This season is considered the biggest campaign since 1993 for the Miami Marlins as they embark on a new chapter in their history. A new name, a new ballpark, a new look and a new feel all contribute to what promises to be a historic and memorable season. For the first time, the Marlins will play their home games in an actual ballpark instead of a converted football stadium. Gone are the rain delays, and the extreme heat. On the field, there are new faces and a realistic hope for a third world championship.
Before taking a look at the players, it’s important to note that there is a new man in charge and it’s the electric and controversial Ozzie Guillen. The new skipper of the Marlins promises to bring a new energy to the dugout along with colorful quotes all season long. A member of the 2003 coaching staff, it’s a reunion of sorts for Guillen after he led the Chicago White Sox for the past eight seasons.
First Base – Gaby Sanchez
A model of consistency, Sanchez was an All-Star in 2011 in his second full season with the Marlins. After the season ended, the local product had to deal with the chance of being traded away before getting to don the new look of the Marlins. In a well publicized chase, the team tried to sign future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols which would have effectively ended Sanchez’s Marlins’ career. Pujols opted to sign with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim instead which prompted the Marlins to stand behind Sanchez and not pursue other options such as Prince Fielder. To his credit, Sanchez has stated that he understood the pursuit of Pujols but he did admit to being relieved when the former St. Louis Cardinal signed elsewhere.
With that off-season drama behind him, Sanchez is ready to give the Marlins exactly what they have come to expect from him. A solid dependable bat in the middle of the lineup with potentially many more RBI opportunities this season. Batting ahead of him will be Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, and Hanley Ramirez to name a few. The chances to drive in runs should be there on many occasions and there’s no reason to doubt Sanchez can’t be an All-Star again.
Prediction: .276 AVG, .364 OBP, 20 HR, 87 RBI
Second Base – Omar Infante
One of the best moves the Marlins made this off-season went without much fanfare due to the wild off-season as a whole but it was just as important as any other signing. Infante was re-signed to a two year contract after being a crucial part of the team in 2011. His consistent play coupled with his defensive prowess transformed the Marlins’ infield in a tremendous way. Coming off multiple seasons with lackluster defense at second base, Infante was able to bring a new look and save runs for his pitchers on many occasions.
At the plate, Infante was no slouch in 2011 either despite lower production than his All-Star campaign a year earlier. Infante did enough at the plate and got his hits often at the biggest moments showing a true clutch ability. The second baseman moved around the lineup filling a variety of roles last season. In 2012, Infante will be asked to hit out of the seventh spot at least to begin the year with John Buck hitting behind him.
Prediction: .274 AVG .316 OBP 8 HR 52 RBI
Shortstop - Jose Reyes
Signing Reyes was a major move on two fronts for the Marlins. For one, they added the defending National League batting champion to the roster and in doing so, they also removed that same bat from a division rival. The New York Mets are not considered contenders in 2012 and a big reason for that is the loss of Reyes. The electrifying shortstop brings a lot to the park every day. Besides his ability to hit well above .300, he has shown a proficiency for stealing bases and can even supply a little power at times.
Reyes is a four time All-Star and while the Marlins of course already had an All-Star shortstop of their own, the opportunity to put together arguably the best left side of an infield in the history of baseball was impossible to pass up. The Marlins wanted Reyes so badly that they moved Hanley Ramirez to third in the process and risked angering their star player. In the end, things worked out great as Reyes and Ramirez have been inseparable this Spring according to reports. Heading into the season, Reyes will be asked to lead-off which is something he is very accustomed to.
Prediction: .311 AVG, .457 OBP, 14 HR, 53 RBI
Third Base – Hanley Ramirez
Easily the most intriguing storyline going into this season is how well Ramirez will handle his switch to third base. Despite early worries, it appears Ramirez has fully accepted the role but it is still a learning process. There will likely be some errors made — both physical and mental. The important part of the process will be how Ramirez handles those miscues and learns from them. With Reyes beside him at short, the transition should be a little smoother as Reyes will get to more balls than many other major league shortstops do.
Besides the defense, it will be interesting to see how Ramirez rebounds from a lackluster 2011. Last season’s issue were caused by an exceptionally slow start and an injured shoulder. With his shoulder completely recovered from all signs, Ramirez has shown a lightning quick bat this Spring. It would appear he is primed to not only improve on last year, but together one of his career best seasons in the process. In fact, it would not be much of a surprise if Ramirez walks away with the National League MVP Award this season.
Prediction: .332 AVG, .400 OBP 35 HR, 120 RBI
Right Field – Giancarlo Stanton
Don’t let the name fool you, this is the same phenom formerly known as Mike Stanton. The young slugger decided to go with his given name going forward in place of Mike which is a nickname. In his first full big league season, Stanton showed everything fans heard about him while he was in the minors. He led the team with 34 homeruns while also knocking in 87 runs. Stanton was the main part of the center of lineup especially with Hanley Ramirez’s troubles in 2011.
In 2012, Stanton will be in the middle of the lineup again and figures to see his statistics improve even more with an expected resurgence on Ramirez’ s part. Having Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio getting on base in front of him can only help as well. Not to mention, the fact Stanton will be more experienced now that he has nearly 900 major league at-bats under his belt.
Prediction: .281 AVG, .372 OBP, 40 HR, 125 RBI
Center Field – Emilio Bonifacio
In 2011, Bonifacio had his most active season amassing 565 at-bats while playing six different positions at points in the year. The only spots on the field Bonifacio didn’t seem time at were pitcher, catcher and first base. It was also Bonifacio’s most product season as he nearly hit .300 and swiped forty bases. The energy and production from Bonifacio ignited the rest of the lineup on many occasions.
Bonifacio will man center-field on a regular basis in 2012 but his versatility means he could move around to give Ozzie Guillen many options with his bench. No longer sitting atop the lineup, Bonifacio will hit out of the two spot to start the year. While this shouldn’t change his approach much, it’s likely the speedy center-fielder will see increased RBI chances.
Prediction: .284 AVG, .346 OBP, 4 HR, 51 RBI, 51 SB
Left Field – Logan Morrison
Last season was an up and down year for Morrison who was demoted to the minor leagues at one point. It was also LoMo’s first full season in the big leagues though he did deal with injury issues knocking his at-bat total down to 462. Off-season knee surgery led to him seeing less time in the field this Spring than normal but it appears that Morrison has now recovered from any lingering effects. The left-fielder saw an increase in power but he got on base a lot less overall
While Morrison is not a gold glove caliber outfielder, he’s done a fine job considering first base was the only position he manned during the majority of his career. Left field will be the spot Morrison will be asked to hold down again in 2012. The experience from 2011 should turn him into a better defensive player but it remains likely Guillen will replace Morrison late in games that the Marlins are ahead in.
Prediction: .287 AVG, .391 OBP, 21 HR, 95 RBI
Catcher – John Buck
Coming off an All-Star season in 2010, Buck experienced a down season last year. His power and run production totals were not that far off 2010 but Buck’s batting average took a substantial hit. A positive sign was a tremendous increase in walks which actually allowed Buck to have an improved on-base percentage despite the lower average in 2011.
In 2012 at least to begin the year, Buck will bat out of the eighth spot of the lineup. His improved batting eye will be needed even more as it’s likely that Buck will be pitched around during several at-bats with the pitcher waiting on deck. Another factor often overlooked is the new ballpark, it can be argued the park will have it’s greatest effect on Buck. Not starting games in high heat and humidity on a daily basis should allow Buck to stay energized and productive deep into the dog days of Summer.
Prediction: .253 AVG, .337 OBP, 19 HR, 61 RBI
Starting Rotation – Josh Johnson
2011 started out as a Cy Young contending season for Johnson and came to a sudden end in May when injury issues came up for the Marlins’ ace. Johnson at the time was expected to return at some point in the season but the injury lingered and eventually he was shut down for the season. In all, the right-hander made only nine starts last season. His loss is considered one of the biggest contributing factors to the last place finish for the team in 2011.
Expectations are high for Johnson once again in 2012 and a lot rests on his shoulders. If Johnson can avoid injury, he should be able to not only help keep the Marlins in contention but also contend for the Cy Young Award. There is no debating that Johnson is one of the elite arms in all of baseball when he is injury free.
Prediction: 19 Wins, 4 Losses, 2.14 E.R.A 1.14 WHIP 195 K
Starting Rotation – Mark Buehrle
After twelve years with the Chicago White Sox, the only team he’s known — Buehrle signed with the Marlins this past offseason. The veteran is a model of consistency year in and year out. Finding a reliable number two to pitch every five days behind Johnson was crucial for the Marlins and that’s exactly what Buehrle represents. On many teams, he’d easily be the ace of the staff as he was in Chicago.
If Johnson stays healthy, the Marlins are that much more formidable with Buehrle going next. If Johnson has an injury issue, while the team will take a hit — it may not be as dramatic of a hit as previous seasons. Buehrle allows the Marlins to still have an arm the team can rely on even without Johnson’s presence. In addition, his history with Guillen should make the transition smoother for him. Facing a National League lineup full of hitters unfamiliar with the veteran should also have a positive effect.
Prediction: 14 Wins 6 Losses, 3.34 ERA 1.23 WHIP, 112 K
Starting Rotation – Ricky Nolasco
Nolasco has been an interesting pitcher for the Marlins during his career. There are games where he looks like one of the best pitchers in baseball and then there are others where he doesn’t fool any opposing hitter. All major leaguers deal with off days, even the best but in Nolasco’s case it’s been more of a regular occurrence of inconsistency. At one time, viewed as a possible ace of the staff — Nolasco now finds himself third in the rotation but on a similar level to the four and five spots in the rotation.
During the Spring, Nolasco had a rough time posting a 5.47 ERA overall. A poor start against the Yankees in his final appearance inflated that number a bit but it was not a solid Spring for the right-hander even prior to that game. Nolasco allowed thirty hits in 24.2 innings pitched which is not far off his 2011 statistics.
Prediction: 10 wins 9 losses, 4.68 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
Starting Rotation – Carlos Zambrano
The trade that sent Chris Volstad to the Chicago Cubs for Zambrano received mixed reviews due to his on-field and off-the-field antics over the past few years. In the end though it is a low risk move with a potential high reward. The Cubs are footing most of the bill for Zambrano and while Volstad is still young — he had not taken advantage of several opportunities with the Marlins over the years.
In the past, Zambrano was one of the best pitchers in baseball and he’s still young enough to possibly reclaim some of that performance. In addition, Big Z came into camp this Spring in fantastic shape and with a good mindset. To top it off, he’s friends with Guillen and keeping Zambrano happy and calm is the biggest key to his success on the field. It’s likely Zambrano will have some struggled but it’s how he reacts to those struggles that will tell the story of his renewed career. The veteran walked a good deal of hitters especially in the latter part of Spring but he also piled up strikeouts along the way.
Prediction: 8 wins, 10 losses, 4.57 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 124 K
Starting Rotation – Anibal Sanchez
The fact Sanchez is in the fifth slot of the rotation to start the year is based on his late start to the Spring and not his performance. Due to a sore shoulder, Sanchez had to rest when the Grapefruit League opened. It is likely Sanchez would’ve been the third or fourth starter in the rotation without the injury. Entering his possible final season as a Marlin, the veteran should be a key cog in the rotation.
After injuries plagued Sanchez, he has been able to start 32 games in each of the last two seasons. Not only did he take the ball every five days but he did it with success posting E.R.A’s in the mid 3′s the last two years as well. The 196.1 innings pitched in 2011 was a career high for Sanchez, and it’s likely he will surpass the 200 inning mark in 2012 barring injury issues.
Prediction: 14 wins, 9 losses, 3.31 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 211 K
The Marlins already had one of the better bullpens in baseball but they made it even better heading into 2012. The biggest change is of course, the signing of Heath Bell who has compiled more saves than any other close in baseball over the past few seasons. Bell takes over a role previously held by Juan Oviedo aka Leo Núñez who may re-join the team later this year in a setup role. Oviedo frustrated his team and fans alike on many occasions with his inconsistent ability to close out games. The hope is Bell will give the Marlins their first lockdown closer in years.
Beyond Bell, the pen to start the year will consist of Randy Choate, Mike Dunn, Steve Cishek, Edward Mujica, Ryan Webb, and Chad Gaudin. To begin the year, Mujica will take the setup role. Choate will once again be primarily the situational lefty reliever although Guillen has said he plans to use the veteran at times against right-handed batters as well. Gaudin will serve a long relief role with the ability to go a few innings at a time if needed, in a similar way to Burke Badenhop in past seasons. Dunn, Cishek and Webb do not defined roles but should see time in the sixth and seven innings often as well as possible set-up work when Mujica needs a day off.
One of the most overlooked aspects of a baseball team is the bench. Many fans will look at the stars taking the field each night and believe the team will go as far as those players take them. The starters are of course the most important aspect of the offense due to the playing time they are involved in. However, without a good bench, a team simply cannot be championship caliber. Not only for injuries, but for late-inning pinch hits and for defensive replacements. To make it deep in October, it’s often the 24th and 25th men in the roster who provide the most pivotal moments.
Chris Coghlan is starting the year as a reserve outfielder after battling injuries the past two seasons. Since winning Rookie of the Year in 2009, it’s been a struggle for Coghlan to stay in the big leagues. In 2011, Coghlan ended the year in the minor leagues and did not receive a September call-up due to his lack of production. Coming into this Spring, it was widely believed Coghlan would be asked to open the year back in AAA but he won a spot in the final week of the Grapefruit League. During the Spring, Coghlan saw time at all three outfield positions and figures to do the same during the season giving Guillen more options.
Austin Kearns entered the Spring as a non-roster invitee and beat out Aaron Rowand for a roster spot even though Rowand was considered the favorite early on. Kearns led the team in run production during the Spring and should see time in the corner outfield spots as well as first base. Donnie Muprhy did not have the best of Springs and actually fared worse than Donovan Solano but Murphy won the roster spot as the reserve infielder to start the year. Murphy received the spot for his major league experience, guaranteed contract and also the need for Solano to see regular playing time in the minor leagues. Greg Dobbs signed a two year contract in the off-season to return as a left-handed bat off the bench. Dobbs will see time at first base and third base as well as possibly a little time in the outfield if needed. Brett Hayes rounds out the bench returning as the back-up to Buck at the plate. Hayes did a fine job in the role in 2011 and should benefit from the air conditioning in the new ballpark when Summer rolls around.
There are two wild-cards in the National League this year for the first time which improves Miami’s chances of landing a post-season slot. It’s tough to look past the Phillies even with their lineup issues as they still have a very formidable rotation. In the East division, the Washington Nationals have improved immensely while the Atlanta Braves remain a very competitive team. Barring injuries, it’s possible the Marlins have the best lineup in the division. The rotation could be second best only to the Phillies if they can stay healthy as well. It’s possible the Marlins could overtake the division but it’d require everything falling into place.
The Marlins will win 94 games in 2012 and in some divisions, that could be enough to win the division. However in the N.L. East, it’ll fall short of the Phillies who will win the division. The Marlins will however grab the top wild-card spot giving them home-field in the new wild-card play-off game. How far the team goes after that will depend greatly on who the other wild-card is and which pitcher is lined up to throw for both teams. In a single elimination game, anything can happen but it promises to be a very exciting day for baseball fans as a whole.
Record: 94-68 (Wild-Card)
Awards: Hanley Ramirez (NL MVP), Mark Buehrle (Gold Glove), Omar Infante (Gold Glove)
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