The Florida Marlins finished the 2010 season with an 80-82 record. That was good for 3rd place in the NL East and put them 11 games out of the wildcard race. They are loaded with young talent and closer to playoff contention than most folks might think. They have a premiere shortstop who is just entering the prime of his career and a fireballing young pitcher who has Cy Young stuff.
The Marlins will move into their new 37,000 seat stadium complete with a retractable roof in 2012. However, they don’t plan on waiting until then to contend. The pieces are in place for them to push their win total up towards 90. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria recently declared that Florida had the best starting five (Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Javier Vazquez, and Chris Volstad) in all of baseball. I agree that they do have a really good staff, but teams in Philly, San Francisco, and Boston might have something to say about whose rotation is the best. In order for Loria’s declaration to mean anything other than an owner blowing hot air, this impressive young staff has to guide the fish to the top of the NL East standings.
Best case scenario: In a perfect world the Marlins revamped bullpen will become a position of strength. Combine that with the outstanding starting pitching they have and it will give Florida some of the best pitching in the NL. Hanley Ramirez returns to his elite form and is bolstered by an up and coming outfield of Mike Stanton, Chris Coghlan, and Logan Morrison. If things play out just right the Marlins could contend for a wildcard.
Most valuable player: Hanley Ramirez is the single most important player on this team. He has the ability to be one of the top players in all of baseball. He suffered through some growing pains last year and the Marlins need him back on track if they hope to achieve the best case scenario. A strong case can be made for Josh Johnson as the team’s most valuable player. They need him to anchor their rotation and losing him to injury again would be a crushing blow.
Potential breakout players: Mike Stanton is a streaky power hitter who ended last season with 22 bombs in 359 at bats. He has all the tools to become an elite slugger and run producer. He must develop some consistency. Keep an eye on prospect Matt Dominguez. He is an excellent defensive third basemen, but carries a rather light stick with him to the plate.
Worst case scenario: HanRam takes another step backwards and the bullpen struggles. Stanton suffers through a sophomore slump and new catcher John Buck struggles hitting at the cavernous Sun Life Stadium.
Biggest area of concern: Did the Marlins do enough during the offseason to solidify a shaky bullpen? They made 3 separate trades that netted Edward Mujica, Mike Dunn, and Dustin Richardson. Florida also signed free agent Randy Choate. It looks like a significant upgrade to the pen that will still be anchored by closer Leo Nunez. Another spot to keep an eye on is centerfield where Chris Coghlan will take over for the departed Cameron Maybin. Coghlan, the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year, is a highly talented player, but has never patrolled centerfield before.
Player who needs to rebound from a down 2010: Hanley Ramirez hit .300 with 21 homers, 76 RBI and 32 steals. For most shortstops that would be outstanding. However, his average was down 42 points from 2009 and he drove in 30 less runs. Not to mention the episode with former manager Fredi Gonzalez. For this team to flourish, Ramirez has to establish himself as the premiere player we all know he can be.
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