“You get chances you wouldn’t normally.”
He has done little to prove that he is ready to pitch above Double A. His 13 starts for Detroit last summer -- 39 walks and a 5.63 ERA in 64 innings -- were unimpressive. His delivery, even he would admit, is a major work in progress. Yet the moment he got the call that he had been acquired by the Marlins in the eight-player trade that sent All-Star third baseman Miguel Cabrera and lefthanded ace Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers, 22-year-old Andrew Miller knew he had just become a key part of a major league rotation.
"I don't know that I deserve it," says the baby-faced lefthander, "but the reality is, [with Florida] you get chances you wouldn't normally."
The reality for the Marlins, coming off a season in which they finished last in the NL East for the first time in eight years, is that things are going to get even worse before they get better. There certainly won't be an improbable run like there was in '06, when the youngest and cheapest team in the majors was within two games of the wild-card lead in mid-September. Not with a rotation that is anchored by Miller, as well as the pitcher who had the highest ERA among NL starters last year (lefthander Scott Olsen) and a 33-year-old journeyman with a 43-55 career record (lefthander Mark Hendrickson).
Armed with a mid-90s fastball and killer slider, Miller -- the Tigers' first-round draft choice out of North Carolina in 2006 -- undoubtedly has the tools to be a future ace, but at 6' 6" he's had difficulty throwing from a consistent arm slot and maintaining his command. "He needs a full year in Triple A," says one scout, noting Miller's rise from Class A to the majors last year, including only two starts at Triple A Toledo. "You worry that what the Marlins are doing is detrimental to his development."
In return for Cabrera and Willis, Florida also received centerfield prospect Cameron Maybin, backup catcher Mike Rabelo and minor league pitchers Eulogio De La Cruz, Dallas Trahern and Burke Badenhop -- none of whom are major league ready, and yet all may see significant playing time with Florida this season. Besides shedding payroll, the trade of Cabrera should also improve the atmosphere in the clubhouse, where, team officials were concerned, his often-lackadaisical work ethic was a negative influence. "[Cabrera] talked about how he wanted to be Albert Pujols," says a team source, "but he had the attitude of Manny Ramirez."
Florida still has one young star, 24-year-old shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who tops a lineup that was surprisingly potent after the All-Star break, when it ranked third in the league in home runs (101) and on-base percentage plus slugging (.808), and tied for fifth in runs per game (5.01). But for a team building for the future, the Marlins' core includes players such as 27-year-old first baseman Mike Jacobs, 28-year-old second baseman Dan Uggla and 29-year-old leftfielder Josh Willingham, all of whom hit below .270 last season and are already in their prime, not blossoming stars.
About the only good news to come out of South Florida this spring was the progress made toward the completion of a deal with Miami-Dade County and Miami commissioners to build a $515 million, retractable-roof stadium at the site of the Orange Bowl in time for the 2011 season. "Until then, not much will change," says president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest. "We're going to develop our own players and run a reasonable payroll, a payroll that will start to evolve when the revenue structure changes as we get to the building opening. We have good young players. We need to get them ready, and we'll see what we look like when we enter the new ballpark."
When you consider what this year's Marlins look like, 2011 couldn't seem further away. -- Albert Chen
Issue date: March 31, 2008