Spring Postcard: Expect the Marlins to be dangerous once again
Florida is expecting big things from young pitchers like Ricky Nolasco
Cameon Maybin, 22, has impressed by cutting down on his strikeouts
The Marlins have the reigning NL Rookie of the Year in Chris Coghlan
This spring, SI.com writers are filing postcards from all 30 major league spring training camps. To read all the postcards, click here.
1. The Marlins are dangerous...
... as they always seem to be. Still, the Fish haven't been to the postseason since 2003, their most recent world championship season. GM Larry Beinfest sees them returning to the promised land with improved starting pitching. "Offensively, we're going to score runs," he says of his club, which won 87 games last year thanks in large part to an offense that ranked in the league's top five in runs scored, team average, and on-base percentage. "The way we're going to get to 90 wins and play in October is with starting pitching. It's an area that let us down a year ago." Beinfest sees ace Josh Johnson having another strong year after going 15-5 with a 3.23 ERA and Ricky Nolasco establishing himself as a frontline starter. "We're relying on them to have a legitimate front end of the rotation," says the GM. "We need Ricky to be who he was over the second half. We need other guys to step forward -- guys like Chris Volstad, Anibal Sanchez, Rick VandenHurk, Sean West. Now they've been in the big leagues a couple years, it's time for them to take the next step."
2. Cameron Maybin's time has come, too
The Marlins offense was good last year but can reach a new level with a breakout year from their dynamic 22-year-old center fielder. The big hurdle for Maybin is cutting down his strikeouts -- he won the starting job in center field coming out of spring training last year but after just 26 games (during which he struck out 31 times in 95 plate appearances) was demoted to New Orleans. Maybin has looked good this spring, and entering the season he has the job again and is slotted second in the order behind Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan and NL MVP-runner up Hanley Ramirez. "Cameron showed in improvement with his discipline and pitch recognition in the minors and in September [when he was called up]," says Beinfest. "Something that really stood out was that he wasn't going after pitches in the dirt anymore. He's still a young kid, but I think he's ready to step up."
3. Future is bright for the Fish
They signed their best pitcher, Johnson, to a four-year, $39 million contract in January. Their best offensive player, Ramirez, is locked up until 2014. With a new ballpark on the away in 2012, the days of the Marlins building winners only to tear them down is over. This is a team that is positioning itself well in the NL East, with a lot of young talent at its core. "They always do well, but on a shoestring budget," says an NL GM. "It's a little scary to think about what they can do with a little money in their pockets."
Prospect Creating A Buzz
Stanton, Baseball America's third-rated prospect, was sent down to the minors earlier this week, but make no mistake: Florida's top prospect was one of the stars in Marlins camp this spring. In 24 at-bats he ripped three home runs, drove in eight runs and hit .333 before hyperextending his left elbow when he homered off the Minnesota's Francisco Liriano on March 15. "Very impressive," says a scout. "Great understanding of the strike zone. He just needs more at bats, but he'll be making an impact soon."
First Base: Gaby Sanchez vs. Logan Morrison
The battle at first base will go down to the wire, with the Marlins choosing between Sanchez and Morrison, 20th on Baseball America's list of prospects. The edge now goes to Sanchez, a former University of Miami standout who has enjoyed the better spring. Beinfest says "Gaby has swung the bat very well," but is also clearly very high on Morrison. "Logan is a big strong guy, a special kid," says Beinfest. "He's also a natural leader -- his makeup is special."
The right-hander dropped 30 pounds this offseason (former NBA star John Salley turned him on to a new diet) and looks poised for a comeback season after an injury plagued 2009. Sanchez is a key player for the Marlins, who need a strong No. 3 starter behind Johnson and Nolasco. "Anibal showed in 2006 he can be that guy," Beinfest says about Sanchez's breakout rookie season. "He's healthy now, and not being as cautious because of his shoulder. He could be big for us."
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