MLB Preview: Miami Marlins

With baseball season fast approaching, it is time for TheWaiverWire’s inaugural Baseball Preview package. We will look at every division in baseball, starting in the American League and moving from East to West by division. Also, we each team by who will finish last to first. So, the first team you read about from each division is in the basement, and the last is who we determine to win the division.

National League East

Second Place – Miami Marlins

Third Place – Atlanta Braves (read season preview here)

Fourth Place – Washington Nationals (read season preview here)

Fifth Place - New York Mets (read season preview here)

Starting Line-Up - 

Catcher: John Buck (31) – 140 games, .227/.316/.367 16HR 57RBI

First Base: Gaby Sanchez (28) – 159 games, .266/.352/.427 19HR 78RBI – 2011 All-Star

Second Base: Omar Infante (30) – 148 games, .275/.315/.382 7HR 49RBI

Shortstop: Jose Reyes (28) – 126 games, .337/.384/.493 7HR 44RBI – 2011 All-Star, 11th in National League MVP Voting (with New York Mets)

Third Base: Hanley Ramirez (28) – 92 games, .243/.33/.379 10HR 45RBI

Left Field: Logan Morrison (24) – 123 games, .247/.330/.468 23HR 72RBI

Center Field: Emilio Bonifacio (26) – 152 games, .296/.360/.393 5HR 36RBI

Right Field: Mike Giancarlo Stanton (22) – 150 games, .262/.356/.537 34HR 87RBI – 23rd in National League MVP Voting

The Good News…

On paper, with all the injuries the Philadelphia Phillies have already suffered, this team boasts the most complete offensive attack in the National League East. In fact, their line-up is so deep, that the only thing keeping them from being the pre-season pick to win the division is that you have to beat the champ (the Phillies for the last five years) to be the champs. 

Jose Reyes enjoyed arguably his best offensive season in his New York Mets career last season, and is now firmly entrenched in the prime of his career. At the top of a batting order, Reyes does a lot of things that no other player in the Major Leagues can do. As a Mets fan, I got to personally enjoy day in and day out the energy he comes to the field with every game. The game slows down when he gets on base because it truly is only a matter of time until he breaks for second or third. Citi Field provided Reyes an alleyway for triples, so we’ll have to see how those numbers rise or fall playing away from New York for 81 games a year. But, the dude can fly, he plays a Gold Glove caliber defense and he’ll score 100+ runs. Yeah, not a bad off-season haul for the Fish. (I just made myself really sad). 

Though 2011 was a struggle, Hanley is still one of the best hitters in baseball

You may have forgotten last season due to all the off-field drama and injuries, but Hanley Ramirez is still one of the premiere hitters in the league. The Marlins now boast two of the last three batting champions between Ramirez and Reyes. And, they finally get to move Ramirez off of shortstop, where he truly was a black hole defensively. Also, Ozzie Guillen will be able to hit Hanley in the middle of the order as opposed to lead-off, where his power isn’t best utilized. Moving his bat to the third spot and taking him away from shortstop are both major additions to the Marlins line-up without having to import another bat besides Reyes.

And who’s going to enjoy Reyes and Ramirez hitting in front of him the most? That’s the Marlins right fielder, who also has been with this team the last two years even though his name has changed. Now, I don’t know why Giancarlo Stanton doesn’t want to be called Mike anymore. What I do know is that he has a legitimate shot at 50+ home runs and 120+ RBI hitting in this line-up. Oh, and he’s only 22. Put aside the two proven stars on this team in Reyes and Ramirez. If you want to buy into Marlins stock, it should be because of the future ahead of Mike Stanton. He has a Vladimir Guerrero-esque cannon attached to his right shoulder. There is no ballpark too big for his raw power. Should his bullet line drives sink a little faster in the outfield and raise his batting average to the .280ish area, you’re looking at a potential league MVP. That’s how good this guy can be, and he may be the difference between the Marlins and every other team in the league.

I just want to add in quickly how much I fear Gaby Sanchez as a Mets fan. I don’t know why or how the Mets find random players on division rivals to make their lives living hell, but there is no hitter in the entire East that scares me quite like Gaby Sanchez. I feel that every time the Mets face off with the Fish, Sanchez goes 2-for-3 with a double, RBI and a walk. I mean, he hits .358/.418/.620 against the Mets. That’s by far his best numbers against any team he’s ever faced. I mean, what is it? He’s hit .269/.346/.440 in his career. How is he so deadly against just the Mets?? I have no idea. All I know is, he terrifies me. To the bone. 

The Bad News…

I started off the good news for the Marlins with the term “on paper”. And its true, on paper, they’re fantastic. And its true, with all the injuries the Phillies already have, the Marlins have to be a step ahead of them offensively. But, there’s a funny thing about paper and real life: they don’t tend to translate so smoothly.

I loved Reyes in NY, but it's a matter of when, not if, for his next injury

For starters, as a die hard Mets fan, I’m very familiar with what Jose Reyes can provide for your offense. I just gushed about it a few paragraphs ago. You know this, because you read it. Also as a Mets fan, that means I’m very familiar with all the ticky tacky injuries that land Reyes on the DL for what feel like months at a time. Before writing this post, I went back and reflected, again, on Reyes’ career with my Mets confidant Ted Youngling. We discussed again how we’d miss his attitude and fire, but then we looked at his numbers. When he was on the field, he was great. But, in what may be characterized as his most complete season, he still missed 36 games due to injury. The year before? 29. The year before that? 126. Look, he’s been in the league 9 years. Only 4 times, 2005-2008, has he played 150+ games. I know labeling someone “injury prone” could be unfair and doesn’t necessarily mean he will get injured next all. But, you can’t convince me that Reyes will make it through 2012 unscathed. Won’t happen.

Reyes’ injuries are one concern, the other has to be massive egos that make up this clubhouse. Hanley Ramirez nearly forced his way out of Miami with the news of Reyes coming to town and playing shortstop. Think about that, one of the best all-around hitters in the league didn’t want to play with one of the best lead-off hitters in the game because he felt his turf was getting challenged. Unbelievable.

Oh, and there’s the whole Ozzie Guillen thing in the clubhouse. To call him volatile would be, well, an understatement. I feel as though its only a matter of time until Ozzie and Logan Morrison engage in a lengthy twitter feud about playing time. Seriously. This is a realistic possibility with the Marlins this season. How outrageous is that.

Starting Rotation –

Ace: Josh Johnson, RHP (28) – 9 starts, 3-1, 1.64ERA, 60.1 IP, 56 Ks, 20 walks, 0.98 WHIP

#2: Mark Buerhle, LHP (33) – 31 starts, 13-9, 3.59ERA, 205.1 IP, 109 Ks, 45 walks, 1.30 WHIP – Gold Glove (with Chicago White Sox)

#3: Ricky Nolasco, RHP (29) – 33 starts, 10-12, 4.67ERA, 206.0 IP, 148 Ks, 44 walks, 1.40 WHIP

#4: Anibal Sanchez, RHP (28) – 32 starts, 8-9, 3.67ERA, 196.1 IP, 202 Ks, 64 walks, 1.28 WHIP

#5: Carlos Zambrano, RHP (30) – 24 starts, 9-7, 4.82ERA, 145.2 IP, 101 Ks, 56 walks, 1.44 WHIP (with Chicago Cubs)

The Good News…

Is Johnson the best pitcher in the NL?

I think a very good and strong argument can be made that, when healthy, there is no better pitcher in baseball than Josh Johnson, and certainly no better pitcher in the National League. Yes, I understand he pitches in the same league as Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum, among others, but Johnson is the total package when it comes to aces. He has a power fastball with dominant off-speed pitches that keep hitters so off balance that they have no idea what to prepare for first. He churns through line-ups as if they were little leaguers. He’s only gotten better the more he faces Major League competition, which is a rare quality for any pitcher to have. The Marlins have as close to a guaranteed win every fifth day as any team in baseball with Johnson topping the rotation.

The Marlins were awfully busy signing marquee free agents in the off-season, and while they would’ve loved to add C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle is no bum. In fact, taking Buerhle from the offensive-minded American League and into the much more strategic-orientated offenses of the National League will benefit him more than other pitchers. He works incredibly quick, efficient and plays a superior defense when on the rubber. All the traits are critical to having success in the NL. Add in the fact that he will have the edge over opposing hitters now seeing him for the first time, and Buerhle could enjoy one of his best seasons as a Major Leaguer, and he’s already proven to be an All-Star quality pitcher for a depleted Chicago White Sox team last year. His signing added critical depth to the Marlins starting rotation, especially considering the rotations boasted by the Phillies, Braves and Nationals.

No pitcher will benefit more from Buerhle adding rotational depth than Anibal Sanchez. Sanchez has quietly become one of the more effective pitchers in the National League. He doesn’t have the same hype as Johnson and isn’t talked about as much as someone like Ricky Nolasco, but he’s a borderline All-Star when all of his pitches are working. Being able to work further down the rotational ladder will only help his superficial numbers and might bring him back into discussion for baseball fans.

The Bad News…

Its never good to preface a paragraph about how good someone can be with “if he can stay healthy”. Only once in his short, but brilliant Major League career has Johnson started over 30 games, and only twice has he gone as high as 25. My comment about Johnson arguably being the best pitcher in the league is viewed as fantastical purely because, unlike the aforementioned pitchers above, he can’t stay healthy. When he is on the mound, there’s nobody better. But, being on the mound has been a problem throughout his career. If the Marlins want to prove that they’re more than just talk, Josh Johnson’s health is priority number 1.

This is gonna be fun to watch...

Oh, and speaking of clashing personalities, who in their right mind thought pairing Ozzie Guillen with Carlos Zambrano was a genius idea? I mean, seriously. Outside of Milton Bradley, has there been anyone that acts more irrationally in a Major League dugout than Zambrano? Things hit a new low last year when, after a miserable start in August, Zambrano announced his retirement. He retired! For a day! You want to try and pull something like that with Ozzie walking around? I think we’re on the verge of a bench clearing brawl…on the bench. Between Hanley’s diva-status, Zambrano’s insane asylum and Ozzie being Ozzie, if HBO were ever to do a “Hard Knocks” for a baseball team, how would they not stick cameras in the Marlins dugout?

Bench –

C Brett Hayes (28) – 64 games, .231/.291/.415 5HR 16RBI

OF Chris Coghlan (26) – 65 games, .230/.296/.368 5HR 22RBI

IF Greg Dobbs (33) – 134 games, .275/.311/.389 8HR 49RBI

UTIL Donnie Murphy (29) – 36 games, .185/.240/.315 2HR 9RBI

OF Bryan Peterson (25) – 74 games, .265/.357/.387 2HR 10RBI

The Skinny…

There is good balance on this bench that I like. Coghlan is a former Rookie of the Year that has blazing speed and can play all three outfield spots. But, he has struggled since a freak knee injury two years ago, and Emilio Bonifacio seems to have passed him on the Marlins depth chart. Off the bench, though, you have to love the value you’re getting with Coghlan.

If I’m an opposing manager, I do not want to see Greg Dobbs grabbing a helmet late in the game as the potential tying or go-ahead run. He is a killer bat off the bench who has come up huge in the clutch time and time again. If an award was given out annually to the most dangerous pinch hitter in the Majors each year, people would have to try and wrestle it from the hands of Dobbs. Personally, I hate him whenever I see him walk to the plate against the Mets.

Bullpen –

Closer: Heath Bell, RHP (34) – 64 games, 62.2 IP, 2.44ERA, 43 saves, 7.3 K/9, 21 walks, 1.15 WHIP - 2011 All-Star (with San Diego Padres)

8th Inning Reliever: Edward Mujica, RHP (28) – 67 games, 76.0 IP, 2.96ERA, 7.5 K/9, 14 walks, 1.03 WHIP

Middle Reliever: Mike Dunn, LHP (26) - 72 games, 63.0 IP, 3.43ERA, 9.7 K/9, 31 walks, 1.30 WHIP

Middle Reliever: Randy Choate, LHP (36) – 54 games, 24.2 IP, 1.82ERA, 11.3 K/9, 13 walks, 1.05 WHIP

Middle Reliever: Steve Cishek, RHP (25) – 45 games, 54.2 IP, 2.63ERA, 3 saves, 9.1 K/9, 19 walks, 1.17 WHIP

Middle Reliever: Ryan Webb, RHP (26) – 53 games, 50.2 IP, 3.20ERA, 5.5 K/9, 20 walks, 1.34 WHIP

The Skinny…

Save Heath Bell! Bell, along with Reyes and Buerhle, was one of the Marlins big-name free agent signings the team hopes can make them into a contender right now. There’s nothing about Bell’s game that really separates him from the crowd or makes him elite, but he continues to go to the mound and get Major League hitters out, racking up huge save numbers. You know exactly what you’re going to get from Bell day in and day out, which is a luxury when you think about how tenuous the position of closer really is on a Major League staff. I like his signing, maybe not for three years at the money he’s getting, but I like it none the less.

As for the rest of the bullpen, the depth is rather impressive. They may not be as talented as the arms the Atlanta Braves can trot out at any time, but there are reasons to believe this will be one of the best ‘pens in the league. They have two lefties that can get dangerous power bats out and a wealth of righties that have tricky stuff to adjust to on the fly. In fact, the greatest strength of this Marlins team is that in terms of talent, there isn’t a glaring hole on the roster. Only, you know, the questionable mental make-ups of certain individuals.

So, there’s that.

Top 10 Prospects (courtesy of MLB.com) -

#1: OF Christian Yelich (20) – Expected 2012 Level – A+

Yelich tore up the South Atlantic League last year as a 19 year old, finishing third in batting average and slugging .484 while swiping 32 steals. He is the complete package and a bag of chips, but he is still a good two years away from truly being ready to make a difference at the next level. He will continue his development in High-A next year, and he’s the kind of talent where the team will make room for him when he’s finally ready for big league pitching.

#2: 3B Matt Dominguez (22) – Expected 2012 Level – AAA

Dominguez is probably Major League ready. He plays a Gold Glove-caliber third base defense and flashes some serious pop at the plate that has a chance to boast sustainable 20-home run potential. The Marlins would’ve probably liked him to hit a little more at AAA last year, but some of the low numbers may be a residual affect from his early season injury. He was third baseman of the future for the Fish, until they signed Jose Reyes and moved Hanley Ramirez to third. The team needs to figure out what to do with Dominguez and if he is even still in their plans, or if they will package him for another part to make this team a Series contender.

#3: RHP Jose Fernandez (19) – Expected 2012 Level – Short Season A-Ball

Last year’s first round pick for the Marlins got a whopping 4.1 innings of professional baseball under his belt last season after signing late. Being a high school arm, the Marlins will probably go slow and limit his innings in 2012, starting him out in short season ball in either the New York-Penn League or the Appy League. He is a ways away, but its always good to be excited about your first round picks.

#4: LHP Chad James (21) – Expected 2012 Level – AA

James is a fine example of why you should never take win-loss records seriously for Minor League pitchers. On the surface, you would look at the 15 losses James tallied up last year and say “how could this guy be any good?”. James had a strong strikeout total last year, albeit rather hittable in the higher version of A-ball. He has good command, but seemingly doesn’t know what to do with his pitches from time to time, which leads to the high number of balls left over the middle of the plate. If he can develop his game a bit more, he can be a strong lefty at the top of a Major League rotation in a year or two.

#5: OF Marcell Ozuna (21) – Expected 2012 Level – A+

Ozuna has real power, slugging nearly .500 last year thanks in large part to the 23 home runs he hit off South Atlantic League pitching. He has a good approach at the plate, drawing 46 walks last year and keeping his OBP at .330, which are repeatable skills at higher levels of competition. He’s certainly behind Yelich on the organizational depth chart, and it may take him a little longer to put it all together. Either way, he’s a good prospect to have in your Minors.

#6: C J.T. Realmuto (21) – Expected 2012 Level – A+

Realmuto is likely the Marlins catcher of the future, and he has some nice skills that should keep Marlins fans eagerly anticipating his debut. He’s got a well-rounded offensive game that flashes some pop, but makes plenty of contact. He certainly has a strong arm as he’s a converted shortstop, which also means he needs more reps behind the plate before anyone can even think of moving him faster through the system.

#7: LHP Adam Conley (21) – Expected 2012 Level – A-

Conley was the Marlins second round pick out of Washington State in last year’s draft. While he was mostly a reliever at school, the Marlins are going to try and stretch him out to see what he can do as a starter. Should they decide to keep him as a starter moving forward, he will spend the majority of the season in low-A ball. But, if they move him back to the bullpen, he can skyrocket through the system.

#8: 2B Noah Perio (20) – Expected 2012 Level – A+

Another player in the lower level of the Marlins system to be excited about is Perio. He’s a scrappy second baseman who plays with a strong glove and makes a ton of contact at the plate. The one knock on Perio right now is he still doesn’t draw as many walks as you would like, especially considering he may be a number-2 hitter at some point. Should he develop a little more patience, Perio could be viewed as the Marlins heir apparent at second.

#9: LHP Rob Rasmussen (23) – Expected 2012 Level – AA

Of all the pitchers in the Marlins system, Rasmussen probably has the best outside chance of making an appearance with the big league club at some point in 2012. Rasmussen was rather hittable in High-A, and didn’t show a strong control of the strike zone either. He has a lot of work to do, but has the make-up to shoot up the Marlins system, especially since its rather light on the top.

#10: OF Jesus Solorzano (21) – Expected 2012 Level – A-

Solorzano is a long ways away from the Majors. In fact, the biggest knock on the Marlins system is the majority of their high-end talent is in the lower levels. There is no reason not to be high on a player like Solorzano, but I mean, he’s three years away. That’s a hard player to predict.

Give it to me straight, Greg…

When we covered the American League, it was pretty clear that the two Wild Card spots would be determined by the Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers. Two of them would get in, two of them wouldn’t. It was really that simple.

In the National League, it is not nearly that clear. The Marlins are surely a good team, but its wide open. I mean, its not even clear that the Marlins are going to finish second in the East. Then, you add in a likely resurgent year from the Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies, the Diamondbacks are a strong team, the Milwaukee Brewers, even without Prince Fielder, are deep, and there’s the whole defending champion St. Louis Cardinals thing. It’s really anybody’s guess as to who will walk away from the NL with the five playoff spots.

If all goes well for the Marlins, they could win the East. Even considering a few missteps along the way, excluding a possible, uhm, incident between two of the many egos making up the Miami clubhouse this year, this team should still win north of 85 games this season. Over the last few seasons, its taken 90 wins for a team in the National League to lock down a playoff spot. Luckily for the Marlins, I think they’ll win 90 on the nose. That’ll be just enough to put them over the top and into the post season. 

I swear, if this is one of those years the Marlins win another World Series, I’m going to hurt somebody.

2012 Season Projection: 90-72, National League Wild Card Winner.