Jul 26, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton (27) celebrates with teammates after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0 at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

How long until the Miami Marlins can contend?

The Miami Marlins are the worst team in the National League by 6 1/2 games. If it wasn’t for the Astros, they’d be the worst team in all of baseball. Just last season, they opened a new stadium with new uniforms, a geographic name change, a bloated payroll, and a World Series-winning manager at the helm. The team took an embarrassing and historical nosedive, ultimately firing manager Ozzie Guillen and trading off any and all trade-able pieces at the deadline and over the off-season.

So how quickly can the Marlins go from a free-spending, supposedly surefire contender that was anything but, to a rebuilding organization, and back to a respectable squad?

After finishing 2012 with a 69-93 record (.426 winning percentage), the Marlins have stumbled their way to a 44-73 (.376) record thus far in 2013. Take into account the caliber of players that Miami sold-off after their putrid start to 2012, and 44-73 might even be a little better than what was expected of rookie manager Mike Redmond’s crew.

The Marlins offense is absolutely atrocious, having scored just 370 runs in 117 games through play on Tuesday. That comes out to  just just 3.16 runs per game, and and a full 61 runs behind the Chicago White Sox, the next most futile offensive attack in baseball.

It’s hard to quantify just how bad Miami’s lineup is. But we’ll try. There are only three regulars that have been with the team most of the season that are carrying on-base percentages over .310. Not, batting average, mind you. On-base percentage. There are also only three regulars carrying slugging percentages over .400.

Two of the three players in each above category are the same: Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison. Stanton remains one of the more coveted trade targets in the league, still just 23 years old and possessing quite possibly the most prodigious raw power of anyone in the majors. The Marlins can (and evidently are) ask for a fortune in return for the budding slugger, and he’ll be a name that we continue to hear about. Whether or not the Marlins’ brass should deal Stanton is a topic for another day, as he still has years of team control on a cheap contract. Which, of course, is exactly what rebuilding teams are looking for.

Morrison is LoMo of social media fame, known for his Tweeting and less for his on-field performance. His frequent injuries are mostly to blame for that, however, as Morrison appears to be turning into a serviceable major league player. After posting a .286/.377/.459 line over parts of seven minor league seasons, Morrison is finally coming close to replicating that performance in the bigs, hitting .273/.368/.441 so far in 2013.

The Marlins recently called up another top outfield prospect in 21 year-old Christian Yelich to combine with Stanton as the only potentially star-caliber position players on the major league club. Yelich was the Marlins’ first round selection in 2010 and appeared at #15 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects before this season, and profiles as a good hitter for average with the potential for 20+ home run power in the near future after hitting .313/.387/.499 in four minor league seasons.

Clearly, the offense will need some help, with a limited amount of true position player prospects in the upper levels of the Marlins system for the time being. The pitching, however, is an entirely different story.

Led by 20-year old phenom Jose Fernandez, the Marlins pitching staff has been unexpectedly good through the first 70% or so of the 2013 season. In fact, Miami ranks 11th in the majors in team ERA; fascinating considering that they still carry the 2nd worst record in all of baseball.

Impressive would be an understatement for how well Fernandez has pitched, carrying a 2.58 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP in 132 2/3 innings, not to mention a 9.7 K/9 inning rate. The sky may just be the limit for him, and he’s actually been picking up steam and pitching better over the past couple of months than he was early in the season.

In addition to Fernandez, former Detroit Tigers farmhand Jacob Turner (22 years old) is pitching very well, with a 2.95 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP in 13 starts, and former Los Angeles Dodgers minor leaguer Nathan Eovaldi has impressed too, posting a 2.82 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP in ten starts.

In short, this Marlins team is mostly young, cheap, and promising, and most importantly of all, the pitching is extremely encouraging. While there remains a startling lack of infield prospects in the Miami system, the outfield and the pitching staff looks to be well on its way. A lot is riding on when/if the Marlins elect to trade Stanton, and what they get in return for him if they he is moved. They’ve done well in accruing prospects in the majority of their recent trades, but Stanton should fetch the largest return of them all.

It will be a couple of seasons before Miami becomes a respectable, better-than .500 club, and probably a couple more beyond that before they can hope to be legitimate contenders. But they are most certainly on the right track. If they find some help in the infield, they could arrive at contender status even sooner than most of us expected after the debacle that was 2012.

Tags: Miami Marlins MLB

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