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Pitching remains Marlins' main focus this spring

Management believes young hurlers provide key to sustained success

Pitching remains Marlins' main focus this spring

MIAMI -- After enduring the frustrations of a transition season, the Marlins eagerly await a fresh start.

It's about to begin.

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Miami's pitchers and catchers officially open Spring Training workouts on Sunday, Feb. 16, at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla.

If the Marlins are going to make a dramatic upgrade from their 62-100 finish in 2013, they will do so by banking on strong starting pitching. The team has arguably its deepest collection of quality arms. Not just at the big league level, either. The organization is well stacked at Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A New Orleans.

In Jose Fernandez, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year Award winner, the Marlins have a true ace, as well as a face of their franchise for years to come. Just 21, the hard-throwing right-hander is one of the game's rising stars. He brings energy and excitement to an organization that firmly believes it is heading in the right direction.

The Marlins maintain the fastest way to turn their fortunes around is through pitching. The reshuffled front office, under the direction of president of baseball operations Michael Hill, was able to make upgrades to its everyday lineup without parting with its greatest commodity -- controllable pitching.

"We don't want to take a strength and make it a weakness," Hill said in December. "Like I've said, we're definitely mindful that pitching is what drives this game. There is definitely a need for pitching out there. No doubt about it. Clubs that have scouted our system and scouted our team feel that we have an area of depth there."

With Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, the Marlins have a strong top three, and more young arms are on the way. How fast they blossom collectively is Step One of moving out of the cellar in the NL East.

The Marlins used free agency and a couple of trades to address their primary needs -- run production and power.

Last year, the dismal offensive numbers spoke for themselves. The team finished last in the Majors in almost every significant category, including runs scored (513), home runs (95), batting average (.231) and slugging percentage (.335).

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (catcher), Rafael Furcal (second base), Casey McGehee (third base) and Garrett Jones (first base) were signed as free agents to infuse some spark into the stagnant offense.

If the team can muster up some run support, the Marlins will be an interesting team to follow because they have the type of pitching to make for a fun season.

Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 16.

Full squad reports

Feb. 20.

First Spring Training game

Roger Dean Stadium vs. University of Miami, Feb. 26 and 1:05 p.m. ET

Opening Day

Marlins Park vs. Rockies, March 31 and 7:05 p.m. ET

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. How will the back of the rotation pan out?
The top of the rotation is set with Fernandez, Eovaldi and Alvarez. The fourth and fifth spots are up for grabs. Jacob Turner and Tom Koehler are the incumbents, but they must win the fourth and fifth spots. Turner, 22, had his share of ups and downs last year. The right-hander also had a rough Spring Training and opened the season at Triple-A New Orleans. Koehler has experience starting, but he could be a bullpen option if he doesn't secure a place in the rotation.

2. Is Marcell Ozuna ready to take over in center field?
Left thumb surgery sidelined Ozuna for the second half of his rookie season. Recovered, the 23-year-old saw some game action in the Dominican Winter League. Now, he heads into camp as the front-runner to play center field, although his best outfield spot is right field. Jake Marisnick is a prototypical center fielder who will compete for the job. The question with Marisnick is if he will hit enough to be a big league regular this year.

3. How will Rafael Furcal handle playing second base?
Not only did Furcal miss all of last year due to Tommy John surgery to his right elbow, the 36-year-old will be adjusting to a new position. A career shortstop, Furcal has 35 MLB games of experience at second base, and he hasn't seen time at the position since 2002. If the transition goes smoothly, the Marlins will be athletic and strong up the middle. Furcal is expected to take on a big role with the club, which projects him to lead off.

2013 record
62-100, fifth place in the NL East

Projected batting order
1. 2B Rafael Furcal:
.264 BA, .325 OBP, .346 SLG, 5 HR, 49 RBIs with Cardinals in 2012
2. LF Christian Yelich:
.288 BA, .370 OBP, .396 SLG, 4 HR, 16 RBIs in 2013
3. RF Giancarlo Stanton:
.249 BA, .365 OBP, .480 SLG, 24 HR, 62 RBIs in 2013
4. 1B Garrett Jones:
.233 BA, .289 OBP, .419 SLG, 15 HR, 51 RBIs with Pirates in 2013
5. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia:
.273 BA, .338 OBP, .466 SLG, 14 HR, 65 RBIs with Red Sox in 2013
6. 3B Casey McGehee:
.292 BA, .376 OBP, .515 SLG, 28 HR, 93 RBIs with Rakuten in Japan in 2013
7. CF Marcell Ozuna:
.265 BA, .303 OBP, .389 SLG, 3 HR, 32 RBIs in 2013
8. SS Adeiny Hechavarria:
.227 BA, .267 OBP, .298 SLG, 3 HR, 42 RBIs in 2013

Projected rotation
1. Jose Fernandez, 12-6, 2.19 ERA in 2013
2. Nathan Eovaldi, 4-6, 3.39 ERA in 2013
3. Henderson Alvarez, 5-6, 3.59 ERA in 2013
4. Jacob Turner, 3-8, 3.74 ERA in 2013
5. Tom Koehler, 5-10, 4.41 ERA in 2013

Projected bullpen
Closer: Steve Cishek, 34/36 saves, 2.33 ERA in 2013
RH setup man: A.J. Ramos, 3.15 ERA in 2013
LH setup man: Mike Dunn, 2.66 ERA in 2013

The new guys
C Saltalamacchia: After winning the World Series with the Red Sox, Saltalamacchia became a free agent and he was Miami's top offseason acquisition, signing a three-year, $21 million deal. The club feels he is an excellent fit because at age 28, he is entering his prime. Saltalamacchia also switch-hits, has power and could take advantage of the spacious gaps at Marlins Park. With Boston last year, Saltalamacchia had 40 doubles, which impressed the Marlins as much as his home run potential.

2B Furcal: A proven winner, Furcal has been to the playoffs in 12 of his 14 big league seasons. The Marlins hope his leadership helps in the progression of their young players. But the 36-year-old has some questions to answer. Furcal missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery to his right elbow. And he is switching from shortstop to second base, a position he hasn't played in the big leagues since 2002.

1B Jones: Jones offers left-handed power, something that the club has not had much of for years. Like Saltalamacchia and Furcal, the 32-year-old adds playoff experience. He mostly platooned at first base with Pittsburgh last year, but Jones will get a chance to face left-handed pitching in Miami. If he struggles against them, he again could platoon in Miami.

3B McGehee: The Marlins are rolling the dice that the production McGehee displayed last year in Japan will carry over in his return to the big leagues. McGehee belted 28 home runs and drove in 93 in his lone season in Japan, and he impressed Miami enough to sign a one-year, $1.1 million deal. McGehee last played in the big leagues with the Yankees in 2012. His best MLB season was with Milwaukee in 2010 when he drove in 104 runs and smacked 23 homers.

RHP Carter Capps: Capps is another power-arm to compete for a setup role. Miami acquired the 23-year-old from Seattle for Logan Morrison. Capps appeared in 53 games in '13. He struck out 66 in 59 innings, and his fastball has been clocked at 100 mph.

OF Brian Bogusevic: Miami swapped Justin Ruggiano to the Cubs for Bogusevic, a left-handed hitter who can play all three outfield spots. Bogusevic has the inside edge for the fourth outfield spot, and he could be a defensive replacement, pinch-hitter or pinch-runner.

INF Jeff Baker: Just 12 days before pitchers and catchers were set to report, the Marlins agreed on a two-year deal with Baker, who brings versatility and the reputation of hitting left-handed pitching. Baker is a right-handed pinch-hit option as well as depth at first base, second base, third base and both corner outfield spots. He adds some power, too.

RHP Carlos Marmol: The Marlins feel they are well positioned at closer with Steve Cishek. But for insurance, they wanted a veteran with closing experience, just in case. Marmol, with 117 career saves, fit the mold. He projects to fill a late-inning setup role.

Prospects to watch
LHP Andrew Heaney: Rated by MLB.com as the top lefty pitching prospect in the game, Heaney is expected to be with Miami at some point this year. Chances are it will be in the middle of the season, but if he has a dominant Spring Training, he could surprise and win an April rotation spot. Chances are, Heaney will open at Double-A Jacksonville, or perhaps Triple-A New Orleans. Regardless, Heaney will be one of the most interesting players to watch in camp.

LHP Justin Nicolino: Like Heaney, Nicolino is a highly-touted lefty. On the MLB.com list, he rated seventh in the top 10 among lefty prospects. Nicolino made the leap from Class A Jupiter to Double-A in the middle of last season, and he showed promise at both levels. He could start off at New Orleans.

3B Colin Moran: The sixth overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, Moran is regarded as the third baseman of the future. This will be his first Spring Training, and the 21-year-old will get a taste of what it is like in big league camp. Moran is considered a pure lefty hitter with power potential down the road.

RHP Nick Wittgren: Wittgren turned heads last year and was a standout in Double-A and in the Arizona Fall League. Relievers can move up quickly, and Wittgren is making a strong case for himself. In two Minor League seasons, the right-hander has a combined 0.91 ERA in 75 appearances with 110 strikeouts in 89 innings.

On the rebound
RF Stanton: Health was an issue last season for the slugger, who missed more than a month due to a strained hamstring. There is no questioning Stanton's raw ability. But he was limited to 116 games in '13 and 123 games in '12. When on the field, Stanton is a major threat, and even in a down year, he belted 24 home runs.

OF Ozuna: While making a diving catch at Colorado last July, Ozuna sustained a left thumb injury that required season-ending surgery. In 70 MLB games, he showed enough promise to be the front-runner to start in center field. Ozuna tested his thumb in the offseason by playing some winter ball in the Dominican Republic.

2B Furcal: For much of his career, Furcal had the reputation of possessing one of the strongest throwing arms for a shortstop in the big leagues. His right arm eventually gave out, and he missed all of last year due to Tommy John surgery. Switching to second base should be less taxing on his elbow.

Long gone
1B Morrison: Two surgeries in two years to his right knee caused Morrison to miss substantial playing time. Consequently, he had a rough time sustaining any consistency. Unsure if health would be an issue again, the Marlins opted to trade the left-handed-hitting first baseman to Seattle for Capps.

3B Placido Polanco: A veteran presence on a youthful club last year, Polanco was a quiet leader who played steady defense and offered a professional approach at the plate. He appeared in 118 games, but offered one home run and 23 RBIs from a position the team is looking to add more power. So when Polanco reached free agency after the season, the Marlins moved in another direction.

OF Ruggiano: Ruggiano's 18 home runs were second most on the club last year. In December, Miami dealt the 31-year-old to the Cubs for Bogusevic, who also plays all three outfield spots, but bats left-handed.

RHP Chad Qualls: A non-roster invitee last Spring Training, Qualls emerged as one of Miami's most reliable setup relievers. He parlayed a solid season into a two-year contract with the Astros.

OF Chris Coghlan: The 2009 NL Rookie of the Year Award winner dealt with injuries once again last year. The Marlins experimented with Coghlan at third base, but almost all of his MLB experience is in the outfield. Coghlan was non-tendered in December, and the Cubs signed him to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training.

OF Juan Pierre: A fan favorite and one of the hardest workers in team history, Pierre returned for a second stint with the Marlins last year. The first few months, he started in left field and hit leadoff. Once Christian Yelich was promoted from Double-A, the team moved in another direction.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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