This Miami Marlins season could not be more engulfed in depression -- at least if all you saw was the easy outside view.
The team has the worst record in MLB and is on pace for a 49-113 finish. Attendance also is last in the majors, with Miami having nine of the season’s 10 smallest crowds thus far. The team’s recent No. 1 prospect, Lewis Brinson, was just demoted to the minors because he can’t seem to hit .200.
That is all that the rest of the nation is seeing. And laughing at.
In South Florida we are seeing beyond that. We are seeing small, bright glimpses of the future.
Starter Caleb Smith is 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 36 innings and at this rate will make the All-Star Game not as a token lone representative, but on merit.
Rookie Nick Anderson finished April with 24 strikeouts, tying the club record for most in a one month by a reliever.
Catcher Jorge Alfaro (.288, five homers) has been solid and gives Miami one of the best in the majors at a position shy on quality.
Third baseman Brian Anderson is heating up after a slow start to reaffirm his bright future.
Right-hander Sixto Sanchez, the club’s current No. 1-ranked prospect, a triple-digit fastball guy, was scheduled to make his organizational debut Thursday night down on the farm in Jupiter.
Outfielder Monte Harrison, No. 3 prospect, figures as a late-season call-up.
High hopes remain for Victor Victor Mesa, the Cuban outfield prospect looking better and better in the minors after not playing for two years.
Pitcher Zac Gallen, only the club’s 18th-rated prospect, is tearing it up in Triple A ball with a 0.81 ERA in five starts.
The starting pitching depth in particular is very impressive — and the foundation of the new Derek Jeter-led regime now in its second year.
Current big-league starters Smith, Trevor Richards, Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara and Jose Urena include a bunch of youthful talent and promise. In the pipeline are guys such as Sanchez, Gallen, Nick Neidert, Braxton Garrett, Edward Cabrera and Jorge Guzman — all but Gallen a top-10 Marlins prospect.
Diehard Marlins fans — and, yes, wiseguy, the Marlins do have those — know how the farm system is now deep because of the trade-away of star players, the reboot.
I hear a lot how the Marlins have “the worst fans in America.” I am forever correcting that notion, or at least adding an addendum. Marlins fans who regularly attend games —a hard core of maybe 7,000, have to be the best fans in South Florida. Because these are faith-keepers, the true baseball lovers, the folks able to see past today’s losses and imagine what Jeter is imagining down the road.
I spoke to several Marlins fans on Thursday, an off day for the team. There is an understanding optimism.
Gerry R. Gonzalez, 29, is an attorney from Coral Gables who attends at least one game a week.
“It’s not the most exciting crowd atmosphere. It’s a little disturbing when you can hear the echoes of foul balls hitting empty seats around the stadium,” he admits. “But we do have some organizational depth for the first time in years. Zac Gallen, Isaac Galloway, Isan Diaz. Obviously I wasn’t very happy with Jeter trading away the star players, but I see we do have good young arms. There’s guys in the pipeline.”
Tony Valdez, 33, is a sales manager from Kendall.
“I just love baseball,” he says. “I may be in the minority, but I see a glimmer of hope for the rebuild. I see what they’re trying to do. I feel like it’s working. I went through [the fire sales in] 1998 and 2006. It hasn’t wavered my passion for this game.”
Valdez attended Tuesday’s game versus Cleveland that drew 7,247. “The most depressing is I didn’t know there were so many Indians fans in Miami. But we’re a town of winners. The passion for baseball is here. And I like the rotation. And the pitching depth we have in the minors. The thing is, this organization doesn’t have any trust. Jeter is trying to win that trust back.”
Eric Bird, 46, is a paralegal who lives in Cutler Bay,
“I grew up in Southern California as a Clippers fans so I’m used to losing. But I think they’ve made some decent moves they had to make. I think the pitching’s there. The crowds can be a little disheartening when the team kind of sucks. But I think we’re two or three years away from having a winner that fans will come to see.”
Marlins fans get a bad rap.
When you can keep your patience and your faith and see a future beyond the rubble because you love baseball so much, you are far from a lousy fan. You are exactly the kind of fan this franchise so desperately needs.