For the Miami Marlins, the 2016 season was one that was full of promise for the future. The Fish finished at 79-82, good for third place in the National League East Division standings.
After an 11-1 pounding of the Philadelphia Phillies on July 27 in the middle of a long homestand, the Marlins sat at 55-46. That win left them in control of one of the two NL Wild Card spots and just four games out in the division race.
The club would stumble home to a 24-36 finish, but there was much to provide hope for better days ahead. A trio of mid-20s outfielders are a big piece of that hope for a bright future.
24-year-old left fielder Christian Yelich took home his first career Silver Slugger Award. 25-year-old center fielder Marcell Ozuna made the National League All-Star team for the first time.
However, the most dynamic of this group is 26-year-old right fielder Giancarlo Stanton. The former “Mike” didn’t win any awards or make the All-Star squad (though he did capture the Home Run Derby crown) in 2016.
But ask any opposition pitcher, and they will tell you that Stanton is the bat they fear in the Miami lineup. His prodigious home runs are already the stuff of modern baseball legend.
STANTON’S DIFFICULTIES STAYING HEALTHY
Last year, Stanton banged 27 home runs in just 470 plate appearances. He missed a week in late May, and then a month from mid-August to mid-September due to injuries. This marked a fourth time in the last five seasons that the Marlins’ feared slugger lost significant time.
Stanton turned 27 years of age back in November, so he now enters his prime playing years looking to finally stay healthy the entire way.
It has happened just twice in his seven big league seasons. One of those came back in 2011, his first full season at just age 21. Stanton bashed 34 home runs, knocked in 87 and received MVP consideration.
The second time that he managed to stay healthy was his best year yet. Stanton played in 145 games and made a career-high 638 plate appearances in the 2014 campaign. That year he crushed 37 home runs, knocked in 105 and scored 89 times. He also put together a .288/.395/.555 slash line.
For that performance, Stanton finished as the runner-up in National League MVP voting to Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
FERNANDEZ WAS A BIG KEY TO 2016 SUCCESS
Last year’s midsummer flirtation was the first time that the Marlins have been a contender during the Stanton era.
One of the big reasons that the Fish were in contention last season, and a key to their future, was the performance of starting pitcher Jose Fernandez.
Fernandez returned in 2016 after missing most of the previous year due to Tommy John surgery. The young ace didn’t skip a beat, going 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA over 182.1 innings.
Fernandez turned 24 years of age at the end of July. He was back healthy and dominating. The Marlins appeared to be a team on the rise. And then the tragedy of September 25 struck.
STANTON KEY TO OVERCOMING MARLINS LOSS
Now the Marlins must pick up the pieces and move forward. They have not thrown in the towel in any way, signing veteran Edinson Volquez and acquiring Dan Straily to help mitigate the loss of Fernandez in their rotation.
Otherwise, most of the same cast that controlled a Wild Card berth for much of the 2016 season is returning this year. Youngsters like Ozuna, Yelich and second baseman Dee Gordon are a year older and gained valuable experience last year.
Being able to push past the .500 mark and into actual playoff contention is still within the Marlins’ reach, even with the devastating hole left in their rotation and hearts by the loss of Fernandez.
If Stanton can indeed stay healthy, there is no reason that he shouldn’t be expected to not only meet his 2014 numbers, but surpass them.
Stanton is capable of becoming the first National Leaguer to reach the 50-homer mark since Prince Fielder did it a decade ago. It will be Stanton’s ability to stay in the lineup regularly and play to his potential that will be the key for the Marlins in the 2017 season.
Also, a Stanton who stays healthy all through his prime, basically for the next six years, would put up some tremendous numbers. There is no reason he shouldn’t be at, or approaching, the 500-homer mark by age 33 – if he stays healthy.