The Marlins dashed out to a 31-22 record after the season's first two months, a 5-23 June got the organization looking ahead to 2012 earlier than anticipated. After the firing of manager Edwin Rodriguez, 80-year-old Jack McKeon led the team through a turbulent and bizarre second half in which Logan Morrison was demoted to Triple-A, Hanley Ramirez underwent season-ending shoulder surgery, Josh Johnson (shoulder) stretched his DL stint to the very end of the season, and Leo Nunez (now Juan Oviedo) was forced to return to his native Dominican Republic to face charges of using a false identity.
This offseason, the Marlins have done a lot more than just leave a last-place finish behind them. Since November, the team has acquired a new name, switching from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins, a new manager (Ozzie Guillen), a brand-new ballpark, new uniforms and new free-spending ways. Since their first World Series title in 1997, the team has been best known for fire sales and bargain hunting. Surprisingly, the Marlins were legitimate contenders to land Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, and while they lost out on both players, they won't head to spring training empty-handed. Miami signed free agents Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle, and they acquired Carlos Zambrano from the Cubs in exchange for fellow hurler Chris Volstad.
With the anticipated return of Johnson and their bevy of recent acquisitions, the Marlins enter this season as a markedly improved squad. Even so, there are a number of questions that leave the Marlins' status as a contender unclear. Hanley Ramirez could return to being an elite hitter, but will his shoulder be fully healed, and will his transition to third base affect him? Health has been an issue for Reyes in recent seasons as well, and will he be able to play at least 135 games for the first time in four years? Will Mike Stanton make enough contact so that he can become one of the majors' best hitters? Will Stanton be joined in the outfield by Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, whom the Marlins might sign? Can Ricky Nolasco bounce back from a mediocre season, and will a change of scenery help Zambrano? Finally, will new manager Guillen and confessed Twitterholic Logan Morrison get into an online feud that threatens team chemistry?
Even with so many unsettled issues, the Marlins know they now have a stronger rotation, an upgrade at closer with Bell, and the best left side of the infield, at least in terms of offense, in the majors. That should help them exceed last year's 72 wins by a wide margin, but it may not be enough to help them to keep pace with the Phillies and Braves, not to mention an upgraded Nationals squad, in the National League East.
Breakout...Logan Morrison, OF
Morrison hadn't shown home run power in the upper minors, so his 23 homers in his first full year in the majors came as a welcomed surprise. Even with the uptick in power, Morrison's campaign felt like a disappointment. His calling card as a prospect was a high on-base percentage, but a reduced walk rate and low batting average on balls in play (BABIP) left LoMo with a pedestrian .330 OBP. Morrison's track record suggests both his walk rate and BABIP should rebound, and in fact, his .268 BABIP from a year ago looks like the result of some horrendously bad luck. He is a strong bet to improve on his OBP and, at worst, maintain the home run power he displayed in 2011. Add in some improvement and subtract out his minor league demotion and DL time from last season, and Morrison suddenly profiles as a No. 3 mixed league OF.
Bounce-back...Hanley Ramirez, SS
Ramirez had a miserable first half last season, and just when he started to get untracked, he suffered a shoulder injury that led to season-ending surgery. As the season progressed, Ramirez adjusted and started hitting more line drives and flyballs, and his batting average and power numbers rose accordingly. Even though his overall stats were pale compared to his norms, a good sign for Ramirez was that his home run per flyball rate was not much lower than usual. As long as his timing and mechanics are sound, Ramirez showed he can still hit for power, and given the strength of his midseason performance, owners have reason for optimism. Though his recovery from surgery and transition to third base might not go smoothly, it's still a huge risk to pass on the type of production that Ramirez provided over his first five seasons with the Marlins and even part of last year. Ramirez is still worthy of a second-round pick.
Head-to-Head hero...Gaby Sanchez, 1B
Sanchez was an All-Star last season, largely on the basis of the .322/.401/.520 line he put up through the end of May. For those two months, Sanchez was getting home runs and hits on balls in play at rates far beyond his established norms. He came down to earth over the final four months of the season, and at 28, it's unlikely Sanchez is going to develop into someone who hits over .300 with 25-plus home runs. While he is a low-end mixed league option for Rotisserie owners, the skill set that Sanchez clearly owns makes him far more valuable in Head-to-Head. What we know Sanchez can do is hit doubles and draw walks. That makes him a solid middle-round pick in standard mixed Head-to-Head leagues.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Jose Reyes||SS||1||Josh Johnson||RH|
|2||Emilio Bonifacio||CF||2||Mark Buehrle||LH|
|3||Hanley Ramirez||3B||3||Anibal Sanchez||RH|
|4||Mike Stanton||RF||4||Ricky Nolasco||RH|
|5||Logan Morrison||LF||5||Carlos Zambrano||RH|
|6||Gaby Sanchez||1B||Alt||Wade LeBlanc||LH|
|7||John Buck||C|| |
|8||Omar Infante||2B||CL||Heath Bell||RH|
|Top bench options||SU||Juan Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez)||RH|
|R||Greg Dobbs||3B||RP||Steve Cishek||RH|
|R||Brett Hayes||C||RP||Mike Dunn||LH|
|R||Bryan Petersen||OF||RP||Edward Mujica||RH|
|Dominguez is the Marlins' prospect who is closest to major-league ready, but his bat is still suspect, and there is no role for him currently.|
|2||Christian Yelich||20||OF||Class A||Class A|
|Yelich already has good gap power and the home runs could still come. A solid choice in long-term keeper leagues, he is still a couple of years away.|
|3||Rob Rasmussen||23||SP||Class A||Double-A|
|Rasmussen wasn't overwhelming in the Florida State League, but he is probably on the fastest track of the Marlins' young pitchers. He could potentially reach the majors late in 2012 as a reliever.|
|4||Marcell Ozuna||21||OF||Class A||Class A|
|Ozuna already has great power potential, and he made huge strides in his strike zone recognition last year.|
|5||J.T. Realmuto||21||C||Class A||Class A|
|Realmuto won't be in the majors anytime soon, but his combination of speed and power at the catcher position will be worth waiting for.|
|Best of the rest: Jose Fernandez, SP; Chad James, SP; Kyle Jensen, OF; Kevin Mattison, OF; Noah Perio, 2B; Adam Conley, SP; Mason Hope, SP; Jose Ceda, RP; Charlie Lowell, SP; Mark Canha, 1B; Grant Dayton, RP; Jose Urena, SP; Jesus Solorzano, OF; Chris Hatcher, RP; Omar Poveda, SP; Kyle Skipworth, C.|
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