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Florida Marlins
Team Page | Roster | Spring Training Schedule | Regular Season Schedule
On this page: Arrivals | Departures | Spring Cleaning | Team Breakdown | Prospects | Predictions


   Preston Wilson can use spring training to work on cutting down his strikeouts. Al Bello/Allsport

By Jacob Luft, CNNSI.com

The 2000 Florida Marlins featured the major league leaders in saves (Antonio Alfonseca) and stolen bases (Luis Castillo). They had the game's only 30/30 player in Preston Wilson.

For the second consecutive season, they improved their win total by double digits, going from 54-108 in 1998 to 64-98 in '99 and 79-83 last season. Only one other NL team in the past 50 years has done the same -- the '68-69 Mets.

If the Marlins can improve by double digits again in 2001, they would be in the thick of the NL wild-card race. They would also become only the third team since 1900 to improve by at least 10 wins in three consecutive seasons, joining the 1902-04 Cubs and 1907-09 Red Sox.

As bizarre as that scenario may sound, consider that Florida established itself as the legitimate third-place team in the NL East last year and even split its season series with the first-place Braves and wild-card Mets.

Hoping to help the Marlins return to the postseason is their '97 World Series catcher and first draft pick, Charles Johnson, who signed a five-year, $35 million contract in the offseason. That deal, combined with a slew of arbitration cases, has increased the Marlins' payroll from $19 million in 2000 to more than $30 million this season.

The Marlins delving into the free-agent market at all represents a major turnaround from the previous two seasons, when they dumped All-Stars such as Kevin Brown and Gary Sheffield during a post-World Series firesale.
 
Top Guns
Marlins 2000 team leaders
Avg.  Luis Castillo  .334 
HR  Preston Wilson  31 
RBIs  Preston Wilson  121 
SB  Luis Castillo  62 
Wins  Ryan Dempster  14 
ERA  Chuck Smith  3.23 
Ks  Ryan Dempster  209 
Saves  Antonio Alfonseca  45 
 
Go Figure

17

RBIs by Luis Castillo despite a .334 batting average. He hit .380 with the bases empty but .217 with runners on.
 
 

But general manager Dave Dombrowski did a masterful job of restocking the team's talent base while cutting payroll. With one of the game's deepest farm systems, the Marlins will have plenty of ammunition at the trading deadline to address their various needs.

The biggest obstacle Florida has to overcome is a lack of offensive punch, but the addition of Johnson goes a long way toward addressing that need. Marlins catchers hit a measly two home runs last season in 527 at-bats. Johnson is coming off a career year in which he blasted 31 homers for the Orioles and White Sox.

The Marlins' 160 home runs ranked 14th in the NL and they were 15th in runs scored with 731. The onus to improve those numbers will fall on light-hitting right fielder Mark Kotsay (12 HR in 530 at-bats) and former All-Star shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who finished 2000 at the Mendoza line.

On the mound, Alex Fernandez is their most experienced pitcher but won't be counted on to come back from a series of shoulder injuries. Instead, the load will fall on All-Star Ryan Dempster and promising youngsters Brad Penny and A.J. Burnett. Longtime minor leaguer Chuck Smith was a revelation last year with 118 strikeouts in 122 2/3 innings and a 3.23 ERA.

The bullpen will be a major asset for the young rotation, with hard-throwing relievers Braden Looper, Armando Almanza, Dan Miceli and Alfonseca comprising one of the best units in the league.

For more on the Marlins, bookmark this page and check back Wed., March 21 for a Sports Illustrated Scouting Report.


Arrivals
Pos.  Player  From  Via 
Charles Johnson  White Sox  Free agency 
OF  Jeff Abbott  White Sox  Trade 
OF  Rich Becker  Tigers  Free agency 
OF  Chad Mottola  Blue Jays  Trade 
RHP  Mark Roberts  White Sox  Trade 

Departures
Pos.  Player  To  Via 
INF  Amaury Garcia  White Sox  Trade 
OF  Julio Ramirez  White Sox  Trade 
OF  Henry Rodriguez  TBA  Free agency 

Spring Cleaning
 
Alex Gonzalez
  • The first problem the Marlins must address is their shortstop situation. Gonzalez batted .291 in being named to the 1999 All-Star Game, but immediately went into the tank afterward, hitting .219 (133-for-605) in the past 1 1/2 seasons. Manager John Boles' insistence on batting Gonzalez in the No. 2 spot much of last season crippled the offense. Boles isn't willing to go through that again but his best alternative, Kotsay, is far from a prototypical No. 2 man.

  • The only player who panned out from the Kevin Brown trade, Derrek Lee, came perilously close to becoming a major league bust before turning his career around by hitting 28 home runs last season. His batting average jumped to a respectable .281 from .206 in '99. Now Lee has to continue tapping into his considerable physical skills or risk a repeat of last spring, when backup Kevin Millar won the first base job.

  • Right-hander Vladimir Nuñez, a Cuban defector, hasn't tasted any of the success of a Livan or Orlando Hernandez. Instead he has developed a reputation for being difficult to coach while posting an unsightly 7.90 ERA and 0-6 record in 2000. He needs to get his mechanics straightened out or risk a return trip to the minors.

  • Team Breakdown
    Projected Lineup  Projected Rotation 
    2B  Luis Castillo  RHP  Ryan Dempster 
    SS  Alex Gonzalez/RF Mark Kotsay  RHP  Brad Penny 
    LF  Cliff Floyd  RHP  Chuck Smith 
    CF  Preston Wilson  RHP  A.J. Burnett 
    3B  Mike Lowell  LHP  Jesus Sanchez 
    1B  Derrek Lee  Bullpen  
    Charles Johnson  RHP  Antonio Alfonseca (closer) 
    RF  Mark Kotsay/SS Alex Gonzalez  RHP  Dan Miceli 
    Key Reserves   LHP  Armando Almanza 
    INF  Kevin Millar  RHP  Braden Looper 
    INF  Dave Berg  LHP  Vic Darensbourg 
    OF  Jeff Abbott  RHP  Manny Aybar 
    INF  Andy Fox  RHP  Vladimir Nuñez 

    Prospects to Watch
  • 2B Pablo Ozuna -- This speedster will start the year at the Class AAA level if not the majors. After hitting .308 with 35 steals in Class AA last season, he needs to bring his defensive skills up to the next level.

  • RHP Josh Beckett -- The second pick in the '99 draft, he has the dominating fastball and nasty curve to become the next Kerry Wood. He is still in Class A and is at least a year or two away from the big leagues if he stays healthy.

  • OF Abraham Nuñez -- Florida pried this top prospect away from Arizona in the Matt Mantei deal. Nuñez has speed and a sweet swing from both sides of the plate. He played well at Class AA last season, hitting .276 with six home runs and 42 RBIs in 221 at-bats.

  • 1B Adrian Gonzalez -- The first pick of the 2000 draft, he already has shown an impressive batting eye and smooth left-handed swing. He'll move up from rookie ball to Class A this year.

  • OF Chip Ambres -- A former first-round pick who could develop into a solid center fielder in a few years. He's got good speed and a developing bat but not much of an arm. He will still be in the lower-to-mid minor leagues this season.

  • Best-Case Scenario
    On a sun-splashed day at city hall, the Marlins and the city of Miami announce the imminent construction of a retractable-roof stadium.

    The players celebrate the lucky twist of fate by pounding the Mets 10-0 as Fernandez throws six scoreless innings.

    The addition of Fernandez to the rotation, combined with the added power supplied by Johnson and surprisingly resurgent Gonzalez make the Fish a real contender in the NL East. On the last day of the season, Johnson hits the game-winning home run to send Florida into the playoffs.

    Inside the jubilant locker room, Boles boldly declares, "Marlins happy, Miami happy, Cuba happy."

    Worst-Case Scenario
    The stadium deal crumbles as Miami Herald investigators get the scoop on yet another scandal-ridden project orchestrated by the city of Miami. After all, this is the city where most elections are decided by how many dead people vote.

    Trouble brews in the stands as well. The Marlins, who have twice lost million-dollar lawsuits filed by fans hit by baseballs and are being sued again by someone claiming to have been hit by a flying T-shirt, stage a promotion called "Teen Pop Ensemble Demolition Night." Fans are invited to bring in their various Backstreet Boys/N'Sync CDs and have them blown up in center field after the game. The ensuing chaos results in another flurry of lawsuits for the financially depleted Fish.

    A firesale ensues, with third baseman Mike Lowell dealt to the Yankees in exchange for a box of illegal Cuban cigars and box seats to the World Series. Wilson ends up in a Mets uniform as he obliterates Bobby Bonds' single-season strikeout record of 189. Meanwhile, fragile outfielder Cliff Floyd spends the entire season on injured reserve while Castillo becomes the first player to bat .350 with less than 10 RBIs.

    At the end of the season, owner John Henry announces the team has been sold to CBS, which will then give the Marlins away to the grand prize winner of Survivor 3: Siberian Gulag.

    Bottom Line
    The Marlins can finish above .500 if they stay away from major injuries and the young players continue to develop. Despite early optimism, the wild card will be well out of reach by August, if not July.



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