How does one really be an x-factor on a team as depressing as the Miami Marlins? You've got the superstar in Giancarlo Stanton, you have the past their prime veterans in Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco, you have the youngsters who might not be ready for primetime in Rob Brantly, Adeiny Hechavarria, 60% of the starting rotation…where can you find an x-factor on this team? Well, you'll have to look at a starter from 2012 that actually returns for 2013. You'll have to look for a player that made a surprising impact last season that is going to be counted on a lot this year.
My x-factor for the Miami Marlins in 2013 is Justin Ruggiano.
Now, who exactly is Justin Ruggiano? The long-time Ray signed with the Astros prior to the 2012 season, and was promptly traded to the Marlins less than two months of the way into the season. After the trade, Ruggiano exploded with his new team, getting significant time at all three outfield positions (but primarily playing center field, and playing it very well). In 91 games, Ruggiano hit 13 homers, stole 14 bases, and posted a .909 OPS, good for a total of 2.8 fWAR. Not bad for a spare part, right?
However, it's not extremely likely that Ruggiano is going to continue his success going forth. He'll turn 31 in April, and his awesome OPS last season was fueled by an insane .401 BABIP with the backing of a 16.7% HR/FB. Furthermore, after a torrid start with his new club, Ruggiano dipped to a .676 OPS in September despite still having a .380 BABIP for the month. Balls simply stopped flying out of the park the absurd rate they had all season for him, and Ruggiano scuffled.
The Marlins are banking a lot on Ruggiano producing in 2013. He's penciled in as the team's five hole hitter right now, and if Logan Morrison isn't ready for Opening Day, he'll probably get shifted to the cleanup spot. If that BABIP manages to remain in the penthouse in 2013, then Giancarlo Stanton will have some great protection in the Marlins lineup and be able to do a lot of damage. However, if it falls off (which seems very likely, all things considered), Stanton is going to be stripped of any protection he had, and the Marlins slugger isn't going to get anything good to hit. Ruggiano's continued success in 2013 is huge not just for his future with the Marlins, but also Stanton's success in 2013, and as a result, the rest of the Miami offense.