“Now is no time to think of what you do not have.
Think of what you can do with that there is”
from The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Admit it – you tend to write the Marlins off before you even see them play a game. You probably did it this year. You saw their guys on your fantasy draft board, and you skipped over them for more exciting rolls-of-the-dice, or players on clubs with more cachet.
Why take Starling Marte when Kyle Tucker is there, or Randy Arozarena, or Eloy Jimenez? Sandy Alcantara as an SP3 in your rotation? Why take the chance when a proven arm like Patrick Corbin is available, or a boom candidate like Kevin Gausman or Lance McCullers?
You’re not alone. FantasyPros’ highest-ranked Marlin in terms of ADP was Marte at 52.2, but it isn’t until Alcantara at 132.0 that you find another member of the club. Sixto Sanchez and Pablo López follow shortly thereafter, but there isn’t another Marlin that was likely to have been drafted in standard 12×12 leagues. You skipped over them because, all things considered, the Marlins don’t seem to offer as much collateral upside as the #8 hitter on the Phillies, or a Spring Training stand-out from the Red Sox. Every prediction aggregator and pundit had them pegged for 5th spot in 2021, albeit in a division that is likely to be hyper-competitive.
And, to be fair, you have reason to doubt the Marlins’ track record. In 28 years, the most wins the club has accrued in a full season is 92, and they’ve made the playoffs exactly three times in franchise history. Just ignore the fact that, until last season, they held one of the most unique records in all of sports: having won the league championship in all of their franchise playoff appearances (1997, 2003). They also play in an historically difficult division, rife with big-money franchises and historic pedigrees.
But there’s a different air about the club in 2021. Coming off of a surprise playoff appearance in the shortened 2020 season (which featured a Best-of-3 series win over the Cubs), the Marlins suddenly feel like a dark horse again. What’s more, they’re actually a lot of fun to watch. So let’s talk about why you might want to make some appointment viewing for them this year. And the chief reason is simple: they have one of the most exciting young rotations in baseball.
Sandy the Man-dy (?)
For a franchise that has never had a Cy Young award winner, the Marlins certainly have had their share of world-class arms. Perpetually-underrated Kevin Brown pitched two years for the club, but was an All-Star in both, and posted an obscene 1.89 ERA in 1996; Dontrelle Willis was Rookie of the Year and Cy Young runner-up by the age of 23; Josh Beckett famously made his career with an MVP performance in the 2003 World Series; and of course, no one could ever forget the great Jose Fernandez.
But the core of young pitchers the Marlins are rolling out in 2021 doesn’t just have one stud – it has the potential to field four or five. And they can roll them out for the next half-decade.
Spearheading the bunch is the aforementioned 25-year old Sandy Alcantara, who has already pitched in the league long enough to have 48 starts under his belt. Alcantara has been good for a while now – even in a 2019 in which the surface optics (6-14, 3.88 ERA, 1.32 WHIP) were awful, he was still inducing a 25.7 CSW%, and giving an awful 57-win team a chance to win in virtually every start. This year, Alcantara seems to have really figured things out: through three starts, he is repping a 10.31 K/9, .152 OPP AVG, and a 0.93 WHIP, with an average fastball velocity at 98mph and a CSW% of 29.2. It’s, of course, still early days – but it certainly seems as though he has figured it out. Don’t be surprised if he ends the year as a top-20 pitcher in fantasy, and becomes a sneaky Cy Young contender.
Filthy 93mph changeup from Sandy Alcantara pic.twitter.com/PXM8GVx7M2
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) April 6, 2021
Through three starts, Alcantara’s stuff has been lightning. He has struck out 21 batters, has yet to yield a home run, and has yet to be barrelled against a single time. His wOBA of .220 is fourth-best in the league, and he is 14th in average opponent exit velocity. In the past, manager Don Mattingly has been effusive in his praise for Alcantara, once arguing that his stuff was as good as anyone in baseball. While that might be a lofty perch to attain, he’s still young, and the improvements have been annual. If he keeps putting the work in, he could enter the conversation.
That is, of course, if the baseball world remembers to include the Marlins in that conversation.
A Lot to Like
Beyond Alcantara, don’t sleep on the club’s rotation depth. Pablo López, also 25, showed delectable hints of his potential in 2020, and is off to a strong start in 2021. His improved 5-pitch mix – including the introduction of a 91.5mph cutter – has led opponents to a 27.3 CSW%, and his velocity is only improving. He struggled in Tuesday’s appearance, yielding 9 hits and 6 earned runs on 83 pitches over 4 innings. The appearance saw him yield some massive exit velocities – 105.3 to Ronald Acuña Jr., 103.6 to Freddie Freeman, and 106.7 to Marcell Ozuna – but he also had 6 strikeouts on just 22 batters faced, and he saw a silly .538 BABIP from Braves hitters. In essence, one rough outing does not a struggle make, and he is still a pitcher you can be excited about.
Pablo López curveball strikeout!
One of his top priorities entering 2021 was improving this pitch. That's his first K with the curve so far. pic.twitter.com/39l0ug26FK
— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) April 14, 2021
23-year old Trevor Rogers has 1st round draft pick pedigree (13th overall in 2017), and surprised everyone by making the rotation out of camp. He has ridiculous stuff, and struck out 10 Mets in 6 IP on just 82 pitches in a dominant win last week. In that appearance, he out-dueled some scrub named DeGrom, leading our own Nick Pollack to declare “This is Rogers’ neighborhood now, get used to it”.
The club also has top prospect Sixto Sánchez, who – at 22 years old – may be the best of them. Sanchez showed dominant upper-echelon stuff in Spring Training, and should be getting a call-up in the very near future. There’s also top-ranked righty and 2020 3rd-overall draft pick Max Meyer waiting in the wings, and he’s already throwing 98mph on his fastball. Don’t ignore 23-year old righty Edward Cabrera, either – he’d likely be in The Show already were it not for a shoulder injury in 2020. He lit up Double-A in 2019, and has electric fastball velocity.
Just a casual *first inning* for Sixto Sánchez
— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) March 25, 2021
Now, the bottom line here is that the Marlins need to find a way to not screw this up. With the exception of the late Fernandez, the club has had an awful time retaining and elevating top-tier pitching talent. Since the halcyon days of Fernandez’s dominance, the club has cycled through a cadre of starting pitchers – to middling effect. The likes of Jose Ureña, Trevor Richards, Adam Conley, and Jordan Yamamoto have all come up through the ranks with plenty of helium attached, and largely failed to stick. 2020 saw the club overall the rotation, and commit to youth – and the turnaround thus far has been noticeable. In Alcantara, Sanchez, López, Rogers, and Meyer, the club has the foundation of something really special. If they can find a way to feed each of those mouths, they ought to be able to mine their first Cy Young winner from that group.
At the very least, to quote Hemingway once more – “it’s silly not to hope.”