This will be one of the most asked questions in Spring Training. You may be aware that MLB.com ranks Heaney as the No. 1 left-handed pitching prospect , while Nicolino is seventh on the list. Both were standouts at Double-A Jacksonville last year, and Heaney impressed in the Arizona Fall League.
Because Jose Fernandez made the leap from Class A to the big leagues a year ago, many wonder if Heaney and/or Nicolino will make the jump from Double-A to be in the Opening Day rotation.
Right now, they are long shots, but that could change based on performance in Spring Training. If they show they're ready, they could indeed be on the Opening Day roster. But there will be plenty of competition.
Barring something unforeseen, like injury, Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez will lock down the top three spots. Jacob Turner has the inside edge for the fourth spot, and Tom Koehler is the incumbent in the fifth spot. Plus, the Marlins have left-handers in Brian Flynn and Brad Hand, who is out of options. Kevin Slowey is a non-roster invitee who could be an option to open the season in the rotation until some of the young arms are ready.
I think the most realistic time of arrival for Heaney and Nicolino is sometime in June or around the All-Star break. With so much young depth, there shouldn't be a need to rush any of the young starters.
Considering the Yankees' acquisition of Masahiro Tanaka, as well as the success of pitchers like Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma and Hyun-Jin Ryu, do the Marlins have plans to establish a scouting network for Japan, Korea and Taiwan in the near future?
-- Rodrigo L., Santiago, Chile
You bring up a topic that the club probably should give more consideration. The Marlins have never seriously pursued players from Asia, opting to focus much of their international attention on Latin America. One reason is the wealth of talent in countries like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Miami is striving to be the Team of the Americas, and that is the organization's international priority.
Obviously, countries like Japan have tremendous talent as well. But the posting system has made many of these players very expensive.
Even with the successes of the pitchers like Tanaka, the Marlins are expected to stay the course in their international efforts.
With such a young rotation, I think it is a mistake not to bring a veteran arm with Major League history into the mix. There are plenty of starting pitchers out there, and not all of them are high profile. Why not sign one of them or trade for one?
-- Elizardo M., West Palm Beach, Fla.
This is a follow-up question to a similar one asked in a recent Inbox. I understand where you are coming from, believing a veteran would help eat up innings. I just disagree that one is needed. The strength of the organization is the starting pitchers. The Marlins have basically 10 or 11 candidates who are either big league-established or close to being big league-ready.
At 21, Fernandez already is among the top five pitchers in the game. Bringing in a veteran will not change that. Plus, Fernandez's innings limit will be relaxed this year, probably getting him close to 200. Eovaldi has elite stuff, and his rotation spot is a lock. Alvarez threw a no-hitter in the final game of the season, and he has been in the rotation with the Blue Jays and Marlins the past two years. His spot is set. So you are talking about two slots. Turner, obviously, has had his struggles. He's also shown promise and he's 22. Turner will have to show more consistency. If he does, he will probably be the fourth starter. Whether Koehler starts or relieves, he is a hard-thrower who was game tested in 2013.
Lefties Hand and Flynn have quality arms, and they have a chance to show they are big league-ready. The veteran example you are talking about could end up being Slowey, who filled that role in the first half last year.
Miami doesn't really need a veteran to eat up innings to save innings from young pitchers, because the organization has so many prospects. Heaney and Nicolino are high-end lefties who are expected to be in the big leagues at some point this season. If some of the names I just mentioned step up in the first few months, and then they falter a bit, promoting Heaney could be like trading for a quality arm by the All-Star break.
Unless there is a veteran who is real upgrade, I wouldn't bring in more than non-roster signings to add to the pitching depth.
With the amount of picks in the first 120 selections of the First-Year Player Draft, plus their international bonus money, can the Marlins set a good foundation? Or will they hold up on signing top bonus players on July 2?
-- Juan V., Enfield, Conn.
Without question, the First-Year Player Draft will be important.
You correctly point out the Marlins have plenty of high picks. They have six selections in the early rounds, including Nos. 2, 36, 42, 77, 106 and 108. The club has budgeted accordingly to sign all of its picks.
Drafting and developing homegrown talent is crucial for clubs like the Marlins, who don't have some of the financial resources enjoyed by many other clubs. They aren't expected to spend on the highest-priced free agents, so they are relying heavily on accumulating as much homegrown talent as possible -- that could be through the Draft, trades and the international market.
I expect the team will place addition focus on these areas instead of taking away.
What does the signing of Ty Wigginton mean for how the infield will shape up in Spring Training? Will he be a starter or come off the bench?
-- Angela C., Miami
Wigginton signed a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training, which means he isn't guaranteed a roster spot. He will have to make the team. The fact that Wigginton has so many years in the big leagues works to his advantage. From the Marlins' standpoint, he adds more depth at either third base or first base. Yes, Wigginton has played second and corner outfield positions in his career, but he isn't seen as a serious extra outfielder choice.
Casey McGehee was signed to start at third base. But if something changes in Spring Training, like an injury, Wigginton is a candidate with big league experience to step in. He also is a right-handed-hitting pinch-hit option.