CLOSE

Now Commenting On:

Group hug: Marlins need to embrace team concept

Group hug: Marlins need to embrace team concept

JUPITER, Fla. -- Changing direction in 2014 is going to take a group effort for the Miami Marlins.

The message has been preached repeatedly throughout Spring Training. Marlins players, coaches and staff regularly sport "All-In" T-shirts. The front office stresses the importance of "buying in," because without everyone pulling it together, it's not going to work.

More

Chemistry counts.

"I think it's a team mentality and a team philosophy and putting the team first," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "It's selfless play. It's making sacrifices. It's doing all the little things to hopefully help us win more games."

Quite frankly, the Marlins aren't loaded with high-priced superstars. They're once again a lower-payroll team, relying on development and drive and players picking each other up.

Yes, the team has two rising stars as its foundation. And they are two pieces pretty much any club would covet -- Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton.

Fernandez, 21, is the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, who already has achieved All-Star status. And Stanton, 24, is a mega-force right fielder with immense power at a time when there has been a dip in home run totals throughout Major League Baseball.

So much of Miami's hope for a turnaround after finishing 62-100 a year ago rides on Fernandez and Stanton fulfilling their expectations. If they do, the club has an unheralded, but talented and hard-throwing pitching staff capable of keeping the team in games every night.

The question will be whether an offense that ranked last a year ago in runs scored, batting average, home runs and slugging percentage can score enough runs. In order to do so, the players have to buy into the program and be willing to sacrifice some personal numbers for the greater good of the club.

Trusting one another will also be crucial.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Miami's biggest offseason acquisition, knows first-hand what can happen when a team bonds together as one. For Saltalamacchia and the Red Sox last year, it resulted in a World Series championship.

In 2012, the Red Sox and Marlins had identical 69-93 records.

What a difference one year makes.

The Red Sox went from worst to first, becoming improbable World Series champions. The Marlins, meanwhile, went from last place in the NL East to the second-worst record in the Majors.

"It takes time, it's a process," Saltalamacchia said. "It's a trust thing. In Spring Training, it begins, and it's being together a long time as well. I think it's going to click whenever that does happen. Whenever you say, 'All right, I'm going to try this and see how it goes.' Then that guy behind you does pick you up. Then that trust factor becomes more and more."

In recent years, the Marlins talked a good game. They especially did so in 2012, their first season at Marlins Park. That year, they bolstered payroll to $100 million, hired outspoken Ozzie Guillen to manage and signed high-priced free agents Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.

The plan seemed sound then, but the mix didn't go together. For all the fanfare, the Marlins finished last.

This season, there is a quiet optimism, largely because of the young pitching. But there is little talking. The emphasis is on action.

The growing feeling within the clubhouse is that the team could surprise because of a rotation that includes Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez. Steve Cishek is an under-the-radar but effective closer.

If the Marlins pitch the way they think they will, the rest will fall into place.

"That guy who is going to take the bump on Opening Day, and every guy after him," Hill said. "I think when you have strong starting pitching, every day you're giving yourself a chance to win. I feel that's how we're built, and our success is going to ride largely on our starting pitching. But on top of that, I think we're overall a better team. Better talent. Deeper. When you put all those things together, it makes you excited about what the future holds."

The offense should be upgraded with the additions of Saltalamacchia, Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee, Rafael Furcal and Jeff Baker.

"Ability alone is going to surprise a lot of people," Saltalamacchia said. "We don't have that factor of when we come to a ballpark, everyone is going to be like, 'Whoa, the Marlins are coming!' I don't think we have that because of last year. I've been through that with many teams.

"I think the only way we're going to get that is by going out there and proving it. We've got the pitching. We've got the defense. We've got guys who can hit. We've got to go out and earn it. We can't just expect it to happen overnight. It's a process. A lot of times, when you're the underdog and people look up, you've already passed them. That's what we're looking to do."

In devising their offseason plan, the Marlins were able to use free agency to bring in bats, and in the process, they didn't trade any of their young pitchers.

Jones, Saltalamacchia and McGehee each have power potential to help protect Stanton.

"We talked about strengthening our lineup, and getting more depth in our lineup," manager Mike Redmond said. "Bringing in Garrett Jones, a guy who has proven to be a power hitter in the league, and Salty behind him, that gives us guys who have been able to put the ball in the seats and should provide more protection for him.

"But at the same time, too, Stanton is Stanton. As we've seen this spring, this guy hit some bombs. He's still the guy in our lineup teams are not going to allow to beat them. In saying that, that creates great opportunities for Salty and Garrett Jones to hit with guys in scoring position and really to benefit from teams probably walking Stanton in certain situations."

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.

Less