy owners in 2013, but in 2014 all of that could change. With the likes of Stanton, Alvarez, Ozuna and Fernandez, as well as Christian Yelich and possibly Jake Marisnick a year older and a year wiser, some impact players could pop up in Miami and help you win your fantasy leagues.
Stanton has been a darling of those in-the-know fantasy players since 2009 when Peter Gammons described him as the most impressive player he had seen in any Spring Training camp in all of baseball. He was 19 at the time, and from a raw talent perspective, that claim could still hold true, although Mike Trout would probably have something to say about that. No one can doubt the immense power and overall talent that Stanton possesses, but Stanton has only cracked the 130-game barrier once in his four-year career, although his first year he was a midseason call up who played 100 games. Durability concerns aside, Stanton's batting average regression last season was alarming. A year after batting .290 and clubbing 37 home runs in 123 games, Stanton went back down to .249, below the .260 mark he had posted his first two years. Many claim that the ballpark dimensions and lineup he was in caused the slide. This could be true, but he will still be playing in the same ballpark and in the same lineup, although a full year with Yelich in the lineup (more on him later) should help. Stanton is currently being drafted around the bottom of the second round in fantasy leagues for 2014, around the likes of Carlos Gomez, Yasiel Puig, Jay Bruce and Jose Bautista. I can't say anyone on that list is a surefire bet to pay off at that slot, so Stanton is pretty much going where he should go. If he hits 45 home runs and drives in 110 (which he was on pace to do in 2012 despite missing 40 games due to injury), then this is a slam-dunk pick. But if he hits 30 home runs and bats .250, like he would have last year if he had played a full season, you may be kicking yourself in September for taking him there and not waiting a round or two for someone like Shin-Shoo Choo. I have always been a fan of Stanton, and I've targeted him since his debut, but I will be staying away in 2014. I need to see more from such a high pick, and I would prefer to take the year off from Stanton and wait to see if he ends up elsewhere for 2015, as most Marlins do not stay in Florida for too long.
Yelich's sweet left-handed swing has been causing quite a stir in fantasy circles since his debut at the end of last season. Yelich has a swing that produces line drive after line drive, and his plus approach at the plate leaves him producing quality at bat after quality at bat, but the main cause for concern is will the power come? After two Futures Game appearances, receiving a tag as the man with the minor leagues' best swing, and putting up an absolutely ridiculous showing in 2013 Spring Training, the kid gloves are off for Yelich in 2014. At 22 years old, Yelich will start to show us what his ceiling will be. Is he going to be a .315 / 30-HR / 15-SB guy? Or is he going to be another Andre Ethier and tease us with a great stroke while never really filling into his body and struggling to hit 20 homers a year at the big-league level? In talking with some of Yelich's minor league teammates, it is without question that Yelich has the day to day approach to succeed in the big leagues, and many of them feel like Yelich will grow into his body and become a bonafide superstar. So what does that mean for 2014? Well, Yelich's ADP is around the 14th round, but I have seen him go as high as 73rd overall, and he is being drafted right around the likes of Brett Gardner and Alejandro De Aza when it comes to outfielders. At that spot, I would feel safer with Gardner, but if I got beat out for an outfielder or two earlier in my draft and I was in need of a boom-or-bust type player here, Yelich would be my guy. His swing is going to play, and he could steal up to 15 bags, although a knock on him is that he has clumsy feet. He should not kill you in any category, as I suspect he will be hitting in the middle of the order for the Marlins and should have enough opportunities to drive in around 75-80 runs. The major question there will be whether he can hit enough home runs to justify his lack of top-end steal and RBI production? I'd bet yes, that he will hit at least 20 home runs this year. I am very bullish on Yelich, as I am sucker for a sweet left-handed stroke, but trust me on this: whether or not he is an impact fantasy player, his swing puts fear into pitchers. Those guys generally end up figuring out how to drive the ball, or end up figuring out how to hit .330 every year, and with the way these young twenty-somethings have been taking over the league, I'm earmarking Yelich as the next one to step into this category. If the power does not come in 2014, it will in his future.
Ozuna was a surprise starter on Opening Day in 2013, as the play of Christian Yelich certainly garnered attention in Spring Training, and many thought he would get the call to replace the injured Giancarlo Stanton. Ozuna displayed some really solid athleticism in the outfield before going down with a season-ending injury to his thumb. He also showed a propensity for trying to hit everything thrown his way, and opened eyes during batting practice each day, as he is the type of hitter who can pop balls out to right-center field with just a flick of his wrists. In talking with some of his former teammates, everyone was in agreement that outside of Stanton, Ozuna possesses the best raw power of any of the Marlins' young players, but they were also in agreement that he had the worst approach of any of the guys on this list, and some even said that his biggest shortcoming was that he believes he can hit any pitch, much like Vladimir Guerrero. In today's game with the arsenals opposing pitchers now have at their disposal, that type of approach is going to send you into long slumps over the course of 162 games. Ozuna looks like he will be the Marlins' Opening Day center fielder, so the opportunities will be there for him to show what he can do, but it remains to be seen if he is capable of making the adjustments needed to put up solid numbers over a full season in the big leagues. From what my sources have told me, it would be best to take a wait-and-see approach with Ozuna, especially coming off a hand injury, from which it can take as much as two years to regain all of your strength. I am not going to be drafting Ozuna this year, but the talent is great enough that I cannot argue with you if you choose to. Just be prepared for some prolonged slumps, and a lot of flailing at breaking balls low and away.
Marisnick came over to the Marlins last offseason as part of the package for Jose Reyes and company from the Toronto Blue Jays. He is a 6'3" 225-lb. rock that possesses solid raw power, as well as above-average speed. He was called up to the majors in 2013 after injuries ravaged the Marlins, and he fell flat, batting .183 with one home run and three stolen bases in 109 AB. He is also going to be blocked for playing time in Miami by Stanton, Yelich and Ozuna, but Marisnick should be the first man called up if one of these guys gets hurt or if Ozuna struggles mightily at the dish. Marisnick did manage an OPS of .860 in Double-A before moving up, which is a high number for someone with 30-steal potential, so the book is certainly not closed on him, but it will be interesting to see what kind of start he gets off to this year. As Rocky has been sure to let us know over the last 30 years, life is all about what you do when you get back up after you have been knocked down, and that .183 average in his first taste of big-league action was surely a knockdown in his career. He could be a really nice free agent addition in your fantasy leagues if he gets off to a big-time start down in the minors, which is where I project him to go to start 2014. Ozuna is no sure thing, and Stanton will be on trade watch up until the last minute of the trading deadline, so lay off Marisnick in your drafts, but be sure to watch him closely as the season develops.
2014 Miami Marlins Prospects - Final Conclusion
The Marlins are not a team to target if you're heading to Vegas to place a futures wager on this year's World Series champion, but with their solid young pitching, attractive closer and solid young hitting, you may be able to strike gold by rostering a few Marlins in 2014. I'm hoping it's Yelich that steps up, but any of these guys could certainly make in impact in fantasy baseball for 2014.