Eight teams have clinched postseason spots. Three others are still vying for the two American League Wild Card spots. The other 19 teams are just trying to finish off the season on a positive note.
For the six last-place teams, hopes for today turned to dreams about tomorrow quite some time ago. But some have a brighter future than others, and that's exactly what Jim Callis and I are discussing in this edition of Pipeline Perspectives: Which last-place team in 2013 is best poised to turn things around?
Jim is taking a multipronged approach, looking at one team that should be optimistic in the short term and one that is really set up well for the long term. I've decided to take a more focused tact, looking only at the Miami Marlins.
Sure, the Marlins have lost 100 games, joining the Astros as the only teams in 2013 to do so. Yes, the team hasn't lost that many games since 1998, and it's only dropped 100 or more games twice since the franchise's debut season in 1993. Yet, I'm still optimistic.
It starts with the young talent already at the Major League level. It's hard not to have some optimism about Miami's future when talking about Jose Fernandez. All he did was have one of the greatest rookie pitching seasons in history, and he didn't turn 21 until the end of July. Fernandez should be surrounded in 2014 with some other young arms, like Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, both 23, and Jacob Turner, who, despite seemingly being around forever, is still only 22.
The big league outfield is another beacon of hope. Assuming Giancarlo Stanton stays put, he'll still be the anchor of the offense. And he should get more consistent help for all of 2014, especially from Christian Yelich, whom I think will win batting titles one day. Jake Marisnick's debut was more uneven, and it's possible he'll need a little more time in the Minors to start the 2014 season, but his raw tools are undeniable and there's plenty of reason to believe he'll put it together more consistently in the very near future.
The young talent already in Miami is just part of the equation. The Marlins have done a good amount of work, both via the Draft and through trades, to build up their farm system. It might be true that the influx of talent came as the result of an unfortunate fire sale, but that shouldn't dampen the outlook for the future. And there's plenty down on the farm to get excited about, with much of the talent just about ready to contribute.
Much of that help comes on the mound in the form of left-handed pitching. Three of Miami's top five prospects on their Top 20 list are southpaws, all of whom pitched in Double-A in 2013. Andrew Heaney, the ninth overall pick in the 2012 Draft, threw very well for Double-A Jacksonville for the final six starts of his season, and he should be near the top of any left-handed pitching prospect list (he's No. 4 on our Top 10 lefties list). He's joined by Justin Nicolino, No. 6 on that lefty list, one of the talented prospects the Marlins got from the Blue Jays in their blockbuster deal, who received a promotion like Heaney, and Adam Conley, a 2011 second-round pick. Conley spent all year at Double-A, finishing in the Southern League top 10 in wins, ERA, strikeouts and WHIP.
There are even more arms on the verge of reaching the bigs. Brian Flynn, who came over from the Tigers in the Anibal Sanchez deal, made his big league debut this year. Anthony DeSclafani, another acquisition from the Blue Jays, pitched well with Jacksonville as well, though he is right-handed. Obviously, not all of these pitchers will make the 2014 rotation, nor will they be ready to do so. But depth creates competition and provides options, giving the big league staff a lot of choices behind Fernandez moving forward.
The one area where the Marlins might be a bit thin is in providing offensive support beyond those young outfielders. But they even tried to address that by taking Colin Moran in the first round of this past June's Draft. The North Carolina product is the kind of advanced college bat who should move up quickly, and he hit the ground running with a solid pro debut in the full-season South Atlantic League. He's headed to the Arizona Fall League, so a push up to Double-A to start his first full season isn't out of the question. Moran can't be the only answer, but could he be ready to contribute by the second half of 2014, like Mike Zunino did with the Mariners? I don't see why not.
Critics may say that this might sound good on paper, but relying on all these prospects to step up might not be realistic. Of course, all prospect talk about the future is hypothetical, and I'm not suggesting that the Marlins will be ready to compete for the National League East crown in 2014. But it does certainly look like they'll be heading in the right direction.