Bonifacio figures to play key role in 2012

The Miami Marlins plan to pursue talented Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, but speedster Emilio Bonifacio figures to play a key role on the team regardless of whether Cespedes is signed.

With spring training a month away, Emilio Bonifacio has the inside edge to start in center field. But that's not set in stone.

The Marlins plan to pursue Yoenis Cespedes, the slugging centerfielder who defected from Cuba last summer. Cespedes became a free agent on Jan. 25 but the Marlins have been watching him for a while.

Owner Jeffrey Loria led a contingent of team officials to the Dominican Republic in November to watch Cespedes in a private workout. Cespedes has worked out for other teams, too, so there's no guarantee the Marlins will get him.

"We really liked him when we saw him at that workout," baseball operations president Larry Beinfest said earlier this month.

"We were very impressed and, obviously as Cuban, I think he would be an interesting fit in this market, on this ballclub. It's something we continue to monitor and stay up on."

Even if the Marlins sign Cespedes, some in the organization believe he might have to start the season in the minor leagues. Cespedes recently batted .143 with a home run and 10 strikeouts in 35 at-bats in the Dominican Winter League.

The team envisions Bonifacio batting second behind Jose Reyes, giving the Marlins a speed threat they have lacked at the top of the batting order.

Bonifacio, 26, had the best season of his career in 2011, batting .296 with 167 hits and 40 stolen bases in 152 games.

Marlins News & Notes

  • OF Austin Kearns was signed to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Kearns, 31, will compete with veteran outfielder Aaron Rowand and Marlins organization outfielders Chris Coghlan, Bryan Petersen and Scott Cousins, among others. Kearns played in just 57 games for Cleveland in 2011, batting .200 with two homers and seven RBI before being released on Aug. 18.

  • RHP Josh Johnson said he felt fine on Jan. 25, a day after he threw off the mound for the first time this season near his home in Las Vegas. Johnson said he threw 29 fastballs and expects to ramp up his activities to three-per-week bullpen sessions starting in early February. His last game was May 16 before shoulder issues ended his season. He threw off a mound in late September and felt no discomfort.

  • OF Chris Coghlan should be ready for spring training. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in November. Coghlan, the NL Rookie of the Year in 2009, was the opening day centerfielder in 2011 but was limited to just 65 games because of discomfort with his right shoulder.

  • RHP Anibal Sanchez will have his arbitration hearing Feb. 3, and OF Emilio Bonifacio will have his on Feb. 7. Sanchez is asking for $8 million while the Marlins offered $6.9 million. Bonifacio wants $2.2 million and the team offered $1.95 million.

  • The Marlins plan to install sod on the infield at their new ballpark in Miami on Feb. 2. That should allow ample growing time before the first exhibition games a month later, according to the team.

  • By the Numbers: 9 – Starts in 2011 by RHP Josh Johnson, whose last start was May 16 before he was shut down because of issues with his right shoulder. Johnson made 28 starts in 2010.

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