Scouting The Opponents: Florida Marlins

The Florida Marlins continue to rely on a bunch of young, low cost players, but it's working. Last season, they led the NL East for a chunk of the season before fading. Can this season's mix hang on longer?

The Marlins will unveil their new batting order on Wednesday with the start of Grapefruit League games, which provide a barometer of whether the changes made by manager Fredi Gonzalez will work over the regular season.

Gonzalez won't announce who will hit where until the day of the first spring game. But the main component is expected to be dropping leadoff hitter Hanley Ramirez to third, and letting speedy rookie Cameron Maybin bat first. Although Ramirez has established himself as one of the game's top stars, success in Florida's new batting order isn't necessarily guaranteed.

For one, Ramirez hit just .268 with one homer and four RBI in 56 at-bats from the third hole last year (in lineups employed to accommodate the loss of injured cleanup hitter Josh Willingham). In 533 at-bats from the top of the order, Ramirez hit .304 with 32 homers and 63 RBIs.

"Do it in spring training so I can get used to it," Ramirez said. "I've got to show my approach not to what I've been working on - RBIs instead of just getting on base."

John Baker is expected to hit second with Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla hitting fourth or fifth. Cody Ross and Jeremy Hermida will hit sixth or seventh with rookie Gaby Sanchez hitting eighth if he makes the team.

Is he there yet?
Rookie first baseman Gaby Sanchez arrives in camp knowing he's the team's top choice to start at that position. That will give a mental edge to a top prospect who was named the Most Valuable Player of the Double-A Southern League after batting .314 with 17 homers and 92 RBIs for the Carolina Mudcats. Sanchez, 25, was called up to the Marlins in September and went 3-for-8 (.375) in five games.

Don't bring me down...
Third baseman Jorge Cantu is coming off a strong year in which he hit a career-high 29 home runs and had 95 RBI. He had a similar year in 2005, hitting 28 home runs with 117 RBI for Tampa Bay, but he didn't come close to those numbers the next two seasons. He'll be under more pressure to produce since the Marlins traded away two other power hitters (1B Mike Jacobs and OF Josh Willingham).

Talking Points

  • Manager Fredi Gonzalez will open the 2009 season with some security after agreeing to a two-year extension running through 2011. "It was a really, really tough negotiation," Gonzalez joked. "Jeffrey (Loria, Marlins owner) came in, he offered me the extension, and I don't think I let him finish the sentence. I said, 'Yes, I want it. I want to be here for a long time and bring a championship.'"
  • Shortstop Hanley Ramirez said he added 20 pounds of bulk over the winter in a workout program that also included daily swimming drills. Ramirez, who has battled a nagging left shoulder, said he wants to do something he has never done in his three seasons - play in all 162 games.
  • Right-hander Scott Proctor looked good in his first week of spring throwing sessions since undergoing elbow surgery in October. "He has thrown all of his bullpen, and he has thrown all of his batting practices. So far I have not seen any setbacks," manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
  • RHP Jose Ceda has been held back from drills for the first week because of discomfort in his right shoulder. Ceda, obtained from the Cubs for RHP Kevin Gregg, is expected to start the season in the minors.

Winter drills...
The Marlins had a busy winter, trimming their arbitration-eligible players through trades and other moves. They traded away power (Mike Jacobs and Josh Willingham) in hopes of a more balanced offense. Despite a lack of major additions, the team hopes it has improved speed and defense, a combination it believes will help its rotation.

RHP Scott Proctor (free agent from Dodgers), RHP Leo Nunez (trade with Royals), LHP Dan Meyer (claimed off waivers from A's), RHP Jose Ceda (trade with Cubs), INF Emilio Bonifacio (trade from Nationals), LHP Zack Kroenke (Rule 5 selection from Yankees).

Out-Going! (in other words, pricey)
1B Mike Jacobs (traded to Royals), LHP Scott Olsen (traded to Nationals), LF Josh Willingham (traded to Nationals), RHP Kevin Gregg (traded to Cubs), RHP Joe Nelson (non-tendered, signed with Rays), OF Luis Gonzalez (free agent, unsigned), LHP Arthur Rhodes (free agent, signed with Reds), C Matt Treanor (released, signed with Tigers), LHP Mark Hendrickson (free agent, signed with Orioles), RHP Doug Waechter (free agent, signed with Royals).

The Game Plan
The Marlins have four solid right-handers in their rotation. But their only left-hander - Andrew Miller - has been battling control issue and right knee tendinitis. His knee improved over the winter, and he will unveil a new delivery to help reduce the impact on the knee.

1. RHP Ricky Nolasco
2. RHP Josh Johnson
3. RHP Chris Volstad
4. RHP Anibal Sanchez
5. LHP Andrew Miller

The Marlins will have a luxury they didn't have last spring - five healthy starters. But there are still questions. The biggest questions are Miller (right knee tendinitis) and Sanchez (right shoulder surgery), who battled health-related inconsistencies last year.

Nolasco, who should have the edge over Johnson for the number one spot, must prove his 12-win season was no fluke. Johnson enters his first full season since Tommy John surgery. Volstad needs to build on the promise he showed as a rookie call-up last year.

RHP Matt Lindstrom (closer)
RHP Scott Proctor
RHP Leo Nunez
RHP Logan Kensing
LHP Renyel Pinto
LHP Dan Meyer/LHP Taylor Tankersley
RHP Ryan Tucker/RHP Jose Ceda/LHP Zach Kroenke

The bullpen is a work in progress, with Lindstrom getting a shot to replace traded closer Kevin Gregg. Proctor, returning from elbow surgery, will lead the back end and provide veteran leadership. Nunez and Kensing should get two of the spots.

After that, at least six candidates will compete for the final three spots. Pinto needs a strong spring after an inconsistent 2008 season. The bottom line: The bullpen has much to prove.

1. CF Cameron Maybin
2. C John Baker
3. SS Hanley Ramirez
4. 3B Jorge Cantu
5. 2B Dan Uggla
6. RF Cody Ross
7. LF Jeremy Hermida
8. 1B Gaby Sanchez

Manager Fredi Gonzalez should finally do what has been discussed since Ramirez was a rookie - move Ramirez from leadoff to third to take advantage of his power. Maybin, who showed promise as a September call-up, will bat first. Baker hit well in the two hole last year, but he can swap spots with Hermida. Cantu will hit cleanup and Uggla fifth, filling the void created by the winter trades of Josh Willingham and Mike Jacobs.

The question is if Ramirez can hit as well in the third hole. His average suffered last year when he was dropped to third in an experiment. Maybin must prove he can handle the pressure of sparking the offense by getting on base and stealing bases. Uggla had another big year after Miguel Cabrera was traded, so he should be good for another 30 home runs.

INF Wes Helms
INF Alfredo Amezaga
OF Jay Gibbons
OF Brett Carroll
C Mike Rabelo

The bench is basically up in the air, with Helms and Amezaga the only sure things. Gibbons, a non-roster invitee, has a good shot to replace Luis Gonzalez as the veteran backup outfielder. The team will continue shopping for a veteran catcher. Carroll has an edge but his future depends on the kind of springs infielders Dallas McPherson and Emilio Bonifacio have.

The best of the young guys...
Two highly touted rookies will get chances this spring to win starting jobs. First baseman Gaby Sanchez is considered a defensive upgrade, but his strong point is his bat. He hit .314 with 17 homers and 92 RBIs in Double-A last year.

Center fielder Cameron Maybin is penciled in to start and lead off, which would be a huge jump for a guy who opened the 2008 season in Double-A after struggling in spring training.

Keep an eye on RHP Ryan Tucker, a first-round pick in 2005 who could emerge as a long man out of the bullpen.

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