Quick, name six Miami Marlins off the top of your head.
To give you a head start, we'll spot you Giancarlo Stanton, Ricky Nolasco and Logan Morrison.
Heck, we'll even play the Jeopardy theme music just to stimulate your brain. After all, playing "Name those Marlins" is no easy task.
So, can you name three more Marlins? If not, don't feel embarrassed. You're probably not alone.
A year after opening a brand-new $634 million ballpark—$508.8 million of which was paid by taxpayers' money—and going on a $191 million shopping spree to sign Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell, the Marlins will look significantly different in 2013. In fact, they might be the least recognizable team in the National League.
When the Marlins completed their second consecutive last-place finish in the National League East, owner Jeffrey Loria decided to blow up the club, telling CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman:
"We have to get better. We can't finish in last place. We finished in last place. That's unacceptable. We have to take a new course."
During the 2012 season, Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez were shipped to Detroit; Hanley Ramirez and Randy Choate were sent packing to Los Angeles; and Gaby Sanchez and Edward Mujica were traded to Pittsburgh and St. Louis at the July 31 trade deadline, respectively. After the season ended, Bell was exiled to Arizona, and then there was the biggest bombshell of them all: the 12-player fire sale that sent Reyes, Buehrle, Josh Johnson, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto.
The good news for these new-look Marlins is expectations are low. The bad news is probably no one would be surprised if the Marlins lost more than 100 games this season.
Nonetheless, here's a preview at how the Marlins look as the 2013 season draws near.
2012 record: 69-93
Key arrivals (courtesy of Baseballprospectus.com): SS Adeiny Hechavarria (from Toronto), RHP Henderson Alvarez (from Toronto), C Jeff Mathis (from Toronto), LF Juan Pierre (FA), 3B Placido Polanco (FA), RHP Chad Qualls (FA), RHP Jon Rauch (FA), 3B Chone Figgins (FA), 1B Casey Kotchman (FA)
Key departures: RHP Heath Bell (to Arizona), RHP Carlos Zambrano (FA), RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo (to Tampa Bay), 1B Carlos Lee (FA), RHP Chad Gaudin (to San Francisco), CF Emilio Bonifacio (to Toronto), Josh Johnson (to Toronto), Jose Reyes (to Toronto), Mark Buehrle (to Toronto), John Buck (to Toronto, then to New York Mets)
Projected rotation (per official site as of Sunday)
1. RHP Ricky Nolasco (12-13, 4.48 ERA, 1.37 WHIP)
2. RHP Jacob Turner (2-5, 4.42, 1.20 total; 1-4, 3.38, 0.98 with Marlins)
3. RHP Henderson Alvarez (9-14, 4.85, 1.44 with Toronto Blue Jays)
4. RHP Nathan Eovaldi (4-13, 4.30, 1.51 total; 3-7, 4.43 ERA, 1.54 WHIP with Marlins)
5. LHP Wade LeBlanc (2-5, 3.67, 1.31)
6. LHP Brad Hand (0-1, 17.18, 3.27 in majors; 11-7, 4.00, 1.38 in minors)
7. RHP Tom Koehler (0-1, 5.40, 1.28 in majors; 12-11, 4.17, 1.42 in minors)
8. RHP Alex Sanabia (6-7, 3.93, 1.31 in minors)
C Rob Brantly (.292 batting average/.372 on-base percentage/.460 slugging percentage in majors; .298/.340/.412 in minors)
1B Logan Morrison (.230/.308/.399)*
2B Donovan Solano (.295/.342/.375)
SS Adeiny Hechavarria (.254/.280/.365 in majors; .312/.363/.424 in minors)
3B Placido Polanco (.257/.302/.327)
LF Juan Pierre (.307/.351/.371)
CF Justin Ruggiano (.313/.374/.535)
RF Giancarlo Stanton (.290/.361/.608)
* The Sun-Sentinel reports Morrison might not be ready come Opening Day. Morrison had right-knee surgery last September. Morrison told the publication he expects to be cleared to run after an examination scheduled for Tuesday. Once he gets the OK, it will take at least a month before he is ready to play in an exhibition game.
Closer: RHP Steve Cishek (5-2, 2.69 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 15 saves, 4 blown saves, 13 holds)
RHP Jon Rauch (3-7, 3.59 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 4 saves, 16 holds, 4 blown saves)
RHP Ryan Webb (4-3, 4.03 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 10 holds)
LHP Mike Dunn (0-3, 4.91 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, 18 holds, 5 blown saves)
RHP Chad Qualls (2-1, 5.33 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 14 holds, 5 blown saves)
RHP A.J. Ramos (0-0, 3.86 ERA, 1.29 WHIP in majors; 3-3. 1.44 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 21 saves in minors)
RHP Chris Hatcher (0-0, 4.30 ERA, 1.57 WHIP in majors; 1-0, 0.77 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 11 saves in minors)
LHP Dan Jennings (1-0, 1.89 ERA, 1.53 WHIP in majors; 1-3, 3.14 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in minors)
LHP Scott Maine (2-3, 6.08 ERA, 1.69 WHIP)
RHP Arquimedes Caminero (1-0, 1.64 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in minors)
RHP Evan Reed (5-4, 4.68 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 13 saves in minors)
Scouting the starting rotation
Ricky Nolasco is the ace. By default.
If this was spring training 2009, perhaps Nolasco could be considered an ace as he was coming off of a 15-8 season with a 3.52 ERA. However, Nolasco hasn't come close to that kind of production since. But with Johnson and Buehrle, last season's top two starters, traded, Nolasco will have to be the team's top starting pitcher as long as the Marlins keep him and his $11.5 million arm around.
Nolasco will lead a rotation that had just 48 wins among starting pitchers last year, a total which was tied for 23rd in the majors. Meanwhile, the rotation also notched 73 losses, fifth most in MLB. Part of the problem, though, was run support, as the starters received just 3.8 runs per game—tied for 27th in the majors, which explains why Marlins starters led the league with tough losses in quality starts with 28.
Behind the ace are Jacob Turner, Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi—three young, talented, but flawed pitchers.
Turner, 21, is the most talented of the trio and is probably the front-runner to be the team's No. 2 starter. Turner possesses a two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball between 90 and 94 mph, a power curveball, a cutter and a changeup, according to ESPN.com's Keith Law.
When he arrived from Detroit in a midseason trade, Turner seemed to improve, maybe because of the switch to the weaker league. In six career starts with the Tigers, Turner was 1-2 with a 8.28 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 25 innings. In seven career starts with the Marlins, Turner went 1-4, but had a 3.38 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 42.2 innings.
Alvarez, 22, is currently slated to be the Marlins' No. 3 starter after arriving from Toronto in the 12-player fire sale. Alvarez has a plus fastball and a plus changeup, according to Law, and was once considered a pitcher who could pound the strike zone, according to Fangraphs.com. Given the fact he pitched in the AL East, Alvarez was solid in his first full season in the majors last year as he went 9-13 with a 4.85 ERA.
Eovaldi, 23, is profiled by Fangraphs.com as a classic power pitcher based on his 94 mph fastball and mid-80s slider, but his biggest problem has been the lack of a quality third pitch. Unlike Turner, Eovaldi didn't switch leagues when he arrived in a midseason trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers. As a result, his numbers were similar with both squads.
As for the No. 5 starter, Brad Hand, Tom Koehler, Wade LeBlanc, John Maine and Alex Sanabia are some of the candidates looking to fill the final spot in the rotation.
Scouting the bullpen
Steve Cishek is the closer. Unlike Nolasco, he earned the job and the title in the middle of last season.
Cishek took over for Heath Bell, and the side-arming right-hander went 1-1 with a 3.42 ERA and recorded 14 saves after last season's All-Star break. Now that Bell has been traded, the Marlins hope Cishek continues to be consistent. They need him to be.
With a young rotation, it would be helpful, at least psychologically, if Cishek and the Marlins bullpen close out as many leads as possible. Last season, the Marlins had 88 holds, good for sixth in the majors. However, the Marlins blew 22 saves, tied for third most, and converted just 63 percent of their opportunities, which was tied for 24th.
Tasked with getting the ball and the lead to Cishek are Jon Rauch, Ryan Webb and Mike Dunn.
The 6'11" Rauch signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Marlins two weeks ago, which might be a bargain considering Rauch's track record. In the last seven years, spent exclusively in the bullpen, Rauch has posted a sub-4.00 ERA five times, has a 34-32 record with a 3.71 ERA and 62 saves.
As for Webb and Dunn, both are candidates to rebound from subpar 2012 seasons.
Webb posted a 4.03 ERA in 2012 and has seen his earned run average climb in each of the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Dunn posted a 4.91 ERA in 2012 and has also seen his earned run average climb in each of the past two seasons.
As for the rest of the bullpen, first-year manager Mike Redmond can go in many ways.
Chad Qualls struggled as he had a 5.33 ERA and pitched for three different teams last season. At 34 years old, it remains to be seen if the right-hander has any gas left in the tank.
Scott Maine was claimed off waivers, but the left-hander has struggled during his short major league career. He owns a 2-3 record with a 5.59 ERA in 50 career appearances.
Furthermore, A.J. Ramos, Chris Hatcher, Dan Jennings and/or Arquimedes Caminero might find themselves with a role as well after splitting time between the majors and the minors last year.
And don't forget a pair of guys who didn't pitch last season, Michael Wuertz and Jose Ceda. Or Rule 5 draft pick Braulio Lara.
As for the swingman, Redmond could go with Hand, Koehler, LeBlanc, Maine or Sanabia or someone under the radar once he figures out which one from that quintet will be the team's No. 5 starter.
Scouting the everyday lineup
The Marlins were the second-worst team in the majors offensively last season, averaging 3.76 runs per game and scoring 609 runs in all.
And it might only get worse.
In fact, the 2013 season could be a production of "Giancarlo Stanton and the Seven Dwarfs" when it pertains to the Marlins offense.
The Sun-Sentinel's Juan C. Rodriguez revealed on Twitter last week Redmond is leaning toward penciling in left fielder Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco and Stanton atop the batting order. It's not a bad idea if Polanco can stay healthy.
Polanco signed a one-year deal in the offseason to play third base, but he's had back injuries each of the last two seasons, according to Heyman. Moreover, after playing 153 games in his final season in Detroit in 2009, Polanco has played 132 games in 2010, 122 in 2011 and 90 in 2012.
But if Polanco stays upright, he and Pierre, who hit .307 and stole 37 bases last year with Philadelphia, could get on base and leave opposing pitchers with no choice but to pitch to Stanton. Then again, who wants to pitch to a 23-year-old All-Star slugger who smashed 37 home runs in just 123 games last season and already has 93 career home runs in three seasons, especially when the batters behind Stanton are featherweights such as Pierre and Polanco?
If healthy, first baseman Logan Morrison is expected to be the cleanup hitter and provide Stanton protection in the lineup. How realistic that is remains to be seen. According to this story, even if Morrison is cleared to run Tuesday on his surgically repaired right knee, it will be at least a month before Morrison will be ready to play in an exhibition game. That would leave Morrison less than two weeks to prepare for Opening Day. Before he had season-ending surgery last year, Morrison hit .230 with 11 home runs and 36 RBI.
However, if Morrison isn't ready to go come April 1, Casey Kotchman and Greg Dobbs are some of the candidates who are expected to fill in until Morrison returns.
Hitting behind Morrison is slated to be center fielder Justin Ruggiano, a man who must prove 2012 was no fluke. Ruggiano batted .313 with 13 home runs and 36 RBI in 91 games last season, but prior to that, he was a career .226 hitter with six home runs and 23 RBI in 98 games.
Batting sixth will probably be catcher Rob Brantly, probably the only guy left who hasn't been mentioned with a modicum of power. In his brief time in the majors last year, Brantly hit .290 with three home runs and eight RBI in 100 at-bats after arriving with Turner in a midseason trade.
Filling in the last three spots of the batting order, besides the pitcher hitting ninth, should be second baseman Donovan Solano and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. Solano showed an ability to handle the bat last season, hitting .295 in 285 at-bats last year. Solano could hit second if and when Polanco gets hurt or needs a day off. At least Solano could hit, the same can't be said of Hechavarria.
According to Grantland.com's Jonah Keri, Hechavarria is an excellent glove man who would be lucky to hit like Rey Ordonez. Law added Hechavarria has a long swing and poor plate discipline. It showed last season, albeit in a small sample size as Hechavarria hit .254 and drew just four walks in 137 plate appearances last season.
Perhaps this cast of characters who carry Nerf-like bats will manufacture runs like elves in Santa's workshop. But if not, then there's a possibility the Marlins offense will do worse in 2013 than in 2012, which is hard to do considering they scored the second-fewest runs in the majors and finished in the bottom 10 in hits (24th), doubles (24th), home runs (tied 23rd), batting average (24th), on-base percentage (26th) and slugging percentage (24th).
Well, it can't be Nolasco, the ace who isn't really an ace.
Unfortunately, right-hander Jose Fernandez, a minor leaguer who projects to be an ace someday, is ineligible as his ETA to reach the majors is 2014.
So, for the purpose of this exercise, the pitching stud would have to be Turner.
Now, don't get me wrong, Turner is a talented pitcher. Scout.com once considered Turner a legit No. 2 starter with the potential to be an ace. However, Turner was knocked off the path for a variety of reasons. According to Law, perhaps it was because the Tigers turned him from a power arm into a groundball pitcher, or maybe he was rushed to the majors and just didn't have time to make the proper adjustments.
But when Turner was traded to Miami, the switch flipped and the guy who showed promise returned. And that could be enough of a reason to believe the 21-year-old right-hander has what it takes to be at the top of the Marlins rotation for a long, long time.
Let's look at how Stanton has done in his first three years in the majors:
2010: .259 batting average, .326 on-base percentage, .507 slugging percentage, 22 home runs and 59 RBI in 396 plate appearances.
2011: .262 batting average, .356 on-base percentage, .537 slugging percentage, 34 home runs and 87 RBI in 601 plate appearances.
2012: .290 batting average, .361 on-base percentage, .608 slugging percentage (led majors), 37 home runs and 86 RBI in 501 plate appearances.
Look at how the numbers improved every season. And did we mention he's only 23 years old, isn't eligible for arbitration until after the 2013 season and isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2016 season?
For all the bashing about Nolasco not being an ace, he is probably the most important Marlin this season. Considering Turner is 21, Alvarez is 22 and Eovaldi is 23, Nolasco is one of the team's senior citizens, which can be beneficial.
“We don’t have anybody else like that,” Redmond told the Associated Press, via the Washington Post. “His experience of going through the everyday grind of playing in the major leagues is huge. You need a guy like that. To have him at the top of our rotation, it’s going to be big to have that stability. You know what you’re going to get every time he goes out there. He’s young, too, but after that we’re really young.”
In the same story, though, Nolasco said he doesn't see himself as a mentor.
“Nah. I’m going to be the same,” he said. “I’m a quiet guy by nature. I’m not going to change that. I’m going to keep going about my business and do what I have to do to prepare myself.”
Even if Nolasco doesn't want to help the young kids, as long as Nolasco eats innings every four to five days, he's already doing Turner, Alvarez, Eovaldi, Redmond, the bullpen and the organization a favor. By eating innings, the bullpen can get an occasional rest, especially when it's hard to count on consistent performances from young starting pitchers.
Furthermore, if Nolasco does well, he can not only help himself as he's in the final season of his three-year, $26.5 million contract, but he can help the Marlins too.
Nolasco told The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson last month, “I feel pretty sure I’ll be traded sometime before the deadline. It all depends on how I pitch.” Back in December, Matt Sosnick, Nolasco's agent, told ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick his client wanted to be traded.
If Nolasco is effective and gets his wish, he could fetch the Marlins a decent prospect or two in return. And in the Marlins' world, good, young prospects are pure gold.
Prospect to watch
It's Fernandez or outfielder Christian Yelich.
So for this purpose, we're going to go with Fernandez. Majority rules, especially when it's hard to go wrong with either prospect.
The 14th overall pick from the 2011 MLB draft had what might have been the best year any pitching prospect could have. In his first full pro season in 2012, Fernandez went 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA while striking out 158 batters in 134 innings.
According to Law, Fernandez sits in the mid-90s and can regularly throw a heavy 97-99 mph heater. He also throws a real swing-and-miss low-80s curveball that would miss right-handers' bats in the majors today, while the upper-80s slider is also quite effective, with more tilt than the curve to break away from right-handers' bats. Mayo said what sets Fernandez apart is his command as he throws all his pitches for strikes, which should help Fernandez pitch at the top of a rotation in the future.
If Fernandez continues to dominate the competition in 2013, he might make it to the majors by September, if not 2014.
What the Marlins will do well
This is akin to finding a needle in a haystack.
That said, what the Marlins will probably do well is put the ball in play and run the bases. For old-timers, it's called small ball. The Marlins already have the pieces in place as they have four everyday slap-hitters and three everyday players with gap power.
What the Marlins will also do well is grow up.
Hechavarria and Brantly will get their first full seasons in the majors while Turner, Alvarez and Eovaldi get another of seasoning as big league pitchers. Plus, help is on the way as Fernandez, Yelich, Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, Andrew Heaney and others are expected to arrive by 2014.
What the Marlins won't do well
Thanks to "Giancarlo Stanton and the Seven Dwarfs," the Marlins won't hit for power. Even Stevie Wonder saw that coming, and he's blind.
The bullpen could be an issue again. Last year, it was closing out games, but this year, the bullpen might not have enough quality arms to get through the season. Possible bouts of inconsistency because of having youngsters such as Turner, Alvarez and Eovaldi in the rotation, unforeseen injuries, and the lack of established roles beyond Cishek, Rauch, Webb and Dunn, the Marlins bullpen might get worn down earlier than expected.
Finally, the defense could be a cause for concern. Only at shortstop (Hechavarria) and right field (Stanton) could the Marlins boast having above-average defenders. Possible weak areas could be catcher (Brantly), first base (Morrison), second base (Solano) and left field (Pierre).
While the Marlins won't admit it, 2013 will be a rebuilding year.
The last time the Marlins had a fire sale, which was after the 2005 season, the 2006 club surprised many by going 78-84. In fact, the 2006 club was in the thick of the National League wild-card race, trailing San Diego by two games with three weeks left in the season, before losing 13 of their final 18 games.
A repeat of 2006 is highly unlikely to happen.
If the Marlins don't lose 100 games, the organization should consider that a victory. If the Marlins don't finish last in the National League East for the third consecutive year, the organization should consider that a victory as well. And if the Marlins see substantial progress from players they control through at least the 2015 season, the organization should throw a freaking party then.
The 2013 season won't be defined by how many games the Marlins win, but how soon they can become World Series contenders again.
Projected record: 66-96, last in NL East.
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