Insider: Marlins poised to make some noise
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In yesterday’s post, Sun-Sentinel sportswriter Juan C. Rodriguez gave us a glimpse into the life of a beat reporter for the Florida Marlins. In part two of our conversation, he offers insight into the Marlins’ chances in 2011.
TTFB: Defense has been a concern over the past several seasons, but it looks like the tide is changing. How much of an impact will the return of coach Perry Hill have on the team?
The main problem, in all honesty, is the Marlins didn’t have great defensive players. They weren’t a bad defensive team due to a lack of effort. Far from it. They probably took pre-game infield more than any team in baseball during the regular season. Ideally, you get the fundamentals down during spring training and you have infield practice once a week or every 10 days during the season. The Marlins, on the other hand, were taking formal infield practice before every home game. There’s no doubt, they worked hard. Fact is, they were as good as they were going to get defensively. After last season, the Marlins brass said, “Hey, we’ve been talking about emphasizing pitching and defense, so let’s get the personnel in here that will make it work.” So, they go out and get Omar Infante, an above-average defender, to play second. They know Matt Dominguez may struggle offensively, but they are willing to live with that given the superior defense he provides at third base. When you start putting quality defenders on the field, the players around them get better. Hanley Ramirez may improve, too, now that he has two really good defenders surrounding him. And the acquisition of catcher John Buck was made with an eye toward improving the defense, as well as getting a guy back there who works well with the pitchers. The Marlins are finally making the moves to get better defensively. Pitching and defense was the formula that won it for them in 2003, and that’s what they’re trying to get back to.
TTFB: But this team isn’t just about pitching and defense. There are some pretty big bats, too.
Definitely. When they traded Dan Uggla, fans were wondering how they would replace those 30 to 35 home runs. But look at who is in the line up now. First, Mike Stanton. I won’t be surprised if he leads the league in home runs within the next few years. He’s an absolute beast the way he crushes baseballs. He’s a potential 40-plus homer guy. Logan Morrison is definitely built to hit homers. He’s not quite an all-or-nothing guy like Stanton; he’s a very patient hitter who will muscle out 15-20 homers initially, with the capability to hit even more down the road. Gaby Sanchez came to camp in better shape and looks much stronger this spring. After hitting 19 homers last year, it’s not a stretch to see him hit 20 or more this year. And then there’s Hanley, who is capable of hitting 30 home runs. All of these guys benefit by having good table setters at the top of the lineup in Infante and Chris Coghlan, who get on base consistently and are capable of hitting 15 or so homers, too.
TTFB: Power, pitching and defense are ingredients for an elite team. Given how young the Marlins are, is this a perennial playoff contender in the making?
It’s certainly possible. A lot will depend on the rotation. Josh Johnson is a legitimate All-Star ace, and he’s locked up for the next few seasons. In the off season, they signed Ricky Nolasco to a three-year extension. He’s the guy who maybe hasn’t put it all together yet, but as far as pure stuff, he’s phenomenal. Great strike thrower. I really love watching him pitch because he’s always around the zone. Most guys throw 63% to 65% strikes, but Ricky is generally around the 70% mark, sometimes higher. He has so many ways to come at you, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he has an 18-win season in his future. Signing Javier Vazquez is significant, too, because the Marlins have lacked veteran presence in the rotation the past few seasons. The depth you add by getting someone like Vasquez can’t be understated. In addition to allowing younger starters to develop in triple-A versus the big leagues, it helps preserve the bullpen. Having another starter capable of delivering 175 innings will keep the bullpen fresh and help the entire staff in the long run.
TTFB: What are your thoughts about Chris Volstad? He has all the tools, but it’s a matter of consistency with his sinker.
Interesting case. When he came up, the heavy sinker got him a ton of ground balls. But for whatever reason, his ground-ball rate got worse over the last few years. He’s not getting guys to pound the ball into the ground like he used to. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens if he can’t rely on the sinker. How effective will the rest of his pitches be? But you’re right; he has the tools and the potential. He was a first-round pick for a reason. If they can get 160-plus innings from his spot in the rotation, it will be a good sign.
TTFB: With two weeks to go, what has been the biggest surprise so far this spring?
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