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Marlins Rotation: Jose Fernandez and the Also-Starters

Despite dropping 100 games in 2013, the Miami Marlins managed to unveil one of fantasy’s hottest young starters, though the rotation behind him offers no other obvious must-draft guys. Still, there’s some talent in this group, and as fantasy owners, we’d be remiss not to do our due diligence in examining the guys slated — or possibly slated — to take the ball every fifth day in Miami.

The ballpark

Welcome to Marlins Park, a third-year stadium memorably described by Orel Hershiser as a place that looks “like a cruise ship had a baby with a spaceship.” Whatever its architectural trappings, however, this is a place that favors pitchers — StatCorner finds it depresses home runs significantly for both left- and right-handed hitters, and ESPN’s Park Factors ranked it middle of the pack in regards to runs scored.

The defense

One year after the team finished 24th in baseball in ultimate zone rating, the additions of a 36-year-old Rafael Furcal (now learning second base after missing 2013 with an elbow injury), Casey McGehee, Garrett Jones and Jarrod Saltalamacchia do little to offset the mediocre range of Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop. Things are slightly better in the outfield, with a trio of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich expected to deliver at least competent glovework.

The definites
Jose Fernandez
Nathan Eovaldi
Henderson Alvarez

For fantasy owners, there’s not a whole lot to complain about Fernandez’s sparkling rookie season, except for the fact that he played for a last-place team — and even that didn’t stop him from finishing seventh among fantasy starters. What’s not to like? Strikeout prowess? A 9.75 K/9 says check. How about ERA? I’ll sign up for a 2.19 mark. Ability to limit baserunners? Try a .98 WHIP on for size. Basically, it’s the kind of stat sheet of which fantasy dreams are made, even if some of the fine print — a 7.1 percent HR/FB ratio nudged his xFIP to 3.08, and a 79.4 percent strand rate is too high — helped his cause. But why carp? Fernandez delivered on every ounce of his limitless potential last year, and even an expected drop in performance — 2013 will be a tough act to follow considering Fernandez put together one of the best age-20 seasons for a starting pitcher in baseball history — shouldn’t change the fact that he’s currently being drafted, with good reason, among the top 10 starters in fantasy.

The majors’ highest average fastball among starters with at least 100 innings pitched last year belonged to the 96.1-mph cheddar of Eovaldi. Although he lost two and a half months last year due to shoulder inflammation, Eovaldi, the key piece in the 2012 trade that sent Hanley Ramirez to Hollywood, returned to post a 3.39 ERA (backed up by a 3.59 FIP). But his high-octane heat hasn’t translated to big strikeout totals; his 6.6 K/9 last year was the byproduct of a pedestrian 7.7 swinging strike percentage. Meanwhile, a 3.4 BB/9 last year wasn’t nearly good enough to hide a nearly hit-per-inning pace. Brad Johnson put together an excellent look at Eovaldi’s ultra-dependence on his fastball earlier this offseason, a concern the burly right-hander seems to share, as he’s reportedly trying to work on his change-up. Whether Eovaldi can take his secondary pitches to the next level will say a great deal about whether he’ll hold any value beyond deeper leagues in 2014.

The main reason why Alvarez will be a forgotten man in most leagues in 2014 is because the unsightly 5 K/9 he posted last year actually improved his career mark. And while that 3.59 ERA might look swell against a 3.18 FIP, it sits alongside an alarming 67.7 percent strand rate and a 22 percent line drive rate that, while not terrible, suggests that a .271 BABIP was charitable (and this is especially important for a guy who pitches to contact so frequently). When you take away his no-hitter, the ERA over 16 starts suddenly stands at 3.94, which sounds a lot more like the guy sporting a career 4.25 mark. True, Alvarez has a strong ability to generate ground balls, and his commitment to challenging hitters has resulted in historically low walk rates. But if WHIP help is the best case fantasy scenario for him, keep in mind he’s likely to cough up base hits at a more frequent clip in 2014.

The maybes
Jacob Turner
Tom Koehler

Turner is likely to win the fourth spot in the team’s rotation, and the 2009 ninth-overall pick carries intriguing upside were he to begin making good on his promise in 2014. In 20 starts for the fish last year, Turner failed to deliver much of anything positive for fantasy owners, with a bad 1.4 K/BB ratio, 1.44 WHIP and a 3.74 ERA (4.43 FIP). Much of the damage came in the second half, when the NL positively went to town on him. A three-time top 30 prospect according to Baseball America, Turner is better than that, but he also won’t turn 23 until May — prompting one to ask if he’s ready to bloom in time to help fantasy owners this summer.

Koehler, meanwhile, joined the Marlins’ rotation in May last year and remained the team’s fifth starter the rest of the way, where he posted a 4.51 ERA and 5-10 record in 23 starts. He wouldn’t be considered anything special were he the fifth starter on a good team, but on the Marlins … you get the picture.

The rest
Brian Flynn
Brad Hand
Kevin Slowey
Anthony DeSclafani
Adam Conley

A 6-foot-7 lefty, Flynn was blown up in four starts in September but was solid in 161 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A last year … Hand pitched well in seven appearances last year (two starts) and impressed management with his performance … Slowey, signed to a minor-league deal, was excellent last April but reverted back to mediocrity the rest of the way until his season ended with a right flexor strain in July … Meanwhile, DeSclafani and Conley, neither of whom have pitched above Double-A, are likely to start the year in the minors.

The wild cards
Andrew Heaney
Justin Nicolino

Heaney has dominated in his two years of minor league ball, and cruised through the Arizona Fall League, striking out nearly a batter an inning and compiling a 1.95 ERA over 27.2 frames. On most teams, he’d be a long shot to make the club out of spring training, but this being the Marlins — one year after fast-tracking Fernandez to Miami — fantasy owners in leagues across the board would do well to keep an eye on the 22-year-old’s progress.

Nicolino, meanwhile, was tabbed by Marc Hulet as the team’s third-best prospect, though like fellow lefty Heaney, scouts don’t portend big strikeout numbers in his future, so his fantasy value in 2014, were he to eventually surface in the rotation, would likely cater more to NL-only leagues.